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Capitalization is what you do when you make a letter, usually the first letter of a word, bigger than the others and possibly a different shape from its small counterpart, too. It's an odd subset of writing rules that slots in awkwardly somewhere between spelling and grammar. Capitalizing obsessively is a bad idea, but learning where and when to do it properly will help you avoid creating minis and odd objects in your fanfiction.

Many languages have rules for capitalization, but this article will restrict itself to English. Please note that this is an extremely selective overview; a great deal has been left out for the sake of space.

Rules of Capitalization[]

Boiled down to their most broadly applicable form, these are the rules:

  • Always capitalize proper nouns.
  • Always capitalize the first word in a sentence.
  • Always capitalize the pronoun I.
  • Don't capitalize articles (a, an, the) or prepositions (to, for, of, in, etc.) unless:
    1. one comes at the beginning of a sentence, or
    2. one is the first or last word in the title of a published work.
  • Don't capitalize words in a sentence for emphasis.

But of course, it's not that simple.

Proper Nouns[]

A proper noun is the name of a specific person, place, or thing (as opposed to something generic). Some very exceedingly limited examples of proper nouns:

  • Personal names, nicknames, and aliases (Acacia Byrd, Acy)
  • Titles and offices when they immediately precede a name (Miss Byrd, Agent Acacia; but not the agent, the assassin)
  • Epithets (Elrond Half-elven, the Doctor, the Boy Who Lived)
  • Ethnic, national, and other socioeconomic groups (Rohirrim, Shirefolk, Men of the West, the Elves)
    • But not general species names (cats, dogs, humans, elves)
  • Parts of the world (Middle-earth, Eregion, the East)
  • Topographical features (Mount Doom, the River Anduin, Mirkwood Forest)
  • Countries, cities, kingdoms, and other political divisions (the Kingdom of Gondor, Rohan, Hobbiton, the Wizarding World)
  • Public places, major structures, official names of rooms (Headquarters, the Fountain of Bleepka, the Cafeteria, Response Center F; but not the response center)
  • Names of organizations, institutions, and associations (the Protectors of the Plot Continuum, the Department of Mary Sues, the Official Fanfiction University of Middle-earth, the Beatles; but not the department, the university, the band)
  • Names of websites (Fanfiction.net, PPC Wiki, LiveJournal)
  • Brand names and trademarks (Kleenex, Bleeprin; but not tissue, brain bleach)
  • Titles of published works ("Rambling Band," The Lord of the Rings, "Hey, Jude," The White Album)
    • Note that titles have special rules. See below.

Titles of Published Works[]

Most words in the titles of published works get capitalized:

  • The first and last word in the title
  • All nouns, pronouns, verbs, adverbs, and adjectives
    • All forms of to be ([to] Be, Am, Are, Is, Was, Were, [Has/Have] Been)

Some words are not usually capitalized unless they are the first or last word of the title:

  • The articles a, an, and the
  • The conjunctions and, but, for, or, and nor
  • The words to and as in any grammatical function
  • Most prepositions, unless:
    • They are stressed when spoken
    • They are used adverbially or adjectivally
    • They are used as conjunctions
    • They're long and would look silly without a capital (this is somewhat subjective)

Additionally, titles of published works are styled when quoted in text or listed. Titles of long works, such as books, periodicals, films, TV series, plays, video games, albums, and other freestanding works, are set in italics. Shortened forms of titles are also italicized, but abbreviations are not. Thus:

  • The Lord of the Rings or the Lord of the Rings books (title used adjectivally)
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation (the is capitalized following a colon) or the Next Generation spinoff or Next Gen
  • The Multiverse Monitor or the Multiverse Monitor (initial the in periodicals is not capitalized when mentioned in text)
  • But not LotR, ST:TNG, MM

Titles of short and non-freestanding works, such as short stories, articles, chapters, episodes, and individual songs, are enclosed in quotation marks (either "double quotes" or 'single quotes' will do).

  • 'A Shortcut to Mushrooms'
  • "Encounter at Farpoint"

Capitalization for Emphasis[]

Don't do it. If you want to emphasize a word in your sentence, try italics or bold text first. Just don't capitalize random words, or you might end up creating the likes of the Long Table Elrond or Narnia No-Longerfled.

Don't type in all-capital letters, either. This is the Internet equivalent of shouting, and it's rude, not to mention hard to look at when it comes in huge blocks.

On the other hand, sometimes we are Not Amused, and sometimes a character NEEDS TO SHOUT, and sometimes a character just talks like this all the time. Use your best judgement.

Capitalization Help[]

We'll be honest with you; this stuff is really, really confusing. Here are some external links that may help: