Capitalization

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The capital letter "A" in the Latin alphabet followed by its lower case equivalent.

Capitalization (or capitalisation[note 1]) is writing a word with its first letter as a capital letter (upper-case letter) and the remaining letters in lower case. This of course only applies to those writing systems which have a case distinction. The term is also used for the choice of case in text.

Conventional writing systems (orthographies) for different languages have different conventions for capitalization.

The systematic use of capitalized and uncapitalized words in running text is called "mixed case". Conventions for the capitalization of titles and other classes of words vary between languages and, to a lesser extent, between different style guides.

In some written languages, it is not obvious what is meant by the "first letter": for example, the South-Slavic digraph 'lj' is considered as a single character for collation purposes (a situation which occurs in many other languages) and can be represented by a single Unicode character, but at the start of a word it is written 'Lj': only the L is capitalised. In contrast, in Dutch, when a word starts with the digraph 'ij', capitalization is applied to both letters, such as in the name of the city of IJmuiden. There is a single Unicode character that combines the two letters, but it is generally not used.

Parts of speech[edit]

The generally accepted rules of capitalization vary between different written languages. The full rules of capitalization for English are complicated. The rules have also changed over time, generally to capitalize fewer terms. To the modern reader, an 18th-century document uses initial capitals excessively. The current rules can be found in style guides, although there is some variation from one guide to another.

Owing to the essentially arbitrary nature of orthographic classification and the existence of variant authorities and local house styles, questionable capitalization of words is not uncommon, even in respected newspapers and magazines. Most publishers require consistency, at least within the same document, in applying a specified standard: this is described as "house style".

Pronouns[edit]

  • In English, the subjective form of the singular first-person pronoun, "I", is capitalized, along with all its contractions such as I'll and I'm. Object and possessive forms "me", "my", and "mine" are not.
  • Many European languages traditionally capitalize nouns and pronouns used to refer to God, including references to Jesus Christ (reverential capitals): hallowed be Thy name, look what He has done. Some English authors capitalize any word referring to God: the Lamb, the Almighty; some capitalize "Thy Name". These practices have become much less common in English in the 20th and 21st centuries.
  • Some languages capitalize the formal second-person pronoun:
    • In German, the formal second person singular or plural pronoun Sie is capitalized along with all its case-forms (Ihre, Ihres, etc.), but these words are not capitalized when used as third person feminine singular or plural pronouns. Until the recent German spelling reform, the traditional rules (which are still widely adhered to, although not taught in schools) also capitalized the informal 2nd person singular pronoun Du (and its derivatives, such as Dein) when used in letters or similar texts, but this is no longer required.
    • Italian also capitalizes its formal pronouns, Lei and Loro, and their cases (even within words, e.g. arrivederLa "goodbye", formal). Similarly, Te is capitalized in formal Finnish. This is occasionally also done for the Dutch U, though this is formally only required when referring to a deity and may be considered archaic.
    • In Spanish, the abbreviation of the pronoun usted and ustedes, Ud., Uds., Vd., or Vds., is usually written with a capital.
    • Similarly, in Russian the formal second-person pronoun Вы, and its oblique cases Вас, Вам etc., is capitalized (usually in personal correspondence); and similarly in Bulgarian.
    • Slovenian, Croatian, Serbian capitalize the formal second-person pronoun Vi along with its oblique cases (Vas, Vam, Vami) and personal pronoun (Vaš etc.) in formal correspondence. Historically, the familiar second-person pronoun ti and its cases (tebe, tebi, teboj) were capitalized as well, but new orthography prohibits such use.
    • In Danish, the plural second-person pronoun, I, is capitalized, but its other forms jer and jeres are not. This distinguishes it from the preposition i ("in"). The formal second-person pronoun is also capitalised in all its forms (De, Dem, Deres), distinguishing it from the otherwise identical third-person plural pronouns.
    • In formally written Polish, Czech, Slovak and Latvian, most notably in letters and e-mails, all pronouns referring to the addressee are capitalized. This includes Ty (thou) and all its related forms such as Twój and Ciebie. This principle extends to nouns used formally to address the addressee of a letter, such as Pan (sir) and Pani (madam).[citation needed]
    • In Indonesian, capitalizing the formal second-person pronoun Anda along with all references to the addressee, such as "(kepada) Bapak/Ibu" ((to) Sir/Madam), is required in practice of Ejaan Yang Disempurnakan (Perfected Ortography).[1] However, some people do not know of or choose not to adhere to this spelling rule. In contrast, Malay ortography used in Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei does not require the capitalization of anda.
  • The English vocative particle O, an archaic form of address, e.g. Thou, O king, art a king of kings. However, lowercase "o" is also seen in this context.
  • In Swedish, since du-reformen, the second person singular pronoun du may be capitalized as Du when addressed formally.

Places and geographic terms[edit]

The capitalization of geographic terms in English text generally depends on whether the author perceives the term as a proper noun, in which case it is capitalized, or as a combination of an established proper noun with a normal adjective or noun, in which case the latter are not capitalized[clarification needed]. There are no universally agreed lists of English geographic terms which are considered as proper nouns. The following are examples of rules that some British and U.S. publishers have established in style guides for their authors:

  • In general, the first letter is capitalized for well-defined regions, e.g. South America, Lower California, Tennessee Valley[2]
  • This general rule also applies to zones of the Earth’s surface (North Temperate Zone, the Equator)[3]
  • In other cases, do not capitalize the points of the compass (north China, south-east London) or other adjectives (western Arizona, central New Mexico, upper Yangtze, lower Rio Grande)
  • Capitalize generic geographic terms that are part of a place name (Atlantic Ocean, Mt. Muztagata, River Severn)
  • Otherwise, do not capitalize a generic term that follows a capitalized generic term (Yangtze River valley)
  • Use lower case for plurals of generic terms (Gobi and Taklamakan deserts); but "the Dakotas"
  • Only capitalize "the" if it is part of the (short-form) formal place name (The Hague vs. the Netherlands, the Sudan, and the Philippines)

Upper case: East Asia, South-East Asia, Central Asia, Central America, North Korea, South Africa, the North Atlantic, the Middle East, the Arctic, The Hague

Lower case: western China, southern Beijing, western Mongolia, eastern Africa, northern North Korea, the central Gobi, the lower Yangtze River.

Nouns[edit]

  • In German (and Luxembourgish), all nouns are capitalized. This was also practiced in Danish before the spelling reform of 1948, and in English during the 18th century (as in Gulliver's Travels, and most of the original 1787 United States Constitution).
  • In nearly all European languages, single-word proper nouns, including personal names, are capitalized (like France or Moses). Multiple-word proper nouns usually follow the traditional English rules for publication titles (like in Robert the Bruce).
    • Where placenames are merely preceded by the definite article, this is usually in lower case (as in the Philippines).
      • Sometimes, the article is integral to the name, and thus is capitalized (as in Den Haag, Le Havre). However, in French this does not occur for contractions du and au (as in "Je viens du Havre" ("I come from Le Havre")). In other European languages, it is much more common for the article to be treated as integral to the name, but it may not be capitalized ("die Schweiz", "les Pays-Bas", "yr Almaen" etc.).
    • A few English names are written with two lowercase "f"s: ffrench, ffoulkes, etc. This originated as a variant script for capital F.
    • A few individuals have chosen not to use capitals in their names, such as k.d. lang and bell hooks. E. E. Cummings, whose name is often written without capitals, did not do so himself: the usage derives from the typography used on the cover of one of his books.[4][5]
    • Most brand names and trademarks are capitalized (e.g., Coca-Cola, Pepsi) although some have chosen to deviate from standard rules (e.g., easyJet, id Software, eBay, iPod) to be distinctive. When capitals occur within a word, it is sometimes referred to as CamelCase.
  • In English, the names of days of the week, months and languages are capitalized, as are demonyms like Englishman, Arab. In other languages, practice varies, but most languages other than German (which capitalizes all nouns) do not.[6]
  • In English-language addresses, the noun following the proper name of a street is capitalized, whether or not it is abbreviated: "Main Street", "Fleming Ave.", "Montgomery Blvd.", but in French, street names are capitalized when they are proper names, the noun itself ("Rue", "Place") is normally not capitalized: "rue de Rivoli", "place de la Concorde".
  • In Italian the name of a particular concept or object is capitalized when the writer wants to emphasize its importance and significance.[7]
  • Capitalization is always used for most names of taxa used in scientific classification of living things, except for species-level taxa or below. Example: Homo sapiens sapiens.
  • Some authors controversially capitalize common names of some animal and plant species. As a general rule, names are not capitalized, unless they are part of an official list of names, in which case they have become proper nouns and are capitalized. Names referring to more than one species (e.g., horse or cat) are always in lowercase. This is most common for birds[8] and fishes. Botanists generally do not capitalize the common names of plants, though individual words in plant names may be capitalized for another reason: (Italian stone pine). See the discussion of official common names under common name for an explanation.
  • Common nouns may be capitalized when used as names for the entire class of such things, e.g. what a piece of work is Man. French often capitalizes such nouns as l'État (the state) and l'Église (the church) when not referring to specific ones.
  • Names by which gods are known are capitalized, including God, Allah, and Vishnu. The word god is generally not capitalized if it is used to refer to the generic idea of a deity, nor is it capitalized when it refers to multiple gods, e.g. Roman gods. There may be some confusion because Judaism, Christianity, and Islam rarely refer to deity by a specific name, but simply as God (see Writing divine names). Other names for the God of these three Abrahamic faiths, such as Elohim, Yahweh, and Lord, are also capitalized.
  • While acronyms have historically been written in all-caps, British usage is moving towards capitalizing only the first letter in cases when these are pronounced as words (e.g., Unesco and Nato), reserving all-caps for initialisms (e.g., UK and USA).
  • In life stance orthography, in order to distinguish life stances from general -isms. For instance, Humanism (life stance) is distinguished from humanism.[9]
  • In legal English, defined terms that refer to a specific entity, such as "Tenant" and "Lessor", are often capitalized. More specifically, in legal documents, terms which are formally defined elsewhere in the document or a related document (often in a schedule of definitions) are capitalized to indicate that that is the case, and may be several words long, e.g. "the Second Subsidiary Claimant", "the Agreed Conditional Release Date".
  • Most English honorifics and titles of persons, e.g. Sir, Dr Watson, Mrs Jones, His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh. This does not apply where the words are not titles; e.g. Watson is a doctor, Philip is a duke.

Adjectives[edit]

  • In English, adjectives derived from proper nouns (except the names of characters in fictional works) usually retain their capitalization – e.g. a Christian church, Canadian whisky, a Shakespearean sonnet, but not a (Quixotism) quixotic mission, malapropism, holmesian nor pecksniffian. Where the original capital is no longer at the beginning of the word, usage varies: anti-Christian, and either Presocratic, pre-Socratic, Pre-Socratic or presocratic. Never preSocratic – a hyphen must precede a capital in a compound word.
  • Such adjectives do not receive capitals in German (sokratisch, präsokratisch), French (socratique, présocratique), Spanish (socrático, presocrático), Swedish (sokratisk, försokratisk) or Polish (sokratejski, presokratejski). In German, if the adjective becomes a noun by using an article or numeral in front of it (das/die Bunte (the colorful thing(s)), eine Schöne (a beautiful one)), it is capitalized like any other noun, as are nouns formed from proper nouns (der Urgoethe). The same applies to verbs (das Laufen (the (practice of) running), das Spazierengehen (the (practice of) going for a walk)).
  • Whether geographic adjectives – adjectives referring to cities, countries and other geographic places – are capitalized in German depends on their ending: Geographic adjectives ending in "-er" in their base form are capitalized, others are not. This can feel strange where both forms of the adjective exist for a particular place. For example, one can refer to something being from Mecklenburg by calling either it "Mecklenburger" or "mecklenburgisch".
  • Adjectives referring to nationality or ethnicity are not capitalized in French, even though nouns are: un navire canadien, a Canadian ship; un Canadien, a Canadian. Both nouns and adjectives are capitalized in English when referring to nationality or ethnicity.

Acronyms[edit]

Acronyms are usually capitalized, with a few exceptions:

Titles[edit]

In English, some authors/publishers capitalize the first word and the last word of titles. In addition, they believe that all nouns, pronouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs, and subordinate conjunctions should be capitalized. Articles and coordinating conjunctions are not capitalized, while sources disagree on the capitalization of prepositions.[10] For example, no prepositions are capitalized in the title of a book, a movie, or a play according to some style guides, for example the Chicago Manual of Style.[11] The APA style guide, for example, however says: Capitalize major words in titles of books and articles within the body of the paper. Conjunctions, articles, and short prepositions are not considered major words; however, capitalize all words of four letters or more.[12]

In other languages, such as the Romance languages, only the first word and proper names are capitalized.

By context[edit]

  • In some modern European languages, the first word in a sentence is capitalized, as is the first word in any quoted sentence. (For example in English: Nana said, "There are ripe watermelons in the garden!") In some European languages, the first word in a sentence is capitalized, the first word in any quoted sentence, as well as all nouns regardless of position (For example in German: Nana sagte: "Dort sind reife Wassermelonen im Garten!").
    • The first word of a sentence is not capitalized in most modern editions of ancient Greek and, to a lesser extent, Latin texts. The distinction between lower and upper case was not introduced before the Middle Ages; in antiquity only the capital forms of letters were used.
    • For some items, many style guides recommend that initial capitalization be avoided by not putting the item at the beginning of a sentence, or by writing it in lowercase even at the beginning of a sentence. Such scientific terms have their own rules about capitalization which take precedence over the standard initial capitalization rule. For example pH would be liable to cause confusion if written PH, and initial m and M may even have different meanings, milli and mega, for example 2 MA (megamperes) is a billion times 2 mA (milliamperes). Increasingly nowadays, some trade marks and company names start with a lower-case letter, and similar considerations apply.
    • When the first letters of a word have been omitted and replaced by an apostrophe, the first letter in a sentence is usually left uncapitalized in English and certain other languages, as "'tis a shame ..."
  • Traditionally, the first words of a line of verse are capitalized, e.g.:
    Meanwhile the winged Heralds, by command
    Of sovereign power, with awful ceremony
    And trumpet's sound, throughout the host proclaim
    A solemn council forthwith to be held
    At Pandemonium, the high capital
    Of Satan and his peers. […]
    (Milton, Paradise Lost I:752–756)
  • In the U.S., headlines and titles of works typically use title case, in which certain words (such as nouns, adjectives and verbs) are capitalized and others (such as prepositions and conjunctions) are not.

Special cases[edit]

Compound names[edit]

  • In German, the particle "von" (meaning "of", pronounced [fɔn]) or "genannt" (meaning "named") in a surname (e.g. Alexander von Humboldt) is not capitalized (unless it is the first letter of a sentence).
  • In Swedish borrowed particles like "von" or the Swedish particles "av" and "af" is not capitalized, even if it is the first letter of a sentence.
  • In Dutch, all particles like "van", or "de", or "der", or "ter" in a surname are capitalized unless a given name or initial precedes it. With compound particles like "van der" only the first one is capitalized. However, particles are capitalized in Belgium, except when introducing a title of nobility or when use of the lower case has been granted to some noble family. Thus in a sentence about the location of Van Gogh's most productive period:
    • "Zijn beste werken maakte Vincent van Gogh in Frankrijk" would be, without the given name Vincent
    • "Zijn beste werken maakte Van Gogh in Frankrijk"
  • In Dutch, ’t, ’n, or ’s are never capitalized, even at the start of sentences. They are short for the articles het, een and the old possessive form des. Examples: ’s-Gravenhage, ’t Harde.[citation needed]
  • In English, practice varies when the name starts with a particle with a meaning such as "from" or "the" or "son of".
    • Some of these particles (Mac, Mc, M, O) are always capitalized; others (L’, Van) are usually capitalized; still others often are not (d’, de, di, von). The compound particle de La is usually written with the 'L' capitalized but not the 'd'.[13]
    • The remaining part of such a name, following the particle, is always capitalized if it is set off with a space as a separate word, or if the particle was not capitalized. It is normally capitalized if the particle is Mc, M, or O. In other cases (including Mac), there is no set rule (both Macintyre and MacIntyre are seen, for example).

Accents[edit]

In most languages that use diacritics, these are treated the same way in uppercase whether the text is capitalized or all-uppercase. They may be always preserved (as in German) or always omitted or often omitted (as in French and Spanish).[14] Some attribute this to the fact that diacritics on capital letters were not available earlier on typewriters, and it is now becoming more common to preserve them in French and Spanish (in both languages the rule is to preserve them,[15] although in France, for instance, schoolchildren are often taught that they should not add diacritics on capital letters).

However, in the polytonic orthography used for Greek prior to 1982, accents were omitted in all-uppercase words, but kept as part of an uppercase initial (written before rather than above the letter). The latter situation is provided for by title-case characters in Unicode. When Greek is written with the present day monotonic orthography, where only the acute accent is used, the same rule is applied. The accent is omitted in all-uppercase words but it is kept as part of an uppercase initial (written before the letter rather than above it). The dialytika (diaeresis) should also always be used in all-uppercase words (even in cases where they are not needed when writing in lowercase, e.g. ΑΫΛΟΣ-άυλος).

Digraphs and ligatures[edit]

Some languages treat certain digraphs as single letters for the purpose of collation. In general, where one such is formed as a ligature, the corresponding uppercase form is used in capitalization; where it is written as two separate characters, only the first will be capitalized. Thus Oedipus or Œdipus are both correct, but OEdipus is not. Examples with ligature include Ærøskøbing in Danish, where Æ/æ is a completely separate letter rather than merely a typographic ligature (the same applies in Icelandic); with separate characters include Llanelli in Welsh, where Ll is a single letter; and Ffrangeg in Welsh where Ff is equivalent to English F (whereas Welsh F corresponds to English V).[16] The position in Hungarian is similar to the latter.

  • An exception is the Dutch letter IJ. Both components are capitalized even though they are printed separately when using a computer, as in IJsselmeer. In the past the letter was written as Y, and this still survives in surnames and place names, e.g. Ysselmeer.
  • A converse exception exists in the Croatian alphabet, where digraph letters (, Lj, Nj) have mixed-case forms even when written as ligatures.[17] With typewriters and computers, these "title-case" forms have become less common than 2-character equivalents; nevertheless they can be represented as single title-case characters in Unicode (Dž, Lj, Nj).

Initial mutation[edit]

In languages where inflected forms of a word may have extra letters at the start, the capitalized letter may be the initial of the root form rather than the inflected form. For example, in Irish, in the placename Sliabh na mBan, "(the) mountain of the women" (anglicized as Slievenamon), the word-form written mBan contains the genitive plural of the noun bean, "woman", mutated after the genitive plural definite article (i.e. "of the"). The written B is in fact mute in this form.

Other languages may capitalize the initial letter of the orthographic word, even if it is not present in the base, as with definite nouns in Maltese that start with certain consonant clusters. For example, l-Istati Uniti (the United States) capitalize the epenthetic I, even though the base form of the word - without the definite article - is stati.

Case-sensitive English words[edit]

In English, there are even a few words whose meaning (and sometimes pronunciation) varies with capitalization. See: List of case-sensitive English words.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ (Indonesian) General Guide to Perfected Spelling of the Indonesian Language, Section: Capital Letters - from Indonesian Wikisource
  2. ^ Economist Style Guide, Capitalization – Places and for administrative areas (West Virginia, East Sussex)
  3. ^ Council of Science Editors, Style Manual Committee. Scientific Style and format: the CSE manual for authors, editors, and publishers, 7th ed. 2006. Section 9.7.3, Pg. 120. ISBN 978-0-9779665-0-9
  4. ^ See E. E. Cummings: Name and capitalization for further discussion.
  5. ^ Friedman, Norman (1992). "Not "e. e. cummings"". Spring 1: 114–121. Retrieved December 13, 2005. 
  6. ^ Capitalization rules for days, months, demonyms and language-names in many languages from Wikimedia
  7. ^ See the entry Maiuscolo at the Italian Wikipedia for descriptions of various rules of capitalization in Italian and for references.
  8. ^ Worldbirdnames.org
  9. ^ Humanism Unmodified By Edd Doerr. Published in the Humanist (November/December 2002)
  10. ^ "Writer's Block - Writing Tips - Capitalization in Titles". Writersblock.ca. Retrieved 2012-10-28. 
  11. ^ "Capitalization, Titles". Chicagomanualofstyle.org. Retrieved 2012-10-28. 
  12. ^ [1]
  13. ^ Oxford Manual of Style, R. M. Ritter ed., Oxford University Press, 2002
  14. ^ Chicago Style Q&A: Special Characters
  15. ^ Accentuation des majuscules Questions de langue: Academie Française
  16. ^ Lewis, H (ed) Collins-Spurrell Welsh Dictionary Collins UK 1977 p. 10. ISBN 0-00-433402-7
  17. ^ Vladimir Anić, Josip Silić: "Pravopisni priručnik hrvatskog ili srpskog jezika", Zagreb, 1986 (trans. Spelling handbook of Croato-Serbian language)

Notes[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Council of Science Editors, Style Manual Committee. Scientific Style and format: the CSE manual for authors, editors, and publishers, 7th ed. Reston (VA): The Council; 2006. Section 9.7.3, Pg. 120

External links[edit]