Another skill writers should master is knowing what should and should not be capitalized. If you can remember only one thing, remember this: capitalize the specifics, and don’t capitalize the general. Here are the ten basic rules of capitalization:
1. Names or titles of people
This one may seem obvious, but there’s also a catch. Of course, you capitalize the first letters of a person’s first, middle, and last names (John Quincy Adams), but you also capitalize suffixes (Jr., the Great, etc.) and titles.
Another way to look at capitalizing job titles is to look at the position of the job title in the sentence in reference to the person’s name. For example: “Dr. Rogers was the cardiac surgeon.” “The cardiac surgeon allowed me to come into the room and observe the patient.”
2. Names of mountains, mountain ranges, hills, and volcanoes
Use a capital letter to begin each word in the name of a mountain (Mt. Olympus), mountain range (the Appalachians), hill (San Juan Hill), or volcano (Mt. Vesuvius).
3. Names of bodies of water
The same rules that apply to mountain names also apply to water names. A river is just a river, but the Mississippi River is a proper noun and must be capitalized, just like Lake Michigan.
4. Names of buildings, monuments, bridges, and tunnels
Man-made structures often have names: The White House.
5. Street names
Capitalize both the actual name part of the name (Capital) and the road part of the name (Boulevard): Capital Boulevard.
6. Schools, colleges, and universities
All the words in the name of the educational institution should be capitalized: Hillsdale College.
7. Political divisions
When you refer to New England, the Midwest, the Pacific Northwest, or the South as a region (as opposed to a compass direction), you capitalize it. Also, continents (South America), countries (Belgium), states (Wisconsin), counties (Prince William County), cities (London), and towns (Lizard Lick) get capitalized.
8. Titles of books, movies, magazines, newspapers, articles, songs, plays, and works of art
If ‘the’ is the first word in the given name of a work, it must be capitalized (The Washington Post, The Glass Menagerie). If ‘a’ or ‘an’ is the first word, it too is capitalized (A Few Good Men), and if a preposition leads the way, you guessed it—capitalized (Of Mice and Men). However, if any of these words come in the middle of the title, they are not capitalized.
9. The first letter in a sentence
The last two rules are easy. Always capitalize the first letter of a sentence. If the sentence is a quotation within a larger sentence, capitalize it, but only if it’s a complete sentence.
10. The pronoun I
It’s only necessary to capitalize other pronouns when they begin a sentence, but “I” is always capitalized.
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