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When Do You Capitalize Terms about Time?

You use terms about time to describe historical events and eras, to distinguish morning from afternoon, and to write about the season of the year. But what do you capitalize if you want to impress your English grammar teacher?

Capitalizing historical events and eras

This story of Jane’s adventures should make the rules concerning the capitalization of historic events and eras easy.

Jane entered her time machine and set the dial for the Middle Ages. Because of a tiny glitch in the power supply, Jane instead ended up right in the middle of the Industrial Revolution. Fortunately for Jane, the Industrial Revolution did not involve a real war. Jane still shudders when she remembers her brief stint in the Civil War. She is simply not cut out to be a fighter, especially not a fighter in the nineteenth century. On the next Fourth of July, Jane plans to fly the bullet-ridden flag she brought back from the Battle of Gettysburg.

Capitalize the names of specific time periods and events but not general words. Hence

  • Capitals: Middle Ages, Industrial Revolution, Civil War, Fourth of July, Battle of Gettysburg

  • Lowercase: war, nineteenth century

Some grammarians capitalize Nineteenth Century because they see it as a specific time period. Others say that you should lowercase numbered centuries.

Can you correct the capitalization in this paragraph?

Jane has never met Marie Antoinette, but Jane is quite interested in the French revolution. With her trusty time-travel machine, Jane tried to arrive in the Eighteenth Century, just in time for Bastille Day. However, once again she missed her target and landed in the middle of the first crusade.

Here is the answer, with explanations in parentheses:

Jane has never met Marie Antoinette, but Jane is quite interested in the French Revolution. (Capitalize the name of a war.) With her trusty time-travel machine, Jane tried to arrive in the eighteenth century, (Optional, but most grammarians write numbered centuries in lower case.) just in time for Bastille Day. (Correct. Capitalize the names of important days.) However, once again she missed her target and landed in the middle of the First Crusade. (Capitalize the name of the war.)

Capitalizing seasons

Lochness hates the summer because of all the tourists who try to snap pictures of what he calls “an imaginary monster.” He’s been known to roar something about “winter’s peaceful mornings,” even though he never wakes up before 3 p.m.

After reading the preceding example, you can probably figure out this rule. Write the seasons of the year in lowercase, as well as the times of day.

Some books tell you to capitalize the abbreviations for morning and afternoon (A.M. and P.M.) and some specify lowercase (a.m. and p.m.). So no matter what you do, half your readers will think you’re right (the good news) and half will think you’re wrong (the bad news). Your best bet is to check with the authority overseeing your writing. If you’re the authority, do what you wish.

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