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Capitalization Errors

Occasionally, we encounter a student paper where capitalization seems to be used randomly:

Religion is Different than Science in many ways.

However, most SSU students would write such sentences correctly:

Religion is different than science in many ways.

Most SSU students' capitalization errors involve names/titles or acronyms/initial-letter abbreviations .

Capitalization of Names and Titles

In general, you should capitalize proper names and formal titles, but you should not capitalize common nouns (or noun phrases) used to refer to people and things.

Several Bills have gone through the House of Representatives and even made it to the Senate.

According to estimates by the American Psychological association, children watch an average of 8,000 murders and 10,000 other acts of violence on television before finishing elementary school.

Since bills is a common noun and association is part of the title of a formal group in the sentences above, the sentences should have been written as follows:

Several bills have gone through the House of Representatives and even made it to the Senate.

According to estimates by the American Psychological Association, children watch an average of 8,000 murders and 10,000 other acts of violence on television before finishing elementary school.

Of course, in certain other contexts, it would be appropriate to capitalize bill and start association with a lower-case a:

Ohio Governor Bob Taft signed House Bill 239 on January 4, 2007--just four days before being replaced by Governor Ted Strickland. [House Bill 239 is the official title of the bill, so the full title is capitalized.]

The police investigated him because of his association with known criminals. [Association is just a common noun here, so it it not capitalized.]

Capitalization of Acronyms and Initial-Letter Abbreviation

Capitalization of common acronyms and initial-letter abbreviations also perplex many SSU students:

These features include caller id, call waiting, and long distance.

Most acronyms and initial-letter abbreviations belong in all capital letters:

These features include caller ID, call waiting, and long distance.

However, there are also some acronyms and initial-letter abbreviations (such as rpm) that are not capitalized. In fact, some words which were coined as acronyms have become so common that they are now simply considered common nouns. An example is radar ( radio detecting and ranging). These common nouns should be written in all lower-case letters.

If you are unsure whether to capitalize an acronym or initial-letter abbreviation, check a recent dictionary.

If you need more advise about capitalization, see Chapter 55 (pages 456-60) of The Longman Concise Companion.

We should note that fewer than half (46.67%) of the student papers in this study contain capitalization errors. (In contrast, 96% of the papers included comma errors, 94.67% included pronoun errors, and 89.33% included spelling errors.) The error falls in the top ten only because students who make capitalization errors tend to make many capitalization errors in each paper. See Alternate Error Chart for more information.

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