Yes, you almost certainly already know that the first letters of the first words of sentences are capitalized, as are people’s names; the names of proper places like cities, states, or countries; the names of companies like “Facebook”; the names of sports teams and bands; and the words in the titles of books, movies, and so on.
You may not, however, know some of the trickier rules about capitalization, and those are the ones that the Praxis writing test will ask about. Here’s a rundown of the most common capitalization-related tricks:
- Titles, like “president”: Titles, such as “president,” “mayor,” and so forth, are only capitalized when they are placed before the name of, or used to indicate, a specific president or mayor or what have you. So, you should write “Abraham Lincoln was the 16th president,” but “Everyone knows that President Lincoln wore a stovepipe hat.” If you’re talking about the current president (or mayor, or whomever), you capitalize the word even if the person’s name doesn’t appear in the sentence, because you’re still indicating a specific person: “The President held a press conference this morning.”
The same rule applies for God versus a god: You capitalize “God” when referring to a/the deity with the proper name God, but not when you’re talking about deities in general: “I prayed to God that I would pass the test” versus “Apollo was one of the Greek gods.”
- The names of seasons: Many people are unclear about this, but the rule is that the names of seasons are only capitalized if you are addressing the season directly, as you might in a poem. So, you say “I love the way the leaves change color in the fall,” but “Oh, my beloved Fall, how I love it when your leaves change color!”
- The names of specific regions, even if they are not actual countries: You should capitalize the names of all proper nouns, and that includes geographical areas that are not technically specific countries, cities, and the like: “My uncle frequently travels to the Far East.” You should not, however, capitalize the names of cardinal directions when they’re just used to indicate directions rather than an areas: “My uncle has to fly east to get to the Far East.” You should also not capitalize the “cardinal direction” part of a name when a suffix is attached to it, because that involves a comparison rather than a proper name, with the exception of cases where the cardinal direction with a comparative suffix is part of an actual proper noun: “Many people don’t realize that northern Brazil lies in the Northern Hemisphere.”
- Specific eras in history: The title of a specific period in history, even a slang or unofficial one, is a proper noun and should be capitalized accordingly: “The Disco Era was mercifully short-lived.”