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22 Capitalization Rules

When should you capitalize and when do you not? Contrary to popular belief, capitalization does not add importance, prestige, or respect. If you want to get real controversial, try taking a stance on capitalizing pronouns referring to God. Do you refer to He, Him, His or he, him, or his? Let’s not even go to the gender issue. Check out the controversy if you wish, but for the rest of us, what about those capitalization rules?

Sometimes these mechanics and grammar rules do serve a purpose. Here’s the 22 capitalization rules from The Pennington Manual of Style to answer your capitalization questions. Want the whole manual including 22 comma rules, 22 capitalization rules, 22 other punctuation rules, 22 quotation marks, italics and underlines, and 22 Modern Language Association (MLA) citation formats?  The author (authority) of these mechanics rules is Mark Pennington, publisher of Teaching Essay Strategies designed to teach students the Common Core W.1 argumentative and W.2 informational explanatory essays with downloadable e-comments, and the newly released Grades 4-8 Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand), designed to help students catch up and keep up with grade-level Standards in grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Essay Strategies

Teaching Essay Strategies

The Pennington Manual of Style: 22 Capitalization Rules 

1 People and Character Names Capitalize people’s and characters’ names. Also, capitalize people’s titles, such as The President f the United States or Alexander the Great. Do not capitalize an article (a, an, the) that it part of the title, unless it begins the title. Example: President James Earl Carter worked to provide housing for the poor.

2 Place Names Capitalize place names. Do not capitalize a preposition that is part of a title, unless it begins the title. Examples: Stratford upon Avon or Cardiff by the Sea.      Examples: Ryan visited Los Angeles to see the Holocaust Museum.

3 Names of Things Capitalize named things. Do not capitalize a conjunction that is part of a title, unless it begins the title. Example: President Lincoln and Soldiers’ Home is a national monument in Washington D.C. Example: The Old North Church and Fenway Park are in Boston.

4 Names of Holidays Capitalize holidays. Normally, it is proper form to spell out numbers from one through ten in writing. However, when used as a date name, the numerical number is used. Example: They celebrate the 4th of July, but not Easter.

5 Dates and Seasons Names Capitalize dates, but do not capitalize seasons. Example: The winter months consist of December, January, February, and March.

6 Titles of Things Capitalize the words in titles. Don’t capitalize articles (a, an, the), conjunctions (and), or prepositions (with), unless these words begin or end the title. Examples: My favorite Jim Morrison song is “The End.” I like the movie Gone with the Wind.

7 Titles of Courses or Classes Capitalize the titles of specific academic course or classes, including any  connected letters. Example: Next spring Jake has to take Math Analysis 2C in order to stay on track for early graduation.

8 Hyphenated Titles Capitalize the first and second parts of hyphenated titles if they are nouns or adjectives that have equal importance. Example: The Twentieth-Century was haunted by two world wars. Don’t capitalize a word following a hyphen if both words make up a single word or if the second word is a participle modifying the first word. Examples: Top Twenty Large-sized Models and English-language Arts

9 Organization Names Capitalize the names of  organizations and the letters of acronyms that represent  organizations. More commonly now, writers drop the       periods in well-known acronyms. Examples: M.A.D.D. has both parents and teachers as members, as does the PTA.

10 Letter Salutations and Closings Capitalize the salutations and closings in both friendly and business letters, excluding articles, conjunctions, and prepositions that don’t begin or end the salutations or closings. Examples: Dear Son, … Love, Dad

11 Business Names Capitalize the names of businesses and the letters of acronyms that represent organizations and businesses. More commonly now, writers drop the periods in well-known acronyms. Examples: McDonald’s provided money for our school uniforms, as did IBM.

12 Language and Dialect Names Capitalize the names of languages and dialects. Examples: He spoke Spanish with a Castilian dialect.

13 People Groups Capitalize the names of people groups, including nationalities, races, and ethnic groups. However, do not capitalize colors, such as black or white, when referring to race. Examples: Both Aztecs and Mexicans share a common heritage.

14 Event Names Capitalize the names of special events. Examples: The New Year’s Day Parade was fun, but the Mardi Gras was even better.

15 Historical Period Names Capitalize named historical periods. Leave articles, conjunctions, and prepositions in lower case, unless they begin or end the historical period. Examples: My favorite period of history to study has to be the Middle Ages or the Age of Reason.

16 Time Period Names Capitalize the names of special periods of time. Use lower case and periods for “a.m.” and “p.m.” Leave articles, conjunctions, and prepositions in lower case, unless they begin or end the time period. Example: Next year we celebrate the Year of the Dog.

17 Quotation Capitalization Capitalize the first word in a quoted sentence. Don’t capitalize the first word of a continuing quote that was interrupted by a speaker tag. Examples: She said, “You are crazy. However,” she paused, “it is crazy to be in love with you.” Don’t use a capital letter when the quoted material is only part of the original  complete sentence.

18 Capitalization Following Colons Capitalize the first word following a colon if it begins a series of sentences. Example: Good writing rules should include the following: Neatness counts. Indent each paragraph one inch. Proofread before publishing.

19 Lower Case Following Colons Don’t capitalize the first word (or any word) in a list following a colon if the first word of the list is a common noun. Example: Bring home these items: tortillas, sugar, and milk. Don’t capitalize the first word following a colon that begins an independent clause. Example: I just re-read Lincoln’s best speech: his Second Inaugural Address is brilliant.

20 Titles of People Capitalize the title of a person when it precedes the name. Don’t capitalize the title if it does not precede the name. Examples: I heard the senator ask Mayor Johnson a question. Capitalize the title of a person when it follows someone’s name-then a comma-in  correspondence. Example: The letter was signed as follows: John Pearson, Chairperson. Capitalize the title of a person when the title is used as a noun of direct address. Example: I do plead guilty, Your Honor.

21 Locational Names Capitalize the locational names on a compass when they refer to specific places. Leave directions in lower case. Examples: Ivan grew up here on the Lower Eastside of New York City, but I am from the South.  Ivan knew that we should head south for two blocks.

22 Titles of Agencies Capitalize the titles of  governmental agencies, including these words when connected to the agency titles: City, County, Commonwealth, State, and Federal. Example: The Federal Bureau of Investigation had targeted his operation.

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Capitalization of Languages, Dialects, and People Groups

Capitalization of Languages, Dialects, and People Groups                                                      

Common Core Language Standard 2

Capitalization rules for nouns can get tricky. Any proper noun name needs to be capitalized, including languages, dialects, and groups of people.

Today’s mechanics lesson is on capitalizing languages, dialects, and people groups.

Now let’s read the mechanics lesson and study the examples. 

Capitalize the names of languages, dialects, and people groups. Dialect refers to a variety of a language that is different in pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary than other varieties of that language. Examples: Spanish, Creole, Roma

Now circle or highlight what is right and revise what is wrong according to mechanics lesson.

Practice: Both Canadians spoke Swahili fluently to the Africans.

Pennington Publishing's Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 Programs

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 Programs

Let’s check the Practice Answers.

Mechanics Practice Answers: I woke up this morning at 7:30 a.m. because I fell asleep last night at 10:00 p.m.

Now let’s apply what we have learned.

Writing Application: Write your own sentence using the name of a language and people group.

This writing opener is part of a comprehensive language conventions lesson from the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)  Grades 4‒8 programs. Complete descriptions, instructional scopes and sequences, introductory video, previews, and two-week test drives of the grade-level teacher guides and student workbooks are available here.

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Capitalization of Organizations and Businesses

Capitalization of Organizations and Businesses                                                      

Common Core Language Standard 2

Even organizations and businesses, if they are named, are considered to be proper nouns.

Today’s mechanics lesson is on capitalizing organizations and businesses.

Now let’s read the mechanics lesson and study the examples.

Capitalize the names of organizations and businesses. Don’t capitalize articles, conjunctions, and prepositions in the middle of the named organization or business. Examples: Helping with Hands Association, Durability for Life, Inc.

Now circle or highlight what is right and revise what is wrong according to mechanics lesson.

Pennington Publishing's Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 Programs

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 Programs

Practice: The Girl Scouts of America is over 100-years-old. The united way of America and Pizza to Go® help fund that organization.

Let’s check the Practice Answers.

Mechanics Practice Answers: The Girl Scouts of America is over 100-years-old. The United Way of America and Pizza to Go® help fund that organization.

Now let’s apply what we have learned. 

Writing Application: Write your own sentence using the name of an organization including a preposition.

This writing opener is part of a comprehensive language conventions lesson from the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)  Grades 4‒8 programs. Complete descriptions, instructional scopes and sequences, introductory video, previews, and two-week test drives of the grade-level teacher guides and student workbooks are available here.

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Capitalization of Special Events and Historical Periods

Capitalization of Special Events and Historical Periods                                                      

Common Core Language Standard 2

Capitalization rules are loosely applied in some circumstances. This is particularly true with special events. What exactly is a special event, as opposed to a non-special event? This is also true with historical periods. Most of us would agree that The Age of Reason seems like a well-defined historical period. But what about the Obama years?

Today’s mechanics lesson is on capitalizing special events and historical periods.

Now let’s read the mechanics lesson and study the examples.

Capitalize the names of special events and historical periods. Don’t capitalize articles, conjunctions, and prepositions in the middle of a special event or historical period. Examples: The Boston Marathon, Middle Ages

Now circle or highlight what is right and revise what is wrong according to mechanics lesson.

Practice: The Bastille marathon celebrates The French revolution and The Age of Reason.

Pennington Publishing's Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 Programs

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 Programs

Let’s check the Practice Answers.

Mechanics Practice Answers: The Bastille Marathon celebrates The French Revolution and The Age of Reason.

Now let’s apply what we have learned.

Writing Application: Write your own sentence using the name of an historical period.

This writing opener is part of a comprehensive language conventions lesson from the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)  Grades 4‒8 programs. Complete descriptions, instructional scopes and sequences, introductory video, previews, and two-week test drives of the grade-level teacher guides and student workbooks are available here.

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Capitalization of Holidays and Dates

Capitalization of Holidays and Dates                                                   

Common Core Language Standard 2

Holidays certainly are special things. And because they are special, they are named. And because they are named, they are proper nouns. And because they are proper nouns, they must be capitalized. The same is true for special dates. 

Today’s mechanics lesson is on capitalizing holidays and dates.

Now let’s read the mechanics lesson and study the examples.

Capitalize the names of holidays and dates. Don’t capitalize articles, conjunctions, and prepositions in the middle of a holiday. Examples: New Year’s Day, The Fourth of July

Now circle or highlight what is right and revise what is wrong according to mechanics lesson.

Practice: When memorial day is celebrated on March 29, 2017, I will just be graduating from high school.

Pennington Publishing's Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 Programs

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 Programs

Let’s check the Practice Answers.

Mechanics Practice Answers:

When Memorial Day is celebrated on March 29, 2017, I will just be graduating from high school.

Now let’s apply what we have learned.

Writing Application: Write your own sentence using the name of a holiday.

This writing opener is part of a comprehensive language conventions lesson from the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)  Grades 4‒8 programs. Complete descriptions, instructional scopes and sequences, introductory video, previews, and two-week test drives of the grade-level teacher guides and student workbooks are available here.

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Capitalization of Proper Noun Things and Products

Capitalization of Proper Noun Things and Products                                                    

Common Core Language Standard 2

Usually we like to avoid general words like thing in our written and spoken communication. But what about the definition of a proper noun as a named person, place, or thing? This catch-all term covers everything for a proper noun that a person or place does not. So, English-language arts teachers will have to admit that the word thing can sometimes be useful.

Today’s mechanics lesson is on capitalizing proper noun things and products.

Now let’s read the mechanics lesson and study the examples.

Capitalize named things and products. Don’t capitalize words representing these parts of speech when found in the middle of named things and products:

  • Articles (a, an, the) Example: Two a Day Vitamins
  • Conjunctions Example: World History and Geography
  • Prepositions Example: Race for Life

Now circle or highlight what is right and revise what is wrong according to mechanics lesson.

Practice: Two Kites In The Sky has got to be the most popular play to hit town in recent years.

Pennington Publishing's Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 Programs

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 Programs

Let’s check the Practice Answers.

Mechanics Practice Answers: Two Kites in the Sky has got to be the most popular play to hit town in recent years.

Now let’s apply what we have learned.

Writing Application: Write your own sentence with a named product or products including a conjunction.

This writing opener is part of a comprehensive language conventions lesson from the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)  Grades 4‒8 programs. Complete descriptions, instructional scopes and sequences, introductory video, previews, and two-week test drives of the grade-level teacher guides and student workbooks are available here.

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Capitalization of Proper Noun Names and Characters

Capitalization of Proper Noun Names and Characters                                                      

Common Core Language Standard 2

A proper noun can be simple, such as Donny, or complete, such as Mr. Donny Duck III. Now technically speaking, the words added to the simple proper noun are called proper adjectives, but we’re more interested in how to properly capitalize them in this lesson.

Today’s mechanics lesson is on capitalizing proper noun names and characters.

Now let’s read the mechanics lesson and study the examples.

Capitalize people’s and characters’ names. Also capitalize named places and things. Don’t capitalize articles, conjunctions, and prepositions in the middle of the name, named place, or named thing. Don’t capitalize words representing these parts of speech when found in the middle of people’s or character names.

  • Articles (a, an, the) Example: Courage the Cowardly Dog
  • Conjunctions Example: Punch and Judy
  • Prepositions Example: St. Francis of Assisi

Now circle or highlight what is right and revise what is wrong according to mechanics lesson.

Practice: My dad was a Native-american and his favorite superhero was Batman.

Pennington Publishing's Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 Programs

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 Programs

Let’s check the Practice Answers.

Mechanics Practice Answers: My dad was a Native-American and his favorite superhero was Batman.

Now let’s apply what we have learned. 

Writing Application: Write your own sentence using a character’s name including an article.

This writing opener is part of a comprehensive language conventions lesson from the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)  Grades 4‒8 programs. Complete descriptions, instructional scopes and sequences, introductory video, previews, and two-week test drives of the grade-level teacher guides and student workbooks are available here.

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The Most Useful Punctuation and Capitalization Rules

We’ve all had a chuckle or two when students or others have misused punctuation.

Of course the famous “Let’s eat grandma” would rank close to the top. Others include “I always have enjoyed cooking my friends, neighbors, and most of all my family” or the neighborhood sign, “SLOW CHILDREN AT PLAY.”

My favorite would have to be this one:

“A woman, without her man, is nothing.” Let’s revise as the following: “A woman: without her, man is nothing.”

Wish I knew whom to credit for this one:

Dear John,

I want a man who knows what love is all about. You are generous, kind, and thoughtful. People who are not like you admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me for other men. I yearn for you. I have no feelings whatsoever when we’re apart. I can be forever happy. Will you let me be yours?

Gloria

Now let’s see the difference just by moving around the punctuation:

Dear John,

I want a man who knows what love is. All about you are generous, kind, and thoughtful people, who are not like you. Admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me. For other men, I yearn. For you, I have no feelings whatsoever. When we’re apart, I can be forever happy. Will you let me be?

Yours,

Gloria

Knowing how to properly punctuate and capitalize will help readers better understand what one intends. Additionally, readers judge misuse quite harshly. Following are punctuation with examples and capitalization with examples:

Punctuation/Examples

Commas 

-Use commas before or after speaker tags.

She said, “Call me at home.”

-Use commas to set apart appositives.

That man, the one with the hat, left.

-Use commas after each item in lists (except the last).

John, Jane, and Jose left early.

-Use commas after introductory words or phrases.

First of all, you should listen to me.

-Use commas between number dates and years.

It all happened on May 3, 1999.

-Use commas between geographical places.

She lived in Tampa, Florida.

-Use commas after greetings/closings in personal letters.

Dear Ralph, … Sincerely, …

-Use commas after nouns of direct address.

Kristin, leave some for your sister.

-Use commas before conjunctions to join two independent clauses.

I liked her, and she liked me.

Exclamation Points    

-Use exclamation points for surprise or strong emotions.

The decision really shocked me!

Quotation Marks

-Use quotation marks before and after direct quotations.

Sue said, “I’m going to bed.”

-Use quotation marks before and after songs, poems, document titles, book chapters, magazine articles, and short story titles.

Whenever I hear “Clementine,” it reminds me of “Leaves of Grass” and “The Gettysburg Address.”

Colons               

-Use colons after business letter greetings.

Dear Sirs:

-Use colons to introduce lists.

The following: shoes, pants, and…

-Use colons between numbers in relationship.

8:52 P.M.

Semicolons    

-Use semicolons to join independent clauses without conjunctions.

Jamal went to school; Larry met him.

Underlining     

-Underline movie, television show, book, magazine, and work of art titles.

I saw the wonderful Fiddler on the Roof last night.

Apostrophes    

-Use apostrophes for contractions.

I can’t see what they’re doing.

-Use apostrophes for singular and plural possessives.

Tom’s and the girls’ coats were red.

Parentheses

-Use parentheses to explain or define.

The hombre (man) rode off alone.

Capitalization      

-Capitalize proper nouns (a name that is given to special persons, places, or things).

Ryan visited Los Angeles to visit the Holocaust Museum.

-Capitalize holidays, dates, groups, organizations, and businesses.

Last Easter on March 24, 2002 the P.T.A. and McDonald’s helped out.

-Capitalize the first, last, and any important words in titles.

Prince Charles’s favorite book was Islands of Adventure.

-Capitalize the names of languages and peoples.

He spoke Spanish to the Indians.

-Capitalize special events and historical periods.

The New Year’s Day Parade celebrates the Year of the Dog.

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 programs to teach the Common Core Language Standards. Each full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics and include sentence diagrams, error analysis, mentor texts, writing applications, and sentence dictation formative assessments with accompanying worksheets (L.1, 2). Plus, each grade-level program has weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of all language components.

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) also has the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets. Each remedial worksheet (over 200 per program) includes independent practice and a brief formative assessment. Students CATCH Up on previous unmastered Standards while they KEEP UP with current grade-level Standards. Check out the YouTube introductory video of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) program.

Pennington Publishing's Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)
Grades 4-8 Programs

The author also provides these curricular “slices” of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) “pie”: the five Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits Grades 4−8; the five Differentiated Spelling Instruction Grades 4−8 programs (digital formats only); and the non-grade-leveled Teaching Grammar and Mechanics with engaging grammar cartoons (available in print and digital formats).

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