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Grammar Guides - ENG002: Capitalization

This guide is to help students with common grammar problems.

Beginning of Sentence Capitalization

Capitalization Rules for Sentence Beginnings

The first word in a sentence: Ice cream is so good on a hot day.

Beginning of a direct quote that's a complete sentence: Maddey said, "Next time I'll get a strawberry shake." 

Beginning word of a whole sentence in parenthesis: Dairy Queen has good ice cream. (However, I rarely complain about sweets!)

  • Don't capitalize if the parenthesis are part of the sentence.
  • Vanilla cones are yummy (and easy to eat) but usually I get the strawberry sundae.

Optional to capitalize a clause that can stand alone after a colon: Sometimes I have a hard time deciding what to order: The flavors are all so good!

  • Don't capitalize a list after a colon.
  • Some of my favorites are: vanilla, peach, chocolate, cookies and cream, and pineapple.

picture of ice cream

Names in Titles

Generally, only important words and the first word are capitalized in titles. Leave words like and, or, is, and the lowercase (unless they begin the title). 

Capitalize nouns and verbs in titles as well as the first word: Most people agree that "To Kill a Mockingbird" is a classic American novel.

Capitalize descriptive words like adjectives and adverbs: I remember reading "The Ugly Duckling" as a child. The book "Thinking, Fast, and Slow" is on Amazon now.

  • When writing in MLA or APA style, always follow the rules for that documentation for how to refer to titles within your text as well as in your reference list. 

Capitalization for Days, Holidays, and Eras

Picture of the beach

  • Days of the week and months: On Wednesday, May 19, 2021, the weather was beautiful!
  • Holidays: I hope the weather on Memorial Day is just as nice.
  • Seasons are capitalized only when they are in a title: The Spring 2020 semester was very unusual because classes went online because of Covid-19. The summers in North Carolina are generally hot and humid.
  • Time periods: The Middle Ages began with the fall of Rome.

Capitalizing Proper Names for People (and Other Living Things that You've Named)

Capitalization Rules for Proper Nouns (Specific Persons or Living Things)

Names (proper nouns): Joe and Lori take turns riding in the front seat. My dog Tucker rides in the back.Dog with head out car window

Names of relatives when the relation is in the name: Sometimes we let Uncle Terry ride, too.

  • Only capitalize when the relation and the person's name are included: Aunt Lydia is difficult. My aunt is having a birthday party.

Substituting a family relation instead of a name: I always tell Dad that he should be careful. Thankfully, Mom agrees.

Personal pronoun “I”: No matter how many times I go there, I always get lost.

Titles before a person's name: Last Sunday, Professor Shores hosted a podcast.

  • Do not capitalize titles if they aren't before a name, for example: She interviewed Mr. Hunter, who was the treasurer of the club.

Capitalize official titles of a specific person’s position, even when they don’t come before a name: The election of 2020 resulted in the first female Vice President of the United States.

Names of national, political, racial, social, civic, and athletic groups: In 1947, Jackie Robinson become the first African-American player in Major League Baseball.

Capitals for Places and Directions

ColiseumCapitalize places and the adjectives or nouns that identify the place: When in Rome, Italy, you should visit the Pantheon. You will see lots of Roman architecture. If you stand around too much, you may get in the way of the Romans.

Capitalize the place but not a general direction: Rowan County is just north of Cabarrus County. 

Capitalize the people when identified by the place: Most people here are proud North Carolinians.

Capitalize the direction if it is a specific place: New England is considered to be in the Northeast.

Other Important Things to Capitalize

Brand names: Some people don't know that Cheerwine is made in Salisbury.

Languages and Religion: Mandarin Chinese, Christianity, French, Islam, Buddhism, etc.

Religious Figures and Holy Books: God, Jesus, Allah, Bible, Quaran, Torah, Moses, Virgin Mary

  • Do not capitalize when talking about god as a non-specific entity: Some religions have many gods.

Earth when discussed as a planet: The Earth is 94 million miles from the Sun.

Official names of departments and businesses: Department of the Treasury

Acronyns: US, UN, NATO, USDA