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Knowing which words to capitalize can be a confusing concept for native and non-native English speakers alike. Many exceptions exist, and style guides for certain academic and professional organizations can have their own peculiar capitalization rules. Nevertheless, you should attempt to follow the generally accepted conventions of English capitalization outlined below.

DO capitalize the first word of a sentence and the first word of a direct quote:

We went to the beach on Saturday.

Rob said, “I don’t think I’ll be going to the beach this weekend.”

Do NOT capitalize the second part of an interrupted quote:

“I won’t,” Rob said, “be going to the beach this weekend.”

DO capitalize terms used to show family relationships:

I always laugh at Uncle Dave’s bad jokes.

Did you ask Dad what he wants to do for Father’s Day?

Do NOT capitalize terms used to refer to other people’s relatives:

Suzy is having lunch with her mom on Sunday.

DO capitalize titles that precede proper names and titles used in direct address:

On St. Patrick’s Day, Mayor Bacon turns the town square fountain green.

It is an honor to meet you, Mayor.

Do NOT capitalize titles used in a general sense:

The mayor turns the town square fountain green on St. Patrick’s Day.

Max Bacon, mayor of Smyrna, has an amazing name.

Titles of high-ranking government officials should be capitalized ONLY when they refer to specific people:

Did you watch the speech that the President gave last night?

The President = President Barack Obama

DO capitalize most words in the titles of books, films, songs, and other types of media:

I have read all of the Hunger Games novels.

Do NOT capitalize articles, conjunctions, and prepositions unless they begin a title:

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

To Kill a Mockingbird

DO capitalize directions that refer to specific geographical regions of a country:

When I was twelve, my family moved from the Midwest to the South.

Do NOT capitalize compass directions:

According to the GPS, Jonathan’s loft is two blocks east of the MARTA station.

DO capitalize days of the week, months of the year, and holidays:

Thanksgiving Day is always the fourth Thursday of November.

DO capitalize the names of seasons when part of a title:

My daughter is starting college at UGA in the Fall 2016 Semester.

Do NOT capitalize seasons when used in a general sense:

James’ son is taking the SAT in the spring.

DO capitalize countries, nationalities, ethnic groups, and languages:

The American English dialect of the United States is actually made up of dozens of smaller dialects.

DO capitalize the names of athletic, civic, national, racial, and social groups:

The Centers for Disease Control is located in Atlanta.

The New York Red Bulls soccer team is actually based out of New Jersey.

DO capitalize the names of businesses and schools as well:

The English Island offers ESL classes to student throughout the Metro Atlanta area.

DO capitalize the first word and any proper names in salutations and complimentary closings:

Dear Ellen,

To whom it may concern:

Sincerely,

Best wishes,

DO capitalize initials.

Franklin D. Roosevelt

William J. Clinton

Use ALL CAPS for acronyms and first letter abbreviations:

CDC

NASDAQ

SPLC

DO capitalize the names of most planets:

The planets Jupiter and Saturn are gas giants.

Do NOT capitalize “the sun,” “the moon,” or “the earth” unless speaking in relation to other celestial objects:

Starting directly into the sun is bad for your eyes.

Venus is the second planet from the Sun.

DO capitalize the singular, first-person pronoun “I”:

Rick and I have been working late to finish the project on time.

Do NOT capitalize any other personal pronouns:

The letter was addressed to Richard and me.

DO capitalize proper nouns, even those that don’t fall into one of the above categories. A proper noun is any noun that refers to a specific person, place, thing, or group:

John

Julie

The English Island

Atlanta

Georgia

Need Help with Your English?

The English Island offers ESL classes to non-native English speakers in the Atlanta area. We can improve your grammar, teach you how to read, and reduce your accent. If you want to test your knowledge of English grammar and vocabulary, try our free English level test.
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