Writing Tip Tuesdays Chapter 4: Capitalization
This is something we learn in the first grade. It’s the difference between large letters and small letters. It’s when to use them and when not to use them. So, why in the world do we have such a hard time with this?
In case you need a refresher, these are uppercase letters:
And these are lowercase letters:
Uppercase letters are also called capital letters. There’s a proper way to use them, and there’s an improper way. The improper way would be to use them whenever you feel like it. Here are a few situations in which one should always, always use the capital letter (yet few surprisingly do):
- The pronoun “I.”
- The first word in a sentence.
- Proper nouns such as names and places.
- The first word of a direct quotation.
as i walked down the hall of lincoln bay high school, i spotted becky. “hi becky!” i called. “how are you?” she smiled and waved, but didn’t say anything back. that was weird.
(That sentence was painful to write.) It should be written like this:
As I walked down the hall of Lincoln Bay High School, I spotted Becky. “Hi Becky!” I called. “How are you?” She smiled and waved, but didn’t say anything back. That was weird.
These are rules, not choices. You don’t “decide” that you won’t capitalize someone’s name in a story. (I suppose the only place where you can run free without capitalization holding you down would be poetry, but I’m talking about prose right now.) You should always capitalize “I.” Always capitalize someone’s name. Always capitalize the first word of a direct quotation, aka when someone starts speaking, aka the “How” in “How are you?” during my example above.
Titles can be tricky. There are many different ways to do them, and not everyone agrees on how it should be done. The one thing they can agree on, however, is that you should never, ever leave out capital letters altogether. Also, you shouldn’t just randomly place capital letters in the middle of words. (See the title of this post; that was an example of what not to do.)
The way I learned it (and still use) is to capitalize the first and last words, all nouns and pronouns, any verbs, adjectives, and adverbs, and any prepositions with more than four letters. For example:
The Green Girl Likes to Eat My Wonderfully Complex Fruit and Vegetables for Lunch.
Some newspapers capitalize every word. Some people write titles the same way as sentences. Frankly, I prefer the way I use because it draws your attention to the big, important words You could find dozens of complicated styles online, but frankly, my advice is to capitalize the important words.
“So, Rosie, why do we capitalize? Why is it such a big deal?”
Glad you asked. This part is my opinion, so maybe it’s wrong, but bear with me.
Capitalizing words draws your attention to them. That’s why I say to capitalize the “important” words in a title. Things like names and places demand attention. For the reader who skims, they’ll read the capitalized words because they know they’re important. The period is a very, very small dot on a piece of paper. It’s easy to miss it altogether. Putting a capitalized word lets the reader know that something is changing and you need to pay attention.
Using capital letters arbitrarily is annoying and headache-inducing. Using none at all is confusing and lazy. The shift key is not too hard to hit, I promise. If you want to write prose, you need capital letters. They’re not an option. Promise me you’ll at least try! I know it can be confusing at times, but you can always look it up online. Hey, even I do sometimes! Grammar’s confusing. But never leave out capital letters. I’ve seen it happen before. It’s impossible for anyone but the writer to read, I promise.
(Next week will be spelling, y’all, ’cause I suck at it. “Capitalization” is one of those words that I just cannot spell. Thank goodness for spellcheck! *insert winking face here*)