7 Words You Need to Stop Capitalizing

Thank you, Huff Post, for putting a conversation I have almost daily (sometimes with actual people, sometimes in my head) in writing.

Please share any annoying words or phrases that you’ve found capitalized in the comments.

Without further ado, the awesome article that tells you what’s up–or what should be up–with capitalization:

Look, I don’t want to rain on NASA’s interplanetary parade.

In early December, NASA scientists did send the new Orion spacecraft 3,604 miles beyond Earth as they prep to one day put humans on Mars.

Remarkable achievement. Bravos all around. Yet even an historic flight into outer space doesn’t excuse writing errors.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden Jr. called the space mission “Day One of the Mars era.”

Let’s examine Bolden’s words. He capitalized words that feel important to him (“Day One” and “Mars”). As for “era”? Meh, not as notable. Lowercase!

The corrected version: day one of the Mars era. The only proper noun in the phrase is “Mars.”

Capitalization matters. When you handle upper and lowercase words like a pro, it shows poise, smarts and maturity. Proper capitalization is one more way to distance yourself from the competition (just like a storytelling cover letter).

Here are seven types of words we need to stop capitalizing.

1. Job titles

Incorrect: I am a Marketing Coordinator at Acme Industries.

Correct: I am a marketing coordinator at Acme Industries.

Explanation: Job titles are lowercase unless they come before your name (ex: Marketing Coordinator Jane Doe is…).

More on job titles and capitalization.

2. College majors

Incorrect: In college, I Majored in Political Science and Minored in Religious Studies.

Correct: In college, I majored in political science and minored in religious studies.

Explanation: College majors and minors are lowercase. Uppercase comes into play if you describe the actual program/school (ex: I studied political science at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin).

3. Special occasions 

Incorrect: Classic Facebook post — Thanks to everyone for the Birthday wishes!

Correct: Thanks to everyone for the birthday wishes!

Explanation: Words like birthday, anniversary, reunion and gala are lowercase. If you describe an event with a proper name (Lizzy’s Surprise 30th Birthday Bash), then it’s uppercase. Also, Happy Birthday is capitalized if you write, “Happy Birthday, Zack!” It’s lowercase when you write, “I hope you have a happy birthday!”

4. Important-sounding career words

Incorrect: Common phrase in a resume objective statement — Experienced Team Leader with strong Organizational Skills and a Successful career in Management.

Correct: Experienced team leader with strong organizational skills and a background in management.

Explanation: We don’t capitalize non-specific career words no matter how important they seem (“Successful”). If you attend the Acme Team Leader Training Seminar, then the words are uppercase because they’re part of a proper title.

To make your resume objective statement to be even more correct (and impressive), remove adjectives like “Successful” altogether. Read this post — I’ll explain.

5. Seasons

Incorrect: I began at Acme Industries in the Fall of 2012.

Correct: I began at Acme Industries in the fall of 2012.

Explanation: Seasons are lowercase unless part of a proper title (ex: Fall Fling Art Show).

6. Directions

Incorrect: After college, I headed West to Los Angeles to pursue acting.

Correct: After college, I headed west to Los Angeles to pursue acting.

Explanation: Directions are lowercase. If you write about a specific part of the country, then it’s uppercase (“I live on the East Coast.”)

7. Any other word that feels special but isn’t a proper noun

Your time at the political internship made a big impact on your career. Awesome. That doesn’t mean you had an Internship. Nope, still an internship. It’s not a proper noun.

However, if you write about your experience in The White House Internship Program, then “Internship” is capitalized.

See the difference?

Capitalization is a small detail, I know. But then again, the little stuff often makes the biggest difference.

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4 thoughts on “7 Words You Need to Stop Capitalizing

  1. You missed one of non favorites. An example would be: On average Black workers earn less than the average among all workers.
    There is no reason to capitalize the word black. It is a descriptive word that does not need to be capitalized. I think some writers capitalize black because they are fearful of offending black people. The same writers are unlikely to capitalize white when it refers to white people.

    Joe S.

    Like

    1. I’ve noticed this phenomenon and assumed some people wanted to give it proper adjective status, much the way you’d capitalize Caucasian, African-American, Jewish, etc.

      But yes, most style guides don’t suggest capitalizing “white,” black,” etc.

      Like

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