Spelling of capitals: who said fear?


There are not a few people who hesitate to put a capital letter in their writings or who do not know certain aspects of the spelling of these “big letters”. It is a subject that gives a lot, which, far from being afraid, we have decided to sink the tooth. We warn: maybe we have to extend ourselves in more than one delivery …

The RAE, in its Spelling, indicates that in English the words can be written in lowercase, with initial capital or entirely in uppercase. In the ordinary script, the lower case letter is used as the base letter, and when the norm prescribes the use of the capital letter, it applies only to the initial letter of the affected word.

From this we will deduce that, beyond the necessary uses (posters, titles, etc.), writing an extensive text entirely in capital letters is extremely uncomfortable for the reader, without mentioning that, for many, it conveys the feeling of being communicating something « shouting”.

Without going into very technical or concrete aspects, and given the length of the topic, in this post we will refer to the relations of capital letters with diacritics and punctuation marks.

Tildes and umresis. The rules of application of diacritics (tildes and umlauts) apply to all words, regardless of whether they are written in uppercase or lowercase. The absence of these diacritics in capital letters could be justified, in past times, for technical reasons (typographic composition or configuration of the typewriters).

These justifications, today devoid of meaning, have never had it in manuscript texts. We will write, therefore, Angela or LINGUISTICS.

Uppercase and punctuation. The following words are written with initial capital required by the punctuation:

The first word of a writing or the one that appears after a period, independently of the fact that it may be preceded by a parenthesis sign, quotation marks, question or exclamation: He did not want to speak. I was angry. (It seems he still has a grudge). It will go away?

The word that follows the suspension points, when these coincide with the closing of a statement: We have so much fun … Next Tuesday we will repeat. If the ellipses do not close the statement, the word that follows them will be with lowercase initial: It is a very … special boy.

Interrogative and exclamatory. In this case, the placement of the capital letters will depend on whether the question or exclamation constitute the whole of the statement or parts of it. Here intervenes the degree of independence that the narrator wants to give to each party. So, we can find:

  • Where were you? Mom is worried.
  • How can I improve my expression? Ask yourself.
  • What day did you arrive? Did you receive well? Did you rest on the plane?
  • What day did you arrive? Did they welcome you? Did you rest on the plane?
  • Excuse me, do you have an hour?

Two points. Although the two points do not signal the end of a statement, they can announce the beginning of a unit independently of meaning. The text should be started with an initial capital letter in the following cases:

  • In the headings or greetings of a letter (also email or fax):
  • Dear Mr. Gutiérrez:
  • After the conversation held this morning …

After the points that introduce a textual quote: The minister said: “We will lower taxes next year.” This rule does not apply if the beginning of the original quote is omitted: «… and dreams, dreams are». When proverbs or phrases are reproduced without being preceded by the two points, the use of the capital letter will depend on the degree of integration in the statement in which they are inserted:

  • You already know that “prevention is better than cure”.
  • When I have any symptoms I think of the saying “Prevention is better than cure”.
  • After the two points that close the epigraphs or subtitles of a book or document:
  • Greek philosophy: The most prominent figure in Greek philosophy …
  • Decorative elements:
  • Frescoes: They are wall paintings …
  • Tapestries: These are textile pieces …
  • After those words with enunciating character, as example, warning or note:
  • NOTE: Do not forget to cook the pasta previously.

After the two points that introduce an explanation that develops in one or more independent paragraphs (usually appear linked to expressions such as below or below):

  • The recipe is elaborated as explained below:
  • Beat the egg whites to soft peaks. In a separate bowl …

The first word of each of the elements of an enumeration written in independent lines. If they are closed with a comma or with a semicolon, the same elements will start with lowercase:

  • The main functions of journalism are:
  • to form,
  • report,
  • entertain.
  • The oceanic climate is characterized by:
  • Soft temperatures and cool summers; little thermal oscillation is observed.
  • Very abundant rainfall that occurs mainly in winter.

Having seen, we still have to deal with the use of capital letters to mark the proper names and other names, acronyms, special uses … We promise therefore to return to treat it and we hope it will be useful. Remember that you can participate with your comments and do not forget to spread!

Sources consulted:

  • Royal English Academy. Spelling of the English language.
  • José Matínez de Sousa. “Upper case and lower case”.