There are many fine points of capitalization, but these basic guidelines will meet most of the needs of college writers. The following categories of words are capitalized:

1. Titles of poems, short stories, plays, books, newspapers, magazines, television shows, radio programs, and movies. Capitalize the first and last word and every other word with the exception of coordinating conjunctions, prepositions, articles (a, an, and the) and the word to in infinitive verb phrases. (Titles of poems, short stories, and individual television and radio programs are also enclosed within double quotation marks; titles of books, newspapers, magazines, films, and television and radio series are normally italicized.)

Correct examples: “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” “Air and Angels,” “Delight in Disorder,” “On the Death of Dr. Robert Levet,” Murphy Brown, Sesame Street, The Valley of Horses, The Milwaukee Journal, Pro Football Digest, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, On the Waterfront.

2. Brand names. Brand names are always capitalized.

Correct examples: Bisquick buttermilk baking mix, Nike running shoes, Clinique cosmetics, Arrow shirts, Sylvania light bulbs, Head & Shoulders shampoo.

3. Breeds of animals. Capitalize the name of a breed of animal if it is derived from another proper (capitalized) noun. The names that are capitalized below are derived from the names of nationalities, which are always capitalized. Use your dictionary if you are in doubt.

Correct examples: alley cat, Persian cat, Old English sheepdog, beagle, French poodle, quarter horse, Arabian horse.

4. Buildings and institutions. The names of buildings and institutions are always capitalized.

Correct examples: the White House, the Taj Mahal, the Superdome, St. Joseph’s Hospital, the University of Iowa, the Berkeley Psychic Institute.

5. Companies and corporations. The names of companies and corporations are always capitalized.

Correct examples: Colgate-Palmolive Company, Mobil Oil Corporation, Lockheed Aircraft Corporation.

6. Days of the week. The days of the week are always capitalized.

Correct examples: Monday, Tuesday.

7. Directions. The names of directions are normally not capitalized. Capitalize them only when they name or modify an entire region—a whole section of a country or a continent.

Correct examples: I live four miles west of the lake. Her study covered the era when the South was at war with the North.

8. Geographical locations and words derived from them. All of these are capitalized: the names of cities, counties, states, nations, lakes, rivers, oceans, mountain ranges, parks, continents, and planets.

Correct examples: Seattle, Washington, Blue Lake, the Atlantic Ocean, the Allegheny Mountains, France, Jupiter, Mars.

Two special notes: Most words that are derived from these location words are capitalized; for example, Switzerland is capitalized, and so is Swiss cheese. The word Mexico is capitalized, and so is Mexican art.

Normally, the word earth is not capitalized, but when it refers to the entire planet, it is. These are correct examples: The earth in some parts of the country has a reddish color. The Earth is not the largest planet that revolves around the sun.

9. Historical periods. Names of historical periods are usually capitalized. If you are in doubt, consult your dictionary.

Correct examples: the Renaissance, the Pleistocene Age, the Middle Ages.

10. Holidays. The names of holidays and holy days are always capitalized.

Correct examples: Christmas, Yom Kippur, Thanksgiving.

11. The word I is always capitalized.

12. Months of the year. The months of the year are always capitalized.

Correct examples: January, February, March.

A special note: Although the months are capitalized, the seasons are usually not. Capitalize the name of a season only if it is part of the formal name of something else, such as a dance or a celebration of some sort. These are correct examples: I won’t see you again until next winter. Our school’s famous Fall Festival was only a modest financial success this year, but the Spring Fling will probably be a bigger money-maker.

13. Mother and father. Mistakes are often made in capitalizing or not capitalizing person nouns such as mother, father, mom, and dad. But the rule is really very simple: Do not capitalize these words when they are preceded by a possessive noun or pronoun. Study these correct examples:

(a) I have always considered Dad a perfectionist.

I have always considered my dad a perfectionist.

(b) I met Father at the restaurant.

I met my neighbor’s father at the restaurant.

14. Names of people and pets. Names of people and pets are always capitalized.

Correct examples: Maya Angelou, Sarah Zeilman, John Brown, Snoopy, Fluffy, Killer.

15. One-of-a-kind events. Large one-of-a-kind or once-a-year events are normally capitalized.

Correct examples: the Orange Bowl, the World Series, the War of 1812.

16. Organizations and associations. The names of organizations and associations are capitalized. Once again, articles, coordinating conjunctions, and prepositions are not capitalized.

Correct examples: American Civil Liberties Union, Children’s Literature Association, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, National Council of Teachers of English.

17. Political parties. The names of political parties and words derived from them are capitalized. (Note, however, that the word party is not.)

Correct examples: the Republican party, the Democratic candidate, the Socialist platform, the Communists.

18. Religions. The names of religions and words derived from them are capitalized.

Correct examples: the Jewish people, the Protestants’ representative, the Mormons, the Baptist minister.

19. The first word in a sentence. The first word of a new sentence is capitalized, and this is also true of quoted sentences that are a part of larger sentences.

Correct examples: The note said, “Your books have been overdue for a month. Please return them and pay your fine.”

20. Personal titles. Personal titles are capitalized only when they directly precede a person’s name or when they are used as a form of direct address. This is true for words such as president, general, mayor, doctor, king, queen, professor, dean, and pope.

Correct examples: Do you realize that President Clinton’s press conference is on television right now? Do you realize that the president’s press conference is on television right now? The reporter asked, “When did you first know of this situation, Mr. President?”


Correct the following sentences, applying what you’ve learned about capitalization.

1. Experts at the new york museum of modern art, after studying french artist henri matisse’s le bateau for more than six weeks, discovered that the painting had been hung upside down.

2. Geoffrey chaucer once wrote, “love is blind,” and william shakespeare used that line, too.

3. The lincoln memorial in washington, d.c., has 36 columns.

4. Ernest hemingway, the great american novelist who gave us the sun also rises, a farewell to arms, for whom the bell tolls, the old man and the sea, and other important works, was supposedly very reluctant to travel on fridays.

5. It was in a movie called sudden impact that clint eastwood first said, “make my day.”

6. The best selling car in history was the volkswagen beetle.

7. Three of every four russian doctors are women.

8. It was once suggested by president jimmy carter that each president be elected for a single six-year term of office.

9. In the frontier days of the west, cheyenne, wyoming, was nicknamed “hell on wheels.”

10. John lindsay, a former mayor of new york city, made his acting debut in the movie rosebud in 1975.