In the last few guides, we looked at the top five grammar errors and the top three punctuation errors. But there’s another area of writing where mistakes are lurking around every corner, and that’s capitalisation. While correct capitals were once the preserve of publishers, magazines, and newspapers, the rise of the internet has seen these incorrect capitals popping up on many, many websites. So let’s take a look at the top three capitalisation errors.
1. Random capital letters everywhere
First, let’s clear up when capital letters should be used:
- At the start of a sentences or speech within a sentence (for example, she said, “A tea for me please”).
- In titles (but only for certain words). We’ll cover this in the next point.
- For proper nouns—i.e. the name of a specific individual person, place, or company. This also covers nations, so English, American, etc.
- When you say “I”, meaning yourself.
This means that capital letters shouldn’t be used:
- Mid-sentence for no good reason. So it should be “Let’s go for a drive around town” not “Let’s Go for a Drive around town”.
- For nouns and pronouns that aren’t a proper name. It should be “My mom is on her way” not “My Mom is on Her way”.
- For lower-level headings.
- For emphasis.
In regular sentences, only the first word of a sentence should be capitalised until you reach a proper noun or are introducing speech.
If you want an idea of what not to do, this is it:
2. Incorrect capitals in title case
In titles of books, magazines, articles, etc., some words should be capitalised, but not all of them. This is known as “title case”. Depending on the style guide you adhere to, there are some variations in which words to capitalise, but generally speaking:
- Do capitalise nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs.
- Don’t capitalise conjunctions (and, but, either, or), articles (a, the), and prepositions (after, to, as, in, on, up, down).
Some people use the rule of capitalising the major or longer words in a title and not capitalising the minor or shorter words. However, watch out for these sneaky cases:
- longer words such as “between”, “within”, and “around” should still be lowercase, because they’re prepositions.
- smaller words such as “he”, “she”, “your”, and “it” should be capitalised, because they’re pronouns.
- smaller words such as “is” and “go” should be uppercase, because they’re verbs.
I’ve seen incorrect capitals in the titles of major books, films, and even company names, but major contributors include newspapers, magazines, and blogs. For example, a blog article titled “Why I go To Nando’s Twice A Week” should be “Why I Go to Nando’s Twice a Week”.
2.5. Title case used when it shouldn’t be
Getting the capitals wrong in titles isn’t the only error that relates to title case, so let’s call this 2.5. Title case should only be used for titles, not any old sentence or heading.
Often, only the major titles should be in title case (such as a book’s title and the chapter titles), while minor headings (section headings and subheadings in a chapter) should be in normal sentence case. (Best to check the relevant style guide if you’re not sure).
The same goes for blogs, where just the blog’s title should be capitalised. Headings shouldn’t necessarily be in title case unless the style guide specifies this.
3. Capitals used for emphasis
Often, you’ll see capital letters sprinkled in sentences and particularly on signs because the writer thought it would add more emphasis, but It Actually Just Looks Like You’ve Made An Error, See?
Let’s get this clear, capitals aren’t for emphasis. You add emphasis using bold, italics, and underline, or through the impact of the words you use.
This also applies to the use of full capitals in sentences, where the writer was trying to make an important point, BUT IT LOOKS LIKE YOU’RE SHOUTING AT THE READER. Just don’t do it.
Please, let’s never see another sign like this:
I hope these tips have been helpful. Do any capitalistion errors really bug you?