To Capitalize or Not to Capitalize

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To Capitalize or Not to Capitalize. . .
That is the question

Ok, I’ll admit it.   When I was writing an article earlier this week about Inauguration Day addresses,  I got a little confused on when I should or should not capitalize.

Well, let’s go for true confessions. I ALWAYS get confused on when I should or should not capitalize.  Back in 5th grade, Mrs. Ramsey always said, ” Use capital letters is to give distinction or add importance to certain words or phrases.”   As an adult writing or proofreading, I’ve found that no two bosses can agree on what words or phrases deserve such distinction. So I went scouring through my pile of reference books to see what I could find. I believed the best advice came from an old Air Force Handbook called “Tongue and Quill:”

Find out what style your organization prefers and use it consistently.

In other words, sometimes conformance is not as bad as it sounds. It saves a lot of rewriting.  But for any of you who went through Grammar Class back in the 1960’s knows (yes, I admit that), there can’t be rules like “Cuz the Boss says so.” There has to be a right and wrong.

My question in writing the article earlier this week was:

 Should “Inauguration Day” and “inauguration address” be capitalized?  

My research through the pile of grammar and writing books piled on my desk proved one thing: there are almost as many rules for capitalization as for commas. The first couple of rules are pretty obvious.

  • Capitalize the first word of a sentence
  • Capitalize proper nouns and names

But from there, each reference book focused on different rules. And each of the rules was followed by an “unless” or an “except.”

  • Capitalize words in titles and subtitles of works (except short prepositions or conjunctions)
  • Official titles (unless they follow a person’s name and are not a part of the proper name)
  • Titles preceding names (but not if the title is not part of the name, unless . . . .and so on and so forth)
  • Points of a compass (if they refer to a specific area, but not when they refer to a direction)
  • Titles of relatives (unless they are preceded by an article or pronoun)
  • The first word of a sentence in parentheses (unless the first word of the sentence in the parentheses comes inside the sentence)

Do you want me to go on? There’s no need; I think you get the idea. I think the best grammar rule I found in my research was:

Don’t overuse capitalization

So back go the original question: Should “Inauguration Day” and “inauguration address” be capitalized?

I decided that Inauguration Day was a proper noun. I capitalized it.

And

I decided inauguration address was not a proper name; it was just a reference to speeches given on Inauguration Days. I did not capitalize.

 

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