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When Should You Capitalize Words?

Pride capitals, common nouns, and proper nouns.

By
Rob Reinalda, read by Mignon Fogarty,
August 21, 2009
Episode #184

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When Should You Capitalize Words?

In today's episode, we’ll talk about capitalization—its overuse and its misuse in the business world.

Let’s talk about why capitalization of some words is a capital idea, and why uppercasing other words could be considered a capital offense.

Meaning Is Key

One reason capitalization matters is that a word’s meaning can change depending on whether it's uppercase or lowercase.

“See those three domiciles over there? Well, I live in the white house.” That’s quite different from, “I live in the White House [capital W, capital H.” That White House is where the president lives.

In English, we capitalize words that are proper nouns—that is, they describe a specific thing or entity. They could be a title, a name, or a specific place such as the president's residence: [THE White House].

We lowercase words that are considered common nouns—that is, they can be used to describe many things, such as any one of the multitude of white-colored houses in the world.

(As an aside, I'll note that in German all nouns and certain pronouns get uppercased; now there's a gratuitous “Das Kapital” reference just waiting to be made. And so I made one.)

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