Capital letters have three basic uses, of which nearly all others may be regarded as particular cases: (1) to give emphasis, as in official titles and initial words; (2) to distinguish proper nouns and adjectives from common ones; and (3) to highlight words in headings and captions.
In English the first letter of certain words is capitalized to give emphasis and to clarify sentence structure and meaning for the reader. This chapter gives rules to define which words require capitals, but editorial practice varies considerably on this subject, depending on the desired degree of formality, the intended readership and the organization’s house style.
In order to ensure consistency in your own style, follow the rules below, which apply to most general types of writing, and consult the Gage Canadian Dictionary, which gives the upper-case use of many words. Capitalization in specialized documents should be based on professional style guides.
(a) Capitalize the first word of a sentence or sentence equivalent:
(b) Capitalize the first word of a direct quotation that is itself a complete sentence:
Do not use the upper case if the quotation is merely a sentence fragment or is worked into the structure of the sentence:
In quotations where historical, legal, documentary or scientific accuracy is crucial, reproduce upper-case letters as faithfully as possible.
For more detailed information on quotations, see Chapter 8 Quotations and Quotation Marks.
(c) Capitalize the first word of a complete sentence enclosed in parentheses when it stands alone, but not when it is enclosed within another sentence:
(d) Capitalize the first word of a direct question within a sentence:
Consistently capitalize (or lower-case) parallel sentence fragments used as questions:
Do not capitalize words that normally introduce questions (who, why, when, how) when they stand alone as verb complements:
(e) Capitalize the first word after a colon if it begins a direct question (see 4.02 Initial words(d) above) or a formal statement, introduces a distinct idea, or is followed by more than one sentence:
See Chapter 7 Punctuation for further information on use of the colon.
(f) The word following a question mark or exclamation mark may or may not be capitalized, depending on how closely the material it introduces is considered to be related to what precedes:
(g) Capitalize the first words of truisms and mottoes run into text:
(h) The personal pronoun I and the vocative O are always capitalized in English; oh is capitalized only when it begins a sentence or stands alone.
(i) The first word of a line of poetry is traditionally capitalized, but some modern poets do not follow this practice. It is therefore best to check the original and respect the poet’s preference.
(a) Capitalize proper nouns and epithets that accompany or replace them:
(b) When O’ forms part of a proper noun, it and the first letter after the apostrophe are capitalized:
(c) When the particle Mc or Mac forms part of a name, the letter M is capitalized. Capitalization and spacing of the letters that follow may differ and individual preferences should be respected:
(d) Individual preferences regarding the capitalization and spacing of articles and particles in French or foreign names should also be respected when they can be ascertained.1 The following are correct forms:
(e) In the case of historical figures, treatment in English may differ from that in the original language, and no real standard appears to exist. Consistency in treating a particular name (such as Leonardo da Vinci, Luca della Robbia or Vincent van Gogh) is all that can be aimed for. In some cases, the most familiar form of the name omits the particle entirely:
(f) Capitalize a nickname (a word or phrase used as part of, or instead of, a personal name):
Similarly, capitalize names of fictitious or anonymous persons, and names used as personifications:
As a general rule, capitalize an adjective derived from a proper noun or a name used adjectivally:
Proper adjectives are associated with the person or place from whose name they are derived. When this association is remote, the adjective becomes common and in most cases no longer takes a capital, as illustrated below:
Verbs derived from proper nouns are also capitalized unless their association with the proper noun is remote:
Check proper noun derivatives carefully, however. Usage in this regard is not standardized.
(a) Capitalize the titles of international, national, provincial, state, regional and local governments; the titles of government departments and agencies and their organizational subdivisions; the names of boards, committees and royal commissions; and the Crown when it means the supreme governing authority:
Note that both the legal title and the applied title of a federal department are capitalized:
(b) It is in the use of short forms that the greatest uncertainty arises. Short forms are normally written in lower case when used in a non-specific sense, when preceded by a possessive, demonstrative or other type of adjective, and when used adjectivally or in an adjectival form:
However, when short forms of government bodies stand for the full title and are intended to carry its full force, they are usually capitalized. This style is almost always used in in-house documents:
If the short title is a specific term which the organization shares with no other body within the government concerned, that title retains the upper case when used adjectivally:
(c) The word Government is capitalized when it refers to the political apparatus of a party in power. It is lower-cased when it refers in a general way to the offices and agencies that carry out the functions of governing:
(d) Do not capitalize the plural forms of government, department, division, etc., even when the full titles of the bodies concerned are given:
(a) Capitalize the official names of organized churches (religious denominations, sects, orders) and their adherents, universities, school boards, schools, courts of law, clubs, corporations, unions, alliances, associations, political parties, etc.:
The official capitalization is that used by the institution itself.
(b) The names of administrative subdivisions of these institutions are also capitalized:
(c) A generic noun used as a short form of a title is often capitalized, especially in corporate writing:
(d) Capitalize short forms that use only the specifying element:
(e) Do not capitalize generic short forms used in a non-specific sense, preceded by a possessive, demonstrative or other type of adjective, or used adjectivally or in an adjectival form:
(f) But, if the short form refers to a specific, unique institution, it retains the upper case when used as a noun or adjectivally:
(g) Documents intended for an internal readership often capitalize terms that would be lower-cased in writings of a general nature:
(h) In second and subsequent references, short forms may be treated generically and lower-cased:
(i) Do not capitalize the plural of common nouns, even when the full titles of the bodies concerned are given:
Adjectives and nouns referring to the ideas, actions, documents and members of specific political parties, movements and groups are capitalized. Capitalization often helps distinguish these terms from the same words used descriptively:
Capitalize the word party when it is preceded by the official name of a political party, unless it is used as a generic term:
General terms describing political movements and their adherents are lower-cased unless they are derived from proper nouns:
(a) Capitalize civil, military, religious and professional titles and titles of nobility when they precede and form part of a personal name:
(b) Capitalize all titles following and placed in apposition to a personal name, except those denoting professions:
(c) Capitalize a title referring to a specific person and used as a substitute for that person’s name, even if it is a short form:
(d) Do not capitalize spelled-out titles in the plural or titles preceded by an indefinite article:
(e) Capitalize abbreviated titles in the plural:
(f) Do not capitalize titles modified by a possessive or other type of adjective, or by an indefinite article:
(g) Capitalize titles only when they refer to a specific person; do not capitalize a term that refers to a role rather than a person:
(h) Occupational titles used descriptively are normally followed by a complete personal name. They should not be capitalized in writing for general readers, although corporate requirements and the expectations of a specialized readership often result in a more liberal use of capital letters:
(i) Do not capitalize adjectives derived from titles unless they are part of a title:
(j) Capitalize titles of respect and forms of address, even when used in the plural:
Capitalize vivid personifications and metonymic nouns:
Abstractions are sometimes capitalized when used in an ideal sense. As general concepts, however, they are lower-cased:
Capitalize family appellations only when the name of a person follows, when they are unmodified, or when they are used in direct address:
Capitalize nouns and adjectives referring to race, tribe, nationality and language:
Do not capitalize the word allophone, which refers to a person whose first language is neither English nor French and which is used with specific reference to Quebec.
The form of some words may vary depending on the meaning:
Capitalize the singular and plural forms of the nouns Status Indian, Registered Indian, Non-Status Indian and Treaty Indian, as well as the terms Aboriginal, Native and Indigenous when they refer to Aboriginal people in Canada.
The terms Aboriginals and Natives are not used as proper nouns. When Aboriginal, Indigenous and Native are used as adjectives, note the following noun forms:
For further information on the representation of Aboriginal (Native) peoples in written communications, see Chapter 14 Elimination of Stereotyping in Written Communications.
In keeping with 4.11 Races, languages and peoples above, capitalize the names of languages. Do not capitalize the names of other disciplines when used in a general sense. Capitalize them when used to refer to school subjects or the names of particular courses:
Do not capitalize the name of a degree in informal references, but do capitalize it when it is written in full:
Do not capitalize terms designating academic years:
Capitalize grade when followed by a number or letter:
Capitalize the names and nicknames of military bases, forces and units of all sizes and of exercises:
In Department of National Defence documents, the specific part of an exercise name is written entirely in upper case, e.g. Exercise SILENT DEFENDER.
Use the lower case for general and informal references:
Capitalize the names of types of aircraft, the names of makes of cars and other modes of transportation, and the names of individual ships, locomotives, spacecraft, etc.:
In Department of National Defence documents, the names of ships and submarines are written entirely in upper case, e.g. HMCS DONNACONA.
See 6.07 Modes of transportation for further information about the italicization of names.
Capitalize the official names of professional, academic and military medals, awards, honours and decorations:
Most common-noun short forms are lower-cased:
However, they may be capitalized if the reference is clear:
Capitalize the official and familiar names of major sporting events and trophies:
Capitalize the short form in subsequent references:
Capitalize the names of months and days, of holidays and holy days, of historical and geological periods and events, and of parliamentary sessions:
Do not capitalize the names of the seasons, centuries or decades unless they are personified or are part of special names:
Capitalize the names of events recorded in sacred writings and of historical events with a strong religious dimension:
Terms that refer to events and periods are often capitalized when they refer to specific events or periods and lower-cased when used in a general sense:
For the use of capitals with time zones, see 1.22 Time zones.
Capitalize nouns and adjectives designating literary, philosophical, musical, religious and artistic periods, movements and styles when they are derived from proper nouns:
Otherwise, such terms are lower-cased except when it is necessary to distinguish a style or movement from the same word used in its general sense:
The same principles apply to religious terms as to general vocabulary. Writers should resist the temptation to overcapitalize.
(a) Capitalize most adjectives and verbs derived from the names of organized religions:
(b) Capitalize the names and titles of holy and revered persons:
(c) Capitalize unique theological concepts:
(d) Do not capitalize derived terms that are not used in a religious sense:
(e) Capitalize the titles of religious writings and documents, special prayers and devotional canticles, creeds and confessions:
(a) Capitalize names, synonyms and personifications of deities and other supernatural beings:
(b) Do not capitalize such words used as common nouns:
(c) Derivatives of these terms are normally lower-cased, as are similar terms used metaphorically:
(d) Capitalize personal pronouns that refer to deities when they are used as proper nouns, but do not capitalize relative pronouns:
(e) Do not capitalize the words god and goddess when they refer to pagan deities, but capitalize the names of the deities themselves (Baal, Woden, Zeus).
(f) Do not capitalize words such as heaven, paradise, purgatory, nirvana, happy hunting ground, devil and angel when used in a non-religious sense:
(a) Capitalize the names of countries, regions, counties, cities and other official and specified political, administrative and geographical divisions and topographical features:
(b) Capitalize a generic term when it is an accepted short form of the proper noun:
(c) Do not capitalize a generic term such as city, county, state or province when it precedes the proper noun or stands alone, unless it is used in a corporate sense:
(d) Do not capitalize a generic term used in the plural unless it is part of a geographical name:
(e) In general, do not capitalize the names of compass points or similar descriptive terms unless they have taken on political or other connotations or form the titles of administrative regions:
(f) Some terms are capitalized when they refer to specific regions and lower-cased when used descriptively:
Capitalize the official names of specific buildings, monuments, squares, parks, etc.:
Do not capitalize words describing these features when they are used generically, in names that are not official, or in plural forms:
Capitalize the names of planets and other astronomical bodies and configurations. Capitalize earth, sun and moon only when they are mentioned in relation to other planets or heavenly bodies:
Do not capitalize generic words forming part of the name of a celestial object:
Capitalize the scientific name of a phylum, order, class, family or genus, but not common names or the epithets referring to a species or subspecies, even if they are derived from proper names:
See 6.11 Mathematical, statistical and scientific material for rules governing the italicization of biological classifications.
Capitalize proper nouns modifying a common name, except where usage has established the lower case:
In text, do not capitalize the names of chemical elements and compounds:
The capitalization of chemical symbols should follow standard practice:
Do not capitalize the names of conditions, syndromes and the like, but capitalize a personal name that forms part of such a term:
Capitalize the names of infectious organisms but not the names of conditions based upon such names:
Do not capitalize the generic names of drugs:
In scientific terms composed of a common noun preceded by a proper noun, an adjective derived from a proper noun, or a proper noun with an apostrophe s, capitalize the adjective or proper noun but not the common noun. Do not capitalize the names of laws or theories or the names of minerals, particles or elements derived from personal names:
Note that certain personal names begin with a small letter:
Capitalize trade names of drugs and any other manufactured products unless they have become established as common nouns:
To determine proper usage, check the Canadian Trade Index or your dictionary.
Some industries, especially in the high-technology field, use capital letters within the name of a product. The names of all such terms and products, including those of computer languages, should be capitalized according to the manufacturer’s preference:
Wherever possible, do not use trade names as generic nouns or adjectives. For example, write adhesive tape, not Scotch tape. Some words, such as frisbee and realtor, are commonly used as generic terms, but they are in fact copyrighted. The word Aspirin is trademarked (and capitalized) in Canada, but not in the United States.
Capitalize only the word Celsius when writing the names of SI/metric units in full. When using symbols, capitalize all those based on personal names and the letter L for litre:
Capitalize the symbols for the prefixes from mega to exa. The symbols for the others remain in lower case. Consistency is important here because the letters m and p are both used in symbols for two different prefixes:
In English titles of books, articles, periodicals, newspapers, plays, operas and long musical compositions and recordings, poems, paintings, sculptures and motion pictures, capitalize all words except articles, conjunctions of fewer than four letters, and prepositions of fewer than four letters. These exceptions are also capitalized when they immediately follow a period, colon or dash within a title and when they are the first or last word in a title:
Words that are normally prepositions are capitalized when they help form another part of speech:
In short titles, capitalize words that would be capitalized in full titles:
Even if some words appear in all capital letters on the title page, capitalize only initial letters, except in specialized bibliographies that must reflect the original typography.
Titles of ancient manuscripts are capitalized, even if the titles were assigned in modern times:
See the Appendix for capitalization of titles in French.
In titles containing hyphenated compounds, always capitalize the first element. Capitalize the second element if it is a proper noun or proper adjective or if it is as important as the first element:
(a) Capitalize references to specific parts of a document. These include certain common nouns in the singular when they are used in text references with numbers or letters indicating place, position or major division in a sequence. Capitalize a letter following such a term:
(b) Do not capitalize minor subdivisions such as page, note, line, paragraph and verse:
(c) Do not capitalize section when used for part of a law or set of regulations, but capitalize it if it refers to a large subdivision of a report, book or other document:
(d) Do not capitalize words referring to parts of a book when they are used in a general sense, are preceded by modifiers, or are in plural forms:
(e) Capitalize cross-references within a book when they refer to a particular section:
(f) Informal references to chapter and topic titles may be capitalized and written without italics or quotation marks:
His topics included Northern Travel, Survival on the Road, and Basic Maintenance.
See also 1.12 Parts of a book or document.
In headings that begin at the margin, capitalize only the first word and any other words that require capitals in their own right. In centred headings, capitalize all words except for articles (unless they begin the heading) and any conjunctions or prepositions of fewer than four letters. Prepositions that are an inseparable part of the verb should also be capitalized.
For further information, see 11.16 Headings.
Capitalize common singular nouns and abbreviations followed by a date, number or letter to denote time or sequence, or for the purpose of reference:
Some idiomatic expressions containing common nouns followed by a letter or number are also capitalized. The numbers in such expressions are often spelled out:
Point-form lists make it easier for the reader to understand how the elements are related. Grammar and syntax determine the internal capitalization and punctuation of the initial letters of items in lists. It is more important for lists to be logically understandable and syntactically consistent than to look alike.
If the lead-in to a list is syntactically related to the points that follow, as in this list,
Items in lists are sometimes capitalized. This list illustrates one possible set of conditions:
Incomplete sentences or single words entered as points in lists are normally lower-cased:
Four issues are related to the economics of healthy housing:
Note that there is no period at the end of the list.
See also 7.70 Capitalization.
(a) Some common nouns referring to parties to an action, the names of documents or judicial bodies are capitalized:
(b) Capitalize the official names of treaties, agreements, legal codes, pieces of legislation and other official documents, as well as their official short forms:
(c) Short forms are normally capitalized only when they constitute proper nouns or refer to a document of great significance:
Do not capitalize short forms when they are used in a general sense, as adjectives or plurals, or with modifiers:
(d) Do not capitalize general references to pending and defeated legislation:
Use capitals for the first word and all nouns in the salutation of a letter, but only for the first word in a close:
A proper noun or adjective in a hyphenated compound retains the capital:
In general, do not capitalize prefixes or suffixes added to proper nouns:
The President-elect will tour the mid-Atlantic States in an American-made car.
Do not capitalize the second element of a compound if it simply modifies the first or if the hyphenated elements make up a single word:
Capitalize the when it is part of a corporate name:
Do not capitalize the when it is used adjectivally:
The Minister answered the Globe and Mail reporter.
The French definite article should be retained if it is part of a corporate name, and the should not precede it. If the French article is not part of the official title, replace it with the:
Capitalize a single letter used as a word, whether hyphenated or not:
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