Capital Letters

English capital letters

When should you use a capital letter in written English?

Here are some basic rules to help you. Remember that the use of capital letters is often specific to an organisation. The United Nations Correspondence Manual gives advice on capital letters specific to this Organisation.

1. The first word in a sentence.

2. The pronoun 'I'.

3. Name titles like Mr, Mrs, Miss, Dr, Professor, Sir, His Holiness (+ name).

4. Names of people: William Shakespeare, Booker T. Junior, Madonna.

5. Ranks and titles when used in conjunction with a name: Dick Cheney, the vice-president of the USA; Qadafi is one of the best known colonels in Africa.

Note: jobs and offices are usually written without capitals if not used as part of the name: the foreign secretary, the chairman of British Airways, the prime minister.
Relations are only capitalised if they are used as part of the name: Uncle John; John was my favourite uncle.

Positions are capitalised when used as part of the name only: Professor Smythe is a history professor.

6. Full names of organisations, ministries, departments, treaties: the United Nations, the Metropolitan Police, the New York Stock Exchange, the Treaty of Rome, the European Union.

7. Large or central committees: the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party, the Staff Committee on Education and Training but not special groups or sub-committees: the second sub-committee of the Economic and Social Affairs Working Group (unless it has its own specific title).

8. Named geographical places: The Hague, the Sahara Desert, Australasia, the Tower of Pisa but not state, federal, national, government unless part of a title.

9. Well-known regions: Eastern Europe, the Middle East, South East Asia but not south Amsterdam, western Peru.

10. Celestial bodies: Mars, Venus, Jupiter, the Earth but not the sun, the moon, stars or earth (if not referred to as a planet).

11. Newspapers and Journals: Newsweek, The Economist, The London Review of Books.

12. The main words in book and article titles: 'Seven Ways to Improve your Love Life' (article), Improving your Life Today (book).

13. Days, months, holidays: Monday, September, Easter but not seasons: spring, winter, autumn/fall.

14. Historical Events: the Crusades, World War Two, the French Revolution, the Depression.

15. Nationalities and languages: Finnish, German, Tagalog.

16. Departments when given as titles: the Department for Forensic Investigation.

17. Religious and political terms from names: Christian, Buddhist, Marxist. Also religious groups: Sikhs, Catholics, Protestants.

18. Named courses: Effective Written Communication, Comparative Religion 101 but not subjects: a course on effective writing; a student of comparative religion.

19. Rivers: the Limpopo, the Rhine, the River Thames, the Mississippi River.

20. Lakes: Lake Ontario, Lake Victoria.

21. Mountains and ranges: Mount Everest, the Alps, the Himalayas but the Appalachian mountains.

22. Brands and trade names: Gap, BP, Dell, Longman, Zinfandel and objects named after trade names: Walkman, Hoover, Valium; and products named after places: a good Bordeaux wine, a nice Edam cheese.

23. Political parties: the Liberal Democrats, the Green Party, the Labour Party.

24. Objects which have become historically significant or religious objects: the Berlin Wall, the FA Cup, the Koran, the Bar (UK legal).

25. Articles and chapters: Article 19 in the Treaty of Rome.

Some words and phrases which usually do not need a capital letter: civil war, common market, new year's day, opposition, white paper, the pope, the queen, the right/the left (wing), cabinet, administration, aborigines, french fries, 19th amendment, third world, the web.

And some that are usually written with a capital: the Crown, Internet, World Wide Web, Eurosceptic/Europhile.