Friday, August 2, 2013

Top 20 Grammar Errors: Capitalization

Welcome to the bonus round of the top twenty most common grammar errors in the English language. These five “additional” errors are listed alongside the top twenty errors in Jeff Anderson’s book: Mechanically Inclined —a High School English teacher’s guide to teaching grammar. These bonus grammar mistakes are: 

·         Capitalization
·         Quotation marks
·         Question marks
·         Double negatives
·         Spelling (homophones, doubling rule)

Today, we will be examining capitalization errors. Anderson wrote his list in 2005. Well, probably earlier than that as his book was published in 2005. Phone texting had just taken off in a pretty big way, and I believe texting has made an impossible situation worse. In fact, if you ever get a text from me, my phone attempts to automate the capitalizations, and it doesn’t do a very good job, and I don’t really bother to fix the problem either (getting new phone in August). So, when I text you, you normally get a jumble of capitalization errors. My daughter, at this point, believes I’m doing this on purpose. She also corrects me.

When she texts me, however, she doesn’t capitalize anything. She is not alone in her non-capitalization. When other people text me, there is also a distinct lack of capitalization. Admittedly, texting without capitalization is easier, and because it is easier, I think people have forgotten when they are supposed to capitalize a word.

In German, all nouns—no matter if they are run of the mill ordinary nouns like cat or proper nouns like John Smith—all nouns in German are capitalized. In Danish, before their spelling reform in 1948, all nouns were capitalized. Even in English during the 18th Century, all nouns were capitalized. Take a look at the original printing of Gulliver’s Travels or the 1787 United States Constitution and you will find every single noun capitalized. This is such a recent change to English grammar that you still get people today who do this:

Every word in that sentence has been capitalized. That’s just plain wrong.

Jodi Gilbert has a nice piece on five tips for avoiding sloppy capitalization mistakes. Scroll down a bit to read the article. The article makes some good points.

The point Gilbert makes that I like the most: “Even if you’re wrong, be consistently wrong.” Her second tip is pretty good too: “If you’re not sure, leave it lowercase.”
And Owl at Purdue breaks down all the rules for capitalization in the English language.

Capitalization style guides are available too.

·         The APA Style Guide
·         The MLA Style Guide (this is a crib sheet based on the 2003 MLA Style Guide)
·         The AP Style Book (for sale at $20.94)

Capitalization, at its heart, is not so much a question of grammar though as much as it is a question of style. And a style is a matter of consistency. As a fiction writer, you have a bit more freedom to decide how you want to implement capitalization. Just Don’t Capitalize Every Word Of A Sentence And You Will Be Fine.

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