When Do I Capitalize…?
As an editor, I commonly see a handful of words incorrectly capitalized. Of course, you can always use your word processor’s check document function, but that feature doesn’t catch all the capitalization rules, such as some below. Plus, learning more about your craft makes you a better writer!
Let’s look at some useful capitalization rules.
Are the seasons capitalized? In general, no, because they are not proper nouns. (Remember, a proper noun is a specific name of a person, place, or thing, such as The White House)
My son will leave for college in the fall.
However, when the season is part of a proper noun, you do capitalize.
I’m looking forward to the annual Waxhaw Fall Festival.
In this case, Fall, is part of a proper noun, the title of an event, so it is capitalized.
Do not capitalize north, south, east, or west when you are writing them to indicate a general direction.
To get to my friend Catherine’s, I head south for ten hours.
When they refer to regions in the country, you do capitalize North, South, East, and West.
Most of my family lives in the South.
Words Commonly Used in Christian Writing
- Capitalize God. However, do not capitalize the adjective form godly.
Example: She is a godly woman who has followed God since she was twenty.
- Capitalize Bible and Scripture when used as proper nouns. However, do not capitalize the adjective forms biblical or scriptural.
Example: To gain biblical knowledge, you have to spend time reading your Bible.
- Pronouns referring to God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.
When deciding to capitalize pronouns such as He, Him, and His when referring to God, you get to decide. My standard is to capitalize these words. However, it’s not wrong not to capitalize. What’s important is that you’re consistent. In other words, if you decide to capitalize godly pronouns, then capitalize all of them. Look at this example:
Over and over again in Scripture, we see Jesus gave his time to people who, at first glance, might seem the most unlikely candidates of His attention. In fact, if you read all the Gospels, you find he was more harshly critical of those who advertised themselves as religious than He was of those people we might think He’d pass over.
Do you see the error? The pronouns referring to Jesus are, in order, his, His, he, He, He’d. To correct this, we need to capitalize all of these pronouns or none of them.
One reminder: Do not change any pronouns within quotation marks. The rule is that quotation marks mean you’re copying exactly from the source material.
We read in Luke 5:11, “So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.”
In the NIV the word him is not capitalized, so when you quote this verse, keep it as is, even if you’re capitalizing pronouns referring to God in other parts of your manuscript.
Word Following a Colon
Note in the following sentence that the first letter following the colon is capitalized:
A crucial point you’ll want to keep in mind once you begin the online test is this: Once you’ve started, you have to complete the test.
You’ll see that the word Once following the colon is capitalized. Is this correct or not? It’s correct! Why? The words following the colon form a complete sentence. So the rule is that if the words following a colon form a complete sentence, then you capitalize that first letter after a colon.
Let’s look at another example with a colon:
If I get a day off work this week, I want to do three things: read, take a walk with my dogs, and fix a healthy meal.
This time the word read following the colon is not capitalized. Why? The words following the colon are a list, not a complete sentence. So in situations like this the rule is that if the words following a colon do not form a complete sentence, then you do not capitalize the first letter after a colon.
An important thing to remember about correct punctuation: Correct punctuation gives you authority as a writer. In other words, you look like you know what you’re doing.
If you want to make sure your manuscript is error-free before presenting to an agent or publisher or before publishing, I’d love to help you! I offer proofreading services, where I correct your punctuation, spelling, and grammar. Plus, I offer a wide range of other editorial services.
Ah! I learned something new from you, Melanie! I didn’t know about capitalzing the first word of a complete sentence following a colon. I’m putting that in my hip pocket of grammar do’s!
The thing about capitalizing after a colon– you will see it done all sorts of ways. For example, in British English the standard is to not capitalize after the colon. But this is the most common rule for American English. Thanks for stopping by!
What a very helpful blog! Thank you so much.
I’m glad you’ve found the tips helpful!