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Capital Letter

In English, capital letters are used as the first letter of a sentence, a proper noun, or a proper adjective. There are a few pairs of words of different meanings whose only difference is capitalization of the first letter.

Customizing the alphabet

In the English alphabet, all 26 letters can be spelled in uppercase (ABC…) or lowercase (abc…). Uppercase letters are also known as capital letters, or "caps." Learn more about the alphabet.

In English texts, capital letters are used much less frequently than lowercase. As a general rule, capital letters are reserved for the first letter of sentences and proper nouns such as names, companies, countries, and months; in addition to the first-person pronoun "I." 

The primary reason why texts are rarely printed in all capital letters is that uninterrupted uppercase is generally considered more difficult on the eyes. A paragraph written in all caps can also have a rather imposing effect on readers. As such, texts in all caps are widely deemed to be the written equivalent of shouting; unrestrained use of uppercase is therefore considered to be an act of poor etiquette. 

When to use capital letters

Always use a capital letter for the first-person pronoun "I":

I didn't think I would be able to handle that song again after I heard it on the DMX at the restaurant where I broke up with my girlfriend.

Always capitalize the first letter in a sentence:

Jason boarded the train. He rode 1,000 miles in 36 hours.

Use all capital letters for abbreviations and acronyms:

J.D. Billingsworth, CEO of RNB Holdings, LLC, laid off 40,000 employees after reporting Q2 losses of $7.8B.

Capitalize days, months, and holidays:

This past Fourth of July fell on a Saturday.

Capitalize most major places and demographics:

As a lapsed Anglo-Saxon Mormon who only speaks English, Terry was in for a culture shock when he moved from Belmont, Massachusetts to Quebec, Canada.

Capitalize people's names and titles:

John Lydon was deemed Public Enemy No. 1 by the British Parliament during the Silver Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II.

Capitalize company names and trademarks:

The Coca-Cola sign was taken down after Microsoft Corp. purchased the building for office space.

Capitalize places, monuments, and names of buildings and streets:

During my 1989 trip to the East Coast, I visited the White House, the Washington Monument, the Twin Towers, the Empire State Building, Times Square, and 42nd Street.

Capitalize the names of ships, vehicles, and spacecrafts:

Real or recreated imagery of the Titanic sinking, the Hindenburg disaster, and the Challenger explosion are very disturbing.

Capitalize song and movie titles, as well as book, newspaper, and magazine names:

What Rolling Stone failed to note in their review of the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack is the lyrical brilliance of "Staying Alive," in which Barry Gibb succinctly examines "the New York Times' effect on man."

Capital letters and readability

Several reasons have been given for the difficulty that readers often experience when a text is all in capital letters, including the following:

  • Children are normally taught how to read and pronounce lowercase letters first and caps second.
  • In the vast majority of texts, capitals serve as visual indicators of when sentences begin and when proper nouns appear. 
  • The larger appearance of capital letters forces the eye to move further across a page.

Furthermore, words are subconsciously recognized by their shape, which is more difficult when all letters have the same shape, like capitals. The varying shapes and sizes of lowercase letters—small, large, ascending, descending—make them more distinctive and therefore suitable for subconscious reading.

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