(Translated from Spanish by our interns.)
Today we will talk about an important subject for every professional translator no matter which languages they work with: Spanish, English, German, French, etc. Have you ever wondered if you were using capital letters correctly? I am sure you have.
Last week we talked about orthotypography and punctuation marks. This week we are going to talk about another aspect of orthotypography: capitalization.
The rules of capitalization in English are complicated and they have changed over time. Nowadays, if we want to check whether we should capitalize a word or not, we have to turn to style guides and house styles. The rules may vary from one style guide to another, though – in this case, it is important to be consistent with the use of capital letters, at least within the same document.
However, we can give you some general rules about when should you capitalize a word.
– The singular first-person pronoun “I” should always be in a capital letter.
– The names of people, places and words relating to them: America, American, Shakespeare.
– Nouns and pronouns referring to God and Jesus Christ: Thy name, what He has done, the Almighty.
– At the beginning of a sentence (We went to the post office. It was back down the street.), and the first word in any quoted sentence: Quentin said, “Don’t you worry.”
– The names of days of the week and months.
– The names of languages and demonyms: English, Arabic, Arab.
– The noun following the proper name of a street, whether or not it is abbreviated: Baker St., Oxford Street.
– In the titles of books, films, organizations, etc. we should capitalize every main word but not the connecting words such as a, an, the, or, and, etc.: European Union, Pride and Prejudice, Christmas Day.
– In abbreviations, when we use the first letter of the abbreviated words, every letter should be a capital letter: USA (United States of America), BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation).
– Acronyms have historically been written in all-caps, but British usage is moving towards capitalizing only the first letter in cases when these are pronounced as words: Unesco, Nato.
– Most brand names and trademarks are capitalized (Coca-Cola, Amazon), although we have to be careful since some of them have chosen not to follow this rule: eBay, iPod.
– In legal English, we should capitalize terms that refer to a specific entity: Tenant. Also, terms that are defined elsewhere in the document or a related document are capitalized, even when they are comprised of several words: the Agreed Release Date.
– Most honorifics and titles of persons: Sir, Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Hyde.
– The capitalization of geographical terms depends on whether the author perceives the term as a proper noun (Canary Islands) or as a combination of a proper noun with a normal noun or adjective (river Thames). In general, the first letter of well-defined regions is capitalized (South America), but in other cases it is not (western Australia, lower Hudson River).
– Adjectives derived from proper nouns are usually capitalized: Christian church, Scottish whisky.
These are some general rules on capitalization in English. Nevertheless, since there is not only one style guide, it is advisable, as we explained above, to choose a style guide – or ask your client which style guide they want you to use – and stick to it. I hope you enjoyed this little typographical and orthotypographical reminder.
Have a good (and orthotypographical error-free) day! 🙂
Nereida Sologuren for TB
(Content edited by Laura D. Aguirre)
Translation Boutique, tailor-made linguistic services