Discussing capitalisation

Capitalisation means the representation of the first letter of a word in capital letter. It is, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the hallmarks of a writer who pays painstaking attention to detail. In other words, proficient writers capitalise maximally and avoid the pitfall of capitalising arbitrarily. This piece will discuss 10 functions of capitalisation and provide example sentences for each function.

1. Give the initial capital letter to the first word of a new sentence. Note that the initial capital letter must always follow a new sentence after a full stop:

Non-standard: English is easy to learn. everyone knows this.

Standard: English is easy to learn. Everyone knows this.

However, a small letter can be used after a question mark if the preceding sentence is not considered an independent message, as the examples below show:

A. “Why did you come late?” his boss enquired.

B. “Do you want me?” was all he asked.

In Sentence A, the sentence containing the question mark is part of a larger sentence, and that makes the choice of a small letter acceptable after the question mark. Similarly, in Sentence B, the sentence that has the question mark is the subject of a larger sentence, so the word immediately after the question mark, which is the verb of the sentence, has to begin with a small letter.

2. The initial capital letter is used for both words in the salutation of a letter and for only the first word in the complimentary close:

Non-standard: Dear sir/Dear madam

Standard: Dear Sir/Dear Madam

Non-standard: Yours Faithfully/Yours Sincerely

Standard: Yours faithfully/Yours sincerely

3. The initial capital letter is used for proper nouns (names of persons, places, animals, countries and so forth) and adjectives derived from such nouns:

Standard: I like Esther.

Standard: She is from France.

Non-standard: He is an italian doctor.

Standard: He is an Italian doctor.

Non-standard: Digging a trench is a herculean task.

Standard: Digging a trench is a Herculean (from Hercules) task.

Non-standard: The bandits have met their waterloo.

Standard: The bandits have met their Waterloo (from the Battle of Waterloo).

Non-standard: Stephen is my prince charming.

Standard: Stephen is my Prince Charming (from Prince Charming by James Robinson Planché).

Non-standard: I read about ebola fever, lassa fever, zika virus and spanish flu.

Standard: I read about Ebola fever, Lassa fever, Zika virus and Spanish flu.

It, thus, stands to reason that you should not capitalise the initial letters of names of diseases or the microorganisms that cause them, if such names are not sourced from proper nouns, as instanced hereunder:

Non-standard: She has not contracted Coronavirus.

Standard: She has not contracted coronavirus.

Further, it is absolutely critical to note that the initial letters of subjects and disciplines which are not connected to proper nouns are not capitalised, as in:

Non-standard: She is a student of Mathematics, English, French, Agricultural Science and Home Economics.

Standard: She is a student of mathematics, English, French, agricultural science and home economics. (English and French are from proper nouns.)

Standard: We are students of biochemistry.

However, the first letter of a discipline can be capitalised or not if a degree is attached to it, as in:

Standard: She has a BSc in Biochemistry/biochemistry.

Note that some words which originated as proper names do not have their initial letters capitalised again because they are remotely connected to their origins. Examples of such words are gum arabic, platonic, italics, china (of ceramics).

4. The initial capital letter is used for calendar names which encompass days of the week and months of the year. It is also used for special days and festivals such as Democracy Day.

Standard: She was born in August.

Non-standard: She works from monday to saturday.

Standard: She works from Monday to Saturday.

Non-standard: Yesterday was independence day.

Standard: Yesterday was Independence Day.

5. The initial capital letter is equally used for the first word and content words (noun, verb, adjective, adverb) in a heading:

Non-standard: The Amalgamation Of The Southern And Western Protectorates

Standard: The Amalgamation of the Southern and Western Protectorates

Non-standard: The Pragmatics Of Humour In Interaction

Standard: The Pragmatics of Humour in Interaction

Note, however, that, besides the first word, one can use the lower case throughout if deployed consistently:

Standard: The pragmatics of humour in interaction

It should be mentioned that, in headings, the initial letters of proper nouns should be capitalised even when other items are not capitalised:

Standard: The report on fiscal policies in Nigeria

I should add, too, that titles, headings and subheadings should not end in a full stop:

Non-standard: Literature Review.

Standard: Literature Review

6. The initial capital letter should be used for the first word of a direct quotation:

Non-standard: The man asked, “where are you going?”

Standard: The man asked, “Where are you going?”

7. Capitalisation is also used for abbreviations:

MA, MBA, BSc, ECOWAS and so forth

8. The initial capital letter is used to give emphasis to a word in a sentence:

The selection of Candidates is an important electoral undertaking.

9. The initial capital letter can also be used for titles added to people’s names or institutions:

Standard: Extend my warm regards to Professor Mahfouz Adedimeji, the Vice Chancellor of Ahman Pategi University.

10. Capitalisation is used for the first person singular pronoun “I”:

Non-standard: It was i who sent it.

Standard: It was I who sent it.

Other letters that will suffice as words and are capitalised are: A (a grade) and O (an exclamation).

Non-standard: She got an a for mathematics.

Standard: She got an A for mathematics.

Non-standard: Bless my parents abundantly, o God.

Standard: Bless my parents abundantly, O God.

In conclusion, the aforementioned rules are proof that capitalisation is essential for impeccable writing. An in-depth knowledge of its dynamics, therefore, is a prerequisite for being a competent writer.

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