To capitalize or not to capitalize: 7 easy rules

The author faced a serious conundrum recently: Is the ‘c’ in ‘charley horse’ uppercase? The search for an answer helped her created this set of guidelines.

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If I don’t know the answer to a spelling, grammar, punctuation, usage, or style question, I know where to look it up—or so I thought.

The question that stumped me this week came when I was writing a medical case study. In the case, a patient complained of a “charley horse.” My question: Do you capitalize the “c” in “charley horse”?

After searching through several stylebooks for rules about capitalization, I was unable to find a clear answer. I asked a colleague, and her response was, “What difference does it make if it’s capitalized or not?” I finally turned to the “MedlinePlus Medical Dictionary” and discovered that the “c” is not capitalized.

I continued writing the case study, but curiosity about the capitalization rules for proper nouns or (pseudo-proper nouns) sidetracked me. Here are seven easy rules to refer to, which include numerous examples:

1. Capitalize geographic names, including the names of canyons, dams, and regions.

2. Capitalize the names of languages, nationalities, ethnicities, political parties, religions, and deities.

3. Capitalize the names of historical and special events, historical periods, and awards.

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