The basic rule when it comes to capitalisation is of course that we must use a capital letter to begin every sentence. However, it becomes more complex when using numbers, abbreviations, proper nouns, and so on. It is important to note that the interpretation of punctuation rules can vary, which is reflected in different reference styles and publication guidelines. The rules supplied in the following are based on Straus' Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation and Svartvik & Sager's Engelsk universitetsgrammatik.

The rules and generalisations included below do not contain everything that any writer might ever need to know, but should cover most of what writers of academic English need to know.

This section on capitalisation deals with the following topics:

Names and titles

Names and words formed from names and people and their titles are capitalised in English:

(1) Dr Tomas Lind; Mr Tomas Lind; Tomas Lind, MA; Tomas Lind, MD; Tomas Lind, PhD; Mrs Anna Persson; Ms Anna Persson; Miss Anne Johansson; Sir Henry Thomas; Governor Jones; Auntie Jill and Uncle Ian; Professor Lindström; Major Barker; Alexander the Great (Note: the is not capitalised); the Elizabethan Age; a Christian civilisation; Buddhist philosophy       

A Swedish perspective: Names and titles (click to expand/contract)

In Swedish, such words are normally not capitalised, unless they appear at the beginning of a sentence.

Titles are not capitalised when they refer to one person in a larger class:

(2) He is a professor at the university. (indicating one of many professors)

(3) She is a director in the company. (indicating one of many directors)

Geographical names

Geographical names and words derived from geographical names are capitalised in English.

(4) Paris, France, French cuisine, Bombay, India, Indian culture, Ghana, Afro-Americans, Montreal, Canada, Canadian students, Asia, Asian studies, the United States, the U.S. policy, the United Kingdom, British traditions

The word the is normally not capitalised when it is part of a geographical name, as some of the examples above illustrate. 

A Swedish perspective: Geographical names (click to expand/contract)

In Swedish, geographical names are capitalised, but not the words derived from them, so Swedish has Frankrike 'France', but det franska köket 'French cuisine' and Hon talar franska 'She speaks French'.

Words in titles of books, etc.

When you write titles of books, magazines, articles, short stories, compositions, plays, movies, television shows, etc, all content words are typically capitalised, while an articles, a conjunction, or a preposition is not capitalised, unless it is the first word of the title:

(5) The Advanced Learner's Dictionary (a book)

(6) A Dictionary of Medical Terms (a book)

(7) An Act of Bravery (an article)

(8) Learning by Doing (an article)

(9) Metaphors in Discourse (an article)

(10) The Marriage of Figaro (an opera)

(11) The Times (a newspaper)

(12) Time (a magazine)

A Swedish perspective: Books, operas, etc. (click to expand/contract)

This is not how it is done in Swedish. Normally, words in Swedish titles are not capitalised, except for the first word of the title, and words that are always capitalised, regardless of where they appear, such as proper nouns (i.e. names). This means that we get, for instance, Figaros bröllop 'The Marriage of Figaro', and not Figaros Bröllop

When foreign titles appear (not translated) in a Swedish context, the usage varies. Sometimes the Swedish model is used, but sometimes the title appears as it would have appeared its original context, so that a title in English is capitalised in accordance with the rules given in the main text.  

Names of university courses

We are supposed to capitalise names of particular university courses, but not the name of the discipline, unless it is a language:

(13) Lars is taking Chemistry III this term.

(14) Have you registered for Law L20?

(15) She is writing a paper for her world history course.

(16) Many universities require students to take courses in English literature.

In the last example, English is capitalised, because nationality words are capitalised in English, but literature is not capitalised, because it is not the name of a specific course.

Religious names

Names of religions, religious bodies, and the words used to refer to people who belong to these religions are capitalised, and so are the corresponding adjectives and names of divinities:

(17) Christian/Christendom/Christianity

(18) Jew/Jewish/Judaism

(19) Muslim/Islamic/Islamitic/Islam

(20) Hindu/Hinduism

(21) God (but gods if plural)

(22) the First Baptist Church

(23) Mormon

(24) St. John's Lutheran Church

(25) Protestant

(26) Allah

A Swedish perspective: Religious names and complex proper nouns (click to expand/contract)

Such words are not capitalised in Swedish, unless they can be regarded as proper nouns, which is the case with Gud 'God' (in a Christian context) and Allah (at least in a Muslim context, or a context in which Muslims and Islam are discussed).

When it comes to what we could call proper nouns consisting of more than one word, normal Swedish usage is to capitalise the first words, but not the others, unless they would be capitalised in any context. This is a general rule, which is not only true of proper nouns to do with religion.

This means that in Swedish, we get not only Johannes döparen 'John the Babtist' and Katolska kyrkan 'the Catholic Church', but also Lunds universitet 'Lund University' and (at least sometimes) Svenska fotbollförbundet 'the Swedish Football Association'.

As is well-known, Sweden and the Swedish language are both much influenced by English and the big English-speaking countries. It is therefore not suprising to note that there appears to be a tendency in Swedish to copy the English rules here, so that Lunds universitet becomes Lunds Universitet, for instance, but so far, this change is far from complete, so the general rule stated here still applies.    

Dates, months, etc.

Dates, months, days of the week, holidays, historic periods and events are normally capitalised, but not the names of the seasons:

(27) January, February, etc.

(28) Sunday, Monday, etc.

(29) New Year's Day

(30) Thanksgiving

(31) Easter

(32) Passover ('Jewish Easter')

(33) the Middle Ages

(34) the Civil War

(35) The warmest months are in the summer.

(36) Many allergies arise during spring.

(37) There is a dramatic difference between autumn (BrE)/fall (US) and winter months in some countries.

The word the in expressions such as the Middle Ages is normally not capitalised.

A Swedish perspective: Dates, months, holidays (click to expand/contract)

These types of words are not normally capitalised in Swedish texts, that is, in Swedish we find januari 'January', torsdag 'Thursday', nyårsafton 'New Year's Eve', and medeltiden 'the Middle Ages'. 

One exception to this general rule could be when such a word is regarded as a name (proper noun) denoting something that does not exist in Swedish society (at least not in the same way), but which Swedes have become aware of, for instance through television. Such an example would be Thanksgiving

Astronomical names

The names of the planets, stars, and constellations are capitalised:

(38) Jupiter    Venus    Gemini    Mars    Saturn    Orion   

However, we do not capitalise earth, moon, or sun.

Outlines, lists & legends

We capitalise the first word of every point of an outline, a list or the legend of a map.


Here is an example of what this could look like:


3 Material and method

 3.1 Corpora

3.1.1 On the use of corpora in linguistic research

3.1.2 Corpora used PAROLE BNC

3.2 Creating appropriate databases

3.2.1 Further reductions and divisions of my databases Parsing errors Direct modification Negation and negative polarity

  items Passives

3.3 Linguistic intuition and informants

3.4 Concluding remarks


(adapted from Beijer, 2005)

The cardinal points

We should capitalise north, south, east, and west and words and componds derived/formed from them when referring to recognised specific regions or when these words are part of a proper noun, but not when north, south, east, and west and words or componds formed or derived from them are used to refer to directions:

(39) They holiday in [the South].

(40) [The Northeast] has severe storm warnings tonight.

(41) Professor James is an expert on [the Middle East].

(42) Mr. and Mrs. Jones go east every summer.

(43) Kiruna is north of Stockholm and Malmö is south of it.

(44) [Western Australia] and [South Australia] are west of [New South Wales].

(45) The language section is along the north end of the main library.

(46) When you come to the next corner, turn left and drive east for three kilometres

A Swedish perspective: Cardinal Points (click to expand/contract)

In Swedish, the corresponding words are only capitalised when they are the first part of a proper noun compound. These proper noun compounds can be of two types. The first type is proper noun compounds that are written as one word. Examples include Sydsverige 'Southern Sweden', Nordamerika 'North America', Västindien 'the West Indies', Östtyskland 'East Germany', Söderhavet 'the South Pacific'.

The other type is proper noun compounds written as two words, such as Norra sjukhuset 'the Northern Hospital', Södra Skogsägarna 'the Southern Forest Owners', Östra Real 'Eastern Lower School', Västra hamnen 'the Western Harbour'. As the examples show, there are cases when both words of the Swedish compound are capitalised, but also cases where the general rule of only capitalising the first word is adhered to.