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Everyday English 1
Everyday English 1

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5.1 Capital letters

Capital letters are the ‘large’ versions of the 26 letters of the alphabet. Some letters change shape as a capital – A instead of a, B instead of b. However, some do not; they are just a larger version: C instead of c, K instead of k.

Capitals are also known as upper-case letters, while the smaller, standard versions are known as lower-case letters.

It is very important that when you use a capital letter, it is clear that it is a capital letter. For those letters that change their shape it is usually obvious. When only the size changes, you have to be careful. You may be forgiven for using capitals incorrectly in everyday writing, but in an exam you will lose marks. Also, like spelling errors, mistakes often mean that the reader will assume you either don’t know the rules or can’t be bothered to get them right.

The basic rules for capital letters are quite straightforward: use them at the start of sentences and for names (also called proper nouns).

You must use them at the start of sentences – this is very important. You should usually use them for proper nouns, although there are exceptions to this. It is more and more common for companies to use lower case at the start of their name. This is particularly common with online companies like ebay and also applies to some companies’ products such as Apple’s iPhone. Sometimes the only option is to check a written version of a name and copy that.

So, to summarise: capitals must be used at the start of sentences and they must be used for proper nouns (David, Birmingham, Scotland, Monday), but it is always worth checking! ‘I’ always needs a capital letter, wherever it appears in the sentence. Abbreviations – such as the OU, the BBC, the UK – also need capitals.

Finally, the best guideline to go by is that if you are unsure don’t use them. Follow the rules above and you should be accurate most of the time. Too many capitals rather than too few is more likely to suggest to the reader that you don’t know what you are doing.

The table below gives a summary of when capitals are needed.

When to use capitals
Type of wordExamples
Names of peopleDavid Beckham, J. K. Rowling
Names of placesManchester, Cardiff, Scotland
Days of the weekMonday, Tuesday
Names of monthsJanuary, February
To start a sentenceUsually I take the bus.
I Sometimes I go by train.

Activity 33 What needs a capital?

In the box below, write the following sentences, putting in capital letters where necessary:

  • j. k. rowling wrote harry potter.

  • david beckham played for manchester united.

  • cardiff is in wales.

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Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).


Your sentences should look like this:

  • J. K. Rowling wrote the Harry Potter books.

  • David Beckham played for Manchester United.

  • Cardiff is in Wales.