One of the most controversial subjects regarding Spanish grammar has to be the proper usage of capital letters in texts.
Luckily, there is a decent amount of manuals in Spanish—like the Diccionario panhispánico de dudas and the Real Academia Española’s Ortografía de la lengua española—compiling the many guidelines we should follow regarding this sometimes difficult issue.
Nonetheless, I personally think it is better to compare the way the Spanish language uses uppercase letters with that of the English language if we really want to grasp it.
In this first part, let’s find out how Spanish deals with this subject.
First and foremost, we should establish the two most important rules regarding capital letters in Spanish as well as in English: an uppercase should appear at the start of any sentence or right after a period (.), and every essential component of proper names—be it from people or things—must begin with a capital letter.
- Las mayúsculas son fáciles de usar. No les temas. (Uppercases are easy to use. Don’t be afraid of them.)
- Mi primer nombre es Sara, mi apellido es T Vivo en Nueva York. (My first name is Sara, my last name is Torres. I live in New York.)
From there, we can more easily determine those orthographic instances where uppercases must also be used: right after any ellipsis, exclamation points or question points having closed a sentence.
- No entendí lo que dijo… Hablemos de otra cosa. (I didn’t understand what you said… Let’s change the subject.)
- ¿Sigues allí? No puedo verte. (Are you still there? I cannot see you.)
- ¡Qué buena noticia! Todos te felicitamos. (Great news! Congratulations from all of us.)
Then, it should be easy to distinguish all those basic non-orthographic instances where capital letters should appear, like proper names of people, animals, anthropomorphized things, or abstract names being personified; the essential elements of nicknames—but neither articles nor prepositions comprised within nicknames—; and proper names of geographical places—but not the common names that are part of that designation.
- Te presento a Joanna, mi compañera de trabajo. (Let me introduce Joanna, my work colleague, to you.)
- Claro que tengo tres mascotas: Rey, mi perro; Garritas, mi gato; y Mordedora, mi tortuga. (Of course I do have three pets: King, my dog; Paws, my cat; and Nibbler, my turtle.)
- Puede parecer extraño, pero le puse «Guerrero del Camino» a mi auto. (It may seem strange, but I give my car the nickname “Road Warrior”.)
- Los pueblos antiguos creían generalmente en muchos dioses a la vez, como Zeus, Poseidón, Ares, Atenea… (Ancient people generally believed in many gods at once, like Zeus, Poseidon, Ares, Athena…)
- La masa de agua más extensa del planeta Tierra es el océano Pacífico. (The largest mass of water on planet Earth is the Pacific Ocean.)
You may notice on the previous examples how del in “Guerrero del Camino” and oceáno in “océano Pacífico” remain in lowercase—the first of many differences between uppercase use in Spanish and English.
You should always be on the lookout for any prepositions or common names not being part of the proper names of places, as those kind of words shouldn’t be written in uppercase—unless there is a period or some other punctuation mark forcing you to use a capital letter right next to it.
On the next part, we will delve even more on the way Spanish differentiates from English regarding capital letters. Till next time!