I blogged a few weeks ago about a particular grammar pet peeve of mine, and today I have a new one: capitalizing words that shouldn't be capitalized. Unfortunately, I see this a lot. Here are some typical examples of mistakes authors often make, both in their books and their marketing communications:

  • He's the Vice President of a big company.
  • I'm going to give a presentation at my local Library.
  • I'm very proud of being an Author.
  • Having a Business degree helps with book Marketing.
  • My book is coming out next Summer.

To the trained eye, the capitalized words above scream "amateur" and are a huge distraction. They also make me want to put down whatever I'm reading and never pick it up again. If it's a book, that means I won't recommend it because I won't finish it. If the errors are on the author's website, bio, or other marketing materials, it stops me from picking up the book at all. And that is unfortunate, because the story could be great!


The basic rules of capitalization are very simple:

  • Only proper nouns (cities, states, people, companies, etc.) are capitalized.
  • Titles are capitalized only when they come directly before a person's name (e.g. "I saw President Obama on television last night," but "Barack Obama is the president of the United States").
  • College degrees are not capitalized, and neither are majors, except for languages (e.g. "I have a bachelor's degree in English and a master's in business").
  • Generic departments and functions at companies are not capitalized (e.g. "He works in the marketing department, and she helps out with accounting").
  • Seasons of the year are not capitalized.

If you think about the above rules, you may remember learning them in elementary school, which is where we learned a lot of life's important lessons. When it comes to grammar, sometimes it's important to go back to the basics.

-Maria :)

Maria Murnane writes romantic comedies and provides consulting services on book publishing and marketing. Learn more at  www.mariamurnane.com.

This blog post originally appeared on CreateSpace.com. Reprinted with permission. © 2011 CreateSpace, a DBA of On-Demand Publishing, LLC. All rights reserved.

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Comment by Laura Zigman on November 17, 2011 at 11:21am

Loved. Excellent piece of Writing.

Comment by Nicky Wheeler-Nicholson on November 17, 2011 at 5:38am

For an interesting take on the notion of capitalization some of you may want to read or re-read the wonderful "Websters' First New Intergalactic Wickedary of the English Language" by Mary Daly, one of the great feminists scholars and writers and Jane Caputi and Sudie Rakusin. Sometimes random capitalization is stream of consciousness without careful editing and I'm So Guilty of That. And it should be properly admonished and curtailed in order to present the best professional face. On the other hand sometimes it may be an act of pure Rebellion on the part of Hellions. 

Comment by Lucy Merrill on November 16, 2011 at 9:10am

This is one of my pet peeves, too. I also have long referred to it as random capitalization. I worked at a community newspaper for years and the things people sent in for publication would curl your hair (it's why I never need a permanent).

I blog on similar subjects at http://www.wordcrank.blogspot.com


Comment by Patricia Gligor on November 15, 2011 at 9:21am

Thanks, Maria. This was a good reminder.

Comment by Regina Y. Swint on November 14, 2011 at 10:09am
I tend to have issues with quotation marks, too. Some people say that you should place all punctuation inside the quotation marks, when I seem to remember being taught that it depends on the context of the sentence. And that whole thing with where to place the periods, before or after the end/right parenthesis confuses the heck out of me. I've seen it different ways, and I'm sure I've screwed it up plenty of times. I could definitely use some insight on these. Guess it's time to break out the latest style manual. :)
Comment by Karoline Barrett on November 14, 2011 at 8:18am

Love your post! And it is so true!

The company I work for is always sending out emails/letters to clients with weird words capitalized! Another thing I've noticed is people putting quotation marks around words for no logical reason.

Comment by Candice W. Coghill on November 13, 2011 at 6:32pm

Super post again, Maria. Thank you ;) 

Comment by Regina Y. Swint on November 13, 2011 at 3:44pm

Great blog!  Thanks for sharing this!

Comment by Lisette Brodey on November 11, 2011 at 8:51pm

Great post, Maria. This drives me crazy, too. What makes me even crazier are the random, unnecessary apostrophes that people stick in plural words. "I love reading book's." "You took some great photo's." That makes me want to stop reading, too.

Comment by Claire McAlpine on November 11, 2011 at 4:20am

Interesting reminder, I often wonder about capitals in titles, they certainly are an interesting device and do capture attention, when used intentionally, as Janece refers to.

I was humbled recently when a friend corrected a letter I wrote in French where she decapitalised all my references to months of the year, we don't use capitals for months of the year in French. Wonder what other grammar rules I regularly break in that language, formatting a letter and even addressing an envelope gets me every time.

While the book was a bestseller, I have to say that correct grammar or not, the tone of advice given in 'Eats Shoots & Leaves' caused me to abandon reading this populist volume more than a few random capitals would have. I should have taken note when the blurb indicated it was 'a book for people who love punctuation and get upset about it.'


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