JUNE 2001

On Capitalisation

The modern trend is to reduce the use of capitalisation. Proper nouns must begin with a capital letter, but many associated words may be written in lowercase without any loss of meaning. The important thing is to maintain consistency throughout a document.

It is customary to capitalise:

. The major words in a title;

. Proper nouns (names), including most adjectives derived from proper nouns (Spanish from Spain, Freudian from Freud); It is sometimes tricky to figure out what counts as a proper noun: it is customary to capitalise Renaissance and Romantic when they refer to historical periods, but not when they mean any old rebirth or something related to romance. (Even more confusing, Middle Ages is usually capitalised, but medieval isn't, even though they refer to the same thing, and one is just a Latin translation of the other. Go figure.)

. Banks, Companies, and Corporations, as well as Conferences, Meetings, and Negotiations

. Note: the names of currencies are generally NOT capitalised, e.g., the dollar, the euro, etc.

. Personal titles and positions when they refer to a specific person (Mr. Smith; Ms. Inger Larsen, Minister of Commerce, the Minister; Captain Beefheart, Reverend Gary Davis; Sir John Richardson, Governor of the Central Bank, the Governor). It is common to capitalise President or King when referring to one President or King of a country, but you would refer to all the presidents or all the kings of all countries, and the presidents of corporations don't warrant caps unless you're using president as a title. Similarly, "at a meeting of ministers of finance..." Help!!!!

. The names of agencies, organisations, institutions, etc., as well as their abbreviations (United Nations, UN, NATO, EU).

. Geographic terms--Physical, Political, Economic

Geographic terms should be capitalised when they refer to specific places, area, regions, topographic features, nationalities, political and economic groups, etc. They should be in lowercase when they are used in a general sense or as descriptive adjectives.

Europe: the Continent; continental Europe; the European continent, southern Europe [in a general, i.e., purely geographical sense]; Western Europe [referring to a specific group of countries].

the Western hemisphere; the western half of the globe

the Third World; the Middle East; Middle Eastern; Central America; central Asia; the Mississippi River but the Mississippi and Brahmaputra rivers.

. Government Terms

Names (nouns) relating to a specific government should be capitalised. The names of specific governmental departments, agencies, ministries, officials, etc., whether in full or in shortened form, should be capitalised. But governmental terms used as adjectives or used as nouns in a general sense, and common nouns when they are not a part of a proper noun, should be written in lower case.

the Government of France; the French Government; French government agencies

the Prime Minister of (country); representatives of the fifteen countries - ministers of finance, central bank governors, and others of ministerial rank - will meet on July 10 in Paris, the French Minister of Finance will act as chairman.

. Historical terms

Certain historical terms are capitalised, others are not: the Middle Ages; the Depression; the depression of the 1930s; World War II; the Industrial Revolution [referring to England in the eighteenth century]; the space age.

. The Internet

World Wide Web addresses can be case-sensitive, but domain names, the part of the address after the @ that ends in ".com" or ".org" or whatever, are not. So you won't go on a detour if you capitalise the first letter of a dot-com company's name. Stylistically, however, it is important to decide whether you're dealing with a name or an address.
Internet addresses that are simply addresses should be lowercased, but if the name and the address are functionally the same, use the name (typing the name Amazon.com into a browser, for example, will get a Web user to the address: www.amazon.com),. But don't use a Web address to invent a website name that doesn't exist:

. WRONG: Bill Walsh runs a website called TheSlot.com.

. RIGHT: Bill Walsh runs a website called The Slot (www.theslot.com).

Capitalisation tips

. If a title comes BEFORE a name, capitalise it. (Mayor Joe Smith was on television.)

. If a title comes AFTER a name, don't capitalise it. (Joe Smith, mayor, was on television.)

. All national titles are capitalised no matter when/how used. (George W. Bush, President.)

. Capitalise family relationships when used as a name (Mother) but not as a description (my mother).

. Capitalise geographic locations (the South) but not directions (south of the border).

. Capitalise months, days, holidays (June, Monday, Christmas) but not seasons (summer, winter).