Is World War, either I or II, capitalized? What about other historical events? Let’s find out. First, here is the quick answer:
- Historical events such as World War II will be capitalized as proper nouns, as they are specific names rather than general references.
- These names follow the same capitalization rules as titles, capitalizing the first word and other words except prepositions, conjunctions, and articles.
Now for the nitty-gritty.
Like much of the English language, capitalization has specific rules and guidelines that indicate proper form, including exceptions to rules that can even give grammar gurus pause. Fortunately, with a basic understanding of common and proper nouns and how titles are capitalized, deciding when and how to capitalize events can be a breeze.
To that end, we will walk through these concepts as part of our explanation so that you will have the knowledge you need to succeed!
The Difference Between Common and Proper Nouns
A noun is a technical name for any person, place, thing, or idea. That embodies anything you can touch, taste, feel, smell, or see; as long as you can do any of these actions related to some thing, it is a noun. However, a few cannot be so easily defined, so they are called abstract nouns. These are why we include “ideas” in the noun definition, as they are concepts that we understand but cannot interact with in any way, such as friendship, justice, truth, happiness, and time.
What distinguishes common and proper nouns are the same guidelines that separate the general from the specific. We give proper nouns specific names to show that they are unique, differentiating them from others. Each of us has a name so other people can refer to us in particular or recognize what makes us unique.
- Common nouns refer to any old person, place, thing, or idea and will not be capitalized (unless they begin a sentence or title)
- Proper nouns are specific people, places, things, or ideas and have unique names that will be capitalized.
Here are some examples to help with understanding. The items in the first column are general nouns, followed by a specific instance of that noun that has a capitalized name.
Common nouns Proper nouns
coffee Blue Mountain Blend
coffee shop Starbucks
street Sixth Avenue
president President John F. Kennedy
book The Hobbit
Unless somebody indicates in some way, such as pointing to a particular noun while they speak, the word serves as a general example of that type of noun. With common nouns, “president” could be any president of any country, and “doll” could be any doll, regardless of brand or appearance.
On the other hand, if someone orders a Mocha Latte because they want a coffee drink but receives an Americano instead, they may be upset; even if they like Americanos, that is different from the specific drink they requested.
How to Capitalize Events
Events come in two flavors, er, forms – the same two categories from the above section. Some events are common nouns, such as wars, scandals, uprisings, invasions, revolutions, operations, campaigns, crises, battles, liberations, and many others. Remember, those are common nouns because they are not indicating any particular event, just in general, and as a result, do not receive the special distinction of capitalization.
Naturally, there are also proper nouns for specific examples of those events. This brings us to our big question – are events such as World War II capitalized? That answer is yes because World War II is a proper noun – the name for a particular war. When someone says that name, there is no doubt which event the speaker is referring to, and it likely conjures definitive images from your knowledge and experiences of the war.
This same concept applies to geological periods (such as the Jurassic Period or the Triassic Period); historical periods ( think, the Renaissance, the Middle Ages, etc.);
What do the Styles Guides Say?
Let’s quickly check in with a guide. The Chicago Manual of Style states that full names of most wars are capitalized, while that generic terms (such as “wars”) are lowercased.
There are several options offered for referring to the two world wars. You can choose either to use roman numerals to describe the wars:
- World War I
- World War II
- World Wars I and II
or write the number out
- the First World War
- the Second World War
- the First and Second World Wars
- the two world wars
Just remember to stay consistent!
Other historical events and eras
Here are more examples of historical events that you should capitalize:
- The Battle of Gettysburg
- The Messenian Revolt
- The Norman Conquest
- The Guadalupe Slave Revolt
- The Glorious Revolution
- The Louisiana Purchase
- The Cuban Missile Crisis
- The Warsaw Uprising
- The Invasion of Poland
- The Great Depression
- The Civil War
- The Cold War
Notice that “the” is capitalized in each case because the article is the first word in the compound noun. You will capitalize all the significant words in the name, but a few others do not get this special treatment.
The reason is that the names of specific historical events follow the same capitalization rules as titles of works of art, such as books or movies.
The Rules for Title Case
There are three major rules to remember when it comes to capitalizing titles, which also apply to specific events.
- Capitalize the first word in the phrase
- Capitalize the last word in the phrase
- Capitalize all the important words in between
The third point is the toughest of the three because not everyone understands what constitutes an “important” word!
While different title methods may have slight deviations from the general rule, you should capitalize the following parts of speech:
- Conjunctions with five or more letters (this eliminates the five coordinating conjunctions – for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so – and many of the subordinating conjunctions, as well)
That takes into account most of the words in the English language. Therefore, it may be simpler to consider which words you will not capitalize unless they start or end the title:
- Prepositions (some writing styles do capitalize prepositions of four or more letters, such as above, behind, near)
- The articles (a, an, the)
- Coordinating conjunctions (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so)
- Subordinating conjunctions of less than four letters (as, if, than, that)