Capital letters such as A, B, C are sometimes termed upper case, and small letters such as a, b, c are sometimes called lower case. Below are some general guidelines on when to use capital letters.

Names and titles: specific or general?

As a rule of thumb, use an initial capital letter for the name or title of a specific person, thing or place, and a small letter for more general terms. Compare the following examples:


Elizabeth Smith is the William Shakespeare Professor of English at University College London.
She works near Senate House and often visits the British Library.


John Jones is a professor at a college in London.
He lives in a large house in north London opposite a library.

There is a choice between greater use of capitals, as below:

She has been at the University for a number of years; first in the Linguistics Department, then at the Language Institute.

And lesser use of capitals:

She has been at the university for a number of years; first in the linguistics department, then at the language institute.

As always, follow any conventions or guidelines for your subject or publication and be consistent throughout your text. As mentioned at the beginning of the PhraseBook, it is often useful to compile a style sheet for your text listing the words that you do or do not capitalize.

Titles of parts of your work

Similarly, decide whether to refer to chapters, figures, tables etc. with capitals or small letters. This too will often depend on the normal style of your target publication.

Initial capital letters

see Chapter 1
see Volume 2
see Section 3
see Table 4.5
see Figure 6.7

Small letters

see chapter 1
see volume 2
see section 3
see table 4.5
see figure 6.7


Titles, both in your own work and in references to other work, can be written either with all main words beginning with a capital letter, or with only the first word of the title and names beginning with a capital letter. As above, your choice also depends on any guidelines for publication and the usual style in your subject.

All main words begin with a capital letter

Romeo and Juliet
A Vindication of the Rights of Woman
Journal of Researches into the Geology and Natural History of the Various Countries Visited by H.M.S. Beagle

Minor words that are not capitalized (unless the first word of the title) include:

is, are
a, an, the
and, but, if, or, nor
in, on, of, to, at, for, with, by, about

Only the first word and names begin with a capital letter

Romeo and Juliet
A vindication of the rights of woman
Journal of researches into the geology and natural history of the various countries visited by H.M.S. Beagle

In a bibliography, one common style is to use initial capitals for main words of book and journal titles, but to capitalize only the first word and names of paper titles, for example:

Wollstonecraft, Mary (1792) A Vindication of the Rights of Woman.
Smith, Elizabeth (2014) A whole new ball game: a recent discovery in Meso-America, Journal of the Culture of Sport, pp. 12–34.