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November 07, 2013

Is It Sometimes Okay to Begin a Sentence With a Lowercase Letter?

Tyler

 

 

by Tyler Krupa

A basic grammar rule is that the first word in a complete sentence should be capitalized. But do you know how to proceed when a name that begins with a lowercase letter begins a sentence? Or whether it is okay to begin a sentence with a lowercase statistical term (e.g., t test or p value)?

Although the two examples listed above seem to be exceptions to the rule that the first word in a sentence should be capitalized, this is not the case. Note that per APA Style, the first word in a complete sentence should always be capitalized.

So what should you do when you come across the above examples in your writing? Getting it right is simple as long as you remember the following two guidelines (see sections 4.14 and 4.30 in the sixth edition of the Publication Manual):

1. If a name that begins with a lowercase letter begins a sentence, then it should be capitalized.

2. Do not begin a sentence with a lowercase statistical term (e.g., t test or p value), a lowercase abbreviation (e.g., lb), or a symbol that stands alone (e.g., α).

To help illustrate the first guideline, let’s look at the following example:

Correct:

Van Morrison and Smith (2012) interviewed 100 participants . . .

Incorrect:

van Morrison and Smith (2012) interviewed 100 participants . . .

In the example above, even though the usual presentation of the surname van Morrison begins with a lowercase v, it is correct to capitalize the first letter of the surname when the name begins a sentence. However, note that if the surname van Morrison is used later in the sentence or in references/citations, then the lowercase v is retained (e.g., At the conclusion of the participant interviews, van Morrison and Smith . . .). For more information on how to correctly capitalize author names, see the following post to our blog.

Now let’s look at an example that illustrates the second guideline:

Correct:

We used t tests to determine . . .

Incorrect:

t tests were used to determine . . .

Incorrect:

t Tests were used to determine . . .

Incorrect:

T tests were used to determine . . .

Note that in the example above, it is not okay to capitalize the statistical term at the beginning of the sentence because doing so changes the meaning of the statistic. Therefore, in instances such as these, it is necessary to recast the sentence. However, note that it is okay to begin a sentence with a capitalized statistical term (e.g., F tests indicated that . . .). For more information on how to format statistics in your paper, see the following post to our blog.

We hope these examples clear up this point of possible uncertainty. Still have questions? Leave us a comment.

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