Here are several questions that have come up recently from readers about capitalization, followed by my responses.
1. Are seasons proper nouns?
Although people often capitalize the names of seasons — especially in academic contexts, such as in “Fall Semester” and the like, or in reference to quarterly publications, such as in “the Summer 2013 issue” — they are common nouns and should be lowercase, except as part of proper names (for example, “the Winter Olympics”) or in poetic personification (such as in “when Spring sheds her tears in April”).
2. I am about to write an article about self-publishing, and I am rephrasing my paragraphs to avoid starting the sentence “eBooks are . . . .” However, I am curious to know if a sentence can be started with a lowercase e. (I suppose the same thing could also be said of iPads, too.) Should I write E-books, eBooks, or Ebooks?
The Chicago Manual of Style, the premiere style resource for US publishers, recognizes the ubiquity of such terms and recommends making an exception to the rule of always beginning a sentence with an uppercase letter: “iPads are . . . .”
The Associated Press Stylebook, its equivalent for periodical publications, however, recommends changing a lowercase initial letter to uppercase when it begins a sentence: “IPads are . . . .”
I recast such a sentence if possible but agree with Chicago; the fact that an accommodation needs to be made is unfortunate, but AP’s style is ugly. In this case, though, the question is not a concern, because ebook (or e-book, if you prefer, but not the outdated E-book) is not a proper name; it is equivalent to email (or e-mail). At the beginning of a sentence, treat it like any other first word: “Ebooks are . . . .”
3. Botanical/horticultural names are italicized (because they are Latin) and consist of at least two parts: the genus (capitalized) followed by the species (not capitalized) — for example, Aloe vera. In writing about the genus more widely, then Aloe is often used alone as the family name and is italicized.
But what does one do when the Latin botanical genus name is turned into a plural by adding an s? Then it is English, not Latin. So, presumably, the italics get dropped. But what happens to the capitalization? Is the English variant still capitalized?
Good question. If one writes, for example, “The garden maintains one of the largest and finest collections of aloes outside of Africa,” rather than “The garden maintains one of the largest and finest collections of Aloe outside of Africa,” the English plural form, as indicated in the first variation, should be lowercase.