I posted a version of this more than five years ago and with apologies to two followers who clicked on it then, and are still with me, I felt it was time to post it again.
Capital letters are important, but should they be used on all important words? Not necessarily.
Here are some general guidelines about where capitals should and should not be used.
Of course we begin a sentence with a capital letter. That helps to alert us that a new thought is beginning.
Important people get capital letters. We are all important, so our names begin with capital letters. If you happen to be the prime minister or president of a country, or even a king, queen, prince, or princess, you would have a capital letter on your title as well, but only when it is used as your name. Here are some examples:
Prime Minister Smith said to President Kendall, “Are you expecting a visit from King John this year?”
Mr. Kendall said, “Haven’t you heard? John is no longer a king. He abdicated to marry that woman who isn’t even a princess or a duchess, or any kind of royalty.”
“Aren’t we lucky? A prime minister or a president doesn’t have to worry about that.”
One of the most common misuses of capitals is in naming family members. Mother, father, mom, dad, aunt, uncle, grandpa, and grandma do not get capital letters unless that word is used as their proper name.
When you say, “my mother,” “the mother of the family,” or, “a mother and father,” think of it as if you had a cat or a dog and were saying, “my dog” or “my cat.” You wouldn’t use a capital for dog or cat.
Here are some examples:
My dog can do tricks. See the tricks Rover can do.
My mom is amazing. See what Mom can do. (Here it is used as her name.)
I love my dad. Do you love me, Dad?
My cat is sweet and loving. I love Scruffy.
That is my aunt over by the table. I can see Aunt Mary by the table.
Places like heaven and hell are very important, but even they are not capitalized.
You can wish you were in heaven or tell someone to go to hell perfectly well without the capitals.
The same holds true for the moon, the sun, the stars, the planets, and even the whole universe. No capitals. But the proper names of planets, stars, and constellations do get capitals.
Now, having said that the planets get capitals, that is true of Mars, Venus, Jupiter, etc., but Earth is a little bit different. It is capitalized when it is used as a proper name (We live on Earth) but when it has “the” in front of it (the earth is round) it is not capitalized.
Think of it as having a dog named Dog. I’m going to feed Dog now. But I’m going to feed my dog named Dog.
So I live on Earth and the earth is round.
Important buildings do not get a capital letter unless they are specific ones. The White House is a specific building, so it is capitalized. But if I live in a house that is painted white, it is only a white house.
The same holds true for any university you may be talking about. It only warrants a capital letter if it is a specific university, such as Cambridge University or any other university with a proper name attached.
Do you go to church? If church is important to you, it still doesn’t get a capital letter unless you are speaking of a certain one. Do you go to St. John’s Church?
Words like nature, spring, summer, autumn, and winter, are all lower case words.
And lastly, I would like to mention a very common capitalization mistake and that involves the directions of the compass. When the words are written out, south, east, west, and north are not capitalized. Neither are southeast, southwest, northeast, and northwest. But if you use abbreviations (SE, SW, NE, NW), these are capitalized, of course.
If you are in doubt, use the dictionary. Don’t you think that’s a capital idea?