Capitalization Study Guide for the English Basics

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Do Not Capitalize

While there are a lot of things good writers must remember to capitalize, there are a number of things they should not capitalize. Keep the following pointers in mind.

Titles and Names

Titles that precede (come before) names are capitalized:

  • Honorary Justice Ross

  • Dr. Mary Richards

  • President Kennedy

  • Mr. Malone

  • Mrs. Wilson

  • Miss Green

But titles that follow names are not:

  • Sally Evans, mayor of Littleton

  • Jack Stalk, president of the board

And titles and occupations are not the same things. Do not capitalize occupations that precede names:

  • actor Ben Buttons

  • owner Robin Lightner

  • banker Tom Evans

Words Following a Colon

Do not capitalize the first word in a list that follows a colon, unless it is a proper noun or unless it expresses a complete thought.

  • You will need to bring the following to your test: identification, two pencils, five sheets of blank paper, a snack, and a bottle of water.

  • We invited all of the usual guests: Larry, Jenna, Gina, Henry, Malik, and Marjory.

  • Olivia always wears a face mask for a reason: She is allergic to dust.

Nonspecific “God”

Although we respectfully capitalize religious names, if one is referring to a nonspecific deity, the word god should not be capitalized. For example:

“Greek mythology is full of references to Zeus, a powerful god who ruled Mt. Olympus.”

“In our comparative religions class, we studied a variety of gods from different faiths.”

“Agnostics are people who have doubt about the existence of a greater power, such as a god, but they are different from atheists who are certain there are no gods.”

We also tend not to capitalize religious adjectives (biblical, heavenly, satanic, etc.).

Family Member Designations

Although we love and respect them, we do not capitalize the designations of family members unless we are using those designations as proper nouns in place of their names. For example:

  • “My dad threw the ball around with me.” (Here we are designating our relationship to the guy who came out and threw the ball around with us; the sentence is not using dad as a proper noun and we know this because we couldn’t replace it with another proper noun like Mike or Bob and still have the sentence make sense. “My Mike threw the ball around with me.” That’s just weird!)

  • “I visited Uncle Joe this summer but wasn’t able to see my other uncles.” (Uncle was capitalized when it was part of the proper noun and the “name” of the uncle, but was not capitalized when it referred to the other generic uncles the writer was unable to visit.)

  • “I bought Mother a present.” (Here, we are using Mother as a name; we could replace it with a different proper noun like Mary or Sandra or Alice so it is capitalized.)

And nicknames (even if they are silly or completely made up) are always capitalized.

“My little brother, Scooter, follows us everywhere.”

“Do you know where Junior is going after school?”

“Hey, Lovebug, have a great day!”


Although we capitalize months of the year, seasons are generic nouns and, unless they are being used as proper nouns, they should not be capitalized. Look at these examples:

“In the winter, it’s nice to curl up in front of the warm fire with a good book.”

“The leaves look so pretty in fall as they begin to turn gold and orange.”

“We watched the Summer Olympics on TV.” (Summer is capitalized because it is being used as a proper noun; it is part of the title of the Olympics.)

Compass Directions

Directions that refer to a geographic region or section of the country are capitalized.

“My grandparents moved to South Florida to escape the winter snow.”

“Pioneers were encouraged to ‘go West, young man!’”

“Living in Southern California is very different from living in Northern California.”

However, directions that are simply compass directions do not get capitalized.

“They moved two miles east of the beach.”

“The store is located north of the city’s downtown.”

“Marquis lives on the west side of town.”

Articles and Prepositions in Titles

As mentioned earlier, most words in titles have their first letters capitalized. However, unless the article comes at the very beginning of the title, articles do not get capitalized. And, generally, prepositions are only capitalized if they are being used as an adjective or an adverb. But that depends on the writing style guide being used (MLA and Chicago styles both say that prepositions should always be lowercase). Whichever style you pick, be consistent. Here are some examples:

“The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe”

“A Cup of Joe for Joe”

“Coloring Outside the Lines” (AP and APA would say Outside should be capitalized, but MLA and Chicago would say outside should not be capitalized.)

Century Numbers

When using century numbers to indicate dates, do not capitalize them. For example, we are currently in the twenty-first century. The Crusades began in the eleventh century and continued into the thirteenth century.

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