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This article is about capitalization in written language. For another meaning, see market capitalization.

For any word written in a language with two cases, such as those using the Latin, Greek, Cyrillic, or Armenian alphabet, capitalization is the writing of that word with its first letter in majuscules (uppercase) and the remaining letters in minuscules (lowercase). Such words may also be said to be in title case, since traditionally most words in titles of books, films, etc. are capitalized. In Unicode, a few letters have a title case form, where the Unicode character is different depending on whether the whole word is in uppercase or just the initial letter: see Croatian and polytonic Greek below.


What to capitalize

Capitalization custom varies with language. The full rules of capitalization for English are complicated and have changed over time, generally to capitalize fewer terms; to the modern reader, an 18th century document seems to use initial capitals excessively. It is an important function of English style guides to describe the complete current rules.


  • In English, the nominative form of the singular first-person pronoun, I, is capitalized, along with all its contractions (I'll, I'm, etc).
  • Some languages capitalize the formal second-person pronoun. German Sie is capitalized along with all its declensions (Ihre, Ihres, etc.), as is the Italian, Lei and Loro, and their cases. This is occasionally likewise done for the Dutch U. In Spanish, the abbreviation of the pronoun usted, Ud. or Vd., is usually written with a capital.


  • In German, all nouns are capitalized. This was also the practice in Danish before a spelling reform in 1948.
  • In nearly all European languages, single-word proper nouns (including personal names) are capitalized, e.g. France, Moses. Multiple-word proper nouns usually follow rules like the traditional English rules for publication titles (see below), e.g. Robert the Bruce.
    • A few English names may be written with two lowercase f's: ffrench, ffoulkes, etc. This ff fossilizes an older misreading of a blackletter uppercase F.
    • Some individuals choose not to use capitals with their names, such as k.d. lang or bell hooks. E. E. Cummings, whose name is often spelt without capitals, did not spell his name so; the usage derives from the typography used on the cover of one of his books.
    • Brand names are sometimes chosen to start with a lowercase letter, e.g. easyJet, to be distinctive.
  • In English - though not in any other major European language - the names of days of the week, months and languages are capitalized.
  • Some authors, though few if any grammar books, also treat the names of individual species of living things (animals, plants, etc) as proper nouns, and use initial majuscules for them, as in e.g. Peregrine Falcon while asserting that others, e.g. horse or person are not common names of species and should not be capitalized.
  • Common nouns may be capitalized when used as names for the entire class of such things, e.g. what a piece of work is Man. French often capitalizes such nouns as l'État (the state) and l'Église (the church) when not referring to specific ones.


  • In English, adjectives derived from proper nouns retain their capitalization, e.g. a Christian church, Canadian whisky, a Shakespearian sonnet. Where the original capital is no longer at the beginning of the word, usage varies: anti-Christian, but Presocratic or Pre-Socratic or presocratic (not preSocratic)
  • Such adjectives do not receive capitals in German (christlich, antichristlich) or French (socratique, presocratique). Adjectives referring to nationality or ethnicity are not capitalized, but nouns are: un homme canadien, a Canadian man; un Canadien, a Canadian.


Other uses of capitalization include:

  • In most modern languages, the first word in a sentence is capitalized, as is the first word in any quoted sentence.
    • In Latin and Ancient Greek they are not.
    • For some terms a capital as first letter is avoided by avoiding their use at the beginning of a sentence, or by writing it in lowercase even at the beginning of a sentence. E.g., pH looks unfamiliar written PH, and m and M may even have different meanings, milli and mega.
    • In Dutch, 't, d', or 's in names or sayings are never capitalized, even at the start of sentences. (See Compound names below).
  • Most English honorifics and titles of persons, e.g. Doctor Watson, Mrs Jones, His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh.
    • This does not apply where the words are not titles; e.g. Watson is a doctor, Philip is a duke.
  • Traditionally, the first word of each line in a piece of verse, e.g.:
      Meanwhile the winged Heralds, by command
    Of sovereign power, with awful ceremony
    And trumpet's sound, throughout the host proclaim
    A solemn council forthwith to be held
    At Pandemonium, the high capital
    Of Satan and his peers. […]
    (Milton, Paradise Lost I:752–756)
  • The English vocative particle O, an archaic form of address, e.g. Thou, O king, art a king of kings.
  • Many European languages capitalize nouns and pronouns used to refer to God: Hallowed be Thy name. Some English authors capitalize any word referring to God: the Lamb, the Almighty.

How to capitalize

Headings and publication titles

In English-language publications, different conventions are widely used for capitalizing words in publication titles and headlines, including chapter and section headings. The main examples are:

all-uppercase letters
The Vitamins In My Fresh Brussels Sprouts 
capitalization of all words, regardless of the part of speech
The Vitamins in My Fresh Brussels Sprouts 
capitalization of all words, except for internal articles, prepositions and conjunctions
The Vitamins in my Fresh Brussels Sprouts 
capitalization of all words, except for internal closed-class words
The Vitamins in my fresh Brussels Sprouts 
capitalization of all nouns
The vitamins in my fresh Brussels sprouts 
sentence-style capitalization (sentence case), only the first word and proper nouns are capitalized
the vitamins in my fresh brussels sprouts 
all-lowercase letters

Among U.S. publishers, it is still a common typographic practice to capitalize additional words in titles. This is an old form of emphasis, similar to the more modern practice of using a larger or boldface font for titles. The exact rules differ between individual house styles. Most capitalize all words except for internal closed-class words, or internal articles, prepositions and conjunctions. Some capitalize even only nouns, others capitalize all words.

The convention followed by British publishers is the same used in many other languages (e.g., French, German), namely to use sentence-style capitalization in titles and headlines, where capitalization follows the same rules that apply for sentences. This is also widely used in the U.S., especially in bibliographic references and library catalogues. This is the only style that preserves the distinction of proper nouns in titles. It is less ambiguous, which is of particular advantage in scientific literature and reference works. It avoids the complications that arise when different capitalization styles are used in titles and bibliographic references, which can be difficult to handle accurately in computer-generated bibliographies. This convention is also used in the International Organization for Standardization and Wikipedia house styles.

Book titles are often emphasized on cover and title pages through the use of all-uppercase letters. Both British and U.S. publishers use this convention.

In creative typography, for example music record covers and other artistic material, all styles are commonly encountered, including all-lowercase letters.

Compound names

  • In Dutch, 't, d', or 's in names or sayings are never capitalized, even at the start of sentences. They are short for the articles het and de (or the old possessive form des). Examples: 's Gravenhage (from des Graven Hage), d'Eendracht (from de Eendracht), 't Theehuis (from het Theehuis). In Dutch (though not Flemish), the particle "van" in a surname is not capitalized if the forename precedes it. So Franky van der Elst in prose becomes Van der Elst, Franky in a list.
  • In English, practice varies when the name starts with a particle with a meaning such as "from" or "the" or "son of".
    • Some of these particles (Mac, Mc, M', O') are always capitalized; others (L', Van) are usually capitalized; still others often are not (d', de, di, von). If the particle is written as two or more words, the same capitalization applies to both (De La or de la).
    • The remaining part of such a name, following the particle, is always capitalized if it is set off with a space as a separate word, or if the particle was not capitalized, or (often) after Mc or Mac. Otherwise there is no set rule.


In most languages which use diacritics, these are either always preserved in uppercase or always omitted in uppercase (e.g. due to inadequate typewriters), regardless of whether it is initial-uppercase or all-uppercase.

  • However, in the polytonic orthography used for Greek prior to 1982, accents were omitted in all-uppercase words, but kept as part of an uppercase initial (written before rather than above the letter). The latter situation is provided for by title-case characters in Unicode.

Digraphs and ligatures

Some languages treat certain digraphs as letters. In general, where one such is formed as a ligature, the corresponding uppercase form is used in capitalization; where it is written as two separate characters, only the first will be capitalized. Thus Oedipus or Œdipus are both correct, but OEdipus is not. Examples with ligature include Ærøskøbing in Danish, where Æ/æ is a letter rather than a merely typographic ligature; with separate characters include Llanelli in Welsh, where Ll is a single letter.

  • An exception is the Dutch letter IJ. Originally a ligature (ij/IJ), both components are capitalized even though they are now usually printed separately, as in IJsselmeer.
  • A converse exception exists in the Croatian alphabet, where digraph letters (, Lj, Nj, Dz) have mixed-case forms even when written as ligatures. With typewriters and computers, these forms have become less common than 2-character equivalents; nevertheless they can be represented as single title-case characters in Unicode (Dž, Lj, Nj, Dz).

Initial mutation

In languages where inflected forms of a word may have extra letters at the start, the capitalized letter may be the initial of the root form rather of than the inflected form. For example, Slievenamon is in Irish written Sliabh na mBan ("women's mountain", where mBan derives from Bean, "woman"), even though the B is in fact mute in the derived form.

See also

External links


fr:De l'usage des majuscules


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