I am always miffed when I collect a paper, and students forget basic capitalization rules like capitalizing their name. I also get ticked when students misspell their name, but you can refer to this CURSIVE POST for help with that problem. There can be some writing situations that are difficult to know whether or not to capitalize for elementary students, but other things are not.
The students just finished up RESEARCH PAPERS about American businesses. So, I had to have a capitalization rules rant with them. There are some capitalization rules that I think we should all live by and use without being reminded. Capitalizing the name of the company and the company founder a person researched for 2 weeks should happen automatically without any outside assistance. And, as I had to remind my students, auto-correct and spell check won’t catch everything! Below are five common capitalization errors I find frequently in student work.
1) Capitalize “I” by itself
No questions asked, always and forever.
- I should capitalize proper nouns.
- I often forget to capitalize proper nouns.
- My teacher reviewed capitalization, and I listened carefully.
2) Capitalize words that are related to a country name
- I am an American.
- I speak English.
- I love junky Mexican food (and margaritas) on Friday nights.
- We used to refer to Native American people as Indians, but now it correctly means the people who live in India.
3) Capitalize the first word, the last word, and the “important” words in between in titles
Deciding if the middle words in a title should be capitalized can be tricky. When in doubt, count the letters in a word. Words in titles that have 4 or more letters will probably be capitalized (this is a guideline only– the trick won’t work for every short word).
- Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
- The Phantom of the Opera
- The New York Times
- The Statue of Liberty
- Cornelia and the Audacious Escapades of the Somerset Sisters
4) Always capitalize the first word in a sentence
No other words in the middle of the sentence should be capitalized unless they meet the “proper noun” criteria. Proper nouns are the words that name a particular person, place, or organization. Proper nouns name a specific, one-of-a-kind item.
5) When should you capitalize “Mom” and “Dad”?
In some situations, capitalize the words “mom” and “dad”. Students write these words a lot, so they should be familiar with the capitalization policy for their parents. When a person uses “mom” and “dad” like a first name, and the words could be replaced with a first name like Jennifer or Scott, capitalize. If the words describe a person that is like many other people, do not capitalize.
- I did my homework, and Mom checked my assignment book.
- I did my homework, and my mom checked my assignment book.
- After dinner, Dad played basketball with me.
- After dinner, my friend’s dad played basketball with us.
Up next… whether or not to underline titles or put them in quotation marks. Is that a problem for anyone else? We had to have a class discussion about that too. Visit THIS POST for student tips about using titles correctly.
I would normally let this one slide right off my grammarphile’s back, but this is a post about words, punctuation, and pet peeves, right? One of my pet peeves is use of “refer back.” “Refer” means to look back, so isn’t it redundant to refer back?
I had to do a little research because I thought it was (is?) acceptable. Here is what I learned… Some people feel it is redundant. Others feel “refer back” lets the reader know that you are directing them (the refer part) to something that has been mentioned before (the back part)– not just directing them to other information. I have to admit, I was in a little bit of a panic that I had a major grammar misstep in the post. According to my Google sources, it is acceptable both ways. That could have been embarrassing. 🙂
Phew! (And though I know it’s wrong, I always want to spell that, “Pfew!”) I do feel better knowing it’s acceptable. Now for a BIG one that came up on Facebook today: how do you feel about the Oxford comma?
I am almost afraid to answer… I do use it, and I tell students to put a comma before the and in a series (red, blue, and green balloons). I also tell them that it is possible to see lists without a comma before the and. Whichever comma choice they make, they have to be consistent every time they use commas in a series of words. What did Facebook say?
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