Capitalization looks fancy and makes things seem important. But if you’re following AP style, chances are you’re overusing those big letters. The rule of thumb in AP style is that things should be lowercased unless a rule indicates that they’re upper. Lower is default; upper is special.
Of course, you’ll want to keep using capitals for all the basics: the beginning of every sentence, proper nouns like names and specific locations, days of the week and months. But here are a few things you might not realize are actually lowercase in AP style.
- Seasons: Months and days of the week are capitalized, but winter, spring, summer and fall are all styled down.
- Academic subjects: Areas of study like biology, math and literature are all lowercase unless part of a proper name, like the College of Biology. However, subjects that are named using proper nouns should always stay that way, like French or Shakespearean literature.
- Titles, unless they come before a name: This one’s a bit tricky. If you refer to “President Joe Biden,” the title is uppercased as it comes before his name and is understood to be a part of his name. However, if we refer to “Joe Biden, president of the United States,” it’s lowercase. When writing generically about all presidents, the title should also be lowercase. However, if you’re speaking directly to Biden and using his title as a form of direct address, it goes uppercase again: “Mr. President, that’s your cue.”
- Most words in a headline: AP style calls for capitalizing only the first word and any proper nouns in headlines . Check out the difference between the title of this article, which is correctly written in AP style, or “These Are the Words You Don’t Capitalize in AP style,” which is not.
- Cardinal directions, unless they’re part of a proper noun: If you’re writing down directions, you would tell someone to go south on Main Street. Conversely, you might refer to the South Side of Chicago or discuss the cuisine of the American South, which would both be stylized uppercase as they are part of a proper name.
- Family titles, unless they’re direct forms of address: If you’re referring to your mom, or all aunts in general, those familial titles should be lowercased. They’re only put into uppercase if you’re using them as a name – “Hey Mom, dinner’s ready” – or as a title like “Uncle Mike.”
- French fries: Because the french in everyone’s favorite potato comes from a cooking method, not the country, AP style demands that we put it in lowercase.
- Company names that use all caps: Please forgive us if you’re among these, but AP style says that companies that style themselves in all capital letters, like IKEA, should be styled in lowercase, Ikea. The lone exception is if you pronounce each of the letters individually, as with PBS.
These might seem like confusing rules with too many exceptions, but you’re always welcome to homebrew your own style rules. So long as your capitalization rules remain consistent in your organization’s communications, you’re golden.
For more AP style tips, watch “Grammar Girl’s Beginning and Intermediate Guide to AP Style” any time.