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7 rules for when to use a capital letter

You probably know the basic rules for using a capital letter. At the start of a sentence. With the personal pronoun 'I'. For a name, such as Stephanie.

But there's more to the rule for capital letters than just that. And it can be tricky to work out when, and when you shouldn't, use one. Mostly, I think, people go with what 'feels right' or 'looks right', without knowing exactly what the rule is. Which probably works out OK, but it can leave you with a lack of confidence. Because unless you know the rules, you can't be 100% sure you're getting it right.

This isn't a definitive guide, but here are some basic rules for when you should - and when you shouldn't - use a capital letter.

  1. You must use it with any proper noun. A proper noun is something that has a name. That includes the names of people - like Winston Churchill. It means the names of cities, like London. It includes the names of events, such as the Olympic Games.

  2. You also use capital letters with titles that come before names, such as Ms Green, Dr Jones or Lady Grey. Therefore, we'd write Sir Winston Churchill was once Prime Minister of the UK. Both Sir and Prime Minister are titles. The UK is the name of a country, which is why it's in capital letters. It's also an acronym (see below).

  3. You mustn't use a capital letter if it's not a name. That's why we write Queen Elizabeth, because that's her title and name. We can also write about her using only her title, as the Queen. But the general word 'queen' has no capital letter.

  4. Use capital letters with acronyms. These are letters that stand for words, such as the BBC, the NHS or ASAP.

  5. Don't use capital letters for words such as teacher, mother, solicitor. These are roles or jobs, not names of a particular person or thing. The same goes for animals, even pets, unless you're writing the name of your pet. So you'd write My cat's name is Stripey. The word 'cat' has no capital letter.

  6. People often write capital letters for a word that they think is important, such as I think it's Really Important to understand Spelling Rules. If you want to do that, go ahead, but it's not correct.

  7. A reason for this confusion might be because capital letters are used for the titles of books, films, artwork, songs and so on. Star Wars is written using capital letters. However, in the UK, less important words in the title are often not capitalised. So we'd write the classic children's book about Toad, Mole and Ratty as The Wind in the Willows. In the USA, usually all words are capitalised (The Wind In The Willows).

The English language can trip up anyone. If you're a business owner who's not always sure if your written words hit the mark, I can take the stress away from you. Have a look at my copywriting page, and get in touch below if you want to know more.

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