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The capital letter is a very useful element in English language. Apart from helping to mark out the beginning of a sentence, its presence underscores the importance of an expression compared to others. For instance, it is used to distinguish a proper noun from common nouns.
So, it is unimaginable that anyone old enough to have passed through primary school will write his name beginning with a small letter. Of course, the capital letter is also, among others, used in abbreviations (WAEC, UTME, ICAN) and in the titles of books, films and institutions/organisations:
Waec has not released my result. (Wrong)
WAEC has not released my result. (Correct)
Yet, there are instances that many abuse it. There are times we do not need it, when we should just allow the sentence to flow. Unfortunately, many people still feature capital letters in such situations.
When proper nouns cease to be proper nouns
Capital letters are meant to begin proper nouns. These include names of people (Joshua, Tade); religions (Islam, Christianity); festivals (Osun Osogbo Festival, Ofala Festival); days of the week, months (Tuesday, July); and titles (Mr, Chief, Professor Abu).
The rule may, however, become intriguing when you consider the fact that a word that is a proper noun in this context may no more be so in another. If you, therefore, still begin it with a capital letter, you will be wrong. Consider August, being normally the name of a month – and so begins with a capital letter as in, ‘I will be in Abuja in August.’ But what happens when you want to describe a visitor as being specially important? You say an ‘August visitor’ or ‘august visitor?’ The latter is the correct expression.
The same thing applies to titles or designations, which cease to attract capital letters once they are no more used alongside the names they describe.
The General Manager, Mr. Bola Kunbi, has a meeting now.
One needs a lot of experience to be a General Manager. (Wrong)
One needs a lot of experience to be a general manager. (Correct)
When will Uncle David sign the paper? (Correct)
David is my Uncle. (Wrong)
David is my uncle. (Correct)
The Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Gerrald Stone, was also at the event. (Correct)
A Vice-Chancellor has a lot of roles to play in standardising academic programmes. (Wrong)
A vice-chancellor has a lot of roles to play in standardising academic programmes. (Correct)
The last example takes us to another word that is often overcapitalised or abused: university. When it is not part of the complete name of a citadel of learning, there is no need to start it with a capital letter:
The man works at Covenant University, Ota. (Correct)
He wants to head the University. (Wrong)
He wants to head the university. (Correct)
Yours Faithfully or Yours faithfully?
Let me also call your attention to a segment of letter writing where a lot of people are also prone to overusing the capital letter. It is in the segment called subscription, where you sign off after completing writing the body and conclusion of the letter. This is where you write Yours faithfully or Yours obediently etc. for formal letters; or Yours sincerely/Yours affectionately for informal letters. As is indicated in the examples, you do not need to start faithfully, obediently, sincerely and affectionately with capital letters while writing the subscription. So, it is:
Bible or bible?
Titles of major religious books, such as the Holy Bible and the Holy Koran, as you see here, should start with capital letters. These are exemplified in ‘I have no cause to doubt what the Bible says’ and ‘The Koran teaches us to be compassionate’. Yet, there are occasions a word like bible need not carry a capital letter:
How regularly do you read the Bible? (Correct)
When you get to Ibadan, buy a bible and send it to me. (Correct)
The professor’s first book has become the bible of research in business management. (Correct)
When you combine two proper nouns, using and, anything can happen to the capital letters they individually bear. At times, the capital letters may remain intact, at other times, they have to go:
Chief Ojo and Mr Daniels have some things in common. (Chief Ojo and Mr Daniel retain their capital letter beginnings despite the fact that they are joined by and.)
Edo State is in the South-South region.
Delta State is in the South-South region.
Edo and Delta states are in the South-South region. (Note that states now begin with a small letter.)
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