More Capital Questions

by Cherie Tucker

May 2013

Last month we talked about when to capitalize and when not to when using colons.  That caused a lot of questions about other capitalization problems (did you notice “a lot” is two words?).  We talked about some of this a couple of years ago, but here is a review. 

What about and in the title of my novel? What about designations like ex and former?  When are they capitalized, and when do they need hyphens?  Do you capitalize family or professional titles or company divisions? OK, here we go. 

In headings and titles, capitalize every word but these:

• Articles, (a, an, the) unless, of course, they are the first words

• Short conjunctions (think FANBOYS, for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so)

• Short prepositions with fewer than four letters (in, on, with, of, to)

With family references, use capitals if the title is used in address, such as, “Hi, Mom!” or when referring to that person as if using the “title”:

• I’ll ask Mother. (But “Ask your mother.”)

• I want you to meet Uncle Isaac.

• Here come Uncle Ted and Aunt Martha.

If the title is preceded by a possessive pronoun merely to describe your relationship, there is no capital. (He is my uncle Ted.  That was just his cousin Judy, not a date.)   

With designations such as ex-, former, or late, you don’t capitalize them or use hyphens unless the word is attached to the title. (By the way, ex is immediate past; former is pervious to ex.)

• He knew the late President Ford.

• Did you know that former President Clinton has given up hamburgers?

• We were seated with ex-Governor Gregoire at the banquet.

Professional and organizational titles usually go with the big-fish/small-pond rule.  In the minutes of the meeting of your company, you would probably say, “The decision will be left up to the Board of Directors.”  If, on the other hand, you were writing to what the Gregg Reference Manual refers to as “outsiders,” you might say, “The decision will be made by our board of directors.”  Since capitalization rules seem to be more flexible of late, this rule is a good one to follow.  Just be sure that you capitalize equally, never giving more dignity to your organization’s people than the other’s.  Capitalize neither or both, never yours and not theirs.  

And always capitalize The End.

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 Washington’s Editing Certification program and edits as well.