• 3-minute read
  • 17th November 2012

What Should I Capitalise? A Guide for the Confused

At Proofed, a common problem we see in writing is incorrect or inconsistent capitalisation. As such, to help you avoid errors, we have put together this quick guide to when (and when not) to capitalise words in your writing.

What to Capitalise

As well as the first letter of the first word in a sentence, make sure to capitalise proper nouns in your work. These words name a unique person or thing. As such, words you will typically need to capitalise in your writing include:

  • People’s names (e.g. Florence, David, Musa, Fatima)
  • Roles or titles used alongside a name (e.g. ‘Queen Elizabeth II’ or ‘Professor Davies’, since these are specific people, but ‘a queen of England’ and ‘a professor of neuroscience’)
  • Names of places, cities, towns, locations, and the people/languages from them (e.g. America, Chicago, Italy, Italian)
  • Organisations, companies, institutions, etc. (e.g. Catholicism)
  • Products and brand names (e.g. Colgate, but not ‘toothpaste’)
  • Special dates and periods (e.g. Christmas Eve, the Bronze Age)
  • Key historical events (e.g. World War II, the Boston Tea Party)
  • Names of laws and official documents (e.g. the Bill of Rights)
  • Certain religious terms (e.g. the Lord, Allah, the Holy Trinity, God)
  • Names of ships or aircraft (e.g. the Enola Gay, HMS Ark Royal)

In addition, it is common to capitalise certain words in titles and subtitles. This will depend on the style of title used, but you should always capitalise the first letters of titles, subtitles, and proper nouns. Many style guides also recommend citing ‘major words’ (e.g. nouns, verbs, pronouns) and using lower case for other terms (e.g. prepositions and articles). For more on capitalising titles, see our post on the topic.

When No Capitalisation Is Required

As a rule, with common nouns (i.e. all nouns other than proper nouns), you won’t need to capitalise a word unless it appears at the start of a sentence.

Common errors in this respect include capitalising:

Find this useful?

Subscribe to our newsletter and get writing tips from our editors straight to your inbox.

  • Names of seasons (e.g. spring, summer, autumn, winter)
  • Academic subject names (e.g. chemistry, maths)
  • Job roles when not used in a title (e.g. chief executive)

These are all common nouns, so do not usually start with a capital letter.

You should also take care when using more than one proper noun in a sentence. In these cases, you may need to drop a capital letter from a shared term. For example, you would say ‘Lake Tahoe and Lake Huron’. But this would change to ‘lakes Tahoe and Huron’ if you grouped them together because ‘lakes’ becomes generic.

You can capitalise other terms and phrases in some cases, but you must apply your judgement to determine whether or not this is necessary.  Regardless, the style adopted must be applied consistently throughout your work.

If you are worried about any aspect of your essay or dissertation, including the referencing, grammar, or how to present it on the page, why not send it to the experts? We will even proofread a 500-word sample for free, so you can see what a big difference our service can make to your academic writing!

Comments (40)
Joanne H
1st September 2020 at 15:27
Hi I am confused in my essay writing... do I need to capitalise conditions such as Alzheimer's Disease?
    2nd September 2020 at 09:54
    Hi, Joanne. It can vary, so it's worth looking up individual terms online, but you would usually capitalise words in the name of a disease if they're named after a person (e.g. Dr Alzheimer). It's only the person's name you need to capitalise, though, so it would be 'Alzheimer’s disease' in most cases.
10th December 2020 at 12:40
Using the term Parent or Guardian in help guides.......should these be capitalised?
    10th December 2020 at 14:37
    Hi, Jennifer. It would depend on the context and how you are using them. However, these are usually common nouns (i.e. nouns that name something generic, like 'novel', rather than words that name a specific, unique thing, like 'Jurassic Park'). And if you are using them as common nouns, there would be no need to capitalise these terms.
31st December 2020 at 12:53
Does Neurology, Neurologist, Neuroscience, Science Fair, use capital letter? Also does having the doctors name change the capitalization rule? (Ex. the neurologist.../ neurologist Dr. Nicholas Perez)
    2nd January 2021 at 11:23
    Hi, Paola. You would not usually need to capitalise any of those words unless they were used in an official title (e.g. if someone's official title at a hospital were 'Chief Neurosurgeon Dr Nicholas Perez' and you were using their full title, you would capitalise it in line with the rules in the post above).
23rd January 2021 at 18:26
Does 'asthma' and 'eczema' need to be capitalized in a medical academic essay?
    25th January 2021 at 10:39
    Hi, Emily. Names of diseases or conditions are common nouns, so they're not usually capitalised (the only exceptions are conditions named after a person, such as 'Alzheimer's disease', which was named after a doctor called Alois Alzheimer).
19th February 2021 at 12:12
When does the word 'company' need to be capitalised in a corporate document, does it depend on whether it is preceded by the word 'the'? E.g. is it correct to write ‘All company property must be return on termination’; and then ‘It is a requirement of the Company.’ ?
    19th February 2021 at 12:23
    Hi, Kath. Typically, you would only capitalise 'company' if it is part of a proper name (e.g. The Coca-Cola Company). There may also be a reason to capitalise if you're using the word 'Company' as shorthand for one company in particular and need to distinguish it from others (e.g. in a legal context, you might say early on that 'The Coca-Cola Company will be referred to as "the Company" throughout this document' to avoid repeating the company name every time). But whether you use the definite article before the word 'company' makes no difference to capitalisation, and most cases (including your examples) would be fine with just 'company'.
John Horne
24th February 2021 at 13:37
what if i’m writing Heavy Goods Vehicle ?
    24th February 2021 at 14:26
    Hi, John. Unless the context suggests otherwise for some reason, 'heavy good vehicle' is a common noun. As such, you do not need to capitalise the words in this term.
Sarah Hawkins
25th March 2021 at 10:41
What is the rule for if I am writing about the names of company schemes, for example 'Our Clinical Negligence Scheme' - would these require capitals?
    25th March 2021 at 14:51
    Hi, Sarah. If you're referring to the official title of a scheme, you would capitalise it (e.g. The recently developed Clinical Negligence Scheme for New Practitioners (CNSNP) handles all clinical negligence claims against members...). But you wouldn't usually capitalise if you're just using the words descriptively.
CM Roberts
6th May 2021 at 10:18
Do capitalization rules vary between American/UK English at all? Is it ever appropriate to capitalize a word for emphasis? Is it ever appropriate to capitalize an entire word?
    6th May 2021 at 16:38
    Hi, CM. There aren't many regional trends in capitalization, and those that do exist are usually very specific (e.g., American English tends to capitalize each letter in acronyms that are pronounced as a single word, like "UNESCO," whereas British English often only capitalizes the first letter, so the previous example would be written as "Unesco"). But differences in capitalization are usually a matter of stylistic preference rather than dialect (e.g., different style guides will recommend different approaches). In relation to your other questions, we'd suggest avoiding capitalizing for emphasis: it is non-standard in modern English and no style guide recommends it, plus there are much better options for doing this in most cases (e.g., italics or bold typefaces). And while there are some cases where you can use all capital letters (e.g., it is common in headings), we wouldn't suggest doing so if it's simply for emphasis (as above, there are better methods for doing this).
23rd May 2021 at 07:51
Is it correct to capitalise the first word after a dash when making a list. Would these examples be correct: 1) House 4 - Window broken, we need a repair man. Tuesday is the best day. 2) House 5 - All okay, no issues. Or would it be: 1) House 4 - window broken ... 2) House 5 - all okay ...
    24th May 2021 at 09:28
    Hi, Hollie. Assuming you're using the dashes in a list form like that, and assuming you're not following a specific style guide, then it would mostly be a matter of preference (although it is standard in most styles to capitalise the first word in a list if you're listing full sentences). However, if you are using dashes parenthetically within a sentence – like this – or to indicate a pause before introducing new information (similar to a colon – where the information follows like this), then you wouldn't usually capitalise the first word after the dash (only if it were a word that you'd always capitalise, e.g., a proper noun or the pronoun 'I').
13th June 2021 at 19:16
Can one part of the book title be capitalised in the text? For example, Game in Glass Beads Game.
    14th June 2021 at 10:17
    Do you mean when using the title of a book in writing? If so, you would usually at least capitalise the first letter of the first word in titles and subtitles. You can find a bit more about title and heading capitalisation here: https://proofed.co.uk/writing-tips/title-case-sentence-case-headings/
23rd August 2021 at 21:38
Hi! When I'm writing a form letter for a legal letter should "Company name" be capitalized when used like this? "It is a violation of 's trademark rights." Thanks!
    24th August 2021 at 09:22
    Hi, Jess. Assuming I've understood your question correctly here, and assuming 'Company Name' is going to be replaced when the letter is used, it doesn't really matter how you capitalise it. I would, though, probably suggest making it clear that 'Company Name' needs replacing as long as that works with how you plan to use the form letter: e.g. 'It is a violation of [Insert Company Name]'s trademark rights.'
29th August 2021 at 16:41
Is it necessary to capitalise the names of political and social movements and tendencies such as communism, socialism, feminism or post-industrialisation? If not (apart from the obvious) when should one?
    30th August 2021 at 09:38
    Hi, Isi. This usually comes down to whether the term is either part of or derived from a proper noun. For example, you would capitalise 'Marxism' as it is named for Karl Marx, and 'the Communist Party of the Soviet Union' since it is a proper name referring to a specific historical group, but there's no need to capitalise generic terms like 'socialism', 'communism, 'feminism', etc., unless they are the first word in a sentence. There may be some examples that bend the rules here (e.g. opinion seems split on whether to capitalise 'Gnosticism' when naming the religious tradition), but you can usually find advice on specific terms by checking a dictionary if you're unsure about the capitalisation.
30th August 2021 at 11:46
Thanks for the quick reply. Just one more doubt about editing quotes. To confirm that as a proofreader, when editing quotes, my job is to revise the correct use of annotations by the author, such as 'sic' or the use of square brackets, as opposed to adding them myself if I see errors in the quote. This is correct, right?
29th September 2021 at 12:01
Hi there - when would I (or would I?) capitalise 'social care' in a sentence?
    29th September 2021 at 13:08
    Hi, Niki. Unless it is used in a title or part of a proper noun, the term 'social care' does not usually need to be capitalised.
13th October 2021 at 13:13
Hi, I am doing a lot of report writing at the minute and I am really struggling with knowing when to capitalize things. For example if I am writing about someone and I say (this person as accessed Mental Health Services) is that right or should it be in lower case. Also if I was saying ( lady was a Young Carer for her Mother) would that be right?
    13th October 2021 at 14:32
    Hi, Hannah. None of the examples you give there would usually require capitalising as none of them are obviously proper nouns (i.e. none seem to be words that name a unique person, thing, or organisation). For instance, without knowing the context, I would assume that 'young carer' and 'mother' are both generic descriptions in the example you give (i.e. you're referring to a young carer and a mother, not people who go by the name/official title 'Young Carer' and 'Mother'). If you need more advice on proper and common nouns, we have a separate post on the topic here: https://proofed.co.uk/writing-tips/common-proper-nouns-knowing-the-difference/
16th November 2021 at 11:10
Should school years be capitalised? 'In Year 1' or 'In year 1'
    16th November 2021 at 11:31
    Hi, Suzie. It may depend on the context (and whether the relevant school has a style guide covering this topic). For example, if using the term generically, you wouldn't usually need to capitalise it (e.g. 'Our year one curriculum covers several key topics' is fine because 'year one' is used to refer to the first year of school in general, not to name a particular group of people). But if you're using it to refer to a specific year group in a specific school, there's an argument for treating it as a proper noun (e.g. you might say 'In assembly next week, Year One will be performing a short play' because 'Year One' here identifies a specific group of children, not just the idea of the first year of school in general).
23rd February 2022 at 09:08
Hi, When referring to a title or office, should queen be capitalised? e.g. 'One day she would be crowned queen of England' or 'Anne was crowned queen' here speaking of the state or office of queen rather than a specific individual.
    23rd February 2022 at 10:05
    Hi there. It would likely depend on the circumstances. Unless you're following a specific style guide (in which case, it is worth checking for guidelines on capitalising titles), the main reason to capitalise 'Queen' would be when it is used alongside the monarch's name as part of their full title (e.g. 'We spoke to Queen Elizabeth II', not 'We spoke to queen Elizabeth II'). You might also choose to capitalise 'Queen of England' as a title as a mark of respect, but 'queen of England' would be fine, too, if you're just using it descriptively such as in your example. And you wouldn't usually capitalise 'queen' when it isn't part of an official title, such as in the 'Anne was crowned queen' example. Hope that helps, but if you'd like more advice on capitalising titles, we have a dedicated post on the topic here: https://proofed.co.uk/writing-tips/when-to-capitalise-job-titles-in-writing/
      23rd February 2022 at 10:53
      Thank you. A quick and helpful reply!
Ti Davies
18th March 2022 at 10:05
Should the Principal and the College when referring to a specific person/institution be capitalised?
    18th March 2022 at 15:48
    Hi, Ti. Unless you're using an in-house style sheet that specifies capitalising those terms, or you're using them as stand-ins for proper nouns and need to distinguish 'the Principal' from other principals and 'the College' from other colleges without writing out the proper names in full, then they're both common nouns and do not need to be capitalised.
Rachel Clare
25th May 2022 at 11:16
when producing a business document and referring to key forum stakeholders- in reference to a specific forum, should any of these words have a capital letter?
    26th May 2022 at 08:45
    Hi, Rachel. Which words do you mean? If it's just 'forum' and 'stakeholders', you wouldn't usually need to capitalise them (they are common nouns). If you're referring to the proper names of stakeholders or specific forums that you haven't named in your comment, then you may need to capitalise them. If you'd like more specific advice, you could always submit a document for proofreading: https://proofed.co.uk/services/proofreading/
21st June 2022 at 14:22
Hello. The words 'limited edition' when writing sales copy, for a limited edition product - in a sentence, is this capitalised? Thanks.
    22nd June 2022 at 08:31
    Hi, Nat. No, the words 'limited edition' are not conventionally capitalised. Hope that helps, but don't forget to submit your document for proofreading if you want help checking everything is right in context.

Get help from a language expert.

Try our proofreading services for free.

More Writing Tips?
Trusted by thousands of leading
institutions and businesses

Make sure your writing is the best it can be with our expert English proofreading and editing.