Capitalization

In general, you should use capital letters to:

  • indicate the start of a new sentence
  • note the beginning of a direct quotation
  • identify a proper noun

You should also capitalize all of the things on the following list we've conveniently compiled for you.

Ready? Here we go:

Names of people and pets: Roseanne, Pinocchio, Spot

Nicknames (but not terms of endearment): 

  • Nobody puts Baby in a corner.
  • Come here, baby. (Here, baby is a term of endearment. Aw.)
  • What about Mom and Dad? Those are nicknames for your parents. That's why they should be capitalized, as in I call my mother "Mom," but my British friend Nigel calls his mother "Mum."

Names of specific places, cities, states, countries, and regions: Eastland Mall, Jupiter, Boston, Massachusetts, Ecuador, the Midwest

Races, nationalities, languages: African-American, Chinese, French

Religions, religious figures, and sacred texts: Buddhist, Buddhism, Jesus, Allah, the Bible

Government buildings and departments: Harold Washington Library, Congress

Major historic events: World War II

Days, months, and holidays (but not seasons): Saturday, February, Thanksgiving, autumn (notice autumn is not capitalized)

Product and company names: Apple, Volkswagen Jetta, Nordstrom

Organizations: Habitat for Humanity, Oakland Raiders, League of Women Voters

The major words in titles of works (so no articles, prepositions, or conjunctions—unless it's the first or last word): To Kill a Mockingbird, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Specific course titles (but not areas of study, unless they're derived from a proper noun, like English): Introduction to Meteorology, Art History 101, biology, calculus

Personal titles when they come right before a name: President Kennedy

 

Examples

"After she unwrapped the box of Rosetta Stone discs, Estelle cried, "Thanks, Mom and Dad! I've always wanted to learn Swedish!"

Grattis på födelsedagen, Estelle! Of course Shmoop knows Swedish. You're surprised? We love IKEA.

We also know that in this example After is capitalized because it starts the sentence, Rosetta Stone is capitalized since it's the name of a company, Thanks is capitalized because it begins a direct quotation, and Swedish is capitalized because it's the name of a language. Mom and Dad are also capitalized because they're nicknames for Estelle's parents.

"Lake Michigan is the only one of the Great Lakes that the United States doesn't share with Canada."

Many believe that Michigan comes from the Chippewa word mishigami, which means "great water." Yup. That lake is pretty great… when it's not a frozen deathscape.

Lake Michigan is capitalized because it's a specific place, Great Lakes is capitalized because it's a specific geographic area, and the United States and Canada are both capitalized because they're the names of countries.

"Shannon's book club meets the last Thursday of every month. This month they're reading Life of Pi by Yann Martel."

We hope Shannon's serving pizza rolls. That's the food that we'd miss most if we were stuck on a boat with a ferocious tiger. Before we get totally sidetracked by literary-themed snacking, let's break down this example.

Both Shannon and Yann Martel are capitalized because they're people's names. This is capitalized because it starts a new sentence, and Thursday is capitalized because it's a day of the week. You'll notice that month isn't capitalized because it's not naming a specific month. And Life of Pi is capitalized because it's the title of a book—but not the word of; remember, only capitalize the major words in a title.