When Do You Capitalize a Word?


I am always checking my style and grammar books to ensure that I am capitalizing words correctly. It is not easy to remember all of the rules and regulations regarding capitalization.

A helpful way to remember when to capitalize (in most cases) is to use this phrase: Proper nouns and words derived from them are capitalized. Common nouns are not.

Here are some examples:

Weekdays, holidays, and months need capitalization:

  • Monday
  • Tuesday
  • Labor Day
  • An exception is the Fourth of July.  You would use the fourth of March.

Seasons, directions, and events do not require capitalization:

  • summer
  • north
  • northwest
  • my birthday
  • my anniversary

Titles need capitalization when used with a name:

  • Example –  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

But it is not capitalized in this example:

  • The hearings for the secretary of state appointment begin today.

Capitalize the first, last, and all the main words of a title:

  • The Long Hot Summer
  • Frannie and Zooey
  • The Red and the Black

Capitalize the first word after a colon if it begins an independent clause: This may depend on whether you are using MLA Style or APA Style.

  • I found myself in an unusual position: My husband was not the man I thought he was.  (APA)
  • I found myself in an unusual position: my husband was not the man I thought he was. (MLA)

When Do You Capitalize a Word?

Here are some other examples:

  • God (when used as a name)
  • god (when used as a description)
  • Aunt Judie
  • my aunt
  • English, French
  • history, mathematics, physical education
  • The World Wide Web, Web, but website
  • a home page
  • World War II
  • the war, a war
  • a Republican, a Democrat, an Independent
  • I went to the game with Father.
  • His father was often at work on Saturdays.
  • The South (as an area)
  • the southern point
  • a southern state

If you have a question about capitalizing a word, look in the style books in the index for “capitalization.”  Most style books provide exceptions.

You can also use a search engine on the Web to help you reference these types of questions. I have one site I like to use as well:

grammar book

But you can also go to the APA and MLA Websites for useful information.

APA style

Originally posted 5/12/2009 and happily updated 11/14/2017. Thanks for reading!

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