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Capitalisation Usage

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Capitalisation usage.


There’s a lot of rules for the use of capitalisation, but as in most cases regarding English, there are always going to be examples that seem to contradict the established rules. Also, what was once correct capitalisation usage can eventually stop being correct. But here are some rules to help you along.

Firstly, though, a quick lesson that will be useful for this document.

What is a noun? A noun is a word that identifies a person, place, thing or idea. You can find various examples all over the internet.

What is a proper noun? While a noun identifies a person, place, thing or idea, a proper noun actually names them, and they’re always capitalised. A person’s name is a proper noun. The name of a street, river, city, country, etc., are all proper nouns. Companies, institutions, churches, are also proper nouns.


Rule 1a. The first word of a document and after a full stop is always capitalised.


Holmes was certainly not a difficult man to live with. He was quiet in his ways, and his habits were regular.


Rule 1b. The first word of a quotation is also capitalised, but only if the quote is a complete sentence.


Aldus Huxley once said, “Chastity – the most unnatural of all sexual perversions” (This quote is a complete sentence and so is capitalised.)


The witness described the vandals as “morons”. (This quote is not a complete sentence and so is not capitalised.)


If you’ve ever read stories online then you’re bound to have come across someone who insists on never using capitals. They usually do this because they want to come across as ‘individuals’ and ‘cutting edge’, etc. A more accurate description that I have come across for this is ‘pretentious and attention seeking’. I would totally agree with this. Never, ever do this! Not if you want to ever be taken seriously as a writer.


Rule 2. Capitalise proper nouns and adjectives derived from proper nouns.

Personal names (whether real, fictitious, or nicknames, or even substitutes for a name, animal or thing) are capitalised. Titles, whether official or religious, are capitalised, but not generic names, such as ‘uncle’ or ‘aunt’.



The Sydney Harbour Bridge

A French novel (French is derived from the noun France and so is capitalised.)

That’s a picture of King Henry

The Great Wall of China


Rule 3. In general, all large words of the title of a story, movie, etc., should be capitalised, but small words (of, a, an, the, as, if, nor, and others) are not capitalised. But this is another fairly grey area in English.


The Silence of the Lambs

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

A Game of Thrones

Note that words like ‘a’ and ‘the’ would not normally be capitalised, but if they’re the first or last word in the title then they are capitalised.


Rule 4. Words for calendar items, such as days, weeks, months, are capitalised, but not seasons.


In Australia, December is the start of summer, which means no white Christmas for us.

Next year, New Year’s Day falls on a Monday.


Rule 5. Capitals are used in geographical names but not the points of the compass (north, south, east and west), unless they’re a part of a distinct region.


The tourists were mostly from South East Asia, but some also hailed from Europe.

Jeff grew up in the state of Queensland, Australia, but moved to New Zealand.

You need to follow the trail north and then turn east when you come to the intersection. (‘north’ and ‘east’ are not capitalised because they’re not part of a distinct region.)


Rule 6. Capitalise titles when they come directly before a name, or when the title replaces the use of a name (But only if the title is used as a direct address)


I remember watching President Obama’s inauguration speech.

The president of the club is Jeff. (‘president’ isn’t capitalised.)

Hello, Doctor. I need your help.” (The title ‘Doctor’ replaces a name and so is capitalised.)

The doctor arrived late at his practice. (‘doctor’ isn’t capitalised as it’s a description rather than a title replacing a name.)

I’m sorry to report, Captain, that we’re taking on water. (The title ‘Captain’ replaces a name and so is capitalised.)

The captain went down with the ship. (‘captain’ isn’t capitalised as it’s a description rather than a title replacing a name.)


Note that occupations are not the same as titles. So you would not write: “That’s the Actor Tom Hanks”.


Rule 7. In general, don’t capitalise the word ‘the’ before proper nouns.


We visited the Eiffel Tower.

Jeff loved playing the Grand Theft Auto games.


There are exceptions, though. For example, ‘The Hague’ in the Netherlands would always have the word ‘the’ capitalised’, because this has become the historically accepted way to spell it.


Rule 8a. Don’t capitalise the first word after a colon.


Bring the following items with you: a donkey, lubrication, and some pain killers.

Get these from the supermarket while you’re there: eggs, milk, bread.

He finally got what he most the wanted: a promotion.


But here’s where the English language falls over itself once again. If a complete sentence follows a colon, and it’s not a quotation (see below), then authorities are divided over whether the first word after the colon should be capitalised.



Remember the old adage: Be careful what you wish for.


Depending on who you talk to, some would say the above is correct, others incorrect. So I’ll leave it up to individuals to decide on that one.


Rule 8b. Capitalise the first word of a complete sentence quotation that follows a colon.


The teacher made an announcement: “You’re all staying back late.”


Rule 8c. Capitalise the first word after a colon if the information following the colon requires two or more complete sentences.


My uncle once gave me valuable advice: Word hard. Play harder.

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