Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Tips on Capitalization

I went to see my Doctor today.

Did you join the Military?

I used to date him in High School.

I need to talk to my Mother.

She was a Nurse at the Hospital where I gave birth.

See anything wrong with the above bold words? They are capitalized when they don’t have to be.

I see this A LOT in manuscripts I edit. Why should these words be lowercased? Because they are not specific, because they are not naming a specific person, place, or thing.

Doctor is generic, common; however, Doctor Bacon is not.

The Military is generic, common; however, the U.S. Army is not.

High School is generic, common; however, Catonsville High School is not.

Mother is generic, common, when you are merely referring to her (on an aunt, uncle, grandfather, grandmother, etc.) especially in a possessive way - like my mother or his grandfather; however, if you are calling your mother, naming your mother, Mother, then it’s not generic; it’s a name. For example: When Mother calls me, I pick up, never fail.

Nurse and Hospital are generic, common; however, seeing Nurse Jane at Memorial Hospital is not.

Shon Bacon is an author, editor, and educator, whose biggest joys are writing and helping others develop their craft. She has published both creatively and academically and interviews women writers on her popular blog ChickLitGurrl: high on LATTES & WRITING. You can learn more about Shon's writings at her official website, and you can get information about her editorial services and online programs at CLG Entertainment. Shon has her own sexy little story, Saying No to the Big O, that was published last year: check it out!


  1. Shon nowadays I see this everywhere. In Botswana, where I live, government is always capitalised. It drives me insane.

    What do you think of this:

    'While men may be more bent towards Anti-Social Personality Disorder or psychopathy, women may be bent more
    to Histrionic, Dependent or Borderline Personality Disorders'

    It came in something this morning. I think all of these should be lower case, they are not proper nouns. What do you think?

  2. I find these types of reminders very helpful. Thanks for the post.

    Jane Kennedy Sutton
    Author of The Ride

  3. So simple, yet so needed. Thanks!

  4. Shon,

    This is worst in business writing, I think. My business clients want to capitalize every service they offer (Counseling), every position (Secretary), just about everything.

  5. I think I'm right in saying that in Spanish, all nouns are capitalized? Now Spanish is the 2nd or 3rd most spoken language nowadays; the others are English and Chinese. I'm not sure what order they come in? Maybe we are beginning to copy the Spanish? Who knows.

  6. Hey there, Lauri. You know, I've seen both capitalized and lowercased of APD and others like it. Personally, I liken them to words like cancer and the various forms of cancer. Typically, we don't see them capitalized.

    It's a great idea to keep around manuals like AP Style Book (I used this for the mass comm. courses I teach, the CMS, the MLA -- depending on the discipline you write.

  7. Hey, Star - and we seem to borrow things from the Brits, too.

    One thing (not pertaining to capitalization) I've seen and students told me about was using plural verbs for singular nouns - especially music groups and corporations.

    I've seen something like, "Microsoft are going through changes..."

    Hurts me ears (lol) to READ things like that.

  8. Very helpful tips. Thanks for helping me brush up.

  9. Great tips as usual, Shon. People have gotten sloppy in their use of capitalization, just like every other rule of grammar and punctuation. It's rampant in the media, business papers, and correspondence. Makes me crazy. Or should that be Crazy? :-)


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice.