A Capital Idea
by Cherie Tucker
Ours is a fluid language, and the flood of technological upgrades is
speeding changes even faster. Rules that used to be unquestioned are
now reduced to mere suggestions. In the world of capitalization,
things have become quite challenging. Of course beginning sentences
with capitals remains unchanged, as well as referring to yourself
with a capital I. There are some new twists, however, in situations
that might confuse you.
Family members deserve our love and respect, but they donít always
get capitalized. If you are writing about or to
relatives and refer to them by title, use capitals.
I spoke with Mother and Uncle
Jeff about that just yesterday.
Dad, itís exactly what I wanted.
On the other hand, simply referring to your relative requires no
to my mother about it when I get home.
brother always took the biggest cookie.
Her mom will pick the kids up after practice.
High-ranking people in state, national, or international positions
require capitalization of their titles when those titles follow or
stand in for the name of the official.
Here is Susan Smith, Governor of Utopia, to
present the award.
Be sure you
curtsey when presented to the Queen.
Donít worry, Iím sure the Pope wonít offer
you his ring to kiss.
There is a trend now, however, not to capitalize these titles when
used after the name or in place of it, and it this trend that causes
the confusion. In these instances, I suggest you use the
big-fish-small-pond method of capitalization. If your audience
would consider this position to be important, then capitalize it.
If the wider audience would not give the position the same
deference, use lower case. For example, titles of state and local
government or organizational officials and job titles are not
generally capitalized. However, when using these titles in writing,
you must consider the status your audience gives the position.
PTA newsletter: Our President
represented us at the protest.
newspaper: Among the protesters was the president of the
newspaper: The Mayor cut the ribbons for the new plaza.
National press: The mayor was on
hand to cut the ribbon.
One caution: Whichever case you use for one person in a piece, use
it for all.
I met with the mayor and the king.
Itís the polite thing to do.
Cherie Tucker, owner of GrammarWorks, has taught writing basics to
professionals since 1987, presenting at the PNWA conference.
She currently teaches Practical Grammar for Editors at the
University of Washingtonís Editing Certification program and edits