Capital letters – how to use them

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Capital letters – definition

capital letters Capital letters are used to show the importance of particular words.

redbtn They are always used for proper nouns (people’s names) ; at the start of sentences ; and for places and events of a public nature.

  • He entered the room, accompanied by Christine Bowman.
  • John wrote a letter to the Bishop of Chester.
  • We will visit Sherwood Forest at Easter this year.


redbtn Capital letters are always placed at the beginning of a sentence.

redbtn They are also used to indicate names and titles, as well as holidays and well-known public places.

redbtn NB! Avoid continuous capitals.


redbtn Capitals are used to denote the names of particular or special things.

days of the week Wednesday, Friday
places East Anglia
rivers the river Mersey
buildings the Tate Gallery
institutions the Catholic Church
firms British Aerospace
organisations the National Trust
months of the year April, September

redbtn However, when such terms are used as adjectives or in a general sense, no capital is required:

the King James Bible / a biblical reference

Oxford University / a university education

the present Government / governments since 1967

redbtn Capitals are used when describing intellectual movements or periods of history:

Freudian – Platonism – Cartesian – the Middle Ages
the Reformation – the Enlightenment

redbtn They are also used in the titles of books, plays, films, newspapers, magazines, songs, and works of art in general. The normal convention is to capitalise the first word and any nouns or important terms. Smaller words such as ‘and’, ‘of’, and ‘the’ are left uncapitalised:

A View from the Bridge
The Mayor of Casterbridge
North by Northwest
The Marriage of Figaro

redbtn Notice the difference between the same term used in a general and a particular sense:

The children’s Uncle Fred is seventy.
Their uncle is the oldest in the family.

Self-assessment quiz follows …

© Roy Johnson 2003

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4 Responses to “Capital letters – how to use them”

  1. BoSs Le0nA says:

    In facebook, for example, the name of the options you have, are both initial letters of the words in capitals. For example: “Privacy Settings”, “Edit Friends” … Is it correct or just a matter of style?

  2. mantex says:

    Yes – at this level, it’s a matter of what’s called ‘House style’. Facebook have decided to capitalise the words in their instructions – such as ‘Save Changes’. It’s not right or wrong – just a matter of choice and style.

  3. Idea Nomad says:

    In American publishing, are words such as “Cartesian” required to be capitalized?

    Thank you.

  4. Roy Johnson says:

    Yes, a capital C would be used, because the term is based on someone’s name. Actually, the name is Rene Descartes, the French mathematician and philosopher. But the adjectival form of his name is ‘Cartesian’.

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