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Learn to Write English Clearly and Correctly

Set 4 - Lesson 20 ( Go to the Answer Key )

Lesson 20, Capitalization: Using Upper Case letters for Names, Titles, Proper Nouns

Capital or upper case letters are everywhere.  Already on this page we have used eleven of them and we are just getting started.  What good are they?  Why do we have to use them?  When do we have to use them?

  • What good are they?  They give a page a more interesting, varied look than if the letters were all the same size.  They indicate to us that some words, or what the words stand for, are more important than are other things that are not named with capital letters.  They help us see more clearly when new ideas, thoughts or sentences are beginning.

  • Why must we use them?  So that other people will not think we are ignorant or uneducated; so that our written thoughts are not discredited or perceived to be of little value (as they would be if we did not use capital letters correctly); because it is the custom; because the teachers in school said we had to.

  • When must we use them?  Whenever the the rules of English writing tell us we must.

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Rule 1: All sentences must begin with a capital letter.

  • The boy ran home.  Why did he go home?  Get home now, boy!  He walked home, but his friend rode.

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Rule 2: The pronoun I , referring to yourself or to the speaker in a direct quotation, must always be capitalized  .

  • I stubbed my toe.  Am I going to the doctor?  Joey said, "Why can't I go, too?"

Rule 3: Use capital letters to begin the names of specific, particular persons, places or things.

man (any one) 

Herbert (a particular man)
automobile (any one)  Ford (a particular car)
girl (any one)   Lucy  (a particular girl)
city (any one)  Chicago (a particular city)
woman (any one)  Mrs. Hollis (a particular woman)
holiday (any one)  Easter (a particular holiday)
ocean (any one)  Pacific (a particular ocean)
country (any one)  France (a particular country)

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Rule 4: Begin the first word and all important words in titles of books, movies, plays, poems, articles, etc. and the names of companies, agencies and organizations with a capital letter.

Ode to a Grecian Urn American Telephone and Telegraph
Gone with the Wind United States Postal Service
The Phantom of the Opera United Airlines
The Yellow Submarine International Order of Odd Fellows
The Cat in the Hat National Education Association
The Reader's Digest March of Dimes
Into the Looking Glass American Cancer Society
International Garment Workers' Union General Motors

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Rule 5: Use  capital letters to begin personal titles or military ranks when they are used with the person's name or when they are used in place of or as the name.

  • Please tell the captain to come here.   Tell Captain Smith we need him.
  • Some men don't like to use mister in front of their names.  I'm going to call Mister Murphy if you don't behave.
  • Have you ever met the dean?   I would like to introduce you to Dean Alberts.
  • Make sure the sergeant gets this message.  Last night, Sergeant Bilko ordered a surprise inspection.
  • I'm so glad to see you, Mother!   Did you tell Dad we were coming?  Here they are, Lieutenant, on the desk.

Rule 6: Use capital letters as or to begin abbreviations of particular organizations or locations

  • CNN, AFL/CIO, AT&T, A.S.P.C.A.,  N.A.A.C.P. , Microsoft, Inc. , U.S. Steel,  Simon Bros. Clothing
  • PA (Pennsylvania),  FL (Florida),  AZ (Arizona), Fr. (France),  Can. (Canada),  Jap. (Japan), UK (United Kingdom)

Rule 7:  Capitalize abbreviated titles when they are used with names.

Mr. Parsons, Mrs. Snyder, Miss Johnson, Sgt. Holden, Lt. Smith, Rev. Williams, Gov. Ridge, Sen. Caldwell

Rule 8: Capitalize initials - first letters of persons' names.

O. J. Simpson,  T. J. Lawrence, E. A. Poe, Franklin D. Roosevelt,  John F. Kennedy,  L. B. J.

Rule 9:  Capitalize the names of specific brand names of products.

Cheerios, Nintendo, Barbie, Campbell's Chicken Noodle Soup, Oscar Mayer Wieners,  Hewlet Packard Deskjet, Tide, Decca Records, Kleenex Facial Tissue, Lipton Tea,  Microsoft Front Page

Rule 10: Capitalize the first word of the greeting and the salutation in a letter.

  • Dear Nancy,     My dear cousins,    To whom it may concern:  ,  Greetings to the staff,
  • Sincerely,    Yours truly,     With deepest sympathy,    From a true friend always,

There may be a few odd circumstances we have not mentioned in which a capital letter would be used, but if you remember the ones we listed, you will be correct at least 95% of the time.

Exercise A: Put an X across the letters that should not have been capitalized.

1. Here comes Jim's Mother with a cart. 6. Carla had to go to the Library to get Cook Books.
2. The crowd at the game could not hear the P.A. system. 7. Jerry went to the Metro Library to get "Cooking Is Fun".
3. I read "Please Don't Eat The Daisies" last week. 8. The crowd booed the Ump. when he made a bad call.
4. I like Florida State, but I live in another State. 9. Did my Father call while I was out?
5. The State Police in Iowa stop a lot of speeders. 10. Polly added Cereal, Milk, Crackers and Salt to the list.

Exercise B:  Put capital letters where they should be in the following terms.

1. b. f. goodrich 3. lon chaney, jr. 5. the pepsi spirit 7. a.c.l.u. 9. the pa lottery is o.k.
2. the wall street journal 4. empire state building 6. good to the last drop. 8. i started an ira. 10. alberta, can. has snow already.


Examination: All capital letters have been left out of this letter.  Put them where they belong.

october 12, 1995

t. j. tucker, chairman

the crawford building, suite 8623

3345 west broad street

franklin, tn   43235

loyal stockholders,

   i'm taking this opportunity to thank each of you for your continued moral support in the on-going struggle with namaguchi industries for control of preston paper and notepads, inc.  since may 18 of last year, we have seen profits decline by 38 percent.  morgan and morgan, our accountants, tell me that projected profits for this quarter have dropped to $567,000.  We have had to close out pulp mill in fayette, ar, because of higher labor costs and lowered production. 

  the ftc is investigating namaguchi for possible stock manipulation, but we cannot depend on a favorable resolution of that matter to solve our overall problem -- a shrinking customer base.  what we need is a new product -- something innovative, something profitable, something to grab the public's imagination.  since you are all part of the pp&n family, i am asking that you think long and hard on this matter and submit your ideas and suggestions regardless of how outlandish they may seem.  we will meet  next week, october 19, to see what you have come up with.  until then, think hard and may the force be with you.

faithfully yours,

jacob r. preston, sr.


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