When do we capitalize?

A number of people struggle with capitalization, and many tend to over-capitalize. Unfortunately, no quick-fix solution exists to tell us when or when not to capitalize a word. That being said, this guide provides a quick and clear list to help writers know when to capitalize.


1. The first word of a sentence.

This rule generally doesn’t pose too many problems. That being said, some people might be confused with whether or not to capitalize the first word following a colon or semicolon that begins a complete, independent clause. Some style guides allow capitalization after a colon to place emphasis on the independent clause; however, this is rare and other style guides do not allow it. Never capitalize the first word of an independent clause after a semicolon.

  •  I love grammar.
  •  I love grammar; he does not.
  •  I love grammar: it helps me express myself clearly.



2. First word of quotations that are sentences.

Capitalize the first word of a quotation that consists of a complete sentence. Do not capitalize a quotation if it is a sentence fragment or works itself into the sentence.


  • He said, “We all love grammar so much!”
  • When asked his opinion on the subject, he said he was “not a fan.”


3. First word of complete sentences in parentheses.

Only capitalize the first word of a complete sentence (with punctuation) in parentheses. Do not capitalize the first word of a sentence fragment.

  • Grammar is constantly changing. (You should keep up-to-date with changing rules and conventions.)
  • He had read grammar books before (though he had some trouble understanding them).

4. Names and nicknames

Capitalize the first letter of proper names and nicknames.

  • James, Joe and Jacky Boy are all quite good spellers.

5. Family relationships

Capitalize words that designate family relationships when they are used as proper names or as a part of a proper name.

  • My sister explained the grammar rules to Dad (but my dad now understands grammar better).
  • I asked Grandma and Aunt Gertrude (but Jim’s grandma and aunt are quite lovely).


6. Professional titles

Capitalize professional titles when they appear with and as a part of the individual’s name. You can also capitalize when referring to the person specifically without mentioning his or her name.

  • Prime Minister Harper addressed the public (but Stephen Harper is prime minister of Canada).
  • The Prime Minister addressed the public.


7. Place names and geographical terms

Capitalize place names and geographical areas when they are proper nouns. Do not capitalize directions unless they are part of a proper noun or take political or other connotations.

  • I live on Sesame St. (but this is my street).
  • I went to visit the Parliament of Canada in Ottawa, Ontario today.
  • The store is on Bloor Street West (but the store is west of here).
  • They are looking to the West for help after the earthquake.
  • The Pacific Ocean
  • The Maritimes


8. Months, days, holidays

Capitalize months, days and holidays, but not the seasons.

  • Monday, Tuesday, etc.
  • Christmas, Chanukah, Victoria Day, etc.
  • winter, spring


9. Words derived from proper nouns

Capitalize words that are derived from proper nouns. Note: some of these have entered into common usage and are no longer capitalized (e.g. platonic). If you’re ever uncertain, use a dictionary to confirm.

  • Shakespearean, Edwardian, etc.


10. Institutions, government bodies and official organizations

Capitalize the names of institutions, government bodies and official organizations when using both the name in full and in shortened form.

  • The Government of Canada (but the Canadian government)
  • The Canadian War Museum is located in Ottawa. The Museum houses many artefacts.
  • The Bloc Québécois
  • The Vancouver Canucks


11. Names of nationalities and languages

These should always be capitalized.

  • French
  • English
  • Native American
  • Iraqi


12. School subjects, courses and degrees

Capitalize school courses when referring to them specifically, not when referring to the subject in general (except for languages). Degrees should only be capitalized when they are written in full and not when mentioned informally.

  • I received an A in Philosophy! (but I believe philosophy to be of great importance.)
  • He has a degree in math (but He graduated with BSc Mathematics).

13. Medals, awards, honours and decorations

These always take a capital when written out in full.

  • The Governor General’s Performing Arts Awards
  • The Victoria Cross


14. Official events

This includes sporting events, government events, etc.

  • The Olympic Games
  • The Opening of Parliament


15. Publications and works of art

Titles of publications and works of art retain their capitalization when being referenced.

  • To Kill a Mockingbird (book)
  • Red Maple (painting)


16. Copyrighted names

Brand names and other copyrighted names should always be capitalized unless they have become common nouns (e.g. nylon).

  • Coca Cola
  • Kraft Dinner
  • Tylenol


17. Titles and headings

Every word in a title should be capitalized except for articles (other than one beginning the title) and any conjunctions or prepositions under four letters. The same can be said for centred headings. Only capitalize the first letter of a heading that starts at the margin as well as any other word that should be capitalized in its own right.





Correct any errors in capitalization in the following sentences.

1. Jake and his Grandmother are coming Monday (Of next week).



2. The new Minister of Foreign Affairs happened to be in vancouver during the Olympic games.


3. He read Lord of the Flies in high school; However, he did not enjoy it.


4. His Philosophy on life seems to be based on the French style of living.


5. Come Spring, he takes a lot of Tylenol for the many headaches he has because of his allergies.






Dundurn Press. The Canadian Style: A Guide to Writing and Editing. Toronto: Dundurn Press, 1997.

Einsohn, Amy. The Copyeditor’s Handbook: A Guide for Book Publishing and Corporate Communications. 2nd ed. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2006.

Flick, Jane and Celia Millward. Handbook for Writers. 3rd Canadian ed. Toronto: Harcourt Brace & Company, Ltd., 1999.

Messenger, William E. et al. The Canadian Writer’s Handbook. 5th ed. Toronto: Oxford University Press Canada, 2008.



Created by: Diana Franz