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Skidmore College
Political Science Department

Political Science Department Capitalization Handout

Proper nouns are the names of specific people, places, and things and should be capitalized.

Common nouns are all nonspecific people, places, and things and should not be capitalized.

Proper Noun: Charles Schumer is a member of the Senate
Common Noun: Most states have an upper house or senate

Proper Noun: Governor Pataki was elected for four terms
Common Noun: Pataki, who served three terms as New York's governor, plans to run for the Senate.

Proper Noun: The Constitution is the supreme law of the United States.
Common Noun: A written constitution is supposed to be the defining essence of a country.

Proper Noun: The Constitution says nothing about healthcare.
Common Noun: A constitution is a set of laws.

Proper Noun: The State of New Jersey raised its sales tax.
Common Noun: Many states have raised their sales taxes.

Proper Noun: Nancy Pelosi is the Speaker of the House of Representatives
Common Noun: The featured speaker at the Save the Whales conference is Nancy Pelosi.

Proper Noun: Ohio Governor Bob Taft signed House Bill 239.
Common Noun: Several bills have gone through the lower chamber but have not made it into the upper chamber.

Proper Noun: The American Psychological Association supported health care reform.
Common Noun: The police investigated him because of his association with known criminals.

Proper Noun: The American Cancer Society helps many people.
Common Noun: The doctor tried to find a cure for cancer.

Proper Noun: The New York State Legislature is notorious for its inefficiency.
Common Noun: Most democracies have a legislature.

Proper Noun: The Moynihan Commission studied welfare.
Common Noun: Senator Moynihan formed a commission.

Capitalize references to major sections of a country of the world.  Examples of correct usage follow.

Do not capitalize the words north, south, east, and west when they refer to directions, in that their meaning becomes generalized rather than site-specific.  Examples of correct usage follow.

The Mountain West consists of Arizona, New Mexico, and Idaho.
We traveled west.

Trying to recapture the South is futile for Democrats.
The economy went south.

Capitalize the names of historic events and documents, government units, political parties, business and fraternal organizations, clubs and societies, companies, and institutions.

The NRA supports the Second Amendment.

Congress has a low approval rating.

The Republican Party is due to take over the House of Representatives in 2010.

President Obama is the leader of the Democratic Party.

Conservatism is a political philosophy.

The Senate and the House of Representatives are elected bodies.

Republicans have higher turnout than Democrats.

The Declaration of Independence was written by Thomas Jefferson.

The Battle of the Bulge was a bloody fight.

Sarah Palin is the head of the Tea Party.

African Americans and Latinos were more likely to vote for Barack Obama.

The Great Depression and the Constitutional Convention were important events.

President Obama conducts most of his business in the White House.

The Statue of Liberty is located on Liberty Island.

The North American Treaty Organization is a trade agreement between Mexico, Canada, and the United States.

The World Trade Organization is an organization that focuses on liberalizing international trade.

The European Union is a political and economic union between various European states.

Capitalize the proper names of persons, places and geographic names.

Howard Pickering
Great Britain
Gulf of Mexico

Capitalize only words that need to be capitalized.  
If you capitalize words just because they are Important, you risk looking like a Pompous Fool.
environmental justice civil rights
freedom of speech democracy
socialism communism
capitalism labor
corporation justice