DO YOU GET THE SENSE THAT I’M A BIT HACKED OFF?
Or, perhaps You just Think that I Am a Bit odd?
If you find yourself agreeing with either or both of those two questions, it can only be because of my use or misuse, of capital letters.
Fully capitalised sentences are the syntactical equivalent of a line of angry wasps. They may simply look aggressive because they are big, like how a 40-TON TRUCK looks – It’s aggressive when it looms menacingly in the rearview mirror of your flimsy Nissan Micra.
Acronyms and initialisms
Full caps are simply not the norm. You do not tend to see them in books (a very good place to go to see what generally is and is not capped up). The exceptions to the no-full-caps-rule – other than to denote someone shouting or a bold expression, full caps can be used for acronyms (like NASA) and initialisms (like the BBC).
Another good reason to avoid using fully capitalised words is that they can be harder to read. (This fact must really irk those writers who use full caps to appear emphatic!) The reason capitals are harder to read is because we learn to write (and understand) the small letters first. Capital letters, which are used less often, come a bit later. Because they are wider than lower case letters, they can take slightly longer to read. Nor is there any ‘shape’ to fully capped words. The descenders and ascenders that appear in lower case sentences, just like this one, also help readers distinguish words.
Compare: THIS IS QUITE HARD ON THE EYES with: This is quite easy on the eyes.
Take your caps off
In terms of the second question above (Or, perhaps You just Think that I Am a Bit odd?), there is no rhyme or reason for the capitalised letters. They are literally odd. People reading that question, who did not know I had written it like that to make a specific point, are likely to think that I have no idea how to use capital letters.
Unfortunately, such odd use of capitals seems to be getting more common. This week, I have seen the following words, spelt with an initial capital letter, despite the fact that they were placed in the middle of sentences: Producer, Lighting, Campaign, Project, Marketing, Senior Care, Manager, Computer and Restaurant.
So, is it really important to know when to use a capital letter? Or am I just being picky?
To answer this question, consider the following two sentences, whose difference is a single capital letter, but whose meaning could hardly be different:
- I helped my uncle Jack off his horse.
- I helped my uncle jack off his horse.
I suspect you now agree that it is quite useful to know when to use a capital letter! This article also suggests capital letters are dangerous.
What is a proper noun?
Initial caps are fine for proper nouns. Proper nouns are given to individuals, places and organisations. For example, Joe Garner (an individual) who comes from Hertfordshire (a place) and is the chief executive of the Nationwide Building Society (an organisation). Because chief executive is a common noun (a noun denoting a class of objects or a concept, as opposed to a particular individual), it does not need to be capped up, despite Mr Garner’s lofty position on the career ladder.
As always with grammar, there are exceptions to this rule, as iPhones and drp prove.
Confused? Well, yes this is English grammar, after all.
Proper rare nouns
Remember that proper nouns are relatively rare. This means, if you are unsure whether the noun you are writing is proper or common, you are far more likely to be correct if you assume it is the latter, and therefore the word does not need to be capitalised. As the name suggests, common nouns are, well, common.
If you care about such things as much as I do, look it up! We are fortunate enough to live in an age in which free content is as common as certain nouns. The troves that are Cambridge and Oxford dictionaries are available online. Tap a word into either of their search boxes and, as well as providing the definition of that word, both will show you whether or not it is typically spelt with or without a capital letter.
With that being said comment below or on our social media platforms, and let us know if you agree that unnecessary capitals are becoming more common or which other grammar rules are being flouted.
Lucas North – copywriter at drp.