Common Capitalization Errors

Capitalization challenges writers for a few reasons. First, some words are capitalized in one situation but not in another! Also, different languages follow different capitalization rules; for example, days and months are capitalized in English, but they are not capitalized in Russian, Spanish, and many other languages. Last but not least, there are a few different authoritative manuals that dictate different rules of capitalization for different types of publications and organizations, including APA, MLA, AP, and a few others. The rules below follow APA style, which is the one most commonly used. (If in doubt about which style to follow, ask your teacher, professor, or manager.) Basic rules of capitalization in English include the following fairly straightforward rules:

    • Capitalize the first word of a sentence
    • Capitalize the pronoun
    • Capitalize days and months
    • Capitalize names of people, titles, and suffixes
    • Capitalize names of cities, countries, languages, and other geographical terms like counties
    • Capitalize proper nouns, not common nouns
    • Capitalize titles of publications and other works of art or media

Even after these rules are mastered, there are nuances that confuse many speakers and writers. Luckily, most errors fall into specific categories that can be quickly studied and learned! Five of the top errors can be corrected by following the following rules of capitalization:

Rule 1: Capitalize names of specific courses or degrees, NOT general courses or degree type or area of study.

    • I am getting a master’s degree in business.
    • My brother has a Master of Computer Science from Georgia Institute of Technology.

Rule 2: Capitalize official names of departments and divisions, NOT general descriptions.

    • I worked in Human Resources before, but soon I will move to Accounting.
    • The Department of Human Resources is located in the adjacent building.

Rule 3: Capitalize job titles before a person’s name, NOT after a person’s name or separate from the name.

    • Tony Smith is the vice president of our division. He is in charge of several
    • Vice President Smith is visiting today. Let’s schedule a meeting with him.

Rule 4: Capitalize names of regions, NOT directions or descriptions.

    • The Milton office is north of the Pensacola office.
    • In the North, winters are extremely cold.

Rule 5: In publication titles, capitalize first, last, and important words, NOT all words.

    • I need a copy of our company benefits guide from 2019.
    • The 2019 Employee Benefits Guide can be printed from the company intranet.

Here are some additional examples:
1. The president of our company has an impressive background in finance and banking.
2. Our human resources department is on the 7th floor.
3. My manager is getting a master’s degree in business administration from a university in California.
4. The North is extremely cold in the winter, but in the South, it’s somewhat milder.
5. Have you read How to win Friends and Influence People?