Use of Capitals in the English Language

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Use of Capitals in the English Language Empty Use of Capitals in the English Language

Post by Kangas on Thu Oct 11, 2012 12:56 pm

One of the major problems of being bilingual, is that you have to work with two sets of rules. Sometimes, ending up applying the rules of our mother tongue to our second language, which most of the times will get us in trouble... Embarassed

This is one of those cases. Each language has its own rules regarding to the use of capital letters, in fact, even in the same language you might find some differences, depending on the variant you're using. So it's quite common that we use our mother tongue's rules when writing in a foreign language. And might be wrong. Embarassed

Since I've opened a similar topic for the Portuguese language, I decided to o the same for English language so we can undestand the small differences and make a correct usage of both. Very Happy

My research today was based on: Guide to Punctuation - Sussex University

In English, we use capital letters:

  • In the first word of a sentence or fragment.
    Example: It's very windy here today.

  • In the names of days of the week or months of the year.
    Example: John said he would finish his assignment on Tuesday, 25th of June.
    Note: Names of seasons however, are NOT written with capitals. Example: It will be very hot this summer.

  • In the name of languages.
    Example: Sarah is fluent in German.
    Note: the names of disciplines or school subjects are NOT written with capitals, UNLESS they refer to names of languages. Example: Adam is studying English and history today.

  • In words that reflect a connection with a certain place (country, city).
    Example: Around the world, Australian mangoes are highly regarded for their great quality.
    Note: we DO NOT need to use capitals for these words when they don't express any connection to that particular place. Example: I love portuguese tarts.

    See the explanation, according to: Guide to Punctuation - Sussex University

    However, it is not necessary to capitalize these words when they occur as parts of fixed phrases and don't express any direct connection with the relevant places:

    Please buy some danish pastries.
    In warm weather, we keep our french windows open.
    I prefer russian dressing on my salad.

    Why the difference? Well, a danish pastry is merely a particular sort of pastry; it doesn't have to come from Denmark. Likewise, french windows are merely a particular kind of window, and russian dressing is just a particular variety of salad dressing. Even in these cases, you can capitalize these words if you want to, as long as you are consistent about it. But notice how convenient it can be to make the difference:

    In warm weather, we keep our french windows open.
    After nightfall, French windows are always shuttered.

    In the first example, french windows just refers to a kind of window; in the second, French windows refers specifically to windows in France.

  • In words that identify nationalities or ethnic groups.
    Example: There were many Australians at the party.
    Note: with time, languages suffer evoution and terms may be discontinued and other terms introduced.
    (An aside: some ethnic labels which were formerly widely used are now regarded by many people as offensive and have been replaced by other labels. Thus, careful writers use Black, not Negro; native American, not Indian or red Indian; native Australian, not Aborigine. You are advised to follow suit.)

    (f) Formerly, the words black and white, when applied to human beings, were never capitalized. Nowadays, however, many people prefer to capitalize them because they regard these words as ethnic labels comparable to Chinese or Indian:

    The Rodney King case infuriated many Black Americans.

    You may capitalize these words or not, as you prefer, but be consistent.

    • In proper names. These are either names of particular people or institutions.
      Example: Yesterday I met Anna and Darren at the British Council in Lisbon.
      Note: but sometimes we have to be careful and pay attention to what the words refer to, because this rules may vary.

    Observe the difference between the next two examples:

    We have asked for a meeting with the President.
    I would like to be the president of a big company.

    In the first, the title the President is capitalized because it is a title referring to a specific person; in the second, there is no capital, because the word president does not refer to anyone in particular. (Compare We have asked for a meeting with President Wilson and *I would like to be President Wilson of a big company.) The same difference is made with some other words: we write the Government and Parliament when we are referring to a particular government or a particular parliament, but we write government and parliament when we are using the words generically. And note also the following example:

    The patron saint of carpenters is Saint Joseph.

    Here Saint Joseph is a name, but patron saint is not and gets no capital.

    There is a slight problem with the names of hazily defined geographical regions. We usually write the Middle East and Southeast Asia, because these regions are now regarded as having a distinctive identity, but we write central Europe and southeast London, because these regions are not thought of as having the same kind of identity. Note, too, the difference between South Africa (the name of a particular country) and southern Africa (a vaguely defined region). All I can suggest here is that you read a good newspaper and keep your eyes open.

    Observe that certain surnames of foreign origin contain little words that are often not capitalized, such as de, du, da, von and van. Thus we write Leonardo da Vinci, Ludwig van Beethoven, General von Moltke and Simone de Beauvoir. On the other hand, we write Daphne Du Maurier and Dick Van Dyke, because those are the forms preferred by the owners of the names. When in doubt, check the spelling in a good reference book.

    A few people eccentrically prefer to write their names with no capital letters at all, such as the poet e. e. cummings and the singer k. d. lang. These strange usages should be respected.

  • In the names of particular periods of history.
    Example: Carlos loves the Middle Ages.

  • In the names of festivals or religious dates.
    Example: I'm going to England this Christmas.

  • In most religious terms like names of religions and their followers, names of sacred books or sacred identities, etc.
    Example: I visited many Buddist temples in Japan.
    Note: the word "god" is NOT capitalised when refering to a pagan deity. Example: Mars was the Roman god of war.

  • In every significant word of the name of a book, play, magazine, newspaper, poem, music piece.
    Example: I loved the film The Devil Wears Prada.
    Note:However, there are other policies regarding to this point.
    Important note: The policy just described is the one most widely used in the English-speaking world. There is, however, a second policy, preferred by many people. In this second policy, we capitalize only the first word of a title and any words which intrinsically require capitals for independent reasons. Using the second policy, my examples would look like this:

    I was terrified by The silence of the lambs.
    The round tower was written by Catherine Cookson.
    Bach's most famous organ piece is the Toccata and fugue in D minor.
    I don't usually like Cher, but I do enjoy The shoop shoop song.

    You may use whichever policy you prefer, so long as you are consistent about it. You may find, however, that your tutor or your editor insists upon one or the other. The second policy is particularly common (though not universal) in academic circles, and is usual among librarians; elsewhere, the first policy is almost always preferred.

    (l) The first word of a direct quotation, repeating someone else's exact words, is always capitalized if the quotation is a complete sentence:

    Thomas Edison famously observed "Genius is one per cent inspiration and ninety-nine per cent perspiration."

    But there is no capital letter if the quotation is not a complete sentence:

    The Minister described the latest unemployment figures as "disappointing".

    (m) The brand names of manufacturers and their products are capitalized:

    Maxine has bought a second-hand Ford Escort.
    Almost everybody owns a Sony Walkman.

    Note: There is a problem with brand names which have become so successful that they are used in ordinary speech as generic labels for classes of products. The manufacturers of Kleenex and Sellotape are exasperated to find people using kleenex and sellotape as ordinary words for facial tissues or sticky tape of any kind, and some such manufacturers may actually take legal action against this practice. If you are writing for publication, you need to be careful about this, and it is best to capitalize such words if you use them. However, when brand names are converted into verbs, no capital letter is used: we write She was hoovering the carpet and I need to xerox this report, even though the manufacturers of Hoover vacuum cleaners and Xerox photocopiers don 't much like this practice, either.

  • In Roman numerals.
    Example: King Louis XIII of France was a very popular King.
    Note: You DON'T capitalise Roman numerals when you used them for the pages of the front matter in books.

  • In the pronoun I.
    Example: Margaret have spoken to me about the issue and I told her what I believe should be done in this case.



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