Capitalization Standards

…the first word in sentences.
This seems like such a basic rule that you may wonder why I include it, but it is the source of many writing errors. Since e-mail became popular, it seems that many people think it is acceptable (or even cute) to not capitalize properly. Even in informal messages, it is important to communicate clearly. That means capitalizing properly.
This is a sentence.
So is this.
Notice how I capitalize the first letter in each sentence.
You’ve known this rule since first grade.
Don’t break it.
…the names of people and nicknames.
When should the word mom be capitalized? This is a question many students cannot answer correctly, and many spell-check programs don't seem to know either because they force you to capitalize mom, dad, aunt, uncle, and other words that indicate one's place in the family. Such words are capitalized only when they refer to a specific person and are used in place of that person's name.
The girl went by the name Catie even though her mother called her Catherine.

His mom went to the store. (not a proper noun)
I asked Mom to help me. (proper noun)

My uncle is a funny guy. (not part of a name)
I wrote Uncle Steve a letter. (part of a name)

…the pronoun I.
This is another rule that seemed simple until e-mail came along. Also, I’ve noticed that some students like to decorate a lower-case I by turning the dot into a smiley face or heart. How adorable! But don’t do it!
My friends and I are ready to leave now.

If I were you, I would capitalize correctly even in informal e-mail messages.

…days, months, and holidays. I can’t believe that Wednesday, December 25, is Christmas Day.

We went to Bob’s house on Easter in April.

Let’s have lunch next Friday.

…the names of specific streets and roads.
The key word here is specific. If the street is named (e.g., Elm Street) you capitalize both the name and the word street. If it’s just a street (or avenue, road, court, drive, or lane), the word does not need to be capitalized.
Our school is on Fairfield Road.

Jerry lives on Creekside Avenue.

The house is located on a street called Ewe Turn.

…cities, states, townships, localities, burgs, hamlets, fiefdoms, and countries (i.e., proper nouns that name places). I was born in Layton, Utah, in the United States of America.
(no capitalization of prepositions or articles: a, an, the, of, in, on, etc.)

My sister lives in Riverdale, which is a part of South Ogden.


…other specific places and structures.
Again, specific is important. They have to be proper nouns that name specific places or structures. One of the most common capitalization errors I see every year is that students capitalize the words high school and/or junior high school every time they write them. That's WRONG! These terms are capitalized ONLY WHEN THEY ARE PART OF THE ENTIRE NAME OF A SCHOOL (or if they are used in a written title).

Elizabeth attended junior high school in Kaysville, but she attends high school in Layton. (not specific)

This web site is for students that attend Fairfield Junior High School, many of whom will later attend Layton High School. (specific names of the schools)

We visited a monument. (not specific)
We visited the Washington Monument. (specific)

I live near a lake. (not specific)
I live near the Great Salt Lake. (specific)

…the first word in a quoted sentence. The teacher said, “You must capitalize the first word in a direct quote.”

The students asked, “Even if it’s a fragment?”

The teacher replied, “Yes!”

This could mean titles of books, magazines, articles, CDs, songs, poems, writing assignments, works of art, names of ships…you get the idea. Capitalize titles.

Note: Do not capitalize articles (a, an, the) or prepositions of less than four letters in titles unless they are the first word in the title; always capitalize the first word.

We read Nothing but the Truth and The Pigman.
(Books, movies, television shows, and albums should be in italics or underlined.)

My research paper was entitled “Thomas Jefferson: The Voice of an Age.”

The new CD is called Rock and Roll Forever.

…abbreviations that refer to proper nouns.
Some abbreviations do not need to be capitalized. Those little Latin abbreviations like etc., i.e, e.g., and et. al. don’t require capitalization. (A note about etc: Et cetera is Latin for “and so on.” Writers who use this abbreviation a lot are lazy; it shows that they just didn’t care enough to write out the rest of an example or list. Worse than that, however, is the writer who misspells the abbreviation like this: ect., which is not an abbreviation of anything. It’s just really annoying! So be careful with etc. please.)
I saw Dr. Smith at the movies.

We gave the gift to Mr. and Mrs. Jones.

The satellite went over at 11:23 P.M.

The ancient tribe roamed the earth in 430 B.C.

The guy at the gate was St. Peter.

You should capitalize titles, cities, states, etc.

…titles of persons and organizations. The American Cancer Society helps many people.

A true humanitarian is President Carter.

…races, nationalities, and languages. Bill Cosby is an African-American comedian.

Marco speaks Spanish.

My grandmother was Irish.

…religions. I am Catholic, but all my friends are Methodists.
…words pertaining to deity and sacred writings. He prayed to God and asked for His help.
(Pronouns that refer to deity are also capitalized.)

She reads the Bible every night.

…historical periods, events, and documents. The Battle of Shiloh was a bloody fight.

Read the Declaration of Independence.

Science flourished during the Age of Reason.

...the salutation and closing of a letter. Dear Aunt Edna,


…the names of classes in school.
Don't capitalize the words (except languages, which are always capitalized) when they do not refer to specific classes.

I am taking English 8, Algebra, Health, and Music.

I studied algebra and history in college. (not names of specific classes)

Back to Thompson's Main Page