This is a follow on to my last post, with some ideas to make capitalization in English more user-friendly. The core of this seems to be a consistent manner to identify proper nouns and related adjectives. The proposed approach is:
Treat proper nouns as the names of specific things. Often this will apply to an individual item, or a very select grouping. Such proper nouns will be capitalized.
Treat common nouns as generally applying to categories or sub-groupings. A common noun may or may not encompass one or more proper nouns. Common nouns are uncapitalized unless first in a sentence, all the sentence is capitalized or in title case.
This approach still leaves some grey areas and ambiguities. For want of other authorities, whether to capitalize such nouns is left to the writer. Whatever choice is made for each case, the treatment should be applied consistently throughout the document.
All or None: If judged a proper noun, all of the noun phrase will be capitalized. This gives the reader a clear indication of where the proper noun ends. For long proper noun phrases title case format may be used. For ease of reference and accessibility I suggest the system on the Wikipedia Manual of Style be used. Effectively this means capitalize the first and last word. Each word in the clause/ phrase is capitalized unless it is:
- A definite or indefinite article in a non-initial position.
- A short coordinating conjunction (FANBOYS).
- A preposition of four letters or less.
- The word “to” in infinitives.
Proper nouns may be taken to include, but are not limited to:
- Proper names, including titles and adjectives that are a part of the name.
- Titles used in place of proper names. Such incidences are most likely to occur in speech. “Can I get a comment, Senator?”, “I need you Granny.” I am uncertain as to whether this applies to third person statements.
- Names of specific organized religions and their adherents.
- Names of specific books, films or other works of art or reference.
- Names of specific companies, brand names, product or model names. Brand names that have become generic terms are uncapitalized.
- Names of specific geographical features, including the names of individual mountains, rivers, seas, oceans, valleys.
- Names of specific roads, streets, buildings, cities, towns, villages, regions.
- Names of specific countries, counties, areas, continents, nations. Specific names derived from such: Italian Coffee, English Muffin.
- Names of specific nationalities or ethnicities: Asian, Italian, Mexican American, Caucasian, Black, White.
- Names of specific days, months and named holidays.
- Names of specific time periods, historical evens and geological eras. Spanish Civil War, Middle Ages, Boxer Rebellion, Jurassic Era.
- Names of specific planets, moons, stars or other celestial bodies.
Not usually capitalized:
- Definite and indefinite articles, unless an integral part of the name: “The Hague”, “The Lord of the Rings”.
- The names of the seasons, unless personified.
- The points of the compass and similar terms, unless integral to a name.
- The designation of centuries: twentieth century, fifteenth century.
- Common names of animals, plants and other organisms unless they include a proper name. Names of cultivar groups and breeds probably should be capitalized. The latter are often named after regions, anyway.
- Names of literary or musical genres, unless containing a proper name.
Scientific names are capitalized at genera-level and higher. The second half of a species name is never capitalized, even if derived from a proper name. The subspecies name, if stated, is treated the same as the second part of the species name.
It was once the convention to underline a species name when it was written. In typed format the convention now seems to be to italicize the species name. Hence, the correct format for a scientific name is Homo sapiens idaltu.
As seems inevitable with English, inconsistencies arise. In a sentence such as “The army wants to buy more” the term “the army”, clearly refers to a specific army, such as the US Army or British Army. This would suggest it should be “Army”. The Wikipedia Manual of Style requires “the university” to be uncapitalized in a similar construction. This page suggest that a proper noun should be capitalized except when they are used alone later in the paragraph: “We went fishing on the James River. Later, our family joined us at the river.” This reminds me of how an abbreviation may be used if already introduced in previous text.
Another construction that “feels wrong” is to leave “the pope” uncapitalized. There may be many kings in the world at any time, but usually only one pope. When used in the singular, the title refers to a very specific individual, and the title is effectively substituting for a proper name. The same logic may be applied to “god” when used as a proper name to refer to the Abrahamic diety.