Skip Navigation
Skip to Menu Toggle Button

UMGC Effective Writing Center Capitalization: A Quick Guide

Because capitalization is a branch of spelling, the rules for both share an important similarity: A few basic guidelines can help you get things right in the most common circumstances. However, a style guide or dictionary should be your ultimate authority for tricky situations, where guessing can end up embarrassing you and bruising the credibility of your writing.  Here are some rules you can always count on:

First Words

First and foremost, always capitalize the first letter of the first word of every sentence.  Even if you introduce a quotation, if the quotation begins its own sentence, you capitalize the quote's first word.


Abraham Lincoln said, “Four score and seven years ago our forefathers brought forth upon this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal."

Image Still for Video: Capitalization Made Simple: 7 Basic Rules

Proper Nouns

The trick, of course, is to know what is a proper noun (and thus capitalized) and what is a common noun (not capitalized).

Here is a principle to keep in mind: "one of a kind." If what you are referring to is "one of a kind," then it most likely is a proper noun. Also note that proper nouns do not have any limiting words such as definite (the) or indefinite articles (a, an) before them.


  • I would like to introduce you to Aunt Cecilia. (Proper. The word "Aunt" is part of the person's name.)
  • My favorite aunt is a great cook. (Common. The word "aunt" is part of a phrase identifying the person.)
  • The town is nestled at the foot of Crystal Mountain. (Proper. The word "Mountain" is part of a name of a place, Crystal Mountain.)
  • Please accept this bouquet of mountain wild flowers. (Common. The word "mountain" is part of a phrase describing the flowers)
  • She yelled at Dad to set the table. (Proper. The word "Dad" substitutes for the person's name.)
  • Tell your dad to set the table right now. (Common. The word "dad" describes the person and is part of the phrase "your dad.")
  • She enrolled in the school's Department of Distance Education to earn her graduate degree. (Proper. The official name of this entity.)
  • She enrolled in a department of distance education to earn her graduate degree. (Common. Does not refer to a specific department at a specific school.)
  • Her most difficult course was Statistics 101. (Proper. The official name of a course.)
  • Her most difficult course was in statistics. (Common. The name of a discipline or field of knowledge.)

Some Categories of Proper Nouns


  • Bill Clinton
  • Paris Hilton
  • Mother Teresa


  • Huckleberry Finn
  • Harry Potter
  • Hannah Montana


  • Paris, France
  • Great Barrier Reef
  • The White House


  • The Red Cross
  • Toyota
  • Ku Klux Klan

Patented Products

  • Kleenex
  • Velcro
  • Jeep

Proper Adjectives

Because proper adjectives are derived from proper nouns, the same rules of capitalization apply. Proper adjectives  can identify religious affiliation, nationality, ethnicity, schools of thought pioneered by specific people, and any other category of proper noun. Common categories include the following:

Some Categories of Proper Adjectives

Derived from Religion/Ethnicity

  • Buddhist (Buddhism)
  • Jewish (Judaism)

Derived from Nations

  • French (France)
  • Chinese (China)

Derived from People

  • Freudian (Sigmund Freud)
  • Achilles tendon (Achilles)

Derived from Other

  • Asian (continent of Asia)
  • Olympian (mythical Mount Olympus)

Titles of Published Works

While the rules of title capitalization vary slightly from style guide to style guide, the following rules are common to all guides:

  • Always capitalize the first and last word of a title regardless of what the word is.
  • Capitalize all words in between first and last words except:
    • articles (a, an, the)
    • prepositions less than three letters (in, on, of, to, at, by, up)
    • short conjunctions (and, but, yet, as, for, or, nor)


  • The Cat in the Hat
  • A Dream Within a Dream
  • The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere
  • Another Teen Show Between Seasons
  • The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection


The names of seasons are not capitalized when used by themselves; they are capitalized when used as a title.


  • This winter will bring higher than normal temperatures. (Common noun)
  • Are you familiar with the Summer of Love in 1969? (Part of a title)
  • He will graduate after the Fall 2014 semester. (Part of a title)

Geographic Regions

Only specific regions of a country, continent, or hemisphere are capitalized. Compass points, directions, or references to locality are not.


  • In the country's Midwest, basic industries are not recovering from the recession. (Specific geographic region)
  • The middle western states include isolated pockets of prosperity. (Compass point, direction or locality)
  • For the past decade America has conducted continuous war in Southwest Asia. (Specific geographic region)
  • Big waves rolled in from the northern Atlantic. (Compass point, direction or locality)
  • The chef decided to specialize in Southern cooking. (Specific geographic region)
  • The best farm land can be found south of the city limits. (Compass point, direction or locality)

Sacred Figures & Writings

Names of deities and sacred texts are capitalized. However, the words "god" or "gods" is not capitalized when used as a common noun.


  • People of the world pray to many different gods, including Allah, Krishna, Jehovah, Xamaba and more.
  • Monotheistic religions believe in only a single god.
  • The Book of Deuteronomy is found in the Bible's Old Testament.

More Common Capitalization Problems

AwardsCapitalized. Examples: National Merit Scholarship. Guggenheim Fellowship. Outstanding Citizen of the Year.
Branches of governmentCapitalized, even if abbreviated. Examples: U.S. Congress, Congress, House of Representatives, the House, Senate.
Buildings/RoomsNames of buildings are capitalized, as are important or well-known rooms within them. Examples: Empire State Building, Sears Tower, Oval Office
CapitolsCapitalize federal and state capitols. Examples: U.S. Capitol. Capitol Building. Georgia State Capitol.
Constitutions, legislation, treatiesCapitalized, even if abbreviated. Examples: U.S. Constitution, Iraqi Constitution, Constitution, Bill of Rights, Second Amendment, Geneva Convention
EarthCapitalized when it refers to the planet; lowercase when it refers to the ground. Examples: From space, Earth appears as a delicate blue sphere. If you don't like the feel of earth between your hands, don't try gardening.
Holiday NamesAlways capitalized.  Examples: Mother's Day. Arbor Day. Halloween. 
Always capitalize the personal pronoun "I" even when part of a contraction. Example: "I think I’m in good shape because I’ve written a great paper!”

Contact Us

Our helpful admissions advisors can help you choose an academic program to fit your career goals, estimate your transfer credits, and develop a plan for your education costs that fits your budget. If you’re a current UMGC student, please visit the Help Center.

Personal Information
Please provide your First Name.
Please provide your Last Name.
Contact Information
Please recheck your email address.
Please provide a valid E-Mail Address.
This field is required.
Please provide a valid ZIP Code or APO/FPO.
Additional Information
This field is required.
This field is required.

By submitting this form, you are giving your express written consent without obligation for UMGC to contact you regarding our educational programs and services using e-mail, phone, or text, including automated technology for calls and/or texts to the mobile number(s) provided. For more details, including how to opt out, read our privacy policy or contact an admissions advisor.

Please wait, your form is being submitted.