capital letters

Title case is a little complex, but all you have to know is to always capitalize the first word of the title and of the subtitle (when there is one), and don’t capitalize conjunctions (and, but), articles (a, an, the), and prepositions (in, on, over) — unless the preposition is lengthy, like beneath.

The other type of capitalization, proper nouns, shows that you are referring to a specific entity by name, like Mom (her name) vs. my mom (her relationship to me). What’s fun is that you can be creative with capitals, and turn intangibles into specific beings, like Death.

Professional Examples

Titles

  • “Teaching Punctuation as a Rhetorical Tool” by John Dawkins
  • Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  • The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
  • On Writing by Stephen King
  • Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English by Patricia T. O’Conner
  • Words Fail Me: What Everyone Who Writes Should Know about Writing by Patricia T. O’Conner

Proper Nouns

  • It was a cavernous wood-paneled room that look like a tiered classroom from an Ivy League law school.

~from Thomas Friedman’s The World Is Flat

  • “This is a firm,” said Mario Savio at Berkeley during the Free Speech protests of the Sixties, “and if the Board of Regents are the board of directors . . . then . . . the faculty are a bunch of employees and we’re the raw material.”

~from Mark Edmundson’s “On the Uses of a Liberal Education”

  • In the so-called Holiness Code, at the end of Leviticus, for example, eating animals that have died of natural causes requires you to wash youself and your clothes, and even then you will be unclean until the evening (Leviticus 17:15–16).

~Kwame Appiah’s Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers

  • Catholics have a reputation for severity, for judgment that comes down heavily. My experience with Father Martin was not at all like that. . . . He served me tea and biscuits in a tea set that tinkled and rattled at every touch; he treated me like a grown-up; and he told me a story. Or rather, since Christians are so fond of capital letters, a Story.

~from Yann Martel’s Life of Pi

  • Edges, Borders, Boundaries, Brinks and Limits have appeared like a team of trolls on their separate horizons. Short creatures with long shadows, patrolling the Blurry End.

~from Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things

  • One of her ambitions was to own a watch on which she could change the time whenever she wanted to (which according to her was what Time was meant for in the first place).

~from Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things

How Capitals Work

Title Case

  1. Capitalize all words EXCEPT articles (a, an, the), prepositions* (in, on, of, by, for, to, from . . .), and conjunctions (and, but, yet, for, nor, or, so).
  2. Capitalize EVEN THE EXCEPTIONS ABOVE if the exception is the first or last word of the title or subtitle (after a colon).

*Sometimes long prepositions, like beneath, between, among, through, etc, are capitalized simply because their length makes them seem strange uncapitalized. However, be careful not to associate length with capitalization: short verbs like is, are, was, etc, still need to be capitalized in a title.

Proper Nouns

A proper noun is a specific name or title given to a specific person, organization, country, language, etc. It is NOT the same as a label. For example, when you write “my mom” you would not capitalize mom since you are simply labeling her relationship to you. If you actually call her Mom, then it becomes a name, like “Let me see if Mom will let me borrow the car.” The same would be true if you called your cat Cat, as in, “Here, Cat.”

The same holds true for words like “high school,” which only get capitalized when referring to a specific high school: “I went to Palo Verde High School.” Also, general subjects like biology do not get capitalized (unless the subject is a language, like English), but a specific course or department does need capitalization: “My teacher for Bio 1050 gives awesome lectures.”

Authors can sometimes play with capitalization in order to change a regular noun into a proper noun for the purpose of making it stand out and seem more important or more specific. This can sometimes be done to create personification or something similar to it, turning an abstract concept into a specific being: “It seems like Time keeps playing tricks on me” or “I can sense Death haunting my shadow.”

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