Spanish capitalization rules that differ from English

Spanish capitalization rules that differ from English

by Alison Maciejewski Cortez

Updated September 8, 2023

Spanish capitalization rules are not quite the same as those in English. In Spanish, the first letter in a new sentence is capitalized. So is the first letter of a proper noun, such as the name of a specific person or place. That’s about it for capital letters in Spanish. 

Native English speakers often find that Spanish contains fewer capitalized letters than they are used to. In many places where English capitalizes letters, Spanish does not. At first, it might be difficult to remember the differences between English and Spanish capitalization rules. But once you get the hang of it, your Spanish writing abilities will be significantly improved.

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Basic terminology

To speak about capitalization, let’s start with the basic terms:

  • mayúscula (capital)
  • minúscula (lowercase)

You can use these terms to talk about how to spell  words, like so:

  • México se escribe con M mayúscula. (Mexico is spelled with a capital M.)

Spanish capitalizations rules

Now that you know the terminology, let’s talk about the rules. The only two rules for capitalization in Spanish are straightforward: Capitalize the first letter of a sentence, and capitalize the first letter of a proper noun. That’s all.

Beginning of a sentence

  • Hola, soy Alex. Soy de Australia. Soy australiano.  (Hi, I’m Alex. I come from Australia. I am Australian.) 
  • Ayer, fui a la plaza para ver a los músicos. (Yesterday, I went to the square to see the musicians.)

Proper nouns 

Proper nouns include names of people, places and specific things:

  • Names: Alex, Sara, Jorge, Claudia Sheinbaum Pardo
  • Places: México, Chile, España (Spain), los Andes (the Andes Mountains), la Tierra (Earth)
  • Specific things: El País (name of a popular newspaper, meaning The Country), Nochebuena (Christmas Eve), Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead)

What else do you capitalize in Spanish?

Now that you know the basic rules for capitalization in Spanish, let’s take a look at some examples.

Titles and forms of address

Titles such as señor (mister), señora (madam) and doctor/a are not capitalized, unless used in abbreviated form. For example:

  • El señor Ulloa es muy amable. (Mr. Ulloa is very kind.)
  • La señora Hernández estaba acá hace una hora. (Mrs. Hernández was here an hour ago.)
  • El Sr. Ulloa me dio un regalo. (Mr. Ulloa gave me a gift.)
  • La Sra. Hernández ya se fue. (Mrs. Hernández already left.)

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Each word of a newspaper title is capitalized, but only the first word of a book’s title is capitalized. For example:

  • Newspaper: La Crónica de Hoy
  • Book: Cien años de soledad (One Hundred Years of Solitude)

English vs. Spanish capitalization rules

There are a few significant differences between English and Spanish capitalization rules. In general, English capitalizes words more frequently. Let’s compare. 

Capitalized in English, but not in Spanish

  • Days of the week: Voy el miércoles. (I’m going on Wednesday.)
  • Month names: Mi cumpleaños es en agosto. (My birthday is in August.)
  • Nationalities or demonyms: Soy australiana. (I’m Australian.)
  • Religions: El papa es católico. (The Pope is Catholic.)
  • Languages: Hablo un poco de español. (I speak a little Spanish.)

Capitalized in neither English nor Spanish

You’ll notice that neither English nor Spanish capitalizes the articles below. This applies to titles as well.

  • el/la (the)
  • un/una (a/an)
  • de (of)
  •  por/para (by/for)

Straightforward Spanish capitalization rules

Spanish language learners must adjust from their usual English capitalization rules, as English and Spanish capitalization rules are similar in only a few situations. Proper names of people and places are capitalized in both. The same is true for abbreviations and for the first word in a sentence. But there are big differences, too. Are you surprised that book titles aren’t fully capitalized in Spanish? What other rules surprise you about Spanish capitalization?

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Alison Maciejewski Cortez

Alison Maciejewski Cortez is Chilean-American, born and raised in California. She studied abroad in Spain, has lived in multiple countries, and now calls Mexico home. She believes that learning how to order a beer in a new language reveals a lot about local culture. Alison speaks English, Spanish, and Thai fluently and studies Turkish. Her consulting business takes her around the world and she is excited to share language tips as part of the Lingoda team. Follow her culinary and cultural experiences on Twitter.

Alison Maciejewski Cortez
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