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Capitalization, Numbers, and Italics

The first word of a sentence is always capitalized.

  • John hurried to the drugstore.
  • She always traveled with too much luggage.
  • Have you spent a lot of time abroad?
  • Sometimes, I wish I were a rock star.
  • Wealthy people are not always intelligent people.

Proper nouns are always capitalized. If the proper noun is the name of a nation, the corresponding nouns referring to the nation’s people and language are also capitalized.

PROPER NAMESJoanna, Laurie, Paul, Sebastian, Tyler Johnson

Civil, military, religious, and professional titles, even when abbreviated, are capitalized when followed by a person’s name.

  • Pope Benedict XVI
  • President Bill Clinton
  • Professor Gibbons
  • Rabbi Dahan
  • Dr. Joanna Hughes
  • Ms. Gloria Graham
  • Rev. Lewis
  • Sir Winston Churchill

When a person is addressed by his or her professional title, the title is capitalized.

  • We beg you, General, to take our opinion into consideration.
  • Madam President, I’d like to know what your budget proposal is.

The pronoun I is always capitalized. This is also true of the interjection O.

  • Yesterday, I saw Megan in her wedding dress, and O, what a sight she was!

Geographical names are capitalized.

  • the Allegheny Mountains
  • the Champs-Élysées
  • the Danube
  • El Rastro
  • Madrid
  • the Mediterranean Sea
  • the Mississippi River
  • North Korea
  • the Pacific Ocean
  • the Sahara Desert
  • the Tai Po River
  • the Twin Cities
  • Washington, D.C.

Religions, holy books, believers (as a group), holy days, and terms that refer to deities are capitalized.

  • Hinduism, Hindu, Brahman, Shiva
  • Islam, Koran, Muslim, Ramadan, Allah
  • Christianity, the Bible, Christian, Christmas, God

Names of organizations, institutions, government agencies, companies, as well as their abbreviations, acronyms, and shorter versions of their names, are capitalized.

  • the ACLU
  • Alpha Delta Kappa
  • Boy Scouts of America
  • the Red Cross
  • the FCC
  • NYPD
  • IBM
  • the Rand Corp.
  • the Yanks

Days of the week, months of the year, and holidays are capitalized. The seasons, however, are not usually capitalized.

  • Sunday
  • Monday
  • April
  • October
  • Veterans Day
  • Thanksgiving
  • summer
  • winter

Historical documents, events, periods, and cultural movements are capitalized.

  • Declaration of Independence
  • Magna Carta
  • World War II
  • the Renaissance
  • Cubism

However, ideologies and related terms not used as part of a proper-noun phrase are not capitalized.

IDEOLOGIESdemocracy, democrat, democratic; communism, communist
PROPERNOUNSGerman Democratic Republic, Communist China

Names of trademarked merchandise are capitalized.

  • Adbusters
  • Adidas
  • Monopoly
  • Nike
  • Oreo
  • Post-it
  • Puffs
  • Velcro
  • Yahoo

Words derived from proper names are capitalized.

  • Machiavellian
  • Europeanization
  • Americanized

The titles of poems, songs, movies, books, plays, and essays are capitalized. Articles, conjunctions, and prepositions are not capitalized, unless they are the first word of the title. Prepositions are capitalized if they are the last word of the title.

  • “The Second Coming”
  • “Take the ‘A’ Train”
  • The Motorcycle Diaries
  • The Grapes of Wrath
  • Love’s Labour’s Lost
  • “How the Palestinian-Jewish Conflict Began”

The first word in quoted material is usually capitalized.

  • She turned around and screamed, “Is there anybody out there!”
  • A timid voice asked, “Is there more food, sir?”

The names of heavenly bodies, including the planets, are capitalized, but the words earth, moon, and sun are not.

  • Andromeda Galaxy
  • Milky Way
  • Scorpio
  • Jupiter
  • The earth was parched and cracked; the drought had done its work.
  • The earth is the third planet from the sun.

General compass directions are not capitalized unless they refer to specific geographical locations.

  • Lyon is south of Paris.
  • They walked in an easterly direction.
  • The red team represents the West.
  • They came from the South.
  • They came from the Southern states.

The names of man-made objects, such as bridges, planes, spacecraft, ships, roads, monuments, and buildings, are capitalized.

  • the Brooklyn Bridge
  • the Spirit of St. Louis
  • Apollo 13
  • the Santa María
  • Interstate 35
  • the Lincoln Memorial
  • the Museum of Natural Science
  • the Sears Tower

Whole numbers from one through ten are usually spelled out in sentences; whole numbers larger than ten are written as numerals. However, this is a style—not grammar—issue, and the main objective should be consistency.

  • Eight in ten voters were disappointed.
  • This hospital employs 437 nurses.

A number that begins a sentence is spelled out and capitalized.

  • Twenty-eight thousand people crossed the border.

Very large numbers can be expressed in several ways.

  • 30,000 political prisoners
  • 30 thousand political prisoners
  • thirty thousand political prisoners

Numbers used in business documents or in legal writing are often spelled out and written as numerals to avoid confusion.

  • The broker’s profits are not to exceed forty thousand (40,000) dollars.

Uses of numbers

Numbers can be used to express time, dates, and periods of time.

  • 3 P.M. ~ 3:00 P.M. ~ three o’clock in the afternoon
  • July 23, 1976
  • the seventeenth century ~ the 17th century
  • the ’80s ~ the eighties ~ the 1980s

Numbers are used in addresses.

  • 1949 Yucca Mountain Road
  • 1600 Liberal Lane
  • Chicago, IL 60601

Numbers are used in decimals, percentages, pages and chapters of books, scenes in a play, temperature, geographic coordinates, money, and forms of identification.

  • 0.098720.75
  • 17 percent ~ 17% ~ seventeen percent
  • page 34, chapter 45
  • Act V, Scene III, lines 108–110
  • 36° C ~ 36 degrees Celsius
  • latitude 45° N
  • $5.30 ~ five dollars and thirty cents
  • Queen Elizabeth II, Henry VIII
  • Channel 8
  • Area 51


Italics are used to make a word or group of words stand out in order to give them emphasis.

  • Notre Dame de Paris is an amazing cathedral.

Generally, a word processor is used to create italic text, but in handwriting, it is common to underline words that ordinarily would be italicized.

Italics are often used to indicate the titles of books, newspapers, magazines, plays, lengthy poems, comic strips, software, paintings, sculpture, movies, and genus/species references.

Gone with the WinaInDesign CS3
The New York TimesGuernica
Science NewsVenus de Milo
All’s Well That Ends WellWell When Harry Met Sally…
The Song of HiawathaDrosophila melanogaster

Italics are also used to set off foreign words adapted into English. Most of these words and phrases are still italicized, because they remain foreign to most English speakers.

coup de graceprix fixe
je ne sais quoipro bono
persona non grataverboten

Some foreign words, however, are not italicized, because they have been integrated into English and are commonly used. This generally happens after widespread adoption and use by the mass media and the publishing industry. The following list includes some of these words.


Italics are used to identify court cases.

  • Brown v. Board of Education
  • Roe v. Wade

Italics are used in algebraic expressions.

  • X – Y = 23

Italics are used for the names of spacecraft, satellites, and ships.

  • Sputnik was launched into orbit this morning from a base in Kazakh SSR.
  • Launched in 1959, Vanguard 2 helped to map the shape of the earth.
  • Sink the Bismarck!

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