To Capitalise or Not To Capitalise: A Useful Guide
3-minute read

To Capitalise or Not To Capitalise: A Useful Guide

The question of when to capitalise a word can be tricky. As such, sometimes even the most exacting of grammar nerds will need to consult a guide. If you’re writing an essay and you’re unsure about a word, then, check the rules below to see whether a capital is required.

Which Words Should Be Capitalised?

The following situations always require a capital letter:

  • The first word in a sentence
  • The first-person pronoun ‘I’, along with the contractions ‘I’m’ and ‘I’ll’
  • Countries (e.g. ‘France’)
  • Settlements and landmarks (e.g. ‘Paris’, ‘the Eiffel Tower’)
  • Languages (e.g. ‘French’, ‘Spanish’ or ‘German’)
  • Proper nouns related to nationality, (e.g. ‘Frenchman’ or ‘Englishman’)
  • Months and days of the week (e.g. ‘We met on a Thursday in June’)
  • Special dates and historical periods (e.g. ‘Christmas Day’ or ‘the Iron Age’)
  • Important historical events (e.g. ‘World War One’)
  • The names of companies, brands and institutions (e.g. ‘Coca Cola’)
  • Abbreviated titles (e.g. ‘Mr’, ‘Ms’ or ‘Dr’)
  • Honorifics in salutations or before a name (e.g. ‘Dear Sir’ or ‘Dr Quinn’)
  • People’s names (e.g. ‘Donald’ or ‘Hillary’)
  • Special honours and awards (e.g. ‘Bachelor of Physics’)

Although this list covers the most common examples, there are also other situations where terms should be capitalised.

For example, when discussing religions, words like ‘God’ and ‘Allah’, as well as words pronouns relating to deities (e.g. ‘Him’), are often capitalised. This is known as reverential capitalisation.

Sometimes, job titles are also capitalised (e.g. ‘He is the Head of Recruitment’). This is only when referring to a specific position, though, not when the same words are used generically (e.g. we would write ‘She hopes to become President of the United States’ because it refers to a specific position, but no capitalisation is needed in ‘Many countries have presidents’).

Title Capitalisation

It’s also conventional to capitalise some words in titles, especially with books and films. When it comes to essay titles, many style guides require you to capitalise just the first word of titles and subtitles, plus proper nouns. This is known as ‘sentence case’. A title like this would run:

A guide to English: Perfecting grammar in an academic paper

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Alternatively, some style guide suggest that all of the main words (i.e. any that aren’t articles, conjunctions or prepositions) should be capitalised. This is known as ‘title case’. A title like this would appear as:

A Guide to English: Perfecting Grammar in an Academic Paper

Make sure to check which format your university prefers.

When NOT to Capitalise

Some situations might seem like a word should be capitalised but, in fact, do not require it. Words which don’t need to be capitalised include:

  • The seasons (e.g. ‘spring’ or ‘summer’)
  • The word ‘god’ when used in relation to the general idea of gods, rather than the Christian God
  • Academic subjects which aren’t part of a degree or other qualification title (e.g. ‘He studied maths and science at school’)

It’s also important to be consistent with capitalisation (i.e. to use the same style of capitalisation throughout each document). And make sure to proofread carefully if you’re not sure about certain terms!

Comments (69)
6th November 2018 at 05:15
I have read that 'sir' and 'madam' are not to be capitalized except when used in email openings.
    6th November 2018 at 09:43
    Hi, Maria. That isn't quite correct: honorifics such as 'sir' and 'madam' are capitalised when used as part of a salutation (e.g. writing 'Dear Sir,' at the start of an email) or when used before a name (e.g. 'Sir Michael Palin'). They would not be capitalised if you were using them generically (e.g. if you referred to a mixed-sex group as 'sirs and madams') or if used as a polite form of address (e.g. 'Can I take your order, sir?'). We'll update the post to clarify when they should be capitalised.
22nd November 2018 at 09:56
Would you capitalise 'Service' when you're talking about the fire or police service? For example, 'as part of the Service'.
    22nd November 2018 at 10:52
    Hi, Charlotte. It would depend on whether you are naming a specific group with 'Service' in its name. For example, you would capitalise it in 'South Australian Metropolitan Fire Service' because that is the proper name of a specific group. But you wouldn't capitalise it if you were saying 'I admire everyone who works in the fire service' because that simply refers to fire services in general. Hope that helps.
24th January 2019 at 22:26
Hi, would you capitalise the words clubs and divisions, such as The applicable Legacy Club and Division will.......or is it only used when referring to the actually club and division name i.e. The Sydney Legacy Club? Also, should you capitalise job titles? Thanks, Judith
    25th January 2019 at 10:18
    Hi, Judith. You would only usually capitalise those terms when they are proper nouns (i.e. when they name a unique thing). So it would be 'The Sydney Legacy Club' because that is the name of a specific club, but you would write 'The applicable legacy club and division will…' if it is not about one specific club/division. As for job titles, the same applies. If you are using a job title as a formal way of addressing someone, you would usually capitalise it (e.g. Chief Executive Officer Jane Smith). But if you are using it as a description, it should be lower case (e.g. I spoke to the chief executive officer today).
13th February 2019 at 02:57
I cannot seem to find an answer as to if I should capitalize a logical fallacy when I mention it in a English paper. For example: "The author in the article mentioned shows the audience a False Dilemma fallacy". Please let me know if the name of the fallacy needs to be capitalized in a paper.
    13th February 2019 at 09:46
    Hi, Sara. There is no need to capitalise the name of a fallacy, so it should be 'false dilemma fallacy'.
7th March 2019 at 09:34
How about well known celestial objects? earth or Earth? moon or Moon? sun or Sun?
    7th March 2019 at 13:49
    Typically, all the words you mention are common nouns, so you would not need to capitalise them. The main exception is when discussing 'Earth' alongside other planets. So while you would write 'Why on earth did I say that?' or even 'The earth rotates on its axis' with a lower case 'e', you would capitalise the 'e' in 'Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars are planets in our solar system.' Different organisations and style guides have different rules about this, though, so it may depend on whom you are writing for. Make sure to check your style guide if you have one, and remember to apply capitalisation consistently throughout your document.
9th April 2019 at 06:19
1. Is it grammatically correct to capitalise the word "contingent" as stated below NAB Contingent workers or Google Contingent workers 2. Is it grammatically correct to capitalise the word "stream" when used with Customer saying Customer Stream or Customer stream 3. Is it grammatically correct to capitalise the word "b" when referred to as Business site owners or should it be business site owners when business begins after a bracket. For e.g. SharePoint (Business site owners will remove users) or should it be SharePoint (business site owners will remove users) should we capitalise the first word after bracket at all usually for e.g. Laptop data (Users or users will undertake clean up activity) 4. Is it a mistake to use respective Business units will act as per guidelines or should we say respective business units will act as per guidelines Please let me know with regards to the above.
    9th April 2019 at 08:10
    Hi, Kar. It is difficult to give definite answers without knowing the context in which you're using these words, but I'd suggest using lower case letters in all of those examples, as none of them appear to be proper nouns. I'd include 'customer' in that, too.
      10th April 2019 at 04:26
      Thanks Proofed. I will use lowercase in all of them.
Ms Lee Smith
7th May 2019 at 10:04
"I am due to see my manager today". I was told today it should be "I am due to see my Manager today". Surely the latter is wrong? Because when I see my lecturer, doctor, cleaner and receptionist, it would be absurd to capitalise those, would it not?
    7th May 2019 at 12:33
    Hi there. In most cases, you'd be correct ('my manager' is generic rather than a specific job title, so there would be no reason to capitalise it). It may depend slightly on the situation - e.g. if you were writing something for a company that specified capitalising 'Manager' in its style guide. But, as a general rule, you should not capitalise common nouns like 'manager', 'doctor', 'lecturer', etc.
Tayah G
12th June 2019 at 00:09
do you have to capitalise 'me'? i am under a lot of confusion as Microsoft word keeps correcting it to a capital letter 'm'
    12th June 2019 at 09:37
    Hi, Tayah. If you simply mean the pronoun 'me' (as in 'You asked me a question'), then you would only usually capitalise it at the start of a sentence. It might be worth checking your custom dictionary in Microsoft Word if it keeps doing this. See here for more:
13th June 2019 at 07:37
Hi. I am writing an Annual Report for a specific sporting club. Lets call it Sydney Tiddles Club. It is capitalised here. If I refer to it like this "Your tiddles club continues to assist tiddlers..."should club in that sentence be capitalised because it is referring to the actual sporting club? If in this context " the club raffles on Saturday"? The term club is used in so many different contexts I want to standardise through the document, but sometimes it should be capitalised and sometimes not???? Help please?
    13th June 2019 at 16:49
    Hi, Phil. As a general rule, we would suggest only capitalising it when using the full club name (i.e. 'Sydney Tiddles Club'), as this is a proper noun. You could capitalise 'Club' whenever you refer to the 'Sydney Tiddles Club' if you like, but I don't think this will be helpful unless you are doing it to distinguish the 'Sydney Tiddles Club' from other clubs (e.g. saying something like 'The Club will invite other clubs to compete in the tournament', as this will instantly show your reader that 'the Club' is distinct from other clubs without having to repeat the club name in full). Clarity and consistency are the most important things, though, so feel free to submit the report for proofreading if you need more help:
      Mark Searle
      11th November 2019 at 09:50
      This is very helpful. In my example, I have a text where three members form a named group - the XYZ Group for example- but throughout the text it is referred to as the Group. For me, this is incorrect and should be "the group". Am I correct as it seems the same situation as your reply? Excellent site btw.
      11th November 2019 at 11:03
      Hi, Mark. Thank you for your comment. It is a similar situation: since 'the Group' is standing in for a proper noun, it would be okay to use a capital 'G', but I'd only say it was necessary if it helped distinguish 'the Group' from other groups. Ultimately, though, clarity and consistency are most important, so as long as you always capitalise 'Group' when referring to 'XYZ Group' and not for other groups, it is a matter of preference.
27th June 2019 at 05:52
Hmmm... OK, how about glossary terms? Should you only capitalise the irst letter of the phrase "Systems management" or each word Systems Management. Assuming of course that Systems Management isn't a pronoun!
    27th June 2019 at 07:33
    Hi, Dave. There are no strict rules about how to capitalise terms in a glossary, but I would suggest sticking to standard capitalisation: i.e. only capitalise the first letter of the first word unless it is a proper noun. So you'd write 'Systems management' (a generic term) but 'Microsoft Office' (a proper noun). That way, the glossary terms would reflect how they are used in the rest of the document and/or related documentation.
22nd July 2019 at 07:42
I'm told that you should not capitalise the titles of past office bearers. So it would be prime minister Bob Hawke and Bob Hawke, prime minister. If this is correct, I assume this applies to past government ministers as well, such as Phillip Ruddock, attorney-general?
    22nd July 2019 at 08:10
    Hi, Sharnie. Generally, you would still capitalise the title of a former office holder when the title precedes their name (e.g. 'the government was led by Prime Minister Bob Hawke'). But you would not usually capitalise a job title if you were giving it after the name of the holder regardless of whether they are current or former office holders. There is room for variation on this if you're not following a specific style guide, though.
31st July 2019 at 07:55
Hi, I'm wondering on an email salutation i.e. John Smith|a/supervisor|Customer Care or John Smith|A/Supervisor|Customer Care or John Smith |a/Supervisor|Customer Care ? thanks
    31st July 2019 at 07:58
    also I believe I meant valediction.
      31st July 2019 at 08:12
      Hi, Kieran. I'm afraid I'd need to know a little more about the situation. A salutation is the greeting at the beginning of an email or letter (e.g. Dear, To Whom It May Concern) and a valediction is the sign off at the end (e.g. Yours truly, Kind regards). If you're asking about the job title 'A/Supervisor', then it would depend on how you or your employer prefers to capitalise the term.
F Prince
1st August 2019 at 00:32
When compiling a school magazine, would you capitalise Maths in the context of "...with their mind-bending Maths homework."
    1st August 2019 at 08:07
    Hi there. In that case, you'd want a lower case 'm', as 'maths' is a common noun.
10th August 2019 at 03:56
If I were to write the sentence “Electrician by day, nerd by night” , should “nerd” be capitalized?
    10th August 2019 at 10:21
    Hi, Carey. 'Electrician by day, nerd by night' is fine as it is: no capital letter for 'nerd' required.
18th September 2019 at 10:31
if I was to write ‘thank you for attending the Christening of my Son’ , should ‘Christening’ and ‘Son’ be capitalised ? Thanks !!
    18th September 2019 at 16:20
    Hi, Renee. It might depend on the context slightly, but in regular writing there would be no reason to capitalise those terms, as both 'christening' and 'son' are common nouns. If you'd like any help phrasing a letter or thank you note, you could always submit it for editing:
23rd September 2019 at 05:33
When referring to a team of people should I capitalise the group and word team for example I met with the Human Resources Team or the human resources team.
    23rd September 2019 at 08:18
    Hi, Suzie. It would depend on the situation. If you are writing about a group called the 'Human Resources Team' (i.e. if that is its official name within the organisation), you might want to capitalise it. If you are using it generically (i.e. as a description of the team that handles human resources), you should use lower case.
12th October 2019 at 09:57
If I am drafting a flyer for an event- what is the correct way to write this as the title to the flyer. Is it. Find your village morning tea Or Find your Village Morning Tea?
    12th October 2019 at 10:37
    Hi, Marigold. It would ultimately be a matter of preference, but 'Find Your Village Morning Tea' might be the best way of capitalising it ('Your' is a pronoun, which is one of the word types often capitalised in title case).
13th November 2019 at 11:44
Hi, Thank you for the valuable advice above. I am wondering about capitalising a job title when it is replacing a person's name. For example, "You are correct, Detective." rather than "You are correct, detective." as it's replaced the name John. I can't find information about this anywhere, including the Australian style manual, so would love your thoughts. Thank you Angela
    13th November 2019 at 18:14
    Hi, Angela. It may depend on the context, but in the example you give I would favour 'You are correct, detective.' When someone is addressing someone by their job title alone, it is descriptive rather than a proper noun (e.g. they would say the same thing to another detective). If you included the detective's name as well, you would capitalise it as it functions as part of a proper noun (e.g. 'You are correct, Detective Smith'). Ultimately, though, in a piece of literary writing, it is a matter of preference as long as your chosen style is clear and consistent. Let us know if we can help with proofreading anything you've written!
10th January 2020 at 15:22
I am wondering about the word episode for my dissertation. For example, in Episode 1 Patty wears a red suit. Or is it: In episode 1 Patty wears a red suit, Thank you!
    10th January 2020 at 15:39
    Hi, Theresa. It would depend slightly on the context. If the episode is titled 'Episode One' (e.g. like in Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace), you would capitalise it like any other title. If you are simply referring to the episode generically (i.e. describing it as an episode rather than using its official title), you would not need a capital. Also, in a dissertation, I'd suggest writing the numbers out in full if they are under ten (e.g. 'episode one'), but this may depend on the style guide you are using.
Nigel Leaver
26th January 2020 at 22:36
We have just had a Scrabble argument about capitals. I wanted to use the word brownian as in brownian movement. My argument was that words derived from a person loose their capital,e.g. Naboth and nabothian. Most textsrefer to brownian movement and Brownian. Which is correct and why the inconsistency?
    28th January 2020 at 08:52
    Hi, Nigel. In the case of words derived from proper names, capitalisation is essentially a matter of convention, but in most cases you would maintain the capital. This is true of 'Brownian motion', where the standard is to capitalise it. Any inconsistency will simply be a matter of stylistic preference among authors and publishers.
7th February 2020 at 11:10
Hi, this looks like a great debate and source of information. I'm in a grammar quandary. I have a report I'm reviewing that uses a technical term at the start of the sentence. it states "quantitative determination of free Prostate Specific Antigen (f-PSA)" so that the technical term is defined as f-PSA. Later, a sentence commences with "F-PSA determinations are especially recommended " whereas I would like to change it to "f-PSA determinations are" . Without re-writing the sentence, which is corret?
    7th February 2020 at 12:48
    Hi, Matt. As a guideline, it is better not to vary capitalisation in technical terms (e.g. if the document uses both 'f-PSA' and 'F-PSA' without explanation, a reader could assume there is some difference), so your instinct to use lower case is correct. However: - This may depend on whether you're using a specific style guide and (if so) what it suggests. - Ideally, you would rewrite the sentence to avoid beginning a sentence with a lower case abbreviation. Hope this helps with your quandary!
Rebecca Durance Hine
18th March 2020 at 19:55
Hi there! I have searching forever for an answer to this and can't find one! Maybe you can help. Would you capitalise the names of units in a course of study? For example, would you say "She excelled in our Number Sense and Numeration unit" or would you leave those words in lowercase? Thanks!
    19th March 2020 at 09:26
    Hi, Rebecca. It depends on whether those are the official names of the units or just descriptions. If, for example, the unit were listed in the course materials and 'Number Sense and Numeration', it would be fine to capitalise it. Otherwise, you may be better off saying 'number sense and numeration'.
Rebecca Durance Hine
19th March 2020 at 16:55
Thanks! The particular example I'm thinking of is in report card comments. The math teacher is commenting on how the students are doing in each of the strands of the curriculum. From your previous response, it sounds like they should capitalise the names in the course syllabus and other official lists/documents, but the report card comments they wouldn't be. Is that correct? Right now, they have Data Management, Geometry, Problem Solving, etc. all capitalised and it looks a little weird to me.
29th April 2020 at 06:38
Hi! Do you have to capitalise names of documents/reports? For example, when emailing someone their ASIC annual review, would I write - here is your ASIC Annual Review, or how i wrote it previously?
    29th April 2020 at 11:34
    Hi, Dallas. If it is an official document name (e.g. a form titled 'ASIC Annual Review'), you can capitalise each word, but otherwise 'ASIC annual review' is probably the better choice, as 'annual review' is just a generic phrase.
Deb Sargentson
5th May 2020 at 19:01
Hi, do I need to capitalise the first letter for a specific role - for example ‘The Assessor needs to confirm with the Candidate... ‘. or should it be ‘The assessor needs to confirm with the candidate...’ It’s for an organisations Training Assessment documentation - and I’m getting conflicting feedback as to whether the role titles need to be capitalised or not. Your advice would be much appreciated. Thank you.
    6th May 2020 at 09:59
    Hi, Deb. You would not usually need to capitalise job roles if they are just being used descriptively.
Deb Sargentson
6th May 2020 at 13:20
Thank you
Paul Blezard
3rd June 2020 at 12:00
Hi, I have noticed that lawyers seem to have a 'Teutonic' predilection for capitalising all references to any people or subjects discussed in a contract, or even a job description. 'The Vendor', 'The Purchaser' etc. But what about with schools and colleges, or even trusts. I've also that they like to make themselves look important with a capital letter. 'The School was founded in 1588' 'The College was founded in 1879' or The Trust was founded for the purposes of.....Would you capitalise in all those cases, because each is referring to a specific school, college or trust, rather than those things generically?
    3rd June 2020 at 12:36
    Hi, Paul. It all depends on the context! In legal documents, for instance, writers sometimes capitalise terms that refer to a specific person in the case or contract. Likewise, with institutions capitalising words like 'School' or 'Trust', it is often to distinguish themselves (i.e. 'the School' or 'the Trust') from other 'schools' or 'trusts'. Personally, in the latter case, I'd suggest only capitalising if the word is in the full name of the institution (e.g. I'd only refer to 'the School' if the school had 'School' in its name), but this is largely a stylistic preference.
Mihael Commane
9th July 2020 at 00:00
HR Department of HR department? And why is earth a common noun? If Berlin is a proper noun, why not earth too? But I am inclined to spell earth with lower case. Thank you.
    10th July 2020 at 10:37
    Hi, Michael. You would only capitalise 'Department' in 'HR Department' if you were using it as a proper noun (i.e. as the name of a particular group within an organisation). If you are generically referring to 'an HR department', then 'department' is just a common noun. As for 'Earth/earth', different style guides recommend different approaches, but it often depends on the context in which it is used: e.g. the MLA recommends only capitalising 'Earth' when referring to the planet – as compared to when using it to mean 'ground' or 'dirt' – and using it alongside other capitalised celestial objects. Using this approach, then, we would say 'The Earth is the third planet from the Sun', but we'd also say 'Why on earth are you doing digging up all that earth?' We've actually got a full post on the capitalisation of celestial objects, so you can give that a look if you'd like to learn a bit more!
Leo Capulong
25th September 2020 at 21:11
Hi there. Which one is correct, "He is a Math Teacher" or "He is a Math teacher"? Please give me the specific rule for this. Thank you.
    26th September 2020 at 11:44
    Hi, Leo. As they're both common nouns, neither 'math' nor 'teacher' would usually be capitalised (as a side note, in Australian English, we'd also say 'maths teacher' rather than 'math teacher').
9th October 2020 at 01:59
Hi! Great site and fab conversations. I am reviewing a document that refers to a council as 'Council'. As in 'Tomorrow Council will deliver the budget' or '...funds received from federal and state government as well as Council'. The issue (as I see it) is that 'council' is not in the title of the council who are know as 'The City of Bruce Lee'. I suspect this is a stylistic preference to use the capital Council throughout the document. But is it grammatically incorrect? In addition, 'the' is never used when referring to council. It sounds weird not to write 'the council'... is it also incorrect?
    9th October 2020 at 09:59
    Hi, Pip. It's hard to say without seeing the document, but it seems like the author has used 'Council' as a proper name in this case (i.e. as a short stand-in for 'The City of Bruce Lee'). As long as it is always used to refer to that specific council (not other councils), though, the capitalisation and lack of definite article are fine. You could argue that adding 'the' would make it read more smoothly, but it isn't necessary.
12th November 2020 at 03:53
What is the protocol for capitalising the word 'Will' as in 'leave a gift in your Will to a charity'. Should this be capitalised? Yes or no - what is the logic? Thank you!!!!
    12th November 2020 at 15:13
    Hi, Linda. 'Will' is a common noun, so you would only usually capitalise it at the start of a sentence.
6th December 2020 at 05:30
I work in a school library. Do I need to capitalise library when referring to it in emails such as 'please return your books to the library' or 'the library is hosting an event' etc? Many thanks:-)
    7th December 2020 at 10:28
    Hi, Jane. You wouldn't usually need to capitalise library in that context. The one exception may be if you were giving the full or official name of the library: e.g. 'We are proud to announce that Springfield Elementary Library is hosting...' or similar.
7th January 2021 at 15:46
If someone addressed a king (in fiction) as 'sir', should it be capitalized? And if you know exactly which earl and which countess, is it correct to write, 'The Earl and Countess approached them', or should one use small letters?
    7th January 2021 at 16:19
    Hi, Emily. A lot of this would depend on context. Typically, with an honorific like 'earl' or 'countess', you only need to capitalise them when used alongside a name or in a full title (e.g. you would say 'The Earl of Wessex spoke clearly...' because 'Earl of Wessex' is an official title/unique person, but you wouldn't capitalise the same word in a sentence like 'He had never dreamed of becoming an earl' or 'The king glanced at an earl to his left' since 'earl' is generic in these cases). However, you can often bend the standard rules of capitalisation in fiction if required. And if the characters in question are primarily known as 'the Earl' and 'the Countess', then capitalising these terms is a good way to show that you're referring to specific individuals (and to differentiate them from any other earls of countesses in the story). The same applies to 'sir' in that you would capitalise it in a full title or name (e.g. 'Sir Lancelot'), but not if using it generically (e.g. 'Are you wounded, sir?'). The only other thing I'd note there is that, historically, a king would not usually be a 'sir'. More common honorifics, in real life and fiction, would be things like 'Your Majesty', 'Your Highness', or 'sire', so they may work as alternatives (unless there is a reason to use 'sir' in context).
11th January 2021 at 14:27
Thank you for your reply! I am performing a light copy-edit of a fiction book, and I didn't want to change anything the author had written if it was acceptable. I have queried the use of 'Sir' to address the king, and now said to make them all lowercase. My instinct and my further research all said small letters should be used, but it did seem odd in the context to correct the capital letters in 'Earl' 'Countess' 'Duke' and 'Duchess' when the reader would know exactly who was being referred to and the title was being used in place of their names. Having read your reply, I think I will leave them capitalized (obviously excluding references to the position/rank, as opposed to a person).

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