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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Wright

Random Capitalization

Today’s simple two cents:

As an editor, I’ve noticed that some writers seem to be confused about capitalization beyond the beginning of a sentence. As a result, these writers place capitals where I’m sure they are convinced they must go, but to me the placements are random.

Simply and grammatically, capitalization belongs to proper nouns – names of particular people, places, or things – and titles. John Doe; Paris, France; Walmart; Kleenex; English; and Lord of the Rings are all examples of nouns that require capitalization.

While I see that writers usually understand this guideline when it comes to people and places, it is the vague and broad scope of the word “things” that confuses some.

I’ve read my fair share of 16th to 18th century fiction and non-fiction, and noticed that many of these works capitalize almost every noun, which seems to be an attempt to give importance to these nouns. But if you give importance to every noun, then you give importance to none. And even this can be troublesome: what if a writer capitalized some nouns and not others? How did said writer choose which nouns deserved capitalization and which didn’t? This inconsistency is an almost worse grammatical fault than capitalizing every noun. What’s more, this isn’t the 18th century.

When it comes to a random noun, think about these things:

  1. Is this noun a brand name?

  2. Is this noun a company name?

  3. Is this noun a title?

  4. Is this noun a language?

If the answer to any of these questions is yes, go ahead and capitalize. But what about descriptors like vintage, antique, modern, classic…? While these words can describe proper nouns like name brands, if they are not part of the name brand itself, they are merely lower-cased adjectives. This is not to be confused with eras or time periods, such as Victorian, Gothic, Renaissance, Medieval etc., which are also descriptors, but are capitalized, indicating importance over other descriptors.

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