When to use capital letters in English

Correct spelling is not only about which letters we use in the word. We should also know when to begin a word with a capital letter. (This is called capitalisation.)

Here are some examples of when we should and should not use capital letters in English.

Use a capital letter for the first letter of the first word of a letter or email:

Dear Mr Smith
Thank you for your email and the information.

When you begin a new sentence:

We need the goods as soon as possible. Could you please send them tomorrow?

For days of the week and for months:

Monday, Tuesday, etc.
January, February
, etc.

When beginning a quotation:

The chairman replied, “We plan to make further changes.”

For names of companies:

Speakspeak International Limited; British Rail.

For the first letter of a proper noun, i.e. someone’s name:

John Logie Baird invented the television.
Marcel is a
French teacher.

For names of countries and the first letter of adjectives derived from country names, languages, etc.:

Finland, the Czech Republic. It’s a French company. He’s French.

For many abbreviations and acronyms:

VAT (Value Added Tax);  VIP (Very Important Person).

 

We don’t use capital letters in these cases:

Names of the seasons:

spring, summer, autumn, winter.

for the following common abbreviations:

m (abbreviation for million)
bn (abbreviation for billion)
plc (a public limited company).

I’ve given 10 rules. There are others, of course. Feel free to add to the list by leaving a comment below.

 

Stuart is an English teacher and runs the Speakspeak website. He currently lives in Prague and has been teaching for over 20 years. Follow Stuart and contact him by subscribing to his monthly newsletter.

18 Comments

  1. whowritesthiscrap - November 14, 2011, 11:01 am Reply

    Thanks for not capitalising ‘chairman’. I see that mistake far too often.

    • Stuart Cook - November 17, 2011, 2:12 pm Reply

      Thanks for your comment. Yes, words like that often confuse people because when used as a job title they should be capitalised. However, as you quite rightly pointed out, not in this case.

  2. patsy - February 21, 2013, 12:07 pm Reply

    I am writing a book and one of the characters is Major Randal. I know that has to be capitalised.
    But if I simply refer to him as the major or the major said, do I capitalise major? I have a feeling I do not but I have this niggle that says maybe I do.

    Hope you are still there and will answer.
    Thanks
    Patsy

    • Stuart Cook - February 21, 2013, 1:37 pm Reply

      Hi, Patsy

      Yes, you should capitalise it – it’s a rank: ‘The Major said’, ‘She consulted the Major’, etc.
      Note that unless you’re beginning a sentence, the article should not be capitalised: ‘I saw the Major’ (small ‘t’).

      If you’re speaking about ranks in general, they’re not capitalised: ‘His generals deserted him’, etc.

      • patsy - February 21, 2013, 4:31 pm Reply

        Thank you so much.
        is it OK if I come across any more little things like that, that I email you again?
        Patsy

        • Stuart Cook - February 21, 2013, 5:25 pm Reply

          Yes, fine – I always welcome comments. Please be sure to post questions on a relevant page.

  3. Ahmed Hashim - February 23, 2014, 10:50 am Reply

    Thanks a lot, Sir.

  4. Paul Riley - March 2, 2014, 12:45 pm Reply

    Thanks for the rules, they are most useful.
    I do disagree with one of them though. m means milli as in millimetre, or mm.
    M is mega, as in MByte, megabyte.

    so I would write 10M people.
    10m miles would be 1/1000 miles.

    Paul

    • Alyssa - April 29, 2014, 7:24 am Reply

      Hi Paul
      Million has a small m when it’s written about dollars (e.g. $10m is a lot of money!!)
      Cheers 🙂

    • Steve - June 27, 2014, 10:22 am Reply

      Hi Paul – I agree that M means Mega, but Mega doesn’t mean a million. It is a power of 2 not of 10.

      So 1MB = 1,048,576 bytes and 1m bytes = 1,000,000 bytes

      In SI units m doesn’t mean milli, it means metre, so 10m miles doesn’t make sense (you are saying ten meter miles). mm is a different and distinct unit

      • Sylwester - August 20, 2014, 2:53 pm Reply

        Hi Paul,

        I meet often “mn” as abrevation of million. It looks quite good and correspond with “bn”.

      • David - July 5, 2016, 7:59 am Reply

        Steve, your comments are misleading.

        m on it’s own is the SI abbreviation for metre, but m as a prefix to another SI abbreviation does signify milli. m is a metre, mm is a millimetre.

        Mm would be a megametre and that would be 1,000,000 metres.

        International standards say that the binary prefixes (representing powers of two) should by Ki, Mi, Gi etc. MB should refer to 1,000,000 bytes, MiB should refer to 1,048,576 bytes.

  5. V.Matoušek - December 16, 2014, 12:25 pm Reply

    Hello, I´m looking for the rules of capitalization the names of characters of fairy tales, I’m preparing poster, just picture and title, for example: The Genie or genie and the others characters -prince, king, queen, witch, mermaid …Should be written in capital letter or not ?
    Thank in advance

    • Stuart Cook - December 16, 2014, 9:02 pm Reply

      As a rule, don’t capitalise those words. Use capitals, however, if the character has a title (or name), e.g. the Wizard of Oz, the Wicked Witch, etc. If you’re making a poster, you’re probably listing characters, so they should be capitalised in that case.

      Note the capitalisation here:

      The Wicked Witch of the East was one of the meanest in the land. The witch first appears in the story in the third chapter.

      The King, the Queen, etc. should be capitalised, as they’re titles.

  6. Donna - November 26, 2015, 3:53 am Reply

    I would like to know if I need to use capitals on the words ‘suppliers’ and ‘customers’ in the following sentence?
    We would like to wish all our valued customers and suppliers a very Merry Christmas & a safe and prosperous New Year
    Thanks in advance.
    Donna

  7. aisha - June 12, 2016, 5:42 am Reply

    do i capitalize a million dollar footballer in a sentence
    Trevor Francis became the first one million dollar footballer when he was transferred from West Ham to Nottingham Forest.

  8. Sudarshan MR - October 6, 2016, 6:18 am Reply

    Hi,
    Thanks for an interesting article. Could you please help me in deciding whether “Pascal is the SI unit of pressure” or “pascal is the SI unit of pressure” is correct. The word “pascal” is the starting word in the sentence.

    Thanks in advance

    • Stuart Cook - October 27, 2016, 8:53 pm Reply

      You need a definite article: “The pascal is the SI unit of pressure.”

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