Business English Quick Tips: capital letters

Business English Quick Tips

Quick tips to help you write better for business

If you need to write for your job or business in English, these quick tips will help you succeed…

Ah, this is another old favorite amongst members of the grammar police!

No matter how important you think nouns may be, there’s no need to give them a capital first letter unless they are “proper” nouns, which are official names and titles including those of:

  • People
  • Nationalities
  • Geographical and astronomy entities
  • Continents
  • Countries
  • Cities, towns and villages
  • Companies and brands
  • Other organizations
  • Monuments
  • Train stations, airports, etc.
  • Historical events and periods
  • Religions
  • Vehicles
  • Months and days of the week
  • Etc.

Remember that just because a word seems important to you and so deserves a capital letter, it probably isn’t as important to others, so just keep it all in lower case unless there are proper nouns involved.

Words you often see capitalized, that shouldn’t be

The following are considered “common nouns” and shouldn’t have a capital letter (unless they are the first word in a sentence of course…)

  • Spring, summer, autumn/fall and winter
  • Mother, father, sister, brother (except when that is the proper name you use for them)
  • Parent, child, son, daughter
  • Manager, director, officer (when used as a generic term)
  • Sales, marketing, public relations, advertising, etc.
  • School, university, building, headquarters
  • Etc.

Capitals in headlines and titles

I know that right now it’s fashionable to capitalise every word in a headline or title but trust me, it’s hard to read and very irritating. Do yourself a favour and capitalise only proper nouns and the key words of a headline, if you must, but even that can look awkward (see below).

Titles – e.g. book titles – are a little different. There are various arguments being flung around in literary circles about how to approach this one…

Some purists say that every word of a title should be capitalized and that’s fine if the title is short, e.g.

Business Writing Made Easy

But that becomes a nightmare (reminds me of a field full of wind turbines) when you have a longer title, e.g.

Banana Skin Words And How Not To Slip On Them

Other purists will put forward a garbled mixture of capitalized and non-capitalized words for titles based on “important” words like nouns, verbs, pronouns, adverbs and adjectives having capitals but short words like articles, conjunctions and prepositions without capitals. So you then get an even uglier mixture:

Banana Skin Words and How Not to Slip on Them

Another approach is to use all capitals for a short title:

BUSINESS WRITING MADE EASY

Which is fine, but gets a bit overwhelming with a longer title:

POWERWRITING: THE HIDDEN SKILLS YOU NEED TO TRANSFORM YOUR BUSINESS WRITING

My own view is that common sense should prevail and given that book and other document titles have a burning need to attract potential readers, we need to make them as visually appealing as possible and to hell with the traditional grammatically correct rules. So here is how my book titles were done in their final forms:

Banana Skin Words and how not to slip on them

POWERWRITING: the hidden skills you need to transform your business writing

BUSINESS WRITING MADE EASY 

For a really useful 200-page guide to business writing in English, check out “Business Writing Made Easy” – you’ll find it very, very helpful! Click here

And for something a bit different, try the exercises associated with this article in my “30 Day Business Writing Challenge” – Click here

More in a few days … and if you have any questions about business writing in English please add them here in the comments section; I will try to answer them as well as I can!

Suze

Comments

comments

Thoughts

  1. Thank you, Suzan! I would also add that titles used before a name are capitalized. For example: My uncle is coming to dinner. My Uncle Ned is coming to dinner. or The president is in town. Next week, President Obama will be in town. (I’m from the US!) Anyway, thank you for your post.

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