2.4 Capitalization

Learning Objectives

  1. Learn the basic rules of capitalization.
  2. Identify common capitalization errors.

Text messages, casual e-mails, and instant messages often ignore the rules of capitalization. In fact, it can seem unnecessary to capitalize in these contexts. In other, more formal forms of communication, however, knowing the basic rules of capitalization and using capitalization correctly gives the reader the impression that you choose your words carefully and care about the ideas you are conveying.

Capitalize the First Word of a Sentence

Incorrect: the museum has a new butterfly exhibit.
Correct: The museum has a new butterfly exhibit.
Incorrect: cooking can be therapeutic.
Correct: Cooking can be therapeutic.

Capitalize Proper Nouns

Proper nouns—the names of specific people, places, objects, streets, buildings, events, or titles of individuals—are always capitalized.

Incorrect: He grew up in harlem, new york.
Correct: He grew up in Harlem, New York.
Incorrect: The sears tower in chicago has a new name.
Correct: The Sears Tower in Chicago has a new name.


Always capitalize nationalities, races, languages, and religions. For example, American, African American, Hispanic, Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and so on.

Do not capitalize nouns for people, places, things, streets, buildings, events, and titles when the noun is used in general or common way. See the following chart for the difference between proper nouns and common nouns.

Common Noun Proper Noun
museum The Art Institute of Chicago
theater Apollo Theater
country Malaysia
uncle Uncle Javier
doctor Dr. Jackson
book Pride and Prejudice
college Smith College
war the Spanish-American War
historical event The Renaissance

Exercise 1

On your own sheet of paper, write five proper nouns for each common noun that is listed. The first one has been done for you.

Common noun: river

  1. Nile River

Common noun: musician


Common noun: magazine



Please share with a classmate and compare your answers.

Capitalize Days of the Week, Months of the Year, and Holidays

Incorrect: On wednesday, I will be traveling to Austin for a music festival.
Correct: On Wednesday, I will be traveling to Austin for a music festival.
Incorrect: The fourth of july is my favorite holiday.
Correct: The Fourth of July is my favorite holiday.

Capitalize Titles

Incorrect: The play, fences, by August Wilson is one of my favorites.
Correct: The play, Fences, by August Wilson is one of my favorites.
Incorrect: The president of the united states will be speaking at my university.
Correct: The President of the United States will be speaking at my university.


Computer-related words such as “Internet” and “World Wide Web” are usually capitalized; however, “e-mail” and “online” are never capitalized.

Exercise 2

Edit the following sentences by correcting the capitalization of the titles or names.

  1. The prince of england enjoys playing polo.
  2. “Ode to a nightingale” is a sad poem.
  3. My sister loves to read magazines such as the new yorker.
  4. The house on Mango street is an excellent novel written by Sandra Cisneros.
  5. My physician, dr. alvarez, always makes me feel comfortable in her office.

Exercise 3

Edit the following paragraphs by correcting the capitalization.

david grann’s the lost City of Z mimics the snake-like winding of the amazon River. The three distinct Stories that are introduced are like twists in the River. First, the Author describes his own journey to the amazon in the present day, which is contrasted by an account of percy fawcett’s voyage in 1925 and a depiction of James Lynch’s expedition in 1996. Where does the river lead these explorers? the answer is one that both the Author and the reader are hungry to discover.
The first lines of the preface pull the reader in immediately because we know the author, david grann, is lost in the amazon. It is a compelling beginning not only because it’s thrilling but also because this is a true account of grann’s experience. grann has dropped the reader smack in the middle of his conflict by admitting the recklessness of his decision to come to this place. the suspense is further perpetuated by his unnerving observation that he always considered himself A Neutral Witness, never getting personally involved in his stories, a notion that is swiftly contradicted in the opening pages, as the reader can clearly perceive that he is in a dire predicament—and frighteningly involved.

Writing at Work

Did you know that, if you use all capital letters to convey a message, the capital letters come across like shouting? In addition, all capital letters are actually more difficult to read and may annoy the reader. To avoid “shouting” at or annoying your reader, follow the rules of capitalization and find other ways to emphasize your point.

Key Takeaways

  • Learning and applying the basic rules of capitalization is a fundamental aspect of good writing.
  • Identifying and correcting errors in capitalization is an important writing skill.

Writing Application

Write a one-page biography. Make sure to identify people, places, and dates and use capitalization correctly.


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