In general, avoid unnecessary capitals. Use a capital letter only if you can justify it by one of the principles listed here.
Many words and phrases, including special cases, are listed separately in this book. Entries that are capitalized without further comment should be capitalized in all uses.
If there is no relevant listing in this book for a particular word or phrase, consult Webster’s New World College Dictionary. Use lowercase if the dictionary lists it as an acceptable form for the sense in which the word is being used.
As used in this book, capitalize means to use uppercase for the first letter of a word. If additional capital letters are needed, they are called for by an example or a phrase such as use all caps.
Some basic principles:
PROPER NOUNS: Capitalize nouns that constitute the unique identification for a specific person, place, or thing: John, Mary, America, Boston, England.
Some words, such as the examples just given, are always proper nouns. Some common nouns receive proper noun status when they are used as the name of a particular entity: General Electric, Gulf Oil.
PROPER NAMES: Capitalize common nouns such as party, river, street and westwhen they are an integral part of the full name for a person, place or thing: Democratic Party, Mississippi River, Fleet Street, West Virginia.
Lowercase these common nouns when they stand alone in subsequent references: the party, the river, the street.
Lowercase the common noun elements of names in plural uses: the Democratic and Republican parties, Main and State streets, lakes Erie and Ontario. Exception: plurals of formal titles with full names are capitalized: Presidents Jimmy Carter and Gerald R. Ford.
Among entries that provide additional guidelines are:
POPULAR NAMES: Some places and events lack officially designated proper names but have popular names that are the effective equivalent: the Combat Zone (a section of downtown Boston), the Main Line (a group of Philadelphia suburbs), the South Side (of Chicago), the Badlands (of South Dakota), the Street (the financial community in the Wall Street area of New York).
The principle applies also to shortened versions of the proper names of one-of-a-kind events: the Series (for the World Series), the Derby (for the Kentucky Derby). This practice should not, however, be interpreted as a license to ignore the general practice of lowercasing the common noun elements of a name when they stand alone.
DERIVATIVES: Capitalize words that are derived from a proper noun and still depend on it for their meaning: American, Christian, Christianity, English, French, Marxism, Shakespearean.
Lowercase words that are derived from a proper noun but no longer depend on it for their meaning: french fries, herculean, malapropism, pasteurize, quixotic, venetian blind.
SENTENCES: Capitalize the first word in a statement that stands as a sentence. See sentences and parentheses.
In poetry, capital letters are used for the first words of some phrases that would not be capitalized in prose. See poetry.
COMPOSITIONS: Capitalize the principal words in the names of books, movies, plays, poems, operas, songs, radio and television programs, works of art, etc. See composition titles, magazine names and newspaper names.
TITLES: Capitalize formal titles when used immediately before a name. Lowercase formal titles when used alone or in constructions that set them off from a name by commas.
Use lowercase at all times for terms that are job descriptions rather than formal titles.
See academic titles, courtesy titles, legislative titles, military titles, nobility, religious titles and titles.
ABBREVIATIONS: Capital letters apply in some cases. See abbreviations and acronyms.