Letter case

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia - View original article

Jump to: navigation, search
For the minimalist musical sub-genre, see Lowercase (music). For New Testament minuscules, see Category:Greek New Testament minuscules.
The upper-case "A" and lower-case "a" are the two case variants of the first letter in the English alphabet.

In orthography and typography, letter case (or just case) is the distinction between the letters that are in larger upper case (also capital letters, capitals, caps, majuscule, or large letters) and smaller lower case (also minuscule or small letters) in certain languages. In the Latin script, upper case letters are A, B, C, etc., whereas lower case includes a, b, c, etc. Here is a comparison of the upper and lower case versions of each letter included in the English alphabet (the exact representation will vary according to the font used):

Lower Case:abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz

The lower case is the more commonly used variant, contrasted by the upper case, which is used for special purposes, for example as the first letter of a sentence or a proper noun; however, the upper-case forms are regarded as the basic or citation forms of the letters. Languages have capitalisation rules to determine whether an upper or lower case letter is to be used in a given context, but there can also be stylistic variation.


Divided upper and lower type cases for movable type

The term upper case (or lower case) can be written as two consecutive words or alternatively connected with a hyphen (upper-case or lower-case), or as a single word (uppercase or lowercase). These terms originated from the common layouts of the shallow drawers called type cases used to hold the movable type for letterpress printing. Traditionally, the capital letters were stored in a separate case that was located above the case that held the small letters.

For paleographers, a majuscule (/məˈʌskjuːl/ or /ˈmæəskjuːl/) script is any script in which the letters have very few or very short ascenders and descenders, or none at all (for example, the majuscule scripts used in the Codex Vaticanus Graecus 1209, or the Book of Kells).

The word minuscule is often spelled miniscule, by association with the unrelated word miniature and the prefix mini-. This has traditionally been regarded as a spelling mistake (since minuscule is derived from the word minus[1]), but is now so common that some dictionaries tend to accept it as a nonstandard or variant spelling.[2] However, miniscule is still less likely to be used for lower-case letters.

Bicameral script[edit]

Williamsburg 18th-century press letters

Most Western languages (particularly those with writing systems based on the Latin, Cyrillic, Greek, Coptic, and Armenian alphabets) use letter cases in their written form as an aid to clarity. Scripts using two separate cases are also called bicameral scripts. Many other writing systems make no distinction between majuscules and minuscules – a system called unicameral script or unicase. This includes most syllabic and other non-alphabetic scripts. The Georgian alphabet is special since it used to be bicameral, but today is mostly used in a unicameral way.

If an alphabet has case, all or nearly all letters have both forms. Paired forms are considered variants of the same letter: they have the same name and pronunciation and will be treated identically when sorting in alphabetical order. The glyphs of lowercase letters can resemble smaller forms of the uppercase glyphs restricted to the base band (small caps, e.g. c, C and s, S) or can look hardly related (e.g. D, d and g, G). In scripts with a case distinction, lower case is generally used for the majority of text; capitals are used for capitalization, acronyms or initialisms, and emphasis (in some languages).


Main article: Capitalization

Capitalisation is the writing of a word with its first grapheme or letter in uppercase and the remaining letters in lowercase. Capitalisation rules vary by language and are often quite complex, but in most modern languages that have capitalisation, the first word of every sentence is capitalised, as are all proper nouns.

Capitalisation in English, in terms of the general orthographic rules independent of context (e.g. title vs. heading vs. text), is universally standardized for formal writing. (Informal communication, such as texting, instant messaging or a handwritten sticky note, may not bother, but that is because its users usually do not expect it to be formal.) In English, capital letters are used as the first letter of a sentence, a proper noun, or a proper adjective. There are a few pairs of words of different meanings whose only difference is capitalisation of the first letter. The names of the days of the week and the names of the months are also capitalised, as are the first-person pronoun "I" and the interjection "O". Acronyms and initialisms are often written in all-caps, depending on various factors. Lower case letters are normally used for all other purposes. There are however situations where further capitalisation may be used to give added emphasis, for example in headings and titles or to pick out certain words (often using small capitals). In some traditional forms of poetry, capitalisation has conventionally been used as a marker to indicate the beginning of a line of verse independent of any grammatical feature.

Other languages vary in their use of capitals. For example, in German all nouns are capitalised (this was previously common in English as well), while in Romance and most other European languages the names of the days of the week, the names of the months, and adjectives of nationality, religion and so on generally begin with a lower case letter.

Exceptional letters and digraphs[edit]

Related phenomena[edit]

Similar orthographic and graphostylistic conventions are used for emphasis or following language-specific rules, including:

Stylistic or specialised usage[edit]

Case styles[edit]

All-caps and title case in New York Times (10 November 1919, on Arthur Eddington's solar eclipse experiment).

In English, a variety of case styles are used in various circumstances:

The main examples are as follows (from most to least capitals used):

TheVitaminsAreInMyFreshCaliforniaRaisinsStart case – capitalization of all words, regardless of the part of speech
TheVitaminsAreinMyFreshCaliforniaRaisinsCapitalization of the first word, and all other words, except for articles, prepositions, and conjunctions
TheVitaminsareinMyFreshCaliforniaRaisinsCapitalisation of the first word, and all other words, except for articles, prepositions, conjunctions, and forms of to be
TheVitaminsAreinmyFreshCaliforniaRaisinsCapitalization of the first word, and all other words, except for closed-class words
TheVitaminsareinmyfreshCaliforniaRaisinsCapitalization of all nouns and the first word
theVitaminsareinmyfreshCaliforniaRaisinsCapitalization only of nouns
ThevitaminsareinmyfreshCaliforniaraisinsSentence case – capitalization of only the first word, proper nouns and as dictated by other specific English rules
thevitaminsareinmyfreshCaliforniaraisinsMid-sentence case – capitalization of proper nouns only
thevitaminsareinmyfreshcaliforniaraisinsAll-lowercase letters (unconventional in formal English)

Headings and publication titles[edit]

In English-language publications, varying conventions are used for capitalizing words in publication titles and headlines, including chapter and section headings. The rules differ substantially between individual house styles.

The convention followed by many British publishers (including scientific publishers, like Nature, magazines, like The Economist and New Scientist, and newspapers, like The Guardian and The Times) and U.S. newspapers is to use sentence-style capitalization in headlines, where capitalization follows the same rules that apply for sentences. This convention is usually called sentence case. It may also be applied to publication titles, especially in bibliographic references and library catalogues. Examples of global publishers whose English-language house styles prescribe sentence-case titles and headings include the International Organization for Standardization.

As regards publication titles it is, however, a common typographic practice among both British[5] and U.S. publishers to capitalize significant words, and in the United States, this is often applied to headings, too. For example, R. M. Ritter's Oxford Manual of Style (2002) suggests capitalizing "the first word and all nouns, pronouns, adjectives, verbs and adverbs, but generally not articles, conjunctions and short prepositions".[6] This is an old form of emphasis, similar to the more modern practice of using a larger or boldface font for titles. This family of typographic conventions is usually called title case. The rules for which words to capitalize are not based on any grammatically inherent correct/incorrect distinction and are not universally standardized; they are arbitrary and differ between style guides, although in most styles they tend to follow a few strong conventions, as follows:

Although title case is still widely used in English-language publications, especially in the United States, sentence case has been slowly gaining some popularity over title case in recent decades, for several reasons. One is that, in the era of shrinking budgets and profitability for traditional publishing, some production staffs[weasel words] have realized that title case is not lean (it imposes a cost to enforce the rules and exceptions of any particular house style that, because of its arbitrariness, does not add any inherent value to the text). Another is that title case strikes some users[weasel words] as old-fashioned, associated with non-scientific/technical and pre-internet writing style. Such trends may lend a certain fashionableness to sentence case.[original research?]

In creative typography, such as music record covers and other artistic material, all styles are commonly encountered, including all-lowercase letters and special case styles, such as studly caps (see below).

Special case styles[edit]

Some case styles are not used in standard English, but are common in computer programming, product branding, or other specialised fields:

Metric system[edit]

In the International System of Units (SI), a letter usually has a different meaning in upper and lower cases when used as a unit symbol. A unit symbol is normally written in lower case, but if the name of the unit is derived from a proper noun, the first letter of the symbol is written in upper case (nevertheless, the name of the unit, if spelled out, is always considered a common noun and written accordingly):[10]

For clarity, the symbol for litre can optionally be written in upper case even though the name is not derived from a proper noun:[10]

The letter case of a prefix symbol is defined independently of the unit symbol it is attached to. Lower case is used for all submultiple prefix symbols and the small multiple prefix symbols up to "k" (for kilo, meaning 103 = 1000 multiplier), whereas upper case is used for larger multipliers:[10]

Case folding[edit]

Case-insensitive operations are sometimes said to fold case, from the idea of folding the character code table so that upper- and lower-case letters coincide. The conversion of letter case in a string is common practice in computer applications, for instance to make case-insensitive comparisons. Many high-level programming languages provide simple methods for case folding, at least for the ASCII character set.

Methods in word processing[edit]

Most modern word processors provide automated case folding with a simple click or keystroke. For example, in Microsoft Office Word, there is a dialog box for toggling the selected text through UPPERCASE, then lowercase, then Title Case (actually start caps; exception words must be lowercased individually). The keystroke shift-F3 does the same thing.

Methods in programming[edit]

In some forms of BASIC there are two methods for case folding:

  UpperA$ = UCASE$("a")  LowerA$ = LCASE$("A") 

C and C++, as well as any C-like language that conforms to its standard library, provide these functions in the file ctype.h:

  char upperA = toupper('a');  char lowerA = tolower('A'); 

Case folding is different with different character sets. In ASCII or EBCDIC, case can be folded in the following way, in C:

 #define toupper(c) (islower(c) ? (c) - 'a' + 'A' : (c)) #define tolower(c) (isupper(c) ? (c) - 'A' + 'a' : (c)) 

This only works because the letters of upper and lower cases are spaced out equally. In ASCII they are consecutive, whereas with EBCDIC they are not; nonetheless the upper case letters are arranged in the same pattern and with the same gaps as are the lower case letters, so the technique still works.

Some computer programming languages offer facilities for converting text to a form in which all words are first-letter capitalised. Visual Basic calls this "proper case"; Python calls it "title case". This differs from usual title casing conventions, such as the English convention in which minor words are not capitalised.

Unicode case folding and script identification[edit]

Unicode defines case folding through the three case-mapping properties of each character: uppercase, lowercase and titlecase. These properties relate all characters in scripts with differing cases to the other case variants of the character.

As briefly discussed in Unicode Technical Note #26,[11] "In terms of implementation issues, any attempt at a unification of Latin, Greek, and Cyrillic would wreak havoc [and] make casing operations an unholy mess, in effect making all casing operations context sensitive [...]". In other words, while the shapes of letters like A, B, E, H, K, M, O, P, T, X, Y and so on are shared between the Latin, Greek, and Cyrillic alphabets (and small differences in their canonical forms may be considered to be of a merely typographical nature), it would still be problematic for a multilingual character set or a font to provide only a single codepoint for, say, uppercase letter B, as this would make it quite difficult for a wordprocessor to change that single uppercase letter to one of the three different choices for the lower case letter, b (Latin), β (Greek), or в (Cyrillic). Without letter case, a "unified European alphabet" – such as ABБCГDΔΕZЄЗFΦGHIИJ...Z, with an appropriate subset for each language – is feasible; but considering letter case, it becomes very clear that these alphabets are rather distinct sets of symbols.


Latin majuscule inscription on the Arch of Titus (82 AD)
Papyrus fragment with old Roman cursive script from the reign of Claudius (41–54 AD)
Example of Greek minuscule text Codex Ebnerianus (c. 1100 AD)

Originally alphabets were written entirely in majuscule letters, spaced between well-defined upper and lower bounds. When written quickly with a pen, these tended to turn into rounder and much simpler forms. It is from these that the first minuscule hands developed, the half-uncials and cursive minuscule, which no longer stayed bound between a pair of lines.[12] These in turn formed the foundations for the Carolingian minuscule script, developed by Alcuin for use in the court of Charlemagne, which quickly spread across Europe.

In Latin, papyri from Herculaneum dating before 79 AD (when it was destroyed) have been found that have been written in old Roman cursive, where the early forms of minuscule letters "d", "h" and "r", for example, can already be recognised. According to papyrologist Knut Kleve, "The theory, then, that the lower-case letters have been developed from the fifth century uncials and the ninth century Carolingian minuscules seems to be wrong."[13] Both majuscule and minuscule letters existed, but the difference between the two variants was initially stylistic rather than orthographic and the writing system was still basically unicameral: a given handwritten document could use either one style or the other but these were not mixed. European languages, except for Ancient Greek and Latin, did not make the case distinction before about 1300.[citation needed]

The timeline of writing in Western Europe can be divided into four eras:

Traditionally, certain letters were rendered differently according to a set of rules. In particular, those letters that began sentences or nouns were made larger and often written in a distinct script. There was no fixed capitalisation system until the early 18th century. The English language eventually dropped the rule for nouns, while the German language kept it.

Similar developments have taken place in other alphabets. The lower-case script for the Greek alphabet has its origins in the 7th century and acquired its quadrilinear form in the 8th century. Over time, uncial letter forms were increasingly mixed into the script. The earliest dated Greek lower-case text is the Uspenski Gospels (MS 461) in the year 835.[citation needed] The modern practice of capitalising the first letter of every sentence seems to be imported (and is rarely used when printing Ancient Greek materials even today).

Simplified relationship between various scripts leading to the development of modern lower case of standard Latin alphabet and that of the modern variants, Fraktur (used in Germany until recently) and Gaelic (Ireland). Several scripts coexisted such as half-uncial and uncial, which derive from Roman cursive and Greek uncial, and Visigothic, Merovingian (Luxeuil variant here) and Beneventan. The Carolingian script was the basis for blackletter and humanist minuscule. What is commonly called "gothic writing" is technically called blackletter (here Textualis quadrata) and is completely unrelated to Visigothic script.
The letter j is i with a flourish, u and v are the same letter in early scripts and were used depending on their position in insular half-uncial and caroline minuscule and later scripts, w is a ligature of vv, in insular the rune wynn is used as a w (three other runes in use were the thorn (þ), ʻféʼ (ᚠ) as an abbreviation for cattle/goods and maðr (ᛘ) for man).
The letters y and z were very rarely used, in particular þ was written identically to y so y was dotted to avoid confusion, the dot was adopted for i only after late-caroline (protogothic), in beneventan script the macron abbreviation featured a dot above.
Lost variants such as r rotunda, ligatures and scribal abbreviation marks are omitted, long s is shown when no terminal s (surviving variant) is present.
Humanist script was the basis for Venetian types which changed little until today, such as Times New Roman (a serifed typeface))

Type cases[edit]

Combined case with capital letters above small letters
Late 19th-century mixed cases
Demonstrating the use of a composing stick in front of divided upper and lower type cases at the International Printing Museum in Carson, California

The individual type blocks used in hand typesetting are stored in shallow wooden or metal drawers, known as type cases, with subdivisions into compartments known as boxes to store each individual letter.

The Oxford Universal Dictionary on Historical Advanced Proportional Principles (reprinted 1952) indicates that case in this sense (referring to the box or frame used by a compositor in the printing trade) was first used in English in 1588. Originally one large case was used for each typeface, then "divided cases", pairs of cases for majuscules and minuscules, were introduced in the region of today's Belgium by 1563, England by 1588, and France before 1723.

The terms upper and lower case originate from this division. By convention, when the two cases were taken out of the storage rack, and placed on a rack on the compositor's desk, the case containing the capitals and small capitals stood at a steeper angle at the back of the desk, with the case for the small letters, punctuation and spaces being more easily reached at a shallower angle below it to the front of the desk, hence upper and lower case.[14]

Though pairs of cases were used in English-speaking countries and many European countries in the seventeenth century, in Germany and Scandinavia the single case continued in use.[14]

Various patterns of cases are available, often with the compartments for lower-case letters varying in size according to the frequency of use of letters, so that the commonest letters are grouped together in larger boxes at the centre of the case.[14] The compositor takes the letter blocks from the compartments and places them in a composing stick, working from left to right and placing the letters upside down with the nick to the top, then sets the assembled type in a galley.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Charlton T. Lewis (1890). "Minusculus". An Elementary Latin Dictionary. New York, Cincinnati, and Chicago: American Book Company. Retrieved 23 February 2014. 
  2. ^ The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed.). Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin. 2000. ISBN 978-0-395-82517-4. 
  3. ^ "Ijsland / IJsland". Taalunie. Retrieved 9 March 2014. 
  4. ^ RFC 1855 "Netiquette Guidelines"
  5. ^ "The Guardian and Observer Style Guide". Retrieved 10 June 2014. 
  6. ^ R. M. Ritter, ed. (2002). Oxford Manual of Style. Oxford University Press. 
  7. ^ Currin Berdine. "What to Capitalize in a Title". AdminSecret. Retrieved 23 February 2014. 
  8. ^ "Ruby Style Guide". Retrieved 11 November 2013. 
  9. ^ "StackOverflow - What's the name for snake_case with dashes?". 
  10. ^ a b c Bureau International des Poids et Mesures (2006). "The International System of Units" (PDF). Organisation Intergouvernementale de la Convention du Mètre. pp. 121, 130–131. Retrieved 12 January 2014. 
  11. ^ "Unicode Technical Note #26: On the Encoding of Latin, Greek, Cyrillic, and Han". Retrieved 23 April 2007. 
  12. ^ David Harris (2003). The Calligrapher's Bible. Hauppauge, NY: Barron's. ISBN 0-7641-5615-2. 
  13. ^ Knut Kleve (1994). "The Latin Papyri in Herculaneum". Proceedings of the 20th International Congress of Papyrologists, Copenhagen, 23–29 August 1992. Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press. 
  14. ^ a b c David Bolton (1997). "Type Cases". The Alembic Press. Archived from the original on 16 July 2007. Retrieved 23 April 2007. 

External links[edit]