SMUG Monday: Capitalization

Maybe it’s just the laissez faire culture of the internet, but capitalization errors seem to run rampant online. Unfortunately, this often spills over into one’s writing.

Capitalization is a way of designating a proper noun from a common noun. It is not used to designate an Important Word or Idea–unless you are The Rejectionist (love love love!), in which case it’s artistic license that enhances his/her content.

The rules, below, are fairly simple. Like most grammar, the more published works you read, the easier it is to get a sense for how capitalization is properly used.


Nouns are persons (lover, Dirk, novelist); places, (Greek Isles, club,  gym); things (BOB, book, laptop, Kindle); ideas (love, romance, tension).

Example (nouns underlined): When the top-secret Navy SEAL Dirk Kansas travels to the Greek Isles, the last thing he expects to see is a beautiful young heiress who makes him believe in love again.

Notice how the only nouns capitalized are the first word in the sentence, the acronym SEAL, proper names and places?

RULE 1: Capitalize the first word of each sentence.

This includes all quotes, whether there is no attributive, it comes before, or after the quote! Though this seems obvious, quotation capitalization is sometimes a point of confusion.

Example: “She is the most stunning woman I’ve ever seen,” Dirk Kansas declared.

Example: Dirk Kansas cried, “Why does she make my blood pound harder than hitting the water after a HALO jump?” This is where most errors happen. Even though there is an attributive and a comma before the quote, the first word of the quotation MUST be capitalized.

RULE 2: Capitalize proper nouns

–Names of specific people (Dirk, Barbie)

–Days of the week, months, holidays (Easter, Columbus Day)

–Ranks and titles with a specific name (Ensign Kansas has shoulders like a linebacker vs. the ensign was honorably discharged)

–Geographic areas (California, Greece, Aegean Sea, Mount Olympus, Lincoln Ave., Yellowstone, the Midwest). Do not capitalize directions (Go west for two miles…).

–Historical eras (the Renaissance, World War II, the Middle Ages, the Enlightenment)

–Religions, nationalities, races, languages (Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Greek, African-American, Dutch, Danish).

–Specific school courses (Sex and Sexuality, Calculus 105, History 234). Do not capitalize general subjects (math, calculus, history).

–Specific institutions, businesses, organizations, buildings, or teams (the Parthenon, the Staples Center, Harvard Law School, National Endowment for the Arts, the Anaheim Angels)

Brands (K-BAR knife, Glock pistol, Versace, Gucci, Hermes, Tiffany’s)

–Planets (Earth, Venus, Uranus *giggle*). Do not capitalize the sun, moon, or earth in certain contexts (Earth is the third planet from the sun. There are no SEALS on earth more skilled than Dirk Kansas).

–Titles of movies, books, chapters, articles, etc. Short works are put in quotations, while longer works and movies are underlined or italicized. (Moulin Rouge, “Maison Domine,” Binding Ties, “SMUG Monday: Capitalization,” The Dirk Kansas Guide to Being a Bad-Ass).

RULE 3: Short non-essential title words are not usually capitalized

–Articles (a/an/the); short prepositions (to, for, from, in, up); coordinating conjunctions (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so) are NOT capitalized UNLESS they are the first word in the title or are an essential part of the verb phrase (ex. give up)

Example: The Dirk Kansas Guide to Being a Bad-Ass (“The” is capitalized; “to” and “a” are not)

Example: “Navy SEAL Gives Up Lonely Life,” published in Navy SEAL daily. (“Up” is capitalized because it is part of the verb phrase)


Check back next Monday for more SMUGness, and if you’ve missed previous lessons, find them below. As usual, please post your SMUG questions for me to answer!

SMUG Monday: Introduction

SMUG Monday: Complete Sentences I

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