Grammar tips: Capitalization

Leonardo DiCaprio capitalization meme

We’ve all seen it and done it in email: gone capitalization crazy. Often, people make many words proper nouns and capitalize things that shouldn’t be. Job titles, for example. WHAT, you say, shouldn’t my job title always be capitalized? Nope. If you’re curious about why, read on. If not, just keep on capitalizing whatever looks good.

When to capitalize

  1. The first word of a sentence: She can’t remember people’s names very well.
  2. Proper nouns and proper adjectives that go with them: Grand Canyon, Golden Gate Bridge
  3. THIS IS A BIG ONE IN WORK EMAIL: Job titles, or any title, when used BEFORE a name, but not an occupation or a job title used after a name:
    1. Head Chef Barry Butterball or Barry Butterball, head chef, makes great appetizers.
    2. My Aunt Mary always brings good gifts or Mary, my aunt, buys gifts.
    3. Everyone supported Governor Smith or Everyone supports Joe Smith, governor of Ohio.
    4. Marketing Manager Angela Bowen or Angela Bowen, marketing manager
    5. Jackie works as a videographer.
    6. The governor attended the conference.
    7. The marketing manager updated the website.
  4. Relatives’ names when used in place of a person’s name: My Mom likes the beach.
  5. Nicknames that serve as a name: I took Junior to the fair.
  6. Geographical regions but not the points of the compass: We live in the Northeast, which is north of Tennessee.
  7. The first word in a quotation: Joey said, “The repairman is always late.”
  8. Course titles but not subjects:
    1. He took Drawing 101 because he is majoring in art.
    2. He has a bachelor’s degree in mathematics.
  9. Names of gods, religious figures and holy books: Buddha, Moses, the Koran
  10. Seasons if used in a title but not when used generally: He took a course Spring semester but he plans to take a break during winter.
  11. The first, last and important words in a title. Articles, short prepositions and coordinating conjunctions (an, to, and) are not important words: HGR Is Having a Sale
  12. And other things you probably have figured out: book titles (Moby Dick), places (Brazil, Cleveland, Eiffel Tower, Kent State University), nationalities (German), historical periods and events (the Renaissance, World War I), names of groups and sports teams (the Kiwanis, Cleveland Indians), companies (Nike, Apple), the word “I,” names of planets (the Moon, Earth), street names (Euclid Avenue), days/months/holidays (Friday, July, Christmas), abbreviations (FBI, HGR)

One rule of thumb is to capitalize proper nouns, which are the names of specific people, places, organizations and sometimes things.