Capital letters

One of the most common errors in essay writing is the misuse of capital (upper case) letters. Students tend to use capital letters for everything that feels important to them. Excessive capitalisation is distracting and confusing for the reader, and is often just incorrect punctuation. On the other hand, lack of necessary capitalisation can appear disrespectful.

INCORRECT: British and Irish English dialects influenced aboriginal English.

CORRECT: The British and Irish English influenced Aboriginal English.

Also, capitalisation should not be used for emphasis in your formal academic writing (use underlining or italics for that). The main rules for using capitals are:

Grammar checkers will flag omission of capital letters for the beginning of sentences and for some more common names (e.g. ‘Suzie’ but is unable to tell you that ‘prudence’ is a word as well as a name). They will not flag unnecessary capitalisation (e.g. ‘The Road to Happiness is healthy living’). It is best to learn the rules of correct capitalisation and carefully proofread your essays.

Capitalise the first word in a sentence

The first word after a full stop is capitalised. Also, the first word of a direct quotation is capitalised, if the quotation is a complete sentence.

Interstellar space travel will not be seen by this generation. This is too far into the future.

Jean-Paul Sartre penned the immortal words: “Hell is other people”.

The news commentator described the protesters as “thugs”.

Capitalise personal names and their titles

Capitalise all personal names (real or fictitious, nickname or substitute for a name, animal or thing). Also, capitalise people’s official or religious titles when accompanied by their names, but use lower case for the generic name (e.g. ‘Everyone has a favourite aunt or uncle.’). Always capitalise the personal pronoun ‘I’.

After the American elections, I watched President Obama’s speech with Dad.

I invited Uncle Bob to meet my husband. My mother came too.

Louis XVI was King of France and was the only French king to be executed.

Three prime ministers attended the conference, including Prime Minister Pitt.


Capitals are used for calendar items, such as days of the week, months of the year and special days. They are not used for seasons.

In Australia, December is in the summer so it does not snow at Christmas.

I hope New Years Day falls on Friday this year.

My friend is training for the Winter Olympics. She will train through summer and autumn.


Capitals are used for geographical names but not for directions unless part of a distinctive region.

My sister lives in Brisbane which is on the east coast of southern Queensland.

The students were mostly from South East Asia and the Middle East.


Capitals are used for nationality, ethnic groups and religions. The words indigenous and aboriginal are not capitalised when they mean ‘native to’ in a general sense; however, you must capitalise these words when referring to specific Indigenous peoples.

The term ‘Indigenous Australians’ includes Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders.

Colonialism resulted in the impoverishment of indigenous people all over the globe.

The non-Christian religions in Australia include Judaism, Buddhism and Islam.


The names of disciplines are not capitalised unless it is a language or a study course name is followed by a number.

I study education, sociology, history, French and Latin.

Those who take Sociology 101 will be tested this Friday.

I taught a composite Kindergarten and Year 1 class for my practicum. Luckily, they were all Stage 1.


Capitals are used for distinctive historical periods.

Many children worked in the coal mines during the Industrial Revolution.

The story of Robin Hood originates in Medieval England.


The words sun, moon and earth are not capitalised unless the word is used in an astronomical context. All planets and stars are proper nouns and start with capital letters.

The planet Earth orbits the Sun, and the Moon orbits the Earth.

Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.

The largest moons of Jupiter are Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto.


The names of institutions and government departments are proper nouns and require capitalisation. If the title starts with the, the definite article typically starts with lower case. Generic words for institutions do not require capitalisation.

The University of New England is a five-star university for student experience.

Tom was born in the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney in the summer of 1978.

The Labor Party promised more funding to hospitals, schools and universities.

Back to top of page

Use minimal and maximal capitalisation styles

Minimal capitalisation (sentence style)

Only the first word and proper nouns are capitalised.

The silence of the lambs

Capital cities of Australia and New Zealand

Maximal capitalisation (headline style)

A capital letter is used for the first word and every significant word (i.e. words such as a, the, of, an, or, in are not capitalised).

the Silence of the Lambs Capital Cities of Australia and New Zealand

There are special rules for using capitals in the reference list for APA references

Minimal capitalisation (sentence style) is used for the titles of all reference list information sources except for the titles of journal articles.Capitalise only the first word, the first word after a colon (:) or em dash (—), and proper nouns that normally require capitalisation (e.g. names of people, places, etc.).

Wong, D.S. (2007). New horizons in critical thinking: Engaging the modern Australian student. London, UK: Hodges & Stones.

Maximal capitalisation (headline style) is used only for italicised titles of journals. The first letter of every major word in the journal title should be capitalised—conjunctions, articles and short prepositions are not considered major words. The first word after a colon (:) is always capitalised.

Suzuki, T. & Dillon, P. (2001). Working patterns in Australia: A new approach, Australian Journal of Applied Economics, 23(5), 34-40.

Back to top of page

Download a print friendly version of this content.