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English Translation Style Guide for EU – Writing English – SPELLING – CAPITAL LETTERS


2.16 General. In English, proper names are capitalised but ordinary nouns are not. The titles and names of persons, bodies, programmes, legal acts, documents, etc. are therefore normally capitalised:

the President of the Council, the Director-General for Agriculture

the Commission, the Markets in Crop Products Directorate

the Seventh Framework Programme

Regulation (EC) No 1234/2007 (= the Council Regulation of 22 October 2007 or the Single CMO Regulation)

the English Style Guide

NB: in English unlike in some other languages, all the nouns and adjectives in names take capitals (though see chapter 9 on scientific usage).

For more on names, see also chapter 12 on names and titles.

2.17 However, for long names that read more like a description than a real title use lower case:

Committee for the adaptation to technical progress of the Directive on the introduction of recording equipment in road transport (tachograph)

Joint FAO/EC working party on forest and forest product statistics

The general rule is ‘the longer the name, the fewer the capitals’.

2.18 Subsequent references to names. If you mention a body or person subsequently in a text, you may truncate the name provided it is clear what you mean, e.g.:

the [Seventh Framework] Programme

the President [of the Commission]

Note, though, that the use of initial capitals has a highlighting effect, so if the body or person is not particularly important in the context of your text, an ordinary noun phrase may be more appropriate for subsequent mentions:

The Ruritanian Programme for Innovation and Research focuses on … The (research) programme is headed by …

2.19 Translations of names. Use initial capitals for official or literal translations but lower case for descriptive translations:

the Federal Constitutional Court is the German supreme court

2.20 For parts of documents or legal acts, see 10.6.

2.21 Capitals may also be used to indicate the name of a type of body, legal act, etc.:

the Commission has several Directorates-General

It was felt a Directive rather than a Regulation was the appropriate instrument.

However, if there is no risk of confusion or there is no need to draw attention to the name, lower case can be used instead.

2.22 Draft legislation. Note that the words draft and proposal should be written in lower case even in the titles of draft legislation.

2.23 State or state? Use initial capitals for Member States of the European Union. Use lower case in most other instances:

state-owned, state aid, reasons of state, nation states, the Arab states (since ill-defined), but the Gulf States (defined group of countries), the State (in political theory and legal texts)

2.24 Permanent and ad hoc bodies. Permanent bodies (e.g. the Commission Delegation in the United States) require capitals, while ad hoc groups (e.g. the Polish delegation to a meeting) do not.

2.25 Seasons etc. No capitals for spring, summer, autumn, winter; capitals for days of the week, months and feast-days (Ascension Day, pre-Christmas business).

2.26 Events. Initial capitals throughout for events such as British Week, Love Parade, the International Year of the Child, the Second UN Development Decade. No capitals, however, for the 2003/04 marketing year, the 2004 budget year and so on.

2.27 Celestial bodies and objects. Since they are proper nouns, the names of planets, moons, stars and artificial satellites are capitalised (Venus, Rigel, Palapa B). However, the earth, the moon and the sun do not normally take an initial capital unless they are specifically referred to as celestial bodies.

The Starship Enterprise returned to Earth.


The daydreamer returned to earth.

2.28 Generic terms. Proper nouns that have become generic terms no longer call for initial capitals. We thus now refer to the internet and the web.

2.29 Proprietary names. Proprietary names (or trade names) are normally capitalised, unless they too have become generic terms, such as aspirin, gramophone, linoleum, nylon, celluloid. Thus, capitalise registered trade names such as Airbus, Boeing, Land Rover, Disprin, Polaroid.

2.30 Derivations from proper nouns. When proper nouns are used adjectivally they keep the initial capital (e.g. Bunsen burner, Faraday cage). In the case of words derived from proper nouns (such as pasteurise, quixotic, Rabelaisian), consult a reliable dictionary, as practice varies.

2.31 All capitals. Using all capitals for words in running text has the effect of emphasising them, often excessively so, so should generally be avoided. Writing entire passages in block capitals has a similar over-emphatic ‘telegram’ effect. Use bolding or other devices instead to convey emphasis.

Upper case may also be employed for names used as codes or in a different way from usual, e.g. VENUS as a cover name for a person or for a computer server rather than the planet. Where confusion is unlikely, however, use just an initial capital, e.g. prefer Europa to EUROPA for the web server of the European institutions, since it is unlikely to be confused with the moon of the same name. For this use, see also chapter 5 on abbreviations.

2.32 Initial capitals in quotations. Start with a capital in running text only if the quotation is a complete sentence in itself:

Walther Rathenau once said ‘We stand or fall on our economic performance.’

The American Government favours ‘a two-way street in arms procurement’.

2.33 Compass points. See 2.49.

Source: European Commission Directorate-General for Translation

A handbook for authors and translators in the European Commission

Seventh edition: August 2011 Last updated: May 2014

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