Capitalization: The Only Rule You Need

16 Rules? Ack!

GrammarBook.com lists 16 specific rules for capitalization. Who memorizes 16 rules? For formal papers or important communications, refer to the website. For everything else, there’s only one rule:

capitalize names.

Examples:

A child may play with hundreds of toys (no capital); Lego (capital) is the name of one specific toy.

A year has twelve months (no capital); September (capital) is the name of one of the months.

common, general noun

name of a specific person, place or thing

girl

Hermione

day

Thursday

state

Delaware

book

Moby Dick

song

Good Vibrations

store

Macy’s

car

Corvette

soda

Pepsi

gorge

Grand Canyon

That’s it! One rule for capitalization.

 

Okay, okay! I’m assuming you’re older that six and know to capitalize the first word of a sentence. There are two other snags you need to be aware of. 

Chameleons

Although a word like Delaware is always capitalized, some words are chameleons–capitalized sometimes but not others. It all depends on how you use them. Here is where you refer back to our general rule: capitalize names.

Take a word like mother. If you use it to mean the general idea of a mother, no capital.

Examples:

Kit was the first in our group to become a mother.
My mother is my best friend.

But if Mother is the name you call her, capitalize it.

Examples:

It was excruciating to put Mother into a nursing home.
We all love Mother’s pound cake.

Tip: If you can substitute someone’s name for a chameleon word, it gets a capital.

No capital: I asked my mother Helen to babysit.
Yes, capitalize: I asked Mother Helen to babysit.

Titles

Titles of books, songs, movies, and articles are names. So all the words in a title should be capitalized, right? Nope. Only capitalize the meaningful, important words–nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs. Capitalize the first and last words no matter what. Do not capitalize prepositions, conjunctions, or articles (although various styles observe different rules about these (see GrammarBook.com).

Examples:

The Catcher in the Rye

Born to Run

Waiting for Godot

Tender is the Night

Mork and Mindy

How I Met Your Mother

 

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