Should I Capitalize That?

Anyone learning English already knows that the English language is full of quirks (strange things). One quirk has to do with capitalization, whether a word is written with a capital first letter (Letter) or not (letter). With some words, its meaning actually changes when you capitalize it. These words are called “capitonyms.”

Some of the most often used capitonyms are related to place names. Here are a few examples.

Earth: the planet that we live on
“Do you believe there is life on planets other than Earth?”

earth: dirt, the material on the surface of the ground
“The workers found important historical artifacts (items made by people who live a long time ago) under the top layer of earth.”

Notice that the pronunciation of both terms are the same.  That’s not the case with the example below:

Polish:  relating to the things or people of Poland
“Are you going to eat that Polish sausage (a type of food, similar to a hot dog)?”

to polish: to make something shiny (reflecting light) by rubbing it
“Yimi polished his leather shoes before going on the important interview.”

Other capitonyms have nothing to do with place names.

Frank: a man’s name
“Do you know Frank Bumgardner?  I went to high school with him.”

frank: in speech or writing, being honest and direct
“Please be frank with me.  I want to know the truth even if it’s bad news.”

August: the eighth month of the calendar year
“Many families go on vacation in August, right before school begins again in September.”

august: respected and considered very important
“Monica didn’t expect to attend a dinner with such august guests that included members of the royal family.”

There isn’t a comprehensive (with all included) list of capitonyms, but you can find more examples here.  The only way to know how they are being used is by looking at the context (words used around it).

Are there similarly strange quirks in the languages you speak?  Do capital letters make a difference in meaning?

– Lucy

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12 Responses to Should I Capitalize That?

  1. Dan says:

    Hi Lucy and everyone.

    That grammatical rule Lucy explains applies to Italian as well. It’s the same.

    One funny thing I wanna say about writings in all caps that I have learned over the comment sections on articles online or social networks
    is that quite often you see people commenting in all caps and once someone posted a picture of Marge and Homer Simpsons.

    They are in the kitchen and Homer says: ” What he says it’s true because it’s in all caps. Are you going to argue with caps?”

    at that Marge replies: “Why does that make it right?”

    And homer is like: “He took the time to press the shift key, Marge. I think he knows what he’s talking about”.

    To be frank, I would have to ask someone who is fresh out of school about any quirks in my own language. I am quite ignorant about that.
    I left school 30 years ago, have and use a limited vocabulary for my daily life and to that add that I have been immersing myself into English for years now, so I cannot help with that.

    See, now some kids would have been handy.

    Anyway, thank you Lucy

  2. emiliano says:

    I get the gist of the question Lucy, it is similar here in Spanish, as Dan said in Italian, but to me it has been always a confusing
    question in my own language Spanish, even in English, if it is apropriate to write with capital some terms or not.
    As a rule capital letters are used after a point, or in proper nouns as for places, names, rivers and so forth, but not always it
    is used this rule.
    It is clear that not the two languages are similar always and my mind go confusing and I made some mistakes when I am writing
    that is a rule too.

    Thank you dear Lucy, it is very clear and useful, my best to you.


  3. peter says:

    Dear Jeff,
    Referring to the latest English Cafe , I m afraid , we should agree to didagree.
    I love the term ” skill set.”
    I barely use the alternative term : skills.
    As a matter of fact ,I can’t even remember the last time I used it.
    You know ,I , for one, think it has a nice ring to it. It gives off a cool vibe!
    In my book ,it is a sophisticated sounding term.
    In fact , I always make sure to throw 3 or 4 of them in my interviews :)))
    Seriously , it always goes over very well.
    It gives off the impression that u are as professional as u claim that you are. I m telling you.

  4. peter says:

    Dear Lucy,
    U took intuitive here. I like it
    I m talking about the audio record thingy u got going on there.
    I like the idea and I support it.
    I m Hope u will throw more of them our ways.

    Cool approach !
    you got me at august. Man , how much I don’t know.

    I didn’t kno” August “in lower case means a whole different thing. Man , who would think of that.

    Guys ,
    We got today’s post in layers and the icing to me is the world ” August ” :))))
    Funny stuff :))

    Thanks Lucy , a very astute approach !!!

  5. Aecio Flavio Perim says:

    Interesting this topic. Of course Portuguese language has quirks. We still have words with many meanings, like house (casa), head (cabeça ), radio (rádio) etc. In case you are surious. take a look on Portuguese language and find out more. Good luck.

  6. Tania says:

    Hi! I think we have fewer capitonyms in my language, but a lot of quirks.
    I have found some of them in the source mentioned by you.
    – Earth, the planet,
    earth , the soil;
    – Alps/ Alpine mountains,
    alpine plant;
    – Cancer constellation,
    cancer, a disease;
    – Champagne, France,
    a glass of champagne;
    – Him/ His referring to Jesus Christ,
    him/ his , simple pronouns;
    – Labrador, Canada,
    a labrador dog.

    Thank you for this new word to me “capytonims”.

  7. Tania says:

    Hi! Unfortunately I have the same problem : I can’t hear, I can’t listen to you with my computer.
    An excellent idea and effort to hear you and on our blog.

  8. peter says:

    Dear Jeff ,

    Refer to the latest on Englsih Cafe , I m getting conflicting news here.
    U know , the gentelmen on the audio record says that fresh-out-of-school international students in U.S.has almost no shot at landing a job in their field of study there.
    The thing is , my friends up here granted work permit through reputable companies in U.S. Left and right.
    In fact , one friend of mine -a hyphenated Canadian fellow , has been living in U.S. For 4 years now on work visa.
    He got his master degree here in A college in Montreal and 6 months after he landed the job with a nifty , generous compensated package.
    Well , he got laid off one year after as things took a turn for the worst in his line of work.
    He got out of US and two mounts after he landed another job with a different compony different city. Long story short , he has lived in three cities , working for two companies and been granted work visa 3 times. In fact , He is in the process of getting his greencard through the compony he is currently working for as we speak.

    There is another friend of mine who doesn’t even have any Canadian education. He never went to school in North America. He just took a few courses here. Yet , he somehow managed to get US work permit. Well , he never landed another job in U.S. Once his contract was up. He is working here now.

    I was denied work visa ;nevertheless, I did all my schooling here in NorthAmerica. In all fairness , it is mainly because there is no high demand for my area of expertise down there. The area is covered adequately by U.S. Work force. Therefor ,there is no need to import professionals from other countries.

  9. peter says:


    The compony I m working is going though reorganization. They are charting the course of transition as we speak. I heard through the grapevine that there is gonna be a huge reduction in the ranks which means only one thing: they gonna lay off a lot of people.
    I have lost sleep over it.
    It is very unsettling!
    I have lost sleep over it.
    Good thing is , they give us a heads up. Well it is not good for morale but u know what they say” forewarned is forearmed.

    Man ,it is scary
    Their timing sucks


  10. Dan says:

    Hi Pete,

    I sorry to hear that, but you know, it’s how things work.

    Just do not let that put you down, if I can say that.

    I know that’s no easy situation to be in. I wanna send my virtual moral support to you.

    If that is of any help I do not know, but I am doing it anyway.


  11. Dan says:

    Hey people.

    Did you guys know the French call the computer L’ordinateur?

    I do not how that sounds at your hears guys, but to me that sounds horrible! that should be eliminated from human knowledge permanently.

    In Italy computer is called computer.

    Anyway, just that.


  12. lili:) says:

    Thank you Dear Lucy for this special lesson.

    The term “Capitonym” is new to me. It is unknown in “Google translate, English to Chinese”, nor is it found in the “”.

    Anyway, since we use Chinese characters instead of letters, we don’t use Capitonym to distinguish place name and other parts of speech. We use underline as a proper name mark. However, it is uncommon to see underline as proper name mark nowadays. I searched the web and find that guillemet is used instead. Still, most simple reading materials like news reports don’t use any proper name marks. We simply understand from the context. Perhaps since modern day people are cleverer than our ancestors, we don’t need to use so many punctuation marks anymore?!

    Many thanks again Lucy. I agree with Peter and please let me borrow Peters post above.

    Quoting Peter:
    “Dear Lucy,
    U took intuitive here. I like it
    I m talking about the audio record thingy u got going on there.
    I like the idea and I support it.
    I m Hope u will throw more of them our ways.

    Cool approach !
    you got me at august. Man , how much I don’t know.

    I didn’t kno” August “in lower case means a whole different thing. Man , who would think of that.

    Guys ,
    We got today’s post in layers and the icing to me is the world ” August ” :))))
    Funny stuff :))

    Thanks Lucy , a very astute approach !!!”


    Peter your message is so good that I must use it intact. Many thanks for letting me borrow from you.

    Best Regards to you all.


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