Capitalising names, job titles and honorifics

In the middle of a regular sentence—not a title—only proper nouns should have the first letter capitalised. A proper noun is a name; the name of a person, place, official name of a person of office or position of state or government, the title of a creative or non-fiction work, etc.

Should you capitalise ‘national park’ in Australian-English?

Only capitalise it as part of a proper noun, such as naming a specific national park, not when writing about national parks in general.

Example
We decided to visit some national parks on our holiday. The first place we stayed at was Girraween National Park.

When should writers capitalise the words for family members like ‘mum’, ‘Nan’ and ‘Great Aunt’?

Words like mother, father, mum (American: mom), dad, aunty, grandma, cousin and great uncle are nouns. Ordinary nouns are not given capitals unless they are at the start of a sentence. However, proper nouns should start with a capital letter, and family words sometimes are used as proper nouns.

Family words only become proper nouns when used in a sentence instead of, or alongside, the person's name.

Examples

  • The ring belonged to my great uncle.
  • The ring belonged to Great Uncle Philip.
  • Aunty Sandra is the kindest, sweetest and most generous person I know.
  • My aunt, on my mum's side, is the kindest, sweetest and most generous person I know.
  • Mum told me I could have the sandwich.
  • My mum told me I could have the sandwich.
  • It was Mum who told me I could have the sandwich.
  • Your grandma is happy living in the home.
  • Grandma Rose is happy living in the home.
  • I went to the park with Nana and Poppy.
  • My nana and poppy took me to the park.
  • My grandma and grandpa took me to the park.

When should you capitalise titles like ‘king’, ‘queen’, ‘prince’, ‘princess’ and ‘Her Majesty’?

Honorifics like Her Majesty the Queen are offices or positions of government, like His Royal Highness and The Department of Agriculture. So, they do take capitals.

However, when talking about queens in general or a queen, it is written in lower-case. To make this distinction clearer, the queen’s slippers should have a lower-case Q. The Queen of England should have an upper-case Q because it is an official title (proper noun).

Example

  • The king lost his crown. The Queen of England wanted it found at any cost.
  • Queen Carmine went to Sussex in a light aeroplane. The queen felt nervous about the journey.

When should you capitalise job titles like ‘managing director’?

Job titles are often written in title case, as in, I am the Managing Director of Australian eBook Publisher but, when written in a sentence, position titles should not be in capitals. In a signature (at the end of an email or letter) it is appropriate to have the position title start with capital letters. Also when the title precedes the person’s name it becomes part of the name and takes capitals, as in King George went to the queen’s garden for tea.


Example
Minister Rowby at The Department of Agriculture asked the CEO of Earthmoving Australia to dig around and find the king’s crown on the vacant lot at Saxby St.. The chief executive officer failed in his duty and asked the construction worker, Digby Sirrus, to contract Manager Roger Cowan to check again.

Capitalising the titles of books, films, apps, websites and other works

Titles are proper nouns so they should be written in title-case, which means every word has the first letter capitalised except for the, and, a, an, in and of. Here are some examples:

  • The Editor Australia website is a writing bible for writers and editors in Australia.
  • The words in the Bible were written in a different language originally.
  • The Word of God is another name for Jesus Christ.
  • The Bible is the holy book of Christians.
  • The Holy Bible should be capitalised as it is a proper noun, the title of a published work.
See Titles for more.

Book/journal titles punctuated by a colon

In titles that are punctuated by a colon, capitalisation of the word immediately following the colon will vary, depending on whether it’s a book title or a journal or magazine title. For example:

Book title (capital letter after colon)
Health and Happiness: A Personal Wellbeing Guide
Journal/magazine title
(no capital after colon, unless what follows is a subtitle and it started with a capital in the published work)
Health and happiness: a personal wellbeing guide
Reason: the colon in a book title is not normally in the title, but reflects a division between title and subtitle. See ‘Titles’ section re the use of title case in book titles and subtitles.

Compass bearings

Compass bearings are not capitalised (north, south, north-west, north magnetic pole, true north) unless abbreviated, e.g. NE, NW (no full stops). Places such as North Pole, South Pole are capitalised.

Ethnologic groups

Use capitals for ethnologic groups (Aborigines, African-American, Inuit, Polynesians, Caucasians, etc.) and do not italicise.

Nicknames for ethnic groups should also be capitalised:
Aussies, Kiwis, Poms, etc.

Sometimes there are specific names for ethnic participants in a particular era, such as during the Great War:
Diggers, Tommies, Jerries, Kiwis, etc.

Geographic divisions

Use capitals for accepted geographical divisions (South-East Asia, North-West Plains, Mid-West, etc.), but not for vague or generalised areas (southern Asia, north-west areas of the State, etc.).

Use lower case for: southern hemisphere/northern hemisphere.

Movements

Because movements vary in their treatment, dependent on whether they are a philosophical, religious or political movement, it can be useful to defer to a dictionary such as the Macquarie with respect to capitalisation. Some examples are: Freemasonry, Marxism, fascism, gnosticism, Nazism, communism, socialism and post-modernism.

Names of Gods, Deities and the Indefinable

The words ‘god’, ‘goddess’ and ‘deity’ should not normally be capitalised as they are general nouns not proper nouns. As their names are proper nouns, the first letter of the names of gods, deities and the Indefinable should be capitalised.

How should I capitalise the Indefinable?

Arguably ‘the Indefinable’ is a deity, an entity which non-religious humans (eg. agnostics, universalists and new age spiritualists) assign a name like ‘the Indefinable’ out of respect for the fact it is unknowable. A writer can choose how to go about capitalising ‘god’ and ‘indefinable’, in line with their view of the universe, but to be grammatically correct this should be consistent in any given work.

Christians usually capitalise all names and pro-nouns that relate to God

Christians generally use capitals for the names of God, like God the Father, Jesus Christ, Yahweh, the Holy Spirit etc. They will even capitalise ‘the Word’ when it is referring to Jesus Christ. They also usually capitalise all pronouns referring to God.

Example
All three persons of the Trinity—e.g. the Lord, He is mighty; to Him we come; Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Christians will use capital ‘Y’ for You and Yours, when referring to God, except in Bible quotes, in which case the capitalisation used in the bible takes precedence.

They will use lower case for relative pronouns such as who, whom. They will use a lower case ‘g’ for false gods (e.g. Baal was a god of the Canaanites). Exception: where quoting the Bible (follow the version quoted).

Also: ‘Sovereign One’ but ‘God is sovereign’. And: ‘of all deities, God is the only true and sovereign one’.

Christians will use uppercase ‘D’ for deity only when used as a direct substitution for the name of God.

How do Christians write the word ‘LORD’?

Where referring to the Holy Name of God, the tetragrammaton ‘LORD’, Christians will often use all small caps with the L in upper case, i.e. LORD.

Organisations and events

How do you capitalise businesses, organisations and events?

Use capitals for the name of an organisation or group, but do not use upper case when only part of the name is used in subsequent reference. It is no longer a proper noun.

Examples
Jump for Cancer Association, the association
Anti-Discrimination Board, the board
Equal Opportunity Tribunal, the tribunal
Brisbane City Council, the council

Capitalise the names of sporting events and their nicknames:
The Ashes, the third test, the State of Origin etc.

Brackets

How do you capitalise figure references in brackets?

Brackets are often used as part of a reference to a photo, figure or publication (footnote/endnote) that accompanies an article. These should be written in lowercase.

Example
(see photo 1), (see fig. 4), (see ref. 2)

Planets/heavenly bodies

Should you capitalise earth, sun and moon?

Earth should be written with a lower case ‘e’, except where it is the specific name of the planet—i.e. where one could substitute ‘Saturn’ or ‘Mercury’, for example, and it would still make sense.

Examples

  • There are many ways to care for the earth.
  • It is obvious that Earth is full of humans.
Always use lower case for sun, moon, universe and solar system.

Political groups or divisions

Capitalise State and Government when referring to a specific political division or party.

Examples
The State of Tasmania, the State of Kentucky (but the state of your health), the proposal of the Federal Government (but the art of good government).

All Caps

When is it OK to write an entire word in all caps?

Capitalising entire words should be minimised or avoided as it generally comes across as over-the-top. When used online it equates to shouting and can cause webpages to be penalised by Google, perhaps because all capitals are not a proper way to use the English language, and are often used by spammers. Use bold or italics to emphasise words.

When to start lists with capitals

When should a bulleted or numbered list begin with a capital letter?

Capitalising the first word in each bulleted or numbered list is the standard way of writing lists.

Example
Your author bio outlines the key facts about you as an author, including:

  • Who you are
  • What your experience or expertise is
  • What your inspiration is
A writer or editor may make some exceptions at their discretion. For example, in a short list that reads like a sentence.

Example
In this chapter we focus on:

  • visual aid options
  • questions to develop a compelling proposal, and
  • what to say when presenting.
It reads like a sentence and has a full stop at the end. Otherwise, each point should start with a capital and there should be no punctuation at the end of each list item.

Also see Periods for rules on when to use a full stop in non-paragraph text like a bulleted or numbered list.

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