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capitalization: initial words

Follow the guidelines below in deciding when to capitalize the initial word in a word group.


Capitalize the first word of a sentence or sentence equivalent:

  • There are no other constraints.
  • Come.
  • What a pity!
  • Why?
  • Exit
  • All rights reserved


Capitalize the first word of a direct quotation that is itself a complete sentence:

  • The candidates said, "We are in favour of a free vote on the death penalty."

Do not use the upper case if the quotation is merely a sentence fragment or is worked into the structure of the sentence:

  • The candidates said that they were "in favour of a free vote on the death penalty."

In quotations where historical, legal, documentary or scientific accuracy is crucial, reproduce upper case letters as faithfully as possible.

Parenthetical sentences

Capitalize the first word of a complete sentence enclosed in parentheses when it stands alone, but not when it is enclosed within another sentence:

  • The speaker concluded by citing facts and figures to support her contention. (Details may be found on p. 37.)


  • The increasing scarcity of the species is attributable to overfishing (statistics will be found in the appendix), to acid rain and to other factors outlined in the report.

Direct questions

Capitalize the first word of a direct question within a sentence:

  • The question to be asked in every case is this: Does the writer express himself or herself clearly?

Consistently capitalize (or lower case) parallel sentence fragments used as questions:

  • Will farmers be taxed under this plan? Lumberjacks? Trappers?
  • Will farmers be taxed under this plan? lumberjacks? trappers?

Do not capitalize words that normally introduce questions (who, why, when, how) when they stand alone as verb complements:

  • He knew he had to meet the deadline. The question was how.

First word after a colon

Capitalize the first word after a colon if it begins a direct question (see above) or a formal statement, introduces a distinct idea, or is followed by more than one sentence:

  • There are several possibilities: For example, the Director General might resign.
  • The jury finds as follows: The defendant is guilty as charged on all counts.
  • Our position is clear: We will not permit new landfill sites in our region.
  • In conclusion, I answer the question asked at the outset: Revenues will be greater this year than in the past three years. However, they will not match expenditures.

First word after a question mark or exclamation point

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:

  • What a piece of work is man! how noble in reason! how infinite in faculty!
  • Progress where? or, even more fundamentally, progress for whom?
  • What factors contributed to the decline of Rome? Did the barbarian invasions play a significant part?

Truisms and mottoes

Capitalize the first words of truisms and mottoes run into text:

  • His watchword was Learn to write well, or not to write at all.
  • Her motto in life is Do unto others ... before they do unto you.

I, O, oh

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.


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.