5 Capitalization

5.1 General principles

Capital letters in English are used to punctuate sentences, to distinguish proper nouns from other words, for emphasis, and in headings and work titles. It is impossible to lay down absolute rules for all aspects of capitalization; as with hyphenation, the capitalization of a particular word will depend upon its role in the sentence, and also to some extent on a writer’s personal taste or on the house style being followed. Also, certain disciplines, especially history, have their own particular styles of capitalization. However, some broad principles are outlined below. Editors should respect the views of authors, except in cases of internal discrepancies. Both authors and editors should strive for consistency: before writing or editing too much of a work, consider the principles that should govern capitalization, and while working through the material create a style sheet showing capitalization choices, and stick to it.

Excessive use of capitals in emails and on online forums is frowned upon (it is regarded as ‘shouting’); on websites, words in capitals can be difficult to read, and it is better to use colour for emphasis.

For the use of capitals in work titles see 8.2.2 and 8.8. For capitalization in lists and tables see Chapter 15, in quotations and verse Chapter 9, in legal references 13.2.3, and in bibliographies 18.2.5. Small capitals are discussed at 7.5.2. For capitalization in languages other than English see Chapter 12 under the language concerned.


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