June 1, 2016

In honor of the Associated Press Stylebook changes on capitalizing internet and web (lowercase starting today), here are some other guidelines for capitalization. One rule of thumb to guide you: In general, avoid unnecessary capitals.

Proper and Common Nouns

  • Capitalize proper nouns and proper names: John, Mary, Nelson, Facebook.
  • Capitalize common nouns such as party, river and street when part of a proper name: Democratic Party, Ohio River, Poynter Street.
  • Lowercase common nouns when they stand alone: the party, the river, the street. Lowercase the common noun element of names in all plural uses: the Democratic and Republican parties, Nelson and Poynter streets, lakes Erie and Ontario.


  • In general, capitalize formal titles used directly before a name. Lowercase and spell out when not used with an individual name: The president issued a statement.
  • Use lowercase at all times for terms that are job descriptions rather than formal titles. Note that first lady is a courtesy title and is never capitalized.

Taken from Cleaning Your Copy: Grammar, Style and More, a self-directed course at Poynter NewsU.

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Vicki Krueger has worked with The Poynter Institute for more than 20 years in roles from editor to director of interactive learning and her current…
Vicki Krueger

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