The Rules of Capitalization

It seems to me that fewer people are following the rules of capitalization. This is never more obvious than in comment threads on the Internet and social media. Reading this comments, you’d think the commentators mistook English for German. In German, all nouns are capitalized.

I play a game where I try to guess why the author of a comment chose to capitalize a particular word.  Often, it seems to me that the word was capitalized to give it emphasis, as if capitalizing the word gives it added importance. A typical sentence might look like this: “When Joe Politician said he was going to do something about Health Care, he was Lying to his Constituents.”

(For some reason, the comments are almost always political in nature.)

In the above example, the author got about half of his capitalizations correct. “When” should be capitalized because it is a the first word in the sentence. “Joe Politician” should be capitalized because it is a proper noun. But “Health Care”? No, I don’t think so. And you don’t typically capitalize a gerund. Constituents is not a proper noun.

Then there are the extremes. People who write in all-caps; this is what the Internet calls shouting. There are people who don’t bother with capitalization at all. I’ve never understood the reason for this. Is it a stylistic thing? It is laziness? After all, capitalizing a word requires tapping the extra Shift key.

I see unusual capitalization in email as well. There, at least, there is some consistency to the patterns. Email correspondents a generation older than I am tend to capitalize more words, for some reason.

Some people get upset when certain words are not capitalized, even though it is grammatically correct to leave them lowercase. For example, “The president spent his day playing golf,” is grammatically correct. As I learned it, you don’t capitalize a title when it is used in place of a name. On the other hand, writing, “When President Ford arrived at the White House…” it is appropriate to capitalize the title because it is used directly before the name.

I am occasionally confused myself. Titles always get me. Do I capitalize “is” in a title? Turns out the answer is yes, you capitalize all verbs in the title, including all forms of the verb “to be” of which “is” is one instance. On the other hand, you don’t capitalize coordinating conjunctions in a title, unless it is first or last. Thus: “Beauty and the Beast” not “Beauty And The Beast.”

I don’t know about you, but I hear a word differently in my head when it is capitalized. For me it is similar to a quoted word or phrase, which I also hear stressed differently in my head. Reading a sentence like, “The Mets are the Best team in baseball,” puts the emphasis on the word “best” in my head. The notion that the Mets are the best team in baseball is a patently ridiculous one.

That is why the rules of capitalization are so important.

One thought on “The Rules of Capitalization

  1. > There are people who don’t bother with capitalization at all. I’ve never understood
    > the reason for this. Is it a stylistic thing? It is laziness? After all, capitalizing a
    > word requires tapping the extra Shift key.

    I tend to do this when typing on mobile, sure it’s just a single tap, but it’s easier to just keep typing. So generally, when I’m on my phone, unless the autocorrect capitalizes something for me, such as ‘I’, then everything else is in lowercase.

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