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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.

Type Example
Initial word of a sentence
Initial word of a quotation, especially if it is a complete sentence
British / Commonwealth English (UK, Australia, New Zealand): Capitalize the the first word after a colon (:).
American English: The first word after a colon (:) is not usually capitalized; however, it can optionally be capitalized if what follows is a complete sentence.
So, did I get the job? -- No, I'm sorry, we've already hired someone.
She turned away and said, "Nevermind, I'll do it myself."
I have one true passion: Training ferrets. (UK)
I have one true passion: training ferrets. (US)
We have one main goal in life: we want to retire in New Zealand. (US) Or:
We have one main goal in life: We want to retire in New Zealand. (US/UK)
Personal names Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Noam Chomsky, Socrates
Proper nouns
Proper place names, e.g., cities, states, provinces, countries
Specific geographical regions
Designated names of streets, buildings, and other locations
Political parties
Specifically designated time periods
Kinship terms for a specific person in your family or as address forms

China, Ontario, New York, Chicago, Busan
Southern California, the South, the Southern US
Cranberry Street, Abbey Road, Lincoln Theater, Times Square, the Foreign Language Building
Chinese (language), Danish
Buddhism, Hinduism, Orthodox Christianity, African Orthodox Church
Republicans, Democrats, the Libertarian Party, the Socialist Workers Party
World War I, the Great Depression, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution
We're going to see Grandma. Oh, hi Grandpa!
Proper adjectives, or adjectives derived from proper nouns Chinese (adj.), Chomskyan, a New York state of mind, pre-Socratic
Institutions, majors and academic departments: If a noun refers to a specific major, degree program, or department, then it is capitalized. If it just refers to a field of study in general, then it is not. I like linguistics and teaching, so I went to the University of Illinois for a Linguistics degree, and then an education degree from their Applied Linguistics division.
Abbreviations and acronyms
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' was originally an acronym for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation
The pronoun 'I' Do I want to? I don't think so.
Names of days, months & holidays, but not seasons Halloween is in October, which falls on a Friday this year, and we will have a lovely autumn holiday with apple cider.
Titles: In titles, headers, and subheaders of books, publications, other documents, and media pieces the content words (nouns, main verbs, adjectives, adverbs) and "longer words (five letters or more) are generally capitalized. This, however, can be tricky, and multiple schemes exist. See below for more. War and Peace; The Raven; The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy; Star Trek

German and Dutch names

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

The following patterns are for the following elements:

  • Names of various kinds of publications
  • Titles of essays, papers or manuscripts
  • Titles of articles in periodicals (magazines and newspapers), in academic research journals, and in edited volumes (i.e., research articles in book form)
  • Titles of books, and sometimes for book sections or chapters
  • Section headers, and subsection subheaders, in papers, articles, manuscripts, and book chapters

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