Newspapers vary in their capitalization style for headlines, from using initial caps for every word to using sentence case. Magazines do so also, but they are not necessarily consistent from one article to the next, because they may design a given article headline to resonate with the feature’s theme (military-style stencil lettering for an profile about a soldier) or tone (a whimsical font for a story about the circus).
Capitalization is the writing of a word with its first letter in uppercase and the remaining letters in lowercase. Experienced writers are stingy with capitals. It is best not to use them if there is any doubt.
The main function of capitals is to focus attention on particular elements within any group of people, places, or things. We can speak of a lake in the middle of the country, or we can be more specific and say Lake Michigan, which distinguishes it from every other lake on earth.
- Brand names
- Days of the week and months of the year
- Governmental matters
Congress (but congressional), the U.S. Constitution (but constitutional), the Electoral College, Department of Agriculture.Note: Many authorities do not capitalize federal or state unless it is part of the official title: State Water Resources Control Board, but state water board; Federal Communications Commission, but federal regulations.
- Historical episodes and eras
the Inquisition, the American Revolutionary War, the Great Depression
Oxford College, the Juilliard School of Music
- Manmade structures
the Empire State Building, the Eiffel Tower, the Titanic
- Manmade territories
Berlin, Montana, Cook County
- Natural and manmade landmarks
Mount Everest, the Hoover Dam
- Nicknames and epithets
Andrew “Old Hickory” Jackson; Babe Ruth, the Sultan of Swat
American Center for Law and Justice, Norwegian Ministry of the Environment
Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, but policies vary on capitalizing earth, and it is usually not capitalized unless it is being discussed specifically as a planet: We learned that Earth travels through space at 66,700 miles per hour.
- Races, nationalities, and tribes
Eskimo, Navajo, East Indian, Caucasian, African American
- Religions and names of deities
Note: Capitalize the Bible (but biblical). Do not capitalize heaven, hell, the devil, satanic.
- Special occasions
the Olympic Games, the Cannes Film Festival
- Streets and roads
Rule 3. A thorny aspect of capitalization: where does it stop? When does the Iraq war become the Iraq War? Why is the legendary Hope Diamond not the Hope diamond? Everyone writes New York City, so why does the Associated Press Stylebook recommend New York state? There aren’t always easy formulas or logical explanations. Research with reference books and search engines is the best strategy.
In the case of brand names, companies are of little help, because they capitalize any word that applies to their merchandise. Domino’s Pizza or Domino’s pizza? Is it Ivory Soap or Ivory soap, a Hilton Hotel or a Hilton hotel? Most writers don’t capitalize common nouns that simply describe the products (pizza, soap, hotel), but it’s not always easy to determine where a brand name ends. There is Time magazine but also the New York Times Magazine. No one would argue with Coca-Cola or Pepsi Cola, but a case could be made for Royal Crown cola.
The president will address Congress.
Chairman of the Board William Bly will preside at the conference.
The chairman of the board, William Bly, will preside.
The senators from Iowa and Ohio are expected to attend.
Also expected to attend are Senators Buzz James and Eddie Twain.
The governors, lieutenant governors, and attorneys general called for a special task force.
Governor Fortinbrass, Lieutenant Governor Poppins, and Attorney General Dalloway will attend.
Sometimes the line between title and occupation gets blurred. One example is general manager: is it a title or an occupation? Opinions differ. Same with professor: the Associated Press Stylebook considers professor a job description rather than a title, and recommends using lowercase even before the full name: professor Robert Ames.
However, these monikers are not capitalized when they are used with possessive nouns or pronouns; when preceded by articles such as a, an, or the; when they follow the personal name; or when they do not refer to a specific person.
I found out that my mom is here.
Joe’s grandpa looks good.
He’s the father of her first child.
The James brothers were notorious robbers.
There’s not one mother I know who would allow that.
Download our capitalization rules guide
1. Always capitalize the first word as well as all nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs.
Let’s go back to that rule about major words that we referred to earlier. Though the word major may seem a little bit vague, this essentially refers to all nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs. In addition, all major style guides indicate that the first word of the title should be capitalized regardless of the word’s role as a part of speech. So, yes, even if the first word of the title is not a noun, pronoun, verb, adjective, or adverb, it must be capitalized.
Here, both Man and Sea are nouns, while Old is an adjective that modifies Man. Because they are nouns and adjectives, these words should be capitalized.
2. Articles, conjunctions, and prepositions should not be capitalized.
Though it is sometimes said that small words in a title do not require capitalization, let’s be a bit more specific. After all, many nouns and verbs are small (e.g., dog, go), but these words must still be capitalized. The small words we are referring to in this case essentially include articles, conjunctions, and prepositions, which should not be capitalized (again, unless they are the first word of a title). There are only three articles in the English language (a, an, and the), so pinpointing these words in a title should be a cinch. Conjunctions like and, nor, but, for, and or should also be written in lowercase.
Let’s break down this example from William Faulkner. Sound and Fury are nouns and must be capitalized. Though the is used twice in this title, only the first appearance of this article needs to be capitalized, because it is at the beginning of the title. Finally, and is a conjunction and should be written in lowercase.
Prepositions are a different story, as they can be tricky to identify. Prepositions link nouns or other phrases (the objects of the prepositions) to the rest of the sentence. Simple prepositions indicate temporal, spatial, or logical relationships between the object of the preposition and the rest of the sentence; these include above, below, after, around, outside, toward, through, into, etc. Participial prepositions are not linked to nouns and include terms like concerning, considering, regarding, and during. Neither simple prepositions nor participial prepositions should be capitalized in a title. Though some prepositions can be quite lengthy, they should still be written in lowercase. (There are some exceptions to this rule, but we’ll get to that a bit later.)
In this example, at is a preposition that adds spatial information to the sentence and should be written in lowercase. Bury (verb), My (possessive pronoun), Heart (noun), and Wounded Knee (proper noun) are all capitalized.
Okay, things get more complicated here. When prepositions function as adverbs, they should be capitalized. (Near and beneath can act as either prepositions or adverbs.) When does a preposition function as an adverb, you ask? A good way to determine this is to identify the part of speech of the term following the word that you are unsure about. If the word that follows is a noun, then the term you are unsure about is probably functioning as a preposition. If a noun does not follow the term, then the word is an adverb and should be capitalized.
3. Capitalize the first element in a hyphenated compound.
If a title contains a hyphenated compound, then the first element must always be capitalized. The other elements of the compound are generally capitalized, unless they are parts of speech that are not capitalized (articles, conjunctions, or prepositions).