When to capitalize

Capitalization is writing a word with its first letter as a majuscule (upper case letter) and the remaining letters in minuscule (lower case letters). The term is also used more broadly to refer to any aspect of using upper and lower case letters.

The CP Stylebook offers this basic advise for capitalization.

Capitalize all proper names, trade names, government departments and agencies of government, names of associations, companies, clubs, religions, languages, nations, races, places, and addresses. Otherwise lowercase is favoured where a reasonable option exists.”

Let’s spell this out in a short set of rules.

a. Capitalize a proper noun

Confederation Bridge

b. Titles with proper names

Capitalize a person’s title when it precedes the name. Do not capitalize when the title is acting as a description following the name.

Chairperson Petrov

Ms. Petrov, the chairperson of the company, will address us at noon.

Capitalize the person’s title when it follows the name on the address or signature line.

Ms. Haines, Chairperson

Capitalize the titles of high-ranking government officials when used with or before their names. Do not capitalize the civil title if it is used instead of the name.

The president will address Congress.

All senators are expected to attend.

The governors, lieutenant governors, and attorneys general called for a special task force.

Governor Fortinbrass, Lieutenant Governor Poppins, Attorney General Dalloway, and Senators James and Twain will attend.

Capitalize any title when used as a direct address.

Will you take my temperature, Doctor?

c. Compositions

We capitalize the principle words in the title of books, films, plays, poems, songs, speeches, works of art, and other compositions. We do not capitalize the word the at the beginning of names of almanacs, the Bible, dictionaries, directories, encyclopaedias, gazetteers, and handbooks.

A Pocket Style Manual, The Canadian Style

Note that we do not enclose the title in quotation marks.

We capitalize names of composition divisions, such as Act, Chapter, Section, Volume, when they are followed by a number, but use lowercase in a general reference.

Act 1, Scene 2

Section 2.5

Chapter 15, versus 5 to 7

the Canadian Oxford Dictionary

d. First word of a quote

We capitalize the first word in a quoted sentence, but not the first word in a quoted phrase.

He said, “Treat her as you would your own daughter.”

The novelist and filmmaker Marcel Pagnol cautioned that engineers “begin with sewing machines and end up with an atomic bomb.”

e. First word following a colon

In keeping with the CP Stylebook (and The Canadian Style), we do not capitalize the first word following a colon even if it begins an independent clause.

Put most simply, the colon looks forward or anticipates: it gives readers an extra push toward the next part of the sentence.

f. Computer terms

We capitalize specific proper names and use lowercase for generic and descriptive terms.

World Wide Web, Web site, Internet

e-mail, home page, intranet

g. Geography

We capitalize geographic regions and widely recognized descriptive regions.

Example: Northern Canada, Western Canada, Prairies, Canadian Shield, Rocky Mountains, Great Lakes

We use lowercase for points on the compass and northern, eastern, southern and western.

to the west of Red Deer, north, western provinces, southern hospitality

h. Seasons and time

We use lowercase for all seasons and spelled out time.

spring, winter, mountain standard time (MST), eastern daylight time (EDT), Atlantic daylight time (ADT)

Categories: writing
Last updated: November 10, 2008
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