Capital Letters in English Part 2 - Her Majesty the Queen

When to (and When Not to) Use Capital Letters in English? Part 2

In part 1 of “When to (and When Not to) Use Capital Letters in English“, we talked about some of the instances where we use capital letters in English, like proper nouns (given names) for people, animals, geographical formations, etc., and the last thing we mentioned was the capitalization of geographical features and landmarks. In part 2 we begin with countries and states, and move on with the list.

Take a look at the Table of Contents below to jump to a section of interest. If you can’t find what you a looking for, try “When to (and When Not to) Use Capital Letters in English? Part 1” or “When to (and When Not to) Use Capital Letters in English? Part 3” (open in new tab.)

Color Legend

When words are highlighted in this color, it means that they should not be capitalized

When words are highlited in this color, it means that we should always use capital letters

If you see words highlighted in this color, it means that there are exceptions and the words can be capitalized or not, depending on usage.

Most of the words highlighted in this color are in a language other than English. The idea is to illustrate how different English can be compared to other languages.

1. Countries, states, and other places 🌆

The names of empires, countries, states, districts, cities, villages, and streets are capitalized.

If the image below appears to be broken, click on the link at the bottom of it to open it.

— Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast by Meri Zaha

Examples

The Roman Empire lasted for over 1000 years and was one of the greatest empires in the world.

As of 2020, the most populated state was California.

Sonja is from Paris but she lives and works in Barcelona.

Is Abbey Road located in northern London?

If a place is named after a person, for example, a historical figure, all names are capitalized.

Nikola Tesla Street

Perhaps you already noticed that but, I think it’s about time we mention something really important here.

In English, we use capital letters for all the words that are part of the name (when singular). Look at the examples below (yes, these are real!)

Daisy Avenue, Starfall Way, Chardonnay Drive

But❗

I parked the car somewhere in the vicinity of Chardonnay and Burgundy drives.

That is not always the case in other languages.

Let’s have a look at a beautiful main street in Helsinki, Finland, which is named after the Russian Emperor Alexander I.

a black and white picture of Alexander's Street in Helsinki, Finland from 1910
Credits: Brander Signe HKM / Helsingin kaupunginmuseo, Helsinki City Museum

Here is how the name of the street is written in English, Finnish, Bulgarian, German, and Russian. The word street, which is normally a common noun, is in bold. (There is no need to speak or understand the languages I am using for comparison because we are not focusing on meaning here.) (EN = English, FIN = Finnish, BG = Bulgarian, DE = German, RUS = Russian)

Language Comparison

Alexander Street

Aleksanterinkatu

улица “Александровкса”

Alexanderstraße

Александровская улица

*This Wikipedia page translates the name to Alexander Street, but perhaps, it would be more accurate to say it’s Alexander‘s Street (if we are translating it from Finnish) although it would be a little difficult to pronounce. Either way, the noun street, is attached to the name in Finnish and German but not in Russian and Bulgarian. However, it is capitalized only in English, as the example above demonstrates.

You will notice the same thing with just about any name.

Let’s go back to some of the example sentences we have used so far and see what happens. The words we focus on are in bold. (EN = English, FIN = Finnish, BG = Bulgarian, DE = German, RUS = Russian)

Language Comparison

When did the Big Bang happen?

Million alkuräjähdys tapahtui?

Кога се е случил Големият взрив?

Wann fand der Urknall statt?

Когда произошёл Большой взрыв?

Due to the specifics of the Finnish and German languages, the word for “Big Bang” is a combined compound noun, which, of course, means that we cannot have a capital letter in the middle of the word.

Still, in Finnish, the combined noun itself doesn’t begin with a capital letter. In German, it does, as do all nouns.

In Russian and Bulgarian, on the other hand, there are capital letters only for the word “Big.”

As mentioned before, capitalization rules vary from language to language. So, these rules, like many other things in English, can be confusing. That is why it’s a good idea to consider the native language of your learners and explain in more detail when needed.

Let’s go back to the word street for a moment.

In some languages, the word street may precede the name. In English, it comes after the name.

Language Comparison

Alexander Street

улица “Александровкса”

*Notice how, in the Bulgarian translation, the name is in quotation marks? In English, street names don’t need them. In other languages, they might.

Here are some final recommendations coming from the stylebook of Associated Press when it comes to street names:

Use the abbreviations Ave., Blvd., and St. only with a numbered address: 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Spell them out and capitalize when part of a formal street name without a number: Pennsylvania Avenue. Lowercase and spell out when used alone or with more than one street name: Massachusetts and Pennsylvania avenues.

Associated Press Stylebook

2. Man-made structures 🗽

Man-made structures (buildings, parks, bridges, tunnels, etc.) also often have names. That’s why they, too, need capital letters.

“As long as the Colosseum stands, Rome shall stand; when the Colosseum falls, Rome will fall; when Rome falls, the whole world will fall.”

Here are some more examples:

Examples

I’d like to go to Central Park today.

The Empire State Building is in the center of Midtown Manhattan.

How old is the Great Wall of China?

Did you know that the Statue of Liberty was a gift from the French people?

The Golden Gate Bridge is located in San Francisco, California, and it’s over 2 miles long.

UNESCO

The Madara Rider is a unique relief, an exceptional work of art, created during the first years of the formation of the Bulgarian State, at the beginning of the 8th century. It is the only relief of its kind, having no parallel in Europe.

Madara Rider

Let’s make our little comparison again to illustrate a significant difference. This time let’s use the name of a world-known tower. (EN = English, FIN = Finnish, BG = Bulgarian, DE = German, RUS = Russian)

Language Comparison

Why is the Leaning Tower of Pisa not falling?

Miksi Pisan kalteva torni ei kaadu?

Защо не пада Наклонената кула в Пиза?

Warum stürzt der schiefe Turm von Pisa nicht ein?

Почему Пизанская башня не падает?

Pisa is the name of a city, and naturally, it’s written in capital letters in all four languages above. However, Finnish doesn’t use capital letters for either leaning or tower (in bold), and neither does Russian. What is more, the Russian translation does not include the word leaning. In Bulgarian, only the word for leaning is capitalized while, in German, only the word for tower is capitalized (which is normal for German, because they capitalize every noun).

That’s not the case in English. We need capital letters for all the words which are part of the name.

3. Institutions, corporations, and organizations 🏛

The names of different institutions and organizations part of a country’s political, legislative, administrative, and educational systems need capital letters. Non-governmental bodies, religious groups, and other representative organizations, such as trade unions, have capital letters as well.

Here are some examples:

Examples

The European Parliament represents over 400 million people.

The European Green Party, also called European Greens, was founded in 2004.

As a health worker, I am a member of the United Nurses of Alberta.

The Red Cross is a humanitarian organization that helps people in times of accidents
and natural disasters.

The World Health Organization works to promote health and keep the world safe.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is one of the top universities in the world.

Sometimes, some organizations or institutions are better known for their abbreviated names.

NASA (The National Aeronautics and Space Administration)

FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation)

UNESCO (United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization)

3.1 Other authorities or groups

Usually, we don’t capitalize the noun police unless when talking about a specific department or unit.

Call the police!

The New York City Police Department (NYPD) has about 36 000 officers and almost 20
000 civilian employees.

Use lower case when plural even when talking about specific departments:

The Chicago and Los Angeles police departments are one of the biggest police departments in the US.

We use capital letters for sports clubs, orchestras, and other groups as well.

The Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra was founded in 1949 in Munich, Germany.

Is Liverpool better than Manchester United?

4. Brands  & Companies💄

Brands also have names, and that is why we need to capitalize them. Any product out there can have a brand but only truly successful and popular brands don’t need to mention what their product is because the brand name speaks for itself. For example, few people don’t know what Pepsi is.

a photo of a Coca-Cola can

I love Oreos and Coca-Cola.

Did you know that Alphabet Inc. is the parent company of Google?

The world’s favorite sneaker brand is Nike.

I think the best toothpaste is Colgate.

5. Days and months 📅

We use capital letters for the days of the week and the months of the year because that is what they are named.

Someone holding a cup of coffee and looking at a book with autumn leaves on top

“I am so glad we live in a world where there are Octobers.”

— L. M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

Examples

I have a lot on my schedule for Wednesday.

We are getting together for a party next Friday evening.

It’s a good idea to visit Italy in February if you are on a budget.

Again, not all languages function the same, and even though in other languages weekdays are named, too, they are not always capitalized. Focus on the words in bold. (EN = English, FIN = Finnish, BG = Bulgarian, DE = German)

Language Comparison

The summer holiday starts next Monday.

Kesäloma alkaa ensi maanantaina.

Лятната ваканция започва следващия понеделник.

Am kommenden Montag beginnen die Sommerferien.

As you can see above, only in English and in German do the weekdays have capital letters.

6. Seasons* 🍂

Because we use capital letters for days and months, sometimes people get confused and think that we need to capitalize seasons as well. That is not the case. Normally, we do not use capital letters for seasons. They have generic names.

Correct: My favorite season is spring. ✅
Incorrect: My favorite season is Spring. ❌

However, when used as a proper noun1 or as a part of a name of something2, for example, an event, we use capital letters.

Examples

Beware, Winter1 is coming!

I will be attending the Spring Jazz Festival2.

I’ve joined the Summer Study Club2.

6.1 Holidays and special occasions 🎃

As mentioned above, we don’t use capital letters for seasons, but we do use capital letters for holidays and special occasions no matter the season.

Christmas decorations

“I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.”

— Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

Examples

Over 40 million turkeys are eaten in the United States each Thanksgiving.

Due to its significance, Mexico’s Day of the Dead was added to UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2008.

The Chinese New Year is celebrated between January 21 and February 20, and the exact date is determined by the Chinese lunar calendar.

Did you know that Oktoberfest actually starts in September?

A note on the word birthday. It is important to know how to correctly write a birthday card. 😏 This is confusing for many people. Here is what the AP Stylebook recommends:

Capitalize as part of the name for a holiday: Washington’s Birthday. Lowercase in other uses. In exclamations: Happy holidays! Merry Christmas! Season’s greetings! Happy New Year! Happy birthday!

Associated Press Stylebook

A note: George Washington’s Birthday is a federal holiday celebrated every third Monday in February and is widely called Presidents’ Day because President Abraham Lincoln as well as other presidents were born in February.

Correct: Happy New Year, everyone! ✅
Correct: During the new year, I plan to start a new business. ✅

7. Titles

This may be a no-brainer for many but capitalization of titles be it personal, professional or those of books, articles, and works of art can be a bit tricky sometimes, and quite different from the way it’s done in other languages. Let’s have a look.

7.1 Personal and professional titles 👨‍⚕️

Apart from using capital letters for people’s names, we also use capital letters for their personal or professional titles.

Generally, we do that

  1. before one or more names
  2. when addressing the person directly
  3. when used in the signature line of correspondence

Examples

I am a great fan of Sir1 Elton John’s music.

I heard that Mr.1 and Mrs.1 Johansson arrive today.

There is a letter for you, Miss2.

Has Professor1 Williams called the office today?

It was a complicated surgery, but Doctor1 Mathews performed brilliantly.

People in office like presidents, prime ministers, and different high-ranking officials from the public sector, as well as people with military ranks, have their titles capitalized.

The head of President George Washington, the first president of the United States, on Mount Rushmore (far left.)

Mount Rushmore (An interesting read: “The heartbreaking, controversial history of Mount Rushmore“)

Examples for people in office

Will you be addressing the Congress, Mr. President?

I don’t think Senator James is attending today. All other senators are present.

In other cases, use lower case.

Lower-case examples

Donald Trump was the 45th president of the United States.

She is thinking about running for president.

Capitalize the plurals of official titles when mentioning the full names of the individuals.

The sculpture on Mount Rushmore features the heads of Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln.

Is it so in other languages as well? Let’s compare once again! (EN = English, FIN = Finnish, BG = Bulgarian, DE = German, RUS = Russian)

Language Comparison

One more question, Mr. President

Vielä yksi kysymys, herra presidentti!

Още един въпрос, господин (п) Президент!

Eine Frage noch, Herr Präsident!

Ещё один вопрос, господин президент!

7.1.1 A note on nobility titles 👑 

a girl with a crown

Capitalize Her Majesty, and Her Majesty the Queen because it’s a formal title.

Sometimes monarchs are best known for their titles and not for their names, which, when speaking of capitalization can present some problems.

It’s clear that when we use the nouns king, queen, etc. in the plural, they are not capitalized. When we talk about kings and queens in general, there is no need for capital letters either.

Examples

How many queens has Britain had?

Do you know who was the first king of England?

The reigning king or queen is the United Kingdom’s head of state.

Here is what the Associated Press Styleguide advises on capitalizing nobility titles:

Honorary titles and titles of nobility are capitalized when they serve as an alternate name.

Associated Press Stylebook

The Guardian

“In their Oprah Winfrey interview earlier this year, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex accused the royal family of racism. Meghan said an unnamed royal – not the Queen or the Duke of Edinburgh – raised concerns with Harry about how dark their son Archie’s skin tone might be before he was born.”

Queen supports Black Lives Matter, says senior royal representative

To mention briefly: the term for the above titles is appellations. Appellations are words that are added to a person’s name for the reasons above – profession, rank, etc. 

Sometimes even “normal” words can be added to the name of a person for other reasons altogether. For example, many monarchs are best known for their nicknames. Usually, the nicknames describe either a personal characteristic of the monarch or speak of their reign.

Usually, these words come after the person’s name following the article the and are capitalized.

Alexander the Great

Louis the Well-Beloved

William the Conqueror

Ivar the Boneless

Bolesław the Brave

It is possible for nicknames to come before the name. For example, Mary Tudor (Mary I) was also known as Bloody Mary for her prosecution of Protestants. 

Where to go from here?

If you haven’t yet seen it, go to When to (and When Not to) Use Capital Letters in English? Part 1

Coming next: When to (and When Not to) Use Capital Letters in English? Part 3

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