I don’t want my readers to get too rusty over the summer, but this isn’t the season to throw a tricky quiz at you either. So let’s revisit the fairly straightforward issue of capitalization, a subject we first addressed in November (http://www.normfriedman.com/blog/promiscuous-capitalization/).
In the following quiz, every word that could potentially trip us up has an initial cap. Decide which ones should be changed to lowercase.
1. We have a busy day of touring planned on Thursday: The White House, Capitol, and FBI Building.
2. You ought to contact your Senator, Molly Morrison, to see if her staff can expedite your Passport application.
3. Our niece missed the outing to the Fire Department because she was in Summer School.
4. We kiddingly call Junior a Yankee because most of our family lives in the South.
5. We had to read Heart Of Darkness Second Semester of Freshman year.
6. Instead of looking up the symptoms of Whooping Cough on the Internet, you should contact your Doctor if you’re concerned.
7. The Stevenson Moving Van collided with a taxi at the intersection of Monroe and Main Streets.
8. At the Staff Symposium we’re featuring Helen Harris, our CEO, and Henry Hamilton, our Treasurer.
1. We have a busy day of touring planned on Thursday: the White House, Capitol, and FBI building. Sometimes we follow a colon with a complete sentence, requiring an initial cap in the first word. But here the part after the colon is not a sentence, so we want “the.” The White House and the Capitol are the official names of those buildings, so we want uppercase, but “FBI building” is not the official name, so the “b” is lowercase. (The “b” is uppercase in the actual name: J. Edgar Hoover F.B.I. Building.)
2. You ought to contact your senator, Molly Morrison, to see if her staff can expedite your passport application. We need to capitalize titles when they directly precede names, without any punctuation. (I sent my request to Senator Molly Morrison.) Here, “senator” should be lowercase because of the comma, but a minority of publications and many businesses always use uppercase for titles, so if you work where uppercase rules, you’re probably wise to conform. The other change is “passport” – not a proper name.
3. Our niece missed the outing to the fire department because she was in summer school. If we had written the official name (“Boise Fire Department”), we’d want initial caps, but here we’re being general. And “summer school” is certainly not a proper name.
4. We kiddingly call Junior a yankee because most of our family lives in the South. “Junior” isn’t the fellow’s real name, but it’s what we call him, so uppercase is right. And if he were a New York Yankee, “Yankee” would be a proper name, needing an initial cap, but here we just mean he’s a northerner. “South” is not capitalized in “go south two miles,” but here we are referring to a region of the country. Its name is “the South.”
5. We had to read Heart of Darkness second semester of freshman year. In titles minor words like “of” are lowercase unless they are the first or last word. “Second semester” and “freshman” are not proper names.
6. Instead of looking up the symptoms of whooping cough on the Internet, you should contact your doctor if you’re concerned. Most diseases are not proper names (but note the mixed capitalization in “Alzheimer’s disease”). We see “Internet” with an initial cap and without, but most writers and editors consider it a proper name. And “doctor,” without a name affixed to it, is lowercase unless we’re using it as a name substitute, as in “How are you doing, Doctor?”
7. The Stevenson moving van collided with a taxi at the intersection of Monroe and Main streets. “Moving van” is lowercase because it’s not part of the company name. And while “Monroe Street” and “Main Street” are correct, “streets” is not part of a proper name. We’re simply saying that Monroe and Main are both streets.
8. At the staff symposium we’re featuring Helen Harris, our CEO, and Henry Hamilton, our treasurer. Most likely, the event has not been branded as the “Staff Symposium,” so that’s not a proper name. “CEO,” even though it does not precede the name, gets uppercase because that is standard for titles presented as abbreviations. And “treasurer” follows the name and is lowercase.
Disclaimer: Apparently, some experts distinguish between the terms “proper name” and “proper noun.” That seemed too technical for me, and I just went with “proper name” throughout. Forgive me.
In addition to presenting workshops on writing in the workplace, Norm Friedman is a writer, editor, and writing coach. His 100+ Instant Writing Tips is a brief “non-textbook” to help individuals overcome common writing errors and write with more finesse and impact. Learn more at http://www.normfriedman.com/index.shtml.