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Capitalize on These Tips on Capitalization

Most writers get confused about capitalization. There are a lot of diverse rules, but here are some easy ones you can learn.

Capitalize the first word of a complete sentence within another sentence:

“I said, Do you want some more?”

Capitalize compass directions when they refer to identifiable places like the American West but not general directions, like “Go west, young man.”

Capitalize historical eras like the Roaring Twenties, the Ice Age, the Cold War, and the Great Depression. But we would write: the age of reason, the nuclear age, the information age (lowercase).

Don’t capitalize titles or other terms unless used in direct address:


I saw the President of the United States.
I have a Master’s Degree in Philosophy.
He is a Doctor in that hospital.


I saw President Obama but I never saw the secretary of state.
I have a master’s degree in philosophy.
He is a doctor in that hospital.

As Smart as a Whip?

This week I’m looking at “as-as” construction. We tend to mess this one up a lot because we often say a sentence with this structure incorrectly. When using as-as construction, you have to use as twice—before and after the adjective.


They were thick as thieves.
She’s smart as a whip.


They were as thick as thieves.
She’s as smart as a whip.

One exception is: “He did as best he could.” As best is a traditional idiom (according to Bryan Gardner) that substitutes “as good as.”

Hopefully, though, you don’t use these clichés in your writing! And just how smart is a whip anyway?

Apparently . . .

Today I’m going to keep it short and just take a look at one word: Apparent. This word means “seeming.” I’ve said this before: even though we may say certain phrases in conversation and it’s accepted, that doesn’t make it okay to use it in your writing (unless you want a character to say this incorrectly, on purpose).  Dialogue and even internalizing allows for characters to say and think things that are grammatically incorrect.

In one of my novels I have a jerky character who always says “sayings” wrong. I had him yell to another person, “Why don’t you crawl back under that rock you came out of?” My line editor corrected me and said it made no sense, and she missed the point I had made him look like an idiot on purpose.

But that’s characterization, and this is the “real” world of correct usage of the English language, so . . .

You can’t die of an “apparent” heart attack (although it seems many characters in novels do!). You can apparently die of a heart attack.

She is dead of an apparent suicide.

She apparently died of suicide.

Apparently, most people don’t know this is the correct usage for the word apparent.


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