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Capitalization: All the Rules You Need to Know

written by: Keren Perles • edited by: Sarah Malburg • updated: 9/11/2012

If you’re struggling with capitalization issues, this list should help. This article contains a comprehensive list of capitalization rules.

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    A comprehensive list of capitalization rules can be essential when writing a paper or an official report. This list of rules can help you figure out how to capitalize words in your writing correctly.

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    The First Letter of a Sentence

    The first letter of a sentence is always capitalized, even if it comes after a quotation mark. In this comprehensive list of capitalization rules, this is probably the most well-known.

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    The Word “I"

    The word “I" is always capitalized, even in the middle of a sentence. Similarly, in the contractions “I’m," “I’ve," “I’ll," and “I’d," the letter “I" is also capitalized.

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    Names and Titles

    First and last names of people are always capitalized, such as “John Doe." Titles are also capitalized when they come before a name. Therefore, the word “president" in “the president of the United States" would not be capitalized, but “President Obama" would be. Below are some other less common examples of capitalized titles:

    · Author J. K. Rowling

    · Mayor Giuliani

    · Secretary of Defense Robert Gates

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    Other Proper Nouns

    Specific names of places or things should be capitalized as well. For example, “Los Angeles" is capitalized because it is the name of a specific place. “Tropicana" is capitalized because it is the name of a specific company. And although “river" is a common noun, which is not capitalized, the “Yangtze River" would be capitalized because it names a specific river.

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    Time Periods

    Time periods, such as days, months, and epochs, are also capitalized. Therefore, the words “Tuesday," “March," and “Stone Age" would be capitalized.

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    Directions

    Direction words, including cardinal directions (e.g., north, east) and intermediate directions (e.g., northeast, southwest), should be lowercase. They should only be uppercase when referring to a specific geographic area, such as “the Southwest."

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    Title Words

    Words in the title of a book, movie, article, or other creative work should almost always be capitalized. Only articles and prepositions are sometimes lowercase in a title, and even then only if they contain fewer than three or four letters. The first letter of a title is always capitalized, even if it is a short article or preposition.

    Having a comprehensive list of capitalization rules can help you understand when to capitalize letters in your writing and when to keep them lowercase. Keep this article handy for easy reference in order to improve your capitalization skills.