Ask PTB – Initial Caps

Ask PTBA reader asked PTB “In the phrase ‘found guilty of Aggravated Sexual Abuse of a Child’ should ‘Aggravated Sexual Abuse of a Child’ use all initial caps?”

While my first instinct was that since it is the name of a criminal act under the law, it would be capitalized, when I checked on the criminal statutes of various states, they are not capitalized. I would treat it exactly as it is treated in the statute and not capitalize any of those words.

Ask PTB – Capitalization

Question: Is it his case number 30-100 or his Case Number 30-100?

Answer: First, thanks for asking the question. According to Gregg, a noun followed by a number or letter that indicates sequence is capitalized. I think since you are describing a specific case with the sequenced number, it is capitalized. If it just said “his case,” then it wouldn’t be capitalized, but it is like saying “his Mercedes Benz” rather than “his car.”

I hope that helps! And if any readers have questions, check out the Ask PTB page on the website

Are Job Titles Capitalized?

Bailiff or bailiff-A reader recently emailed asking about the word “bailiff” and whether it was capitalized when transcribing a legal court hearing.  She asked “I understand that when it is used as a title, for example: Bailiff Jones will now take the jury to the jury room. But, during the course of conversation by the Judge – for example: If you (jury) has a question, please write out the question and hand it to our bailiff.  Is the word bailiff capitalized then – or is it capitalized throughout the document just as you would for Mr. or Mrs.?”

Based on my review of the Gregg Reference Manual, it would be capitalized when used with the last name as  in Bailiff Jones, but I do not think in the Judge’s conversation it would be capitalized. However, in reading Paragraph 313(c), it could be capitalized just because it is a court transcription and the bailiff might be considered an “official of high rank” in that courtroom by the persons reading the transcript.

  • Paragraph 313(c) – Titles of local governmental officials and those of lesser federal and state officials are not usually capitalized when they follow or replace a personal name. However, these titles are sometimes capitalized in writing intended for a limited readership when the intended reader would consider the official to be of high rank (emphasis added).

Paragraph 312(e) says not to capitalize occupational titles preceding names. The way to distinguish occupational titles from official titles is that only official titles can be used with last names alone. for instance, you wouldn’t address a person as “Author Collins,” “Lawyer Jones,” or “Director of Public Marketing Smith,” so they are occupational titles and shouldn’t be capitalized. As a general rule, the Gregg Reference Manual says not to put a title before a person’s name unless it is short and you would actually use the title when you are addressing them aloud.

Other sources say if the title precedes the name, it should be capitalized and if it does not, it should not be. But what about “bailiff”? As above, you would address them as “Bailiff Jones” but in this case the title is not preceding the name–you are just using “bailiff.” According to Gregg Reference Manual:

  • Paragraph 313(e) – In general, do not capitalize job titles when they stand alone. However, in procedures manuals and in organization memos and announcements, job titles are sometimes capitalized for special emphasis.

My gut says not to capitalize it because it is a job title in that courtroom and you are not capitalizing other job titles like court reporter, judicial assistant, etc. when they are used in place of a name.

Do you agree or disagree? Comment below.

The Updated State of Capitalizing “State

State (4)Murphy’s Law: Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. I have lots of issues that tend to attract Murphy’s Law into my life. Thankfully a very attentive NALS member brought to my attention that the last Grammar Nuggets article on capitalizing the word “state” had a glaring error. The Murphy’s Law part of that is that that article was correcting a 2014 blog post, so we are correcting it again and I’m hoping the third time is the charm. I apologize for getting the information wrong. The reference in the The State of Capitalizing “State” post to The Gregg Reference Manual should actually have been a reference to The Bluebook. This clerical error made a confusing topic even MORE confusing. Here is the correct information:

According to the Gregg Reference Manual ¶ 335:

  • Capitalize state only when it follows the name of a state or is part of an imaginative name:
    • The state of Arizona is known as the Grand Canyon State.
    • One of my favorite places to visit is Washington State.
  • Do not capitalize state when it is used in place of the actual state name
    • She is an employee of the state. Note, however, that people who are actually working for state government will probably write it as “State.”

According to The Bluebook, capitalize the word “state”:

  • When it is part of the full name of the state
    • The State of Arizona is the 48th state admitted to the Union.
  • When the word it modifies in capitalized
    • In Michigan, the State Corrections Director is in charge of the correctional system.
  • When referring to the state as a party to litigation or a governmental actor
    • The State filed a Motion to Dismiss.

Obviously, The Bluebook is not a grammar guide—it is a style guide for legal citation. The only grammar guide that seems to disagree with part of the Gregg Reference Manual is the Chicago Manual of Style, which says “where the government rather than the place is meant, the words state, city, and the like are usually capitalized.”

  • The State of Florida’s statutes regarding corporations are codified at Title XXXVI.

I have made and will continue to make mistakes and I will continue to learn right along with you. While I hate making errors and hate even more when others catch them, I am always happy that they are brave enough to bring it to my attention and give me the opportunity to fix it. So as I said in the original article, capitalization of the word “state” is very confusing. But hopefully we’ve made it a little clearer—and more accurate—this time.


The State of Capitalizing “State”

StateUPDATE – PLEASE SEE CHANGES TO THIS POST AT The Updated State of Capitalizing State.

I need to clarify something in a blog post published in 2014 on Capitalization in Legal Documents. The capitalization of the word “state” is obviously very confusing depending on your preferred resource.

According to the Gregg Reference Manual, “state” should be capitalized:

  • When it is part of the full name of the state as in the State of Arizona
  • When the word it modifies in capitalized as in the State Corrections Director
  • When referring to the state as a party to litigation or a governmental actor as in “The State filed a Motion to Dismiss”

Most other sources I’ve found disagree with Gregg’s first example and say that “state” should not be capitalized when used as a proper noun but is capitalized when used in place of a particular state or referring to a specific governmental body:

  • The residents of the state of California have a reputation for being healthier than most.
  • The corporation, registered to do business in the state of California, is actually an Arizona corporation.

According to another favorite resource of attorneys, the Chicago Manual of Style, “where the government rather than the place is meant, the words state, city, and the like are usually capitalized.”

  • The State of Florida’s statutes regarding corporations are codified at Title XXXVI.

Another resource simplifies it as when you are using “state” as a common noun, you would not capitalize it:

  • She loved visiting the Northwestern states because she loved the rain.
  • The state of California has a beautiful coastline.

But do capitalize “state” if it is part of a proper name

  • I love visiting Washington State (as opposed to Washington, D.C.—although I love visiting there too).
  • I have visited New York City, but not the rest of New York State (capitalized to differentiate between New York City and New York State).

All resources agree that “state” should be capitalized when it is a party to litigation.

  • The response to the Motion to Dismiss was filed by the State yesterday.

The only comfort in all this confusion is that obviously everyone is confused. In fact, in many recent U.S. Supreme Court cases, “state” is capitalized in different instances, which may be a holdover from style from the 18th Century when many common nouns are capitalized.

Grammar Giggle – Gas Pumps and Every Possible Grammar Error

There are so many errors in this one sign I don’t think I could even get through them all. There are apostrophes used to make words plural, not enough periods, words that should be a single word divided into two words, capital letters where there doesn’t need to be or a small letter (if you want to be consistent) where a capital letter should be, misspellings . . . and my brain has now exploded.

Grammar Giggle – Capitalization is Apparently Fun!

This Giggle was sent to me by a friend. Note the “Use and Care” section. There is a time and place for capitalization and I’ve posted about that before here and here, but random capitals are not appropriate. I can’t even tell why they decided to capitalize these words.


Personal Titles and Capitalization

There is some confusion over when to capitalize personal titles. Here are the “rules”:

  • Capitalize official titles of honor and respect when they precede a personal name
    • Personal Titles—Mr. John Jones
    • Executive Titles—President Hank Brown
    • Professional Titles—Professor Sue Allen
    • Civic Titles—Councilman Frank Thomas
    • Military Titles—Sergeant Sharon Smith
    • Religious Titles—Bishop Samuel Stone
  • Do not capitalize these titles when the personal name follows, set off by commas, as a description of the title
    • The professor, Sue Allen, teaches on Wednesdays and Thursdays.
    • The president, Hank Brown, is in meetings all day today.
  • Do not capitalize occupational titles when they precede a name.
    • The work of attorney John Jones is full of grammatical errors.

To determine whether it is an official title as opposed to an occupational title, decide if you can use the title with just the last name. You would not say “Lawyer Jones,” “Director of Marketing Smith,” etc. Do not use a title before a person’s name unless it is short and you would actually say the title when you address that person. For instance, you might say Professor Allen, but you would not say Professor of Literary Arts Allen. Instead, that sentence would start “Sue Allen, professor of literary arts, . . .”

  • When you have a title that would be capitalized, be careful not to confuse it with a more generic expression that would not be capitalized:
    • Judge John Jones
    • BUT NOT: Federal Judge John Jones or federal Judge John Jones
  • Generally, you would not capitalize titles of honor and respect when they follow a personal name or are in place of a personal name:
    • Hank Brown, president of XYZ Corporation, attended the meeting this morning.
    • The president of XYZ Corporation attended the meeting.
    • Jerry Hawkins, director of ABC Corporation, was the only dissenting vote of the board of directors.
    • The directors of ABC Corporation voted on the CEO’s pay increase.

However, when that title is for a high-ranking national, state, or international official and follows or replaces the personal name, it is capitalized:

  • Chuck Hagel, Secretary of Defense
  • Ambassador John Phillips

Modern usage is even changing parts of this rule. Some sources now recommend that these titles not be capitalized when they follow or replace a proper name of a high-ranking official as in “The queen will visit the prime minister of Australia during her visit there.” If you will use this style, remember to give both officials the same treatment so that “queen” and “prime minister” are both not capitalized. The same rule applies when using two high-ranking officials with their position and name, i.e. “Queen Elizabeth will meet with President Obama in Washington, D.C.” NOT “Queen Elizabeth will meet with the president.” Just use equal treatment.

  • Titles of organizational officials are generally not capitalized when they follow or replace the officer’s name EXCEPT in formal minutes, rules, and bylaws.
    • The director of membership is responsible for greeting new members.
    • The President called the meeting to order at 6:45 p.m. (In formal minutes.)
  • Do not capitalize job titles when they stand alone. In someintercompany memos and announcements, the title may be capitalized for special emphasis.
    • Please join us in congratulating John Jones, who was promoted to Paralegal Manager today. (Interoffice announcement.)
    • Please see the paralegal manager for your next assignment.
  • Do not capitalize titles when you are using it as a general term of classification
    • all of the senators
    • the kings

HOWEVER, because of the special position of the President of the United States, that title is always capitalized even when used as a general term of classification

  • all U.S. Presidents

In a letter’s inside address, writer’s signature block, envelope, and on business cards, the titles are ALWAYS capitalized whether they are before or after the proper name.

I hope this helps clear up some confusion in using personal titles correctly.

Capitalization in Legal Documents

A reader asked about capitalization in legal documents. It sounds like it should be simple but research shows lots of people have their own ideas about what should be capitalized. The Gregg Reference Manual says there is no uniform style for capitalization in legal documents, but common practice is to capitalize key terms such as the parties and the type of document you are working on. Since we’re talking about legal documents, I checked The Bluebook (19th ed.). Here is a quick breakdown of capitalization “rules” according to both sources:

Court – The word “court” is capitalized in these instances:

  • Always when referring to the United States Supreme Court
  • Always when the name of the court is spelled out, i.e., the United States District Court.
  • When your document is talking about the specific court that will rule, i.e., “We ask the Court to rule in favor of the Plaintiff”
  • Do not capitalize the word “court” when talking about a ruling in another case, i.e., “The court in Roe ruled . . .”

Parties – When referring to the parties in your particular document, capitalize their designation:

  • “The Plaintiff files this Reply in Support of Motion to Dismiss.”
  • However, “The defendant in Smith v. Jones used the unclean hands defense.”

State – Capitalize the word “state” in these instances:

  • When it is part of the full name of the state, i.e., the State of California
  • When the word it modifies is capitalized, i.e., the State Education Director
  • When referring to the state as a party to the litigation or as a governmental actor, i.e., “The State filed its Answer on January 14, 2014.”

Titles of Documents – When referring to a document that has been filed in the same matter in which you are filing your document:

  • In the Motion to Dismiss, Plaintiff alleges . . .
  • Under the Court’s February 10, 2014, Order . . .

As for other defined terms in legal documents, I personally think it is much clearer if a term is defined and then capitalized throughout:

  • ABC Corporation (“Corporation”) hereby agrees . . .
  • The doctors employed by St. Joseph’s Hospital (“Doctors”) . . .

This can be tricky when a defined term is used in describing another case. Only capitalize the defined term in YOUR case. If you can substitute the full name of the defined term, you can capitalize it. For instance, using our definition of “Corporation” above:

  • “At all times relevant hereto, Corporation was engaged in business in the state of Arizona.” Here, “. . . ABC Corporation was engaged in business . . .” is correct since you are talking about the defined Corporation.
  • HOWEVER–“In Smith, the corporation was engaged in the business of providing license plate holders through Internet sales.” Note that in this example, the corporation you are referring to is a corporation in the Smith case, not ABC Corporation.

The same basic rule applies to defined documents:

  • In its Motion for Summary Judgment (“Motion”), Plaintiff is attempting . . .. The Motion is untimely.

One thing I did learn is that in legal documents using Bluebook style, words in headings are capitalized except for articles, conjunctions, or prepositions of four or fewer letters unless they begin the heading. This is different than the Gregg style for regular writing. See Things Are Coming to a Head[ing]!

What rules do you have for capitalization in legal documents? Please share them in the comments.



Bubble Wrap, Champagne, and Solo Cups–Sounds Like a Party!

18394703_sIn listening to one of my favorite podcasts (Stop! … Grammar Time*) on the way to work recently, one of the topics was products that are a brand name and should be capitalized even though generic products are commonly called by the brand name. There are many of them. Here are a few:

Adobe – brand name of PDF program, even though some people say “Adobe” when they are referring to a PDF

Astroturf – brand of artificial grass

Band-Aid – brand of bandage

Boogie board – Boogie is a tradename for body board

BOOKS ON TAPE -brand name for audiobooks

Breathalyzer -brand name for breath alcohol testing equipment

Bubble Wrap – brand name for cushioning product for shipping

Champagne – sparkling wine that comes from the Champagne region of France.  Sparkling wine from anywhere other than the Champagne region of France cannot be called “Champagne” but must be called “sparkling wine.”

Clicker – brand name of garage door opener

Clorox – brand name of bleach

Coke – brand name for cola flavored soda – short for Coca Cola

Disposall – brand name for garbage disposer in the sink

Dixie cup – Dixie is brand name for disposable cup

Dumpster – trademarked brand name for type of trash bin

Frisbee – trade name for flying disc toy

Jacuzzi – brand name of hot tub

Jet Ski – brand name for personal watercraft

Karo – brand name of corn syrup

Kitty Litter – brand name of cat box filler

Kleenex – brand name of tissue

La-Z-Boy – brand name of recliner

Levi’s – brand name of denim pants

Mace – brand name of pepper spray

Magic Marker – brand name of permanent marker

Plexiglass – brand name of acrylic sheet

Popsicle – brand name of frozen ice pop

Post-it – brand name of sticky notes

Q-tips – brand name of cotton swab

Rolodex – brand name of contact card system

Scotch Tape – brand name of invisible tape

Seeing Eye dog – name of organization that trains dogs for use by blind people

SHEETROCK – brand name of gypsum panel

Solo cup – Solo is brand name of disposal cup

Styrofoam – brand name of plastic foam

Super Glue – brand name of permanent adhesive

Tabasco – brand name of hot pepper sauce

Taser – brand name of stun gun

Vaseline – brand name of petroleum jelly products

Velcro – brand name of hook and loop fastener

WD-40 – brand name of rust-prevention solvents and degreasers

Windbreaker – brand name of wind resistant sports jacket

Windex – brand name of window cleaner

Wite-Out – brand name of correction fluid

Xerox – brand name of copier equipment

Yellow Pages – brand name of telephone directory advertising section

Ziploc – brand name of reusable, re-sealable zipper storage bag

These brand names should be used only when talking about that specific brand and should then be properly capitalized.


*Note that “Stop . . . Grammar Time” contains language that might be offensive to some but is still a very informative podcast.