Parts of speech
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 21st-century reader, an 18th-century document uses initial capitals incorrectly and without any kind of rule or logic by capitalizing many but usually not all common nouns. 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".
- 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.
- In the Bahai Scriptures, singular and plural object, subject, and possessive forms get capitalization if referring to a Rasul, the Twelve Imams, or 'Abdu'l-Baha.
- Some languages capitalize the formal pronoun:
- In German, the formal third person 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(s), 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). 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 abbreviations of the pronouns usted and ustedes, Ud., Uds., Vd., and Vds., are usually written with a capital.
- In Finnish, the second-person plural pronoun can be used when formally addressing a single person, and in writing the pronoun is sometimes capitalized as Te to indicate special regard. In a more familiar tone, it is also possible to capitalize the second-person singular pronoun Sinä.
- Similarly, in Russian the formal second-person pronoun Вы, and its oblique cases Вас, Вам etc., are capitalized (usually in personal correspondence), also 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 capitalized in all its forms (De, Dem, Deres), distinguishing it from the otherwise identical third-person plural pronouns.
- In Norwegian, both second person singular and plural have a capitalized alternative form (De, Dem, Deres in Bokmål; De, Dykk, Dykkar in Nynorsk) to express formality for both subject and object of a sentence, but is very rarely used in modern speech and writing.
- 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").
- 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 Orthography). However, some people do not know of or choose not to adhere to this spelling rule. In contrast, Malay orthography used in Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei does not require the capitalization of anda.
- In Tagalog and its standard form, Filipino, the formal second-person pronouns Kayo and Ninyo and their oblique form Inyo are customarily and reverentially capitalized as such, particularly in most digital and printed media related to religion and its references. Purists who consider this rule as nonstandard and inconsistent do not apply it when writing.
- In Tajik, capitalization is used to distinguish the second person formal pronoun Шумо from the second person plural pronoun шумо.
- In Swedish, since du-reformen, the second person singular pronoun du may be capitalized as Du when addressed formally.
- Some languages capitalize a royal we (pluralis majestatis), e.g. it is capitalized in German.
- 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 occasionally seen in this context.
Places and geographic terms
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. (October 2015)
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. 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
- This general rule also applies to zones of the Earth’s surface (North Temperate Zone, the Equator)
- 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.
When a term is used as a name and then subsequently a shorter term is used then that shorter term maybe used generically. If that is the case do not capitalize. ("The Tatra National Park is a tourist destination in Poland. Watch out for bears when visiting the national park.")
- The various languages and dialects in the High German family, including Standard German and Luxembourgish, are the only major languages using the Latin alphabet in which all nouns are generally capitalized. This was also practiced in other Germanic languages (mainly due to German influence):
- 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 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.
- 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 camel case.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Controversially, some authors 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. This is most common for birds and fishes. Names referring to more than one species (e.g., horse or cat) are always in lowercase. 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, Athena, 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, USA, UNHCR).
- In life stance orthography, in order to distinguish life stances from general -isms. For instance, Humanism is distinguished from humanism.
- 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.
- 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 nor malapropism. 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 French (socratique, présocratique), Spanish (socrático, presocrático), Swedish (sokratisk, försokratisk), Polish (sokratejski, presokratejski) and partly in German (sokratisch, präsokratisch, but Ohm'sches Gesetz). 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 it either "Mecklenburger" or "mecklenburgisch".
- Adjectives referring to nationality or ethnicity are not capitalized in German, French or Czech, even though nouns are: ein kanadisches Schiff, un navire canadien, kanadská loď, a Canadian ship; ein Kanadier, un Canadien, Kanaďan, a Canadian. Both nouns and adjectives are capitalized in English when referring to nationality or ethnicity.
- In very formal British English the Queen is referred to as The Queen.
- The governing body of English solicitors is correctly referred to as The Law Society
Acronyms are usually capitalized, with a few exceptions:
The titles of many English-language artistic works (plays, novels, essays, paintings, etc.) capitalize the first word and the last word in the title.articles and coordinating conjunctions are not capitalized. Sources disagree on the details of capitalizing prepositions. For example, the Chicago Manual of Style recommends rendering all prepositions in lowercase, whereas the APA style guide instructs: 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.
Additionally, most other words within a title are capitalized as well;
In other languages, such as the Romance languages, only the first word and proper names are capitalized.