What Should Be Capitalized In A Sentence?

One of the most neglected aspects of writing is the capitalization of letters and its rules are ignored by a lot of people, especially on social media.

While you may easily go away with capitalization atrocities on Twitter and Facebook, breaking the laws that govern capitalization in professional or academic writing is frowned upon.

Some capitalization rules might seem simple at first glance. For example, you don’t need to be reminded that you need to capitalize the first word in a new sentence.

Even a low-end smartphone knows that much.

However, there is more to capitalization rules than having a capital letter start every sentence.

So, in this article, I’ll cover all of the most important rules of capitalization in a sentence.

Let’s get started.

what should be capitalized in sentences

What is Capitalization?

The practice of writing in capital letters. Capitalization typically applies to proper nouns, keywords in titles, I (pronoun), and the first word in sentences.

Some of the rules for capitalizing words, names, and titles differ from one style guide to the next.

Types of Capitalization

Many styles (especially the APA Style) use two sets of capitalization rules: one commonly used in prose and the other frequently governing headings and titles of works including books.

1. Title Case

In title case, all major words are capitalized, and a majority of minor words are lowercase.

The ‘major words’ include nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, and all words with at least four letters.

The list of minor words, which must not be capitalized unless they are the first word of a title, includes all articles, conjunctions, and prepositions.

2. Sentence Case

In sentence case, most words (both major and minor) should be lowercase, the only exception being proper nouns.

This is the type that I’m going to cover in this post.

Capitalization Rules for Sentences

7 capitalization rules for sentences

Capitalize the First Word of a Sentence

This is the most obvious capitalization rule and it applies everywhere, in a sentence or title.

Always capitalize the first letter of the first word of a sentence.

Examples:

  • They don’t know whether it was him or the other thief.
  • Do you know who took Joe’s car?
  • He has been living dangerously since he came back.

Capitalize Names and Other Proper Nouns

Capitalizing proper nouns is a capitalization rule that applies everywhere. You should always capitalize names; whether it’s cities, countries, people, or other proper nouns.

A proper noun refers to a specific name for a person, place, or thing. It doesn’t matter where they are in the sentence, they should always be capitalized.

The first, middle, and last names should all be capitalized and so should the names of cities, companies, countries, political parties, etc.

Examples:

  • The party took place at George Mansfield’s house.
  • We are going to visit New York before leaving for France.
  • Chuck, the neighbors’ dog, was cute but I still didn’t like that thieving pug.

Don’t Capitalize After a Colon

It is—usually—not necessary to capitalize after a colon. However, if the word that follows the colon is a proper noun, you have to capitalize it (like in example C). And when the words after the colon form a complete sentence (example D).

Examples:

  • There are three cars in his garage: a Lamborghini, a Benz, and a Cadillac.
  • He only had one answer for us: no.
  • Jeffrey only wanted one girl: Janet.
  • There were measures he put in place: First, he recorded their conversations. Second, he never revealed implicating information to them.

Capitalize the First Word of a Quote (contextual)

If the quote is a complete sentence or a title (of a book, movie, documentary, report, etc.), capitalize the first word of that quote.

Examples:

  • After I read “The Quick Road to Failure” during one of my holidays, my mindset changed.
  • Mr. Zapata asked, “When are you two going to get married?”
  • The man remarked, “This year, we’re going to have a big party.”

But, capitalization of the first word doesn’t apply to partial quotes. The first word of a partial quote can only be capitalized if it appears at the start of a sentence.

Example:

  • All the actions were meant to “teach” them a lesson.
  • The government spokesman said they were working on revising the “harsh laws” and they would communicate the resolutions later.
capitalize the first word of a quote

Do Not Capitalize Seasons

You have to capitalize days, months, historical eras, and holidays, but not seasons.

Example:

  • The meeting is scheduled for Wednesday.
  • I can’t believe that it’s already Friday!
  • No one will be there come December, you have to be there in November.
  • It is scheduled for release this winter.
  • The Middle Ages (also known as the medieval period) is a period between two traditional divisions of Western history: classical antiquity and the modern period.

Capitalize Job Titles

Three instances require you to capitalize job titles: when the title comes directly precedes the name of the owner of the title, when the title is used instead of the person’s name, and when the title is on the signature line of a report, letter, etc.

Examples:

  • The day President Clinton and Congress agreed on the joint resolution authorizing the operation, protests broke out.
  • Sincerely, Mark Antony Viduka, President.
  • Good afternoon, Governor. We’re pleased to have you here today.

If the title does not come before a name or is not used as a direct address to the holder, do not capitalize.

For example:

  • Dr. Jerry Jenkins was nominated by the Democratic Party for president.

Capitalize Nationalities and Languages

Names of countries are proper nouns, so we already covered that. However, the rule extends to the adjective form of the names too.

All nationalities and languages should always be capitalized. Although Languages and nationalities are classified as proper nouns in English, they might modify a noun thereby becoming an adjective, which by this rule, should never be left lowercase.

Examples:

  • This project was funded by the British government.
  • This is typical of traditional British cookery.
  • Anime is an excellent Japanese export.
  • Those were the glory days of the Italian Mafia.
Capitalization rule applies to nationalities, ethnicity, and races.

Summary

You probably knew already that you should capitalize proper nouns and the first word of every sentence.

But there are a couple more rules as guidelines when it comes to sentence case capitalization.

Things like capitalizing the first word of a full sentence in a quote, not capitalizing after a colon unless the first word is a proper noun, not capitalizing seasons but days and months, capitalizing job titles, et cetera.

You have to know that we have different styles (i.e., APA, MLA, Chicago, etc.), and they all have different guidelines on issues like capitalization.

However, they tend to agree more than disagree on a lot of the guidelines that I have shared with you in this article.

At the end of the day, reading widely is what will set you apart from the rest.

About Jessica Majewski

Jessica started off as an avid book reader. After reading one too many romance novels (really... is it ever really enough?), she decided to jump to the other side and started writing her own stories.

She now shares what she has learned (the good and the not so good) here at When You Write, hoping she can inspire more up and coming wordsmiths to take the leap and share their own stories with the world.