Stop excessive capitalization

Today we discuss capitalization.  In general, the Scribe prefers that you not use unnecessary capitalization.  Here’s a paragraph typical of what the Scribe sees daily:

We are pleased to Report that at yesterday’s Hearing, the Judge granted our Motion against Plaintiff’s Complaint and Dismissed all of her Claims.  Accordingly, there will be no Trial.  Our Statement is in the Mail.  Please Pay soon!


Granted, some words require capitalization.  Here are some rules:

Capitalize proper names, e.g.,

  • Names of people (Ted Williams, Jackie Robinson, Sandy Koufax);
  • Geographical names (Boston, Vermont, Crater Lake, France);
  • Institutions (University of Oregon, Washington Court of Appeals; United States Supreme Court);
  • Brand names (Nike, Motorola, Ford);
  • Holidays (Boxing Day, New Year’s Day);
  • Awesome baseball teams (Dodgers, Red Sox);
  • Evil baseball teams (The Yankees).

Capitalize complete official titles of an officer or agency of the state (but don’t capitalize abbreviated titles).  Capitalize months and days of the week (but not seasons of the year), e.g.,

  • Stephen filed the motion on Friday, April 9, 2010.
  • Lee invaded Pennsylvania in the summer of 1863.
  • This case began in July 2010.

Capitalize the full title of a constitution, constitutional amendment, or clause of a constitution, e.g.,

  • Article I, section 9, of the Oregon Constitution (but “state constitution”)
  • First Amendment to the United States Constitution (but “federal constitution”)
  • Commerce Clause

(NOTE:  In the phrase “Oregon and United States constitutions,” don’t capitalize “constitutions,” because neither document’s full title is being used.)

Do not capitalize generic governmental terms, such as “federal” or “state,” as in “the state,” “state constitution,” and “federal constitution.”  But do capitalize those words when part of a full proper name, e.g.,

  • Federal Reserve Bank
  • State of Oregon

Also, don’t capitalize generic statutory names, such as “statute of frauds” and “statute of limitations,” or the words “chapter” or “section” (when referring to a specific chapter or section within a sentence), e.g.,

  • ORS chapter 10
  • Article I, section 9

In order to simplify things, here’s a general rule that will usually work: capitalization is not proper unless you’re referring to something specific—whether it’s a document, court, person, place, or whatever.  Thus,

  • The case is filed in Multnomah County Circuit Court.
  • The dispute is tied up in court.
  • Go tell it to the judge.
  • The case will be heard by Judge Litzenberger.
  • The trial is occurring at the courthouse.
  • The oral argument will take place on the second floor of the Pioneer Courthouse.

That is all for now …


Filed under Capitalization

2 responses to “Stop excessive capitalization

  1. Good rundown of some of the more important capitalization rules. One suggestion, though. I think the rule of thumb you mention at the end would be a little clearer if you said, “capitalization is not proper unless you’re mentioning the name of something specific.” After all, “the judge in the trial” is quite specific, but we don’t capitalize it unless we are told the name of the judge.

  2. You did not address the use of the word “plaintiff” as a proper noun or common noun, as in your first example: “We are pleased to Report that at yesterday’s Hearing, the Judge granted our Motion against Plaintiff’s Complaint and Dismissed all of her Claims.”

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