English Grammar Review
Special Topics


When we type a capital letter at the beginning of a word we are giving that word emphasis, indicating that it is important.

For example, we call attention to the beginning of each sentence with a capitalized word. And we capitalize proper nouns such as Rob to make sure our readers do not mistake them for an unfortunate word such as rob.

The bad news: consensus is often lacking about rules for capitalization. Use a respected reference book and hope for the best.

The good news: concensus is strong about not overusing capitals. When too many words are emphasized, too few stand out.

Class and Instance

We capitalize proper nouns because they name particular things. We do not capitalize common nouns; they identify generic things.

Another way to think of it is this: a common noun names a generic class of things, such as lake, while a proper noun names a particular instance of a lake, such as Lake Titicaca.

day : Tuesday

river : Amazon River

professor : Professor Araoz

doctor : Doctors Without Borders

Names of organizations

Rule 1: Capitalize a name when writing about your organization.

I have faith in the Marketing Department.

Rule 1a: Do not capitalize it when writing about someone else's organization.

I am impressed by their marketing department.

Rule 1b: Do not capitalize it when it's modified by a word other than the.

I have faith in our marketing department.

Rule 1c: Capitalize it when it is used alone to designate an organization.

I need to talk to people in Marketing.

Words in titles

Rule 2: Capitalize official names of people, places, or things.

Inca Trail

Rule 2a: Do not capitalize prepositions with three or fewer letters (in, for, of) but do capitalize them if they are longer (with, from).

Gone With the Wind

Rule 2b: Capitalize the when it is an official part of a name.

The New York Times

Rule 2c: Capitalize adjectives derived from proper nouns.

Enjoy the Peruvian music when you visit the main square in Trujillo.

Words in titles of honor

Rule 3: Capitalize titles of honor when they precede personal names, except if the personal name is in apposition and set off by commas.

In 2016 the president, Barack Obama, visited Peru. The people of Peru provided President Obama with outstanding hospitality.

Words in document headings and titles

Rule 4: In document headings and titles, capitalize all words with four or more letters.

Identifying the Bird Figures of the Nasca Pampas

Rule 4b: Also capitalize the first word and the last word.

An Ornithological Perspective to Watch For

Words in numbered identifiers

Rule 5: Capitalize a noun followed by a number from a sequence.

Look for Diagram 7 and fill out Form 21A.

Rule 5a: Do not do so for specific nouns: line, note, page, paragraph, size, and step.

Look for Diagram 7 on page 10. After step 3, fill out Form 21A.

Rule 5b: If your employer prefers to use a reference manual, such as the The Chicago Manual of Style, that does not entirely agree with Rule 5 and Rule 5a, you should follow the advice in that reference manual.

Lesson: Capitals
Module: Special Topics
Course: English Grammar Review