Style Matters #23: Using upper case correctly … a capital idea


While most writers are encouraged to minimise the use of capital (upper case) letters – because they have a tendency to arrest the eye and slow down the reader – there are instances where their deployment is essential.

A capital letter is used for

  • the first word of sentence
  • the first word of a whole-sentence (or complete) direct quote
  • proper nouns (person’s name, place name or an official entity when rendered in full)
    • especially this applies to specific, or implied specific, references (such as the Queensland Parliament, the Parliament, the Premier)
    • but use lower case for generic references (such as a parliament, a premier)
    • however, partial or shortened references to official entities do not require upper case treatment – so while it’s the Royal Commission into Casino Corruption and Commissioner Joe Bloggs on first mention, thereafter it should be the royal commission and the commissioner
  • a brand/trade name (except when the company, such as adidas, has other ideas)
  • first word after a colon when what follows is a complete sentence
  • words such as street, road, avenue or river but only if they refer to a single, specific location (Smith Street, Rogan Road, Adams Avenue, Rhine River)
    • but use lower case for multi-references, such as the corner of Lexington and Third streets
  • the principal words in the titles of books, movies, plays, ship names and the like
  • created names or titles, such as Baby Boomers, Generation Y, Iron Curtain
  • if there could be confusion between meanings, as in Act (of Parliament)/act, Speaker  (of Parliament)/speaker
  • historic names and eras when they clearly refer to a specific person, age or thing (the First Fleet, the Crusades, the Eureka Stockade, the French Revolution, the Great Depression, the Holocaust)
    • but use lower case for subsequent mentions (the depression, the revolution)
  • specific references to racial groups (Negro, Aboriginal, Caucasian)
    • but generic or non-specific references to racial groups are lower case (indigenous, black, white) unless they are part of an official title
  • special days, weeks or years, festival, ceremonial, feast and fast days (Anzac Day, Australia Day, Christmas Day, Easter, Passover)
  • sanctioned or branded weeks/months/years (Asthma Week, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, International Year of the Disabled and so on)

No capital letter is required

  • for first of a short string of words enclosed within parentheses (brackets) or dashes unless that word is a proper noun
  • when restarting an interrupted (broken) quote unless that word is a proper noun
  • for first word of a partial direct quote unless that word is a proper noun
  • on words, although derived from a proper noun, that are no longer associated with their place of origin (cheddar cheese, chinese burn, brussels sprouts, french fries, dutch pancakes, molotov cocktail, muscovy ducks)
    • but where there is still an association with an item’s origins, use upper case, as in Devonshire tea, Worcestershire sauce, Australian terrier
  • seasons of the year – spring, summer, autumn/fall, winter
  • prefixes in names such as van, von, de, di, du are usually, but not always, lower case (Ludwig van Beethoven; Vincent van Gogh), particularly in English-speaking countries, where surnames are traditionally upper case (Robert DiPierdomenico, Robert De Castella, Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen DeGeneres), so it’s wisest to check
  • proper names that have become generic (achilles heel, caesar salad, fedora, panama hats, bikini, sandwich, devon, pavlova, strasbourg sausage, scrooge, cardigan)
  • astronomical references such as the sun and the moon and when using earth to refer to soil
    • but use upper case for planets (Earth, Venus, Mars, Jupiter)


If you like what you’ve read here, you can see reporting4work’s similar posts at Style Matters


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