The general rule is that when a word is the proper name of some individual person, place, animal or thing, it should begin with a capital. If, however, the word is a convenient general description – even if it is being applied to just one thing – it shouldn’t begin with a capital.For example, the National Westminster Bank is the name of an organisation, and so it is capitalised. If you refer to it as “the Bank” then you can choose to capitalise it or not, as you can legitimately claim to be using a shortened form of the name, or to be simply referring to it by a common description – it is a bank, and it happens to be the one you are writing about at the moment.

The insurance industry, on the other hand, is simply a description – the industry which sells insurance. Even when you write just “the industry” there is no need for a capital, just as there’s no need for a capital when you write “the man” or “the table”. You are referring to a specific thing, but you are doing so in general, descriptive terms, not applying a name.

Within that general rule, conventions have grown up about which things are considered names and which descriptions. Naturally some inconsistency has crept in. The North Pole is capitalised but the equator isn’t. Countries are capitalised but their currencies never are (e.g. Russian rouble). The days of the week and months of the year are capitalised but the seasons aren’t. But there aren’t too many of these to remember. So, follow the general rule described above, capitalise the things in the list below and leave everything else in lower case – it’s easier to read and less distracting.

1. Names (Christopher Shevlin, the National Westminster Bank)
2. Titles (Sir, Mrs, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster)*
3. Adjectives relating to places (American, Mancunian)
4. Inhabitants of places (the French, Londoners)
5. Days of the week and months of the year (Tuesday, September)
6. Recognised historical periods (the Enlightenment, the Blitz)
7. Public holidays (Boxing Day, Remembrance Sunday)
8. Religions and important religious terms (Catholicism, Purim)
9. Titles of articles, books, newspapers, plays, works of art, etc. (“The State of the Nation’s Savings 2005”)

See also acronyms and abbreviations, and titles of books, articles, reports and publications.

* Where titles are common and generic, they have become descriptions, so don’t give them capitals: he is a customer assistant, she is a manager, they are directors, I am a chief executive. The only exceptions are on business cards, when putting your name to a document, or other occasions where you want to draw attention to the title’s especial dignity.



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