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Recap The Rules of Capitalization

written by: Margie • edited by: Wendy Finn • updated: 1/20/2012

It's easy to blaze through your capitalization unit. After all, your students have been studying capitalization rules for years, right? This year however, slow down and make sure your kids understand all the rules, even the tricky ones.

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    Capitalization Rules That Might Confuse Your Students

    It’s easy to take for granted that most students know their capitalization rules. The truth is however, that there are some rules that really confuse kids. Of course, most students know to capitalize the first word in a sentence and proper nouns, but what about all the other rules? Let’s take a look at some rules my students always need to review.

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    Rules for Quotations

    This is one I sometimes assume my kids know and can apply, but quickly find out that I am wrong! I spend lots of time going over these rules, particularly when we are doing narrative writing.

    Capitalize the first letter of a direct quote that is a complete sentence.

    My mom announced, “If you want to go to the park, we are leaving in five minutes!”

    If you change the order of the sentence and interrupt the quote, do not capitalize the second part of the quote.

    “If you want to go to the park,” my mom announced, “we are leaving in five minutes!”

    If you’re only quoting a fragment of what someone said, there is no need to capitalize the quote.

    Although my mom loves taking us on outings she said, “the stress involved with getting us ready,” is too much for her at times.

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    Compass Directions

    If I could name the most confusing capitalization rule for my students, it would be when to capitalize compass directions. Even I have to stop and think about it at times. It’s really not too complicated, and it is almost certain to show up on standardized tests so make sure your students know it.

    Basically, the rule is that if you are using the compass direction to name a proper place you capitalize.

    We are going to the Northeast for our summer vacation this year. (Northeast is the name of a place so you capitalize.)

    Do not capitalize if you are giving basic directions.

    Drive northeast for 2.6 miles and then take a left.

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    The Case for Titles

    Capitalize titles when they are part of a name or a substitute for a name.

    At 3:00 Aunt Jenny is going to pick us up from school.

    After 8AM you must report to Principal Jones if you are late to class.

    Do not capitalize titles if they are being used generally.

    My aunt is picking us up at 3:00.

    You must go see the principal if you arrive after 8AM.

    Capitalize titles if they follow a name on a signature line.

    Sincerely, Kim Raines, School Counselor

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    Course Titles

    Capitalize course titles if they are being used to name a specific class.

    I am taking Geometry and history.

    I am taking Geometry and World History.

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    Rules That Are Easier To Remember

    Here are some more general capitalization rules that your students are more likely to know, but you still might want to review.

    Capitalize proper nouns.

    The Empire State Building

    Do not capitalize names of seasons.

    My favorite season is summer.

    Capitalize all words within the name of a publication except for “little” words like a, an, the, and, but. Do not capitalize prepositions, unless they are the first or last word in the title.

    Where the Red Fern Grows

    The Adventures of Huck Finn

    War and Peace

    With practice, your students will learn these rules. More importantly, that they will be able to apply them in their writing. After all, the point of knowing capitalization rules is to be able to use them correctly.