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Capital Letters


While you can sometimes get away without using capital letters in informal writing (like emails or text messages), it is important to learn how to use them correctly for formal writing (like essays and business correspondence).

You should always use a capital letter in the following four situations:

  1. At the beginning of a sentence.
    Always start a sentence with a capital letter – this is probably one of the first writing rules you ever learned.

    For example:
  • The fair came to town on a sunny Saturday. I wanted to ride on the carousel, but Mark wanted to play the games.

When you are formally quoting someone or writing speech, you should use a capital letter after the opening quote/speech marks (even if it doesn’t look like you’re starting a new sentence).

For example:

  • Tom said, ‘Have you been on the ghost train, yet?’
  • The character Hamlet is full of indecision: ‘To be or not to be…’ .
  1. At the start of names of people, places, or organisations.
    While in English we don’t capitalise all nouns, we do capitalise the first letter when writing the names of people; places; days of the week, special days and months; and organisations. These words are called proper nouns.

For example:

  • Mary and Joseph
  • Bethlehem
  • Christmas Day
  • December
  • the Church of England (in the case of organisations you only need to capitalise the main words and not the connecting words).

We also capitalise words that are related to a proper noun (unless the word has become so separated from its noun of origin that most people no longer associate the two).

For example:

  • England and English
  • Shakespeare and Shakespearean.

If something is known by its trademark, the first letter of the word should be capitalised. For example: -

  1. At the start of the main words in titles.
    Like when writing the names of organisations, you don’t need to capitalise the connecting words in titles (but you should capitalise the first word).

For example:

  1. In some abbreviations.
    An initialism is made up of the first letters of the included words and each letter is pronounced separately when spoken (rather than as a word). In initialisms, every letter should be capitalised.

For example:

  • UK (United Kingdom)
  • BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation).

An acronym is a word made up of the first letters of the included words and is pronounced as it is spelled (rather than with each letter pronounced separately). Most acronyms are written either with the first letter capitalised or with all the letters capitalised.

For example: -

  • Nato or NATO (North American Treaty Organisation)
  • Aids or AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome).

In some cases, when an abbreviation is very established, it becomes a word in its own right because people no longer associate the abbreviation with its full form. In these words, the letters do not need to be capitalised.

For example:

  • laser (light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation)
  • scuba (self-contained underwater breathing apparatus).


30 May 2016
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