Though priorities change, and there are always ups and downs, writing can show its values and often respect by its use of capitalization.
Proper nouns and adjectives are always capitalized (Robert, Europe, Shakespearean).
In a geographical name, we should capitalize the first letter of each word except articles (a, an, the) and prepositions (North American, the Gulf of Finland).
A common noun that is part of a name is capitalized (New York State, Salt Lake City). If a common noun is used to define or refer to a proper noun, it is not capitalized (the state of New York, the city of Salt Lake).
A word modified by a proper adjective is not capitalized unless the adjective and noun are a geographical term (English Channel, English accent). One should capitalize names of sections of the country but not directions of the compass: Cotton was king of the South; Ashland is south of Medford.
Always capitalize languages, races, nationalities and religions: the Italian heritage; Judaism; Catholics.
Do not capitalize the names of school subjects except for specific course names. However, languages are always capitalized (history, Algebra II, French).
Capitalize important words in the names of organizations, firms or buildings. Do not capitalize and or prepositions. Capitalize an article only if it is the first word (Pittsburgh Symphony, North Medford High, University of Oregon). In brand names, the common name is not capitalized (Crest toothpaste).
Capitalize words of rank, office or profession when used with a name (Captain Ray, Rabbi Kahn, Judge Leo).
Family relationships earn a capital if used with the name: Uncle Walt; Cousin Alicelynn.
Capitalize the first word and all important words in titles of books, stories, songs, etc. The only words not capitalized are conjunctions, articles and prepositions with fewer than five letters ("Death of a Salesman," “To Build a Fire”).
Capitalize days of the week and months of the year, but not seasons, unless these are personified, as in poetry.
Use capitals for the names of historical events, documents and periods (WWII, the Constitution, the Reconstruction).
And speaking of history, that brings us full circle. It may seem I am digging way back in history for these rules regarding capitalization, but following the rules will keep you on a correct path, with sure enough footing that you can entertain new thoughts. As Tom Sawyer would say, “What a ‘capital’ idea.”
— Sandi Ekberg taught high school English in Medford for 30 years. If you have grammar questions, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.