In typography, small capitals (usually abbreviated small caps) are uppercase (capital) characters set at the same height and weight as surrounding lowercase (small) letters or text figures. They are used in running text to prevent capitalized words from appearing too large on the page, and as a method of emphasis or distinctiveness for text alongside or instead of italics, or when boldface is inappropriate. For example, TEXT IN CAPS appears as text in caps. They can be used to draw attention to the opening phrase or line of a new section of text, or to provide an additional style in a dictionary entry where many parts must be typographically differentiated.
Typically, the height of a small capital will be one ex, the same height as most lowercase characters in the font. In Anglo-Saxon typography, small caps are about 10% larger than the x-height. To differentiate between these two variants the x-height form is sometimes called petite caps. OpenType fonts can define both forms via the "small caps" and the "petite caps" features. Because the support for the petite caps feature is absent from most desktop-publishing programs, many fonts use x-height small caps in the small-caps feature. Well designed small capitals are not simply scaled-down versions of normal capitals; they normally retain the same stroke weight as other letters and have a wider aspect ratio for readability.
Many word processors and text-formatting systems include an option to format text in caps and small caps, which leaves uppercase letters as they are, but converts lowercase letters to small caps. How this is implemented depends on the typesetting system; some can use true small caps associated with modern professional fonts, making text such as "Latvia joined Nato on March 29, 2004" look proportional; but less complex digital fonts do not have a small-caps case, so the typesetting system simply reduces the uppercase letters by a fraction, making them look out of proportion. A work-around to simulate real small capitals is to use a one-level bolder version of the small caps generated by such systems, to match well with the normal weights of capitals and lowercase, especially when such small caps are extended about 5% or letterspaced a half point or a point
Small caps are often used for sections of text that is all uppercase; this makes the run of capital letters seem less jarring to the reader. For example, the style of many American publications, including the Atlantic Monthly and USA Today, is to use small caps for acronyms and initialisms longer than three letters—thus "U.S." in normal caps, but "nato" in small caps. The initialisms ad, bc, am, and pm are often smallcapped.
In printed plays and stage directions, small caps are usually used for the names of characters before their lines.
French and some British publications use small caps to indicate the surname by which someone with a long formal name is to be designated in the rest of a written work. An elementary example is Don Quixote de La Mancha. Similarly, they are used for those languages in which the surname comes first, such as the Romanization Mao Zedong.
In many versions of the Old Testament of the Bible, the word "LORD" is set in small caps. Typically, an ordinary "Lord" corresponds to the use of the word Adonai in the original Hebrew, but the small caps "LORD" corresponds to the use of Yahweh in the original; in some versions the compound "Lord GOD" represents the Hebrew compound Adonai Yahweh.
The Bluebook prescribes small caps for some titles in United States legal citations.
In many books, when one part of the book mentions another part of the same book, or mentions the work as a whole, the name is set in small caps (sometimes with normal capitals for the initial letters of certain words in the title), not italics and not roman type within quotation marks. For example, articles in The World Book Encyclopedia refer to the encyclopedia as a whole and to the encyclopedia's other articles in small caps, as in the "Insurance" article's direction, at one point, to "See No-Fault Insurance", "No-Fault Insurance" being another of the encyclopedia's articles.
George Eliot's 1856 essay "Silly Novels by Lady Novelists" is critical of Victorian novelists for using excessive small caps and for employing them in inappropriate contexts (such as using small caps in place of italics to indicate emphasis).
Computer support for small caps
Although small caps are not usually "semantically important", the Unicode standard does define a number of "small capital" characters in the IPA extensions, Phonetic Extensions and Latin Extended-D ranges (0250–02AF, 1D00–1D7F, A720–A7FF). These characters, with official names such as latin letter small capital a, are meant for use in phonetic representations. For example, U+1D18 ᴘ latin letter small capital p (HTML:
ᴘ) represents a semi-voiced bilabial plosive .
As of Unicode 5.1, the only characters missing to allow representation of the full ISO basic Latin alphabet in small capital Unicode characters are small capital versions of Q and X; many more are missing for all Latin-based alphabets. The following table shows the existing Unicode small capital characters for the ISO basic Latin alphabet:
Note that since these glyphs come from different ranges, they may not be of the same size, because few typefaces supply all of them.
These "small capital" characters should not be confused with the Unicode Standard's typographical convention of using small caps for formal Unicode character names in running text. For example, the name of U+0416 Ж is conventionally shown as CYRILLIC CAPITAL LETTER ZHE.
Small caps in Cascading Style Sheets
<span style="font-variant: small-caps;">Jane Doe</span>
<span style="font-variant: small-caps;">AaBbCcDdEeFfGgHhIiJjKkLlMmNnOoPpQqRrSsTtUuVvWwXxYyZz</span>
- Jane Doe.
Since the CSS styles the text, readers are still able to copy the normally-capitalized plain text from the web page as rendered by a browser.
CSS3 can specify OpenType small caps (given the 'smcp' feature in the font replaces glyphs with proper small caps glyphs)
<span style="font-feature-settings: smcp;">Jane Doe</span>
<span style="font-feature-settings: smcp;">AaBbCcDdEeFfGgHhIiJjKkLlMmNnOoPpQqRrSsTtUuVvWwXxYyZz</span>
- Jane Doe
Computer support for petite caps
The OpenType font standard provides support for transformations from normal letters to petite caps by two feature tags,
c2pc. A font may use the tag
pcap to indicate how to transform lower-case letters to petite caps, and the tag
c2pc to indicate how to transform upper-case letters to petite caps.
Cascading Style Sheets
As of 2013, there is no direct support for petite caps in web pages using the Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) language, but the working draft proposal of 2011 by the W3C, describes CSS rules that would specify text presentation in petite caps, as well as many other typographic styles.
- Willberg, Hans and Forssman, Friedrich (2010). Lesetypografie. Verlag Hermann Schmitz, Mainz. ISBN 978-3-87439-800-8.
- Bringhurst, Robert (2004). The Elements of Typographic Style (version 3.0). Vancouver: Hartley & Marks. ISBN 0-88179-205-5.
- Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary. Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers. 2003. p. 1046. ISBN 0-8054-2836-4.
- "Silly Novels by Lady Novelists", The Westminster Review (October 1856), Vol. 66 (old series), Vol. 10 (new series), pp. 442-461
- Appendix A, The Unicode Standard 5.2.0
- "Microsoft OpenType Layout tag registry"
- "Typotheque: OpenType feature support"
- "W3C Working Draft Proposal: CSS Fonts Module Level 3"
- A proposal for supplementary characters in Unicode: Medieval Nordic. Subrange 3: Small capitals at Medieval Unicode Font Initiative