When to use capital letters in writing

Copywriting Writing Tips

Has technology completely wiped out the rules when we communicate in writing?Alphabet letters made from tomato, ketchup

Why don’t we apply correct spelling, grammar and punctuation in social media, text messaging and chat rooms?

We’re living in such a fast pace world that crossing our “t”s and dotting our “i”s is less important than getting the message out. As long as our audience gets the gist of what we’re trying to say, then sloppy spelling and bad grammar don’t matter…

That may be the case when texting friends or tweeting followers but this casual approach to the English language won’t cut it in more formal communication when accuracy and correctness is so important to make the right impression.

This post takes you back to basics, starting with correct use of capital letters.

It’s a comprehensive list of certain rules that must be followed which demonstrate when to use capital letters in writing:-

At the start of a sentence

Sounds obvious yet it is so important because it makes it easier to understand your writing and the messages you want to get across.

The names of all individuals – real or fictitious – should be given initial capitals in publications and correspondence

Some personal names have a mid-word capital in addition to the initial capital. This is standard for names prefixed with Mc, such as McInnes and McCleery, but more variable for those prefixed with Mac or Fitz, eg:

  • MacDonald or Macdonald
  • FitzGerald or Fitzgerald

Initial capitals should always be given to names that identify nationalities, races, tribes, clans, the inhabitants of a particular region, the adherents of a particular religion and the speakers of a particular language, eg:

  • Queenslander
  • Caucasian
  • Christian

Names of organisations

In the full official names of organisations and other bodies such as assemblies and conferences, all words other than articles, prepositions and conjunctions are given initial capitals:

  • the Department of Human Resources
  • the Academy of Business and Finance
  • the Reserve Bank of Australia

Titles and Forms of Address

The official titles of the principals or chief executives of many Australian institutions are capitalised, eg:

  • the Prime Minister of Australia
  • the Archbishop of Canterbury
  • the Minister for Finance

Initial capitals are always used in words that make up a form of address or honorifics, eg:

  • Her Majesty the Queen
  • His Excellency, the Governor-General
  • Mrs Mary Jones
  • Dame Judy Dench

For the word “I”

When referring to the first person “I”, it must always be capitalised. This is the most obvious “rule” on when to use capital letters in writing.

At the beginning of quoted speech, eg:

  • The minister said, ‘We don’t believe that such compromise is justified.’

When the quotation is interrupted and then restarted, and if no proper noun or name is involved, the first word of the second part is in lower case, eg:

  • ‘We don’t believe’, said the minister, ‘that such compromise is justified.’Grammar pic for blog 17 Feb 2015

In direct address, a capital letter is used to mark titles and honorific names used as a form of address, eg:

  • ‘We think, Professor, there are other options.’
  • ‘Yes, Minister, that is correct.’

Other uses for capital letters:-

Days of the week and months of the year eg:

  •  “the meeting will be held on the first Monday in March”

Names of seasons are usually left in lower case apart from when they are given the human touch eg:

  • ‘Welcome to the Winter issue of my newsletter’

Holidays, religious days and public events, eg:

  • Anzac Day
  • Good Friday

Geographical and political destinations, eg: North America

Topographical features, ie mountains, rivers, valleys, etc, eg: The Blue Mountains

Local Names, eg: the Adelaide Hills

Buildings, structures and public places, eg: Melbourne Town Hall

Historical and cultural periods, eg:

  • the Second World War
  • the Renaissance

Brand names and related products usually take a capital letter eg: the Ford Motor Company manufacturers a range of cars including the Focus, Territory and Mondeo

Titles of books, periodicals, chapters and articles start with a capital letter. But the extent of capitalisation after that is a matter of house style or personal choice – there is no real right or wrong

If you have any questions or doubts on when to use capital letters in writing, send us an email via the Contact Us form

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