3 Answers to Questions About Capitalization

By Mark Nichol

Here are my responses to readers about questions regarding whether to use uppercase or lowercase letters in certain contexts.

1. Would you write, “I study algebra,” or “I study Algebra”? “I’m enrolled in algebra II,” or “I’m enrolled in Algebra II”? Is the following sentence correct? “The school offers algebra, French, physics, Spanish, Geometry, and english.”

When you refer to an academic subject, write, for example, “I study algebra.” (Capitalize only names of languages and other proper nouns.) However, when the reference is to a course in which an academic subject is taught, write, for example, “I’m enrolled in Algebra II.” The terms in this revision of your final sample sentence are styled correctly: “The school offers algebra, French, physics, Spanish, geometry, and English.” See also the first item in this post.

2. One of our counties considers itself “the birthplace of prohibition.” My question is whether prohibition should be capitalized. I’ve seen it done that way before but can’t remember if it may have been only in the context of references to the era or the Eighteenth Amendment.”

When referring to the principle rather than the era or the legislation, I’d lowercase the word: “The nonpartisan organization focused on the single issue of prohibition.” But in reference to the specific US government policy during the 1930s (or any other similar official policy in another country), capitalize the term. And if the county actually markets itself with the slogan “The Birthplace of Prohibition,” acknowledge that epithet by writing, “The county considers itself the ‘Birthplace of Prohibition’”).

3. What are the rules for saying something starts with a capital letter? Which one is correct: “The word God has a capital G,” or “The word God has a capital g”?

No resource I know of refers to this specific point about naming a letter as a letter, so in this case I must defer to usage. “The word God has a capital G” may seem redundant, but that’s the prevailing style. Otherwise, when the reference is not specifically to an uppercase letter, the lowercase form should be used.

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