Why do we use capital letters?
Capital letters are useful signals for a reader.
Firstly, they let the reader know a new sentence is beginning. A full stop indicates a point has been made. The capital letter that follows shows the beginning of a further explanation on a point or a new point in the writing. This helps make the text legible.
Secondly, they signal proper nouns. For example, Harry and Meghan are the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. The capitalisations allow the reader to gather that Harry and Meghan are people (people’s names are capitalised), Duke and Duchess are titles (official titles are capitalised) and Sussex is a place (counties are capitalised).
Without using capital letters, it would be more difficult to come to these conclusions. Of course, there are other factors such as context and general knowledge that aid our understanding.
But are capital letters really necessary? Is their use in the English language becoming redundant and/or changing?
Germanic grammar played an influential role in developing the English language we have today and the German language capitalises all nouns. Luxembourgish, is a close relative of German and one of the three official languages of Luxembourg, still capitalises nouns.
In the 17th and 18th century, English writers also used to capitalise many nouns that they thought were ‘important’. In the original American Declaration of Independence many of the words were capitalised.
However, this led to much confusion and debate over what words were important. As the language has developed over time, rules for capitalisation have been developed and the frequency of them has reduced.
More about the rules later.
Not only do capital letters assist with legibility, they also add a layer of additional information.
Sometimes, people use capital letters effectively to stress or emphasize a point.
It is important to note that if you type a message entirely in capital letters, it can be interpreted as rude. It is like shouting in written form. So, do not write a message or word using all capital letters unless you want it to be interpreted as shouting.
Capital letters and word shape
In the Roman alphabet there were no lower-case letters. Sculptors would engrave these letters into monuments, but as handwriting developed, writing in these capital letters was very time consuming.
HAVE YOU EVER TRIED TO READ A PARAGRAPH THAT IS WRITTEN IN ONLY CAPITAL LETTERS? IT IS MORE DIFFICULT AND TAKES UP A LOT OF SPACE. THIS IS A REASON WHY SOME CONTRACTS ARE WRITTEN IN CAPITAL LETTERS, BECAUSE IT’S NOT EASY TO READ!
As writing developed, letters began to vary in their shape and size. Lower-case letters were developed. This made text easier to read and quicker to write. Text written in all capital letters has no shape. Look at the below picture for a visual representation of this point:
Read the text below:
As you can see, we do not read every letter of every word. The shape of the word is one of the tools we use to read text quickly.
Using capital letters goes a LONG way for the quick and easy interpretation of written communication. Using it correctly is a very effective way to show you are an intelligent and professional person who has a great command of the English language.
The rules for using capital letters
Have a look at the below information for the occasions when you should use capital letters.
- Names of people and related words:
- William Shakespeare, Shakespearean
- Names of places and related words:
- Planets: Mercury, Venus, Earth
- Continents: Africa, America, Europe
- Countries: France, Germany, Spain
- Nationalities: French, German, Spanish
- Languages: French, German, Spanish
- Cities: Paris, Berlin, Madrid
- Streets: Abbey Road, 5th Avenue, Santa Monica Boulevard
- Geographical Formations: the Himalayas, Mount Everest, Amazon River
- Statue of Liberty, Taj Mahal, Arc de Triomphe
- Beginning of sentences:
- The first letter of every sentence should start with a capital letter
- When writing a letter or email, Dear/To should be capitalised
- The personal pronoun I:
- The pronoun ‘I’ should always be capitalised when referring to the writer/yourself
- Books: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, The Lord of the Rings
- Films: It’s a Wonderful Life, One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest
- Organisations and companies: Disney, United Nations
- People: Emperor Naruhito, King Felipe, Prince Albert, Chancellor Merkel
- Days, Months, Seasons, Holidays:
- Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday
- January, February, March
- Summer, Autumn, Winter
- Christmas, Halloween, New Year’s Day
- Dr. (Doctor)
- Prof. (Professor)
- Mr. (Mister)
- IELTS (International English Language Testing System)
- EU (European Union)
- SciFi (Science Fiction)
- HiFi (High Fidelity)
* For titles, we don’t capitalise the first letter of every word. We don’t capitalise connecting words such as a, an, or, the, and etc.
* When referring to a particular region, you capitalise the direction. For example:
I lover Northern Ireland.
You do not capitalise when giving directions. For example:
If you want to go to Northern Ireland, you need to drive north for 100 miles.
I hope this blog has helped you understand when and why we use capital letters. If you have enjoyed it, please feel free to share it. As always, your comments and questions are welcome in the below comments section. If you need help with your IELTS writing, please contact us. Thank you for your time.
If you enjoyed this blog, you may enjoy the below blogs: