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Upper case, or capitalization, is a feature of Western writing systems, which distinguish between upper case ("big") and lower case ("small") letters for various purposes.

1 General capitalization patterns

The following are generally capitalized in English.

  • Proper nouns, e.g., China, Chinese (language), Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Noam Chomsky, Socrates, New York
  • Proper adjectives, or adjectives derived from proper nouns, e.g., Chinese (adj.), Chomskyan, a New York state of mind, pre-Socratic
  • Abbreviations and acronyms, e.g., NASA, FBI. However, if the acronym becomes used as a normal word and loses all sense of being an abbreviation, it is no longer capitalized (e.g., laser, which originally was an acronym for light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation).
  • The initial word of a sentence.
  • In British based varieties of English, the initial word after a colon or semi-colon (: or ;) in a sentence; in American English, this is usually in lower case. E.g.: "Still she left him; He was never at home."
  • Titles, headers, and subheaders of a document. This, however, can be tricky, and multiple schemes exist.

1.1 German and Dutch

In German and Dutch, some family names begin with particles like von, van, de (meaning from). These need not be capitalized if they appear between the first and last name, but are generally capitalized if only the last name is given.

  • Ludwig von Beethoven
  • Vincent van Gogh
  • Van Gogh

2 Titles and headers

Note the capitalization patterns in these examples. The names of journals or periodicals follow traditional capitalization rules, known as title case, where important words (like all nouns) are capitalized. However, titles of books and articles follow sentence case, where only the following are capitalized: (1) the first word of the title, (2) a word after a colon, semi-colon, or dash, and (3) proper nouns; all other words are not capitalized.

2.1 Title case

All content words or longer words are capitalized - for names of journals and periodicals. Content words include nouns, main verbs, adjectives, and adverbs. Subordinating conjunctions (because, that) are also capitalized. "Longer words" refers to words four letters or more in length. The first word and last word of the title are capitalized. Both words of a compound hyphenated word are capitalized, e.g., Self-Report [1].

  • Journal of European Economic and Policy Studies
  • Washington Post
  • The New York Times

2.2 Sentence case

Only initial words, proper nouns, and abbreviations are capitalized - for titles of books, articles, and other works. The first word of the title, and the first word after a colon, semi-colon, or dash are capitalized.

  • High frequency verbs in the ICLE corpus
  • Seeds of change: Tracing language evolution and agriculture
  • Handbook of psycholinguistics

3 Other capitalization schemes

Camel case, or medial capitals, refers to capitalizing a word inside a compound or word blend, especially when the words are written together. This is more common in programming and information technology. This is so named because the letters resemble camel humps. This term can refer to two different medial capital styles.

upper camel case
Initial upper case or capital letter (also called Pascal Case)
  • FedEx
  • HarperCollins
  • JoanSmith (e.g., as an Internet username)
lower camel case
Initial lower case letter
  • iPhone, iPod
  • eBay
  • onMouseOver (in programming)

4 References