capitals


capitals
capitals
Capital letters are used to signal special uses of words, either (1) to mark a significant point in written or printed matter (especially the beginning of a sentence), or (2) to distinguish names that identify particular people or things from those that describe any number of them. Practice varies when people and things do not always fit neatly into one or other of these two categories. This article deals with the elementary uses first, and then with the less straightforward ones.
1. basic uses.
Capital letters are used almost invariably (1) to begin a new sentence (or a quotation within a sentence), (2) as the first letters of proper names and personal names (New York / John Smith), (3) in certain special cases by convention, e.g. the personal pronoun I. These elementary rules cause little difficulty, but beyond them practice and usage become unstable, and different publishing houses have varying sets of rules about them.
other uses.
a) Prefixes and titles forming part of names referring to one person: the Duke of Wellington, Sir Bob Geldof, Her Majesty the Queen, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, His Excellency the American Ambassador. When the reference is general, i.e. to many such people, a capital is not used: every king of England from William I to Richard II (where king is a common noun like monarch or sovereign).
b) Titles of office-holders when these refer to a particular holder: I have an appointment with the Mayor / He was appointed Bishop of Durham; but not when the reference is general or descriptive: He wanted to be a dean / When I become king.
c) Recognized and official place-names: Northern Ireland (but northern England, which is simply descriptive), Western Australia, South Africa, New England, the Straits of Gibraltar, Plymouth Sound, London Road (when it is an address; but Take the London road, i.e. the road to London, which is descriptive).
d) Names of events and periods of time: the Bronze Age (and, e.g., Bronze-Age Crete), the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the First World War (but the 1914–18 war is generally regarded as descriptive). Archaeological and geological eras are now generally often written with a small initial: chalcolithic, palaeolithic.
e) Names of institutions, when these are regarded as identifying rather than describing: Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Marxism, the (Roman) Catholic Church, the House of Lords. The word State has a capital initial when it is meant to refer to the institution as a whole, so as to distinguish it from the ordinary use of the word; similarly Church is an institution (disestablishment of the Church) whereas church is a building or local body (go to church / the church down the road).
f) Abbreviations and initialisms are usually spelt with capitals, whether they refer to institutions or are more generic (BBC, MPs); but acronyms, which are pronounced like words and tend to behave like words, often become wholly or partly lower-case (Nato, radar, Aids).
g) Names of ships and vehicles: The Cutty Sark, HMS Dreadnought, / the US bomber Enola Gay. Note also a Boeing, a Renault / a Spitfire, which are trademarks: see next section.
h) Proprietary names (trademarks): Anadin, Cow & Gate, Kleenex, Persil. A capital initial should strictly also be used when the reference is generic (e.g. can you lend me a Biro), but in practice this is more common in the regulated world of published print than in general writing.
i) Words derived from proper names: Christian (noun and adjective), Macchiavellian, Shakespearian. But a small initial is used when the reference is remote or conventional, or merely allusive: arabic letters, french windows, mackintosh, wellington boot; and when the sense is an attribute or quality suggested by the proper name: chauvinistic, herculean, titanic. Verbs follow the same rule: bowdlerize, galvanize, pasteurize. The guide in this area is the extent to which the name on which the word is based is present in the meaning used, as it clearly is with Shakespearian but not with titanic (which is undoubtedly used by many who are unaware of the mythological Titans).
j) Medial capitals. The uses we have discussed so far all concern the first letters of words. Use of capitals within words is confined exclusively to commercial usage, and has no other purpose or effect than to highlight or distinguish the name: CinemaScope, InterLink.

Modern English usage. 2014.

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