Most of grammar enthusiasts probably know when to capitalize. We may not know there are actually 10 reasons to use a capital letter.
It’s amazing what you can find in used bookstores. Whenever I find myself in one, I wind up in the reference section, particularly the aisle devoted to language and grammar. That’s where I found a little book called /Grammar Geek by Michael Powell, published by SJG Gift Publishing. It’s like a mini-coffee table book with all sorts of quick explanations on various grammar rules. It was in its pages that I found a list of the 10 occasions you need a capital letter.
Ten? Did I ever realize there were 10 distinct reasons? No, I didn’t. In fact, it never even dawned on me to try to come up with a list of reasons. There’s nothing earth-shattering in the list, of course. None should come as a surprise.
The real surprise, for me, was the number of occasions a capital letter was actually necessary.
By the way, with a list price of under $10, for a new copy, I highly recommend this book. There are plenty of little quirky tidbits that a grammarian would love. At that price, any grammarian should be able to afford to be entertained.
Here, based on the article, in no particular order, are the 10 reasons:
I’ll go ahead and point out that in some cases, I’m going to expand upon what’s in the actual book.
- The first word of a sentence, line of poetry or headline: The book lists the part about sentences and poetry. But the first word in headlines also require a capital letter, whether you use Sentence Case or Title Case. The Associated Press Stylebook mandates sentence case, where you only capitalize the first word of the headline (along with any proper names).
- Proper names: I alluded to that just now. Capitalize the names of people, titles, places and other proper names .
- Major words in titles of books, plays, films, works of art, organizations: Here we return to title case. In a headline, it would be “Gone with the wind.” Title case would also capitalize the “major” word Wind.
- Proper names of periods of time, historical eras and events: Whether you’re talking about the Industrial Revolution or the Information Age, you capitalize them
- Acronyms and abbreviations: The FBI, the IRS, NASA, IBM, CBS and even LOL get capital treatment.
- Adjectives derived from proper nouns: Proper adjectives transform proper nouns into descriptors. They may refer to places, like American or European; to people, as in Orwellian, Euclidian or Shakespearean; or to style, as in Roman or Gothic architecture.
- Personal titles linked to a name: They include basic courtesy titles, like Mr. or Mrs.; religious titles, like the Rev.; military, like Lt., Capt. or Sgt.; or professional, like Dr.
- Days, months, holidays, special occasions: You always capitalize days of the week and months of the year. Holidays, like Christmas and Thanksgiving, are also no-brainers. But not all formal occasions happen to be “official” holidays. Days like “Valentine’s Day” or “Singles Appreciation Day,” which aren’t official holidays, would also take a capital.
- Brand names: Every time Wile E. Coyote ordered some contraption to catch the Road Runner, he purchased it from Acme, not “acme.”
- The pronoun I: If I were making that list, I would probably never think about the pronoun I. You must admit that you can easily forget it.
There you have it.
Order yourself a copy of /Grammar Geek. You won’t be sorry. Even its little tidbits do make you think. As much as I like to think I’ve learned about grammar over the years, I still found several surprises!