Monday, June 02, 2008

Grammar Monday: Capitalize THIS!

Oh, people. Oh, oh, people. I shouldn't even have to write to tell you this, and yet, here I am, having witnessed error after error after error. I could go into a long discussion about today's topic, but what I really want to say is pretty simple:

STOP CAPITALIZING COMMON NOUNS!

A common noun is just that--common. It's not the proper name of anything or anyone (Mr. Smithers, France, September, etc.). It's an average, ordinary, everyday thing. Unless it's at the beginning of a sentence, it does not need to be capitalized. You have many cans of spaghetti, but not Cans of spaghetti. You saw a cat on the side of the road, not a Cat on the side of the road, unless Cat is someone's name, and in that case I hope you waved. You may have paper towels in your cabinet, but you do not have Paper Towels in your cabinet. If you are not sure if something should be capitalized, ask yourself these two questions:

1. Is this the proper name of someone or something?
2. Is this the beginning of a sentence or a quotation?

If the answer to either of these questions is yes, you need to capitalize. If the answer to both questions is no, do not capitalize. If you're not sure, look up the word in a dictionary; if it is a proper noun, it will be capitalized there.

There are certainly more complex situations in which capitalization of common nouns can be used to indicate emphasis or make a point, but unless you are able to capitalize properly in normal, everyday situations, I suggest you step away from the shift key.

Thank you and good night.

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