Capitalisation rules – the basics

capitalisation basics

If you have ever read an old newspaper (early nineteenth century) and you look carefully at the old broadsheets.  You will notice that words are capitalised here and there and that the rules of capitalisation, some of which you will learn shortly, seem nonexistent.

A screenshot of the Sydney Gazette, 1815
A screenshot of the Sydney Gazette, 1815. Capitalisation is not consistent and seems to be random

And so they were. In those days, one capitalised words according to his or her tastes.  We have come along way, since then.  Now, there are rules (for better or worse) which we must all follow.

Capital letters eliminate a lot of confusion when we write. Although the rules are not too complicated if we use common sense about the thing, capitalisation seems to give people more problems than others kinds of written English usage.

Basically, capitals are used on words that name a particular or special person, place or thing, or what we call “proper nouns”.   Words such as river or association are correctly capitalised only if a particular one is named.  The rules are quite clear-cut, except for some reason days of the week rate capitals and season of the year do not. I intend to provide you only some of the most essential rules; the rest you will be able to find in a good grammar book. Here they are

1.Capitalise everyone’s name and the names of special places.

People – Harvey Weinstein (Even if he is a despicable person, you would still have to capitalise his name.
Continents – Europe (as well as Europeans)
Countries – Australia (as well as Australians)
States – Victoria (as well as Victorians)
Cities – Sydney and Melbourne
Rivers – Parramatta River
Lakes – Lake George
Parks – Centennial Park
Streets – Bailey Street

2.Capitalise particular things

Days of the week – Monday, Tuesday, etc
Months of the year – January, February
Organisations – Australian Government Department of Human Services
Documents – The Australian Constitution
Buildings – Town Hall

3. Capitalise particular titles

Books – “The Holy Bible”
Movies – “Star Wars”
Songs – “Teenage Dream”
Professions – Dr Peter Blainey, Reverend Peter O’Toole
Rank – Captain John Paul Jones
Relatives – Uncle John
Office – Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull

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