One of the problems for people learning English is the notion of capitalization. This may not be a big deal for people whose native tongue is another European language with similar rules, but for those who grew up with a non-Roman alphabet language, it is often quite troublesome. They wonder, “What words should I capitalize?” and “Which words should be in lower case?”
Of course, for the OET writing sub-test it is important to capitalize correctly. In fact, the examiner will consider this a very basic skill that any competent candidate would easily know. Therefore, you should be thoroughly knowledgeable of the rules prior to arranging your OET test.
In this article, we will look at the rules of capitalization in English, with a focus on OET writing tasks.
When to Use Capital Letters
Generally speaking, a capital letter should be used at the beginning of a proper noun. A proper noun is a word that refers specifically to some object or entity, and cannot be used more generally. It is the opposite of a common noun, which refers more generally to objects or entities. For example, “London” is a proper noun, but “city” is a common noun. “Jeff” is a proper noun, but “man” is a common noun.
This sounds simple, but in the OET writing sub-test it can be a little more challenging to know what exactly constitutes a proper noun. Is a disease a proper noun? What about a type of medicine? These are good questions, and ones that I will answer below.
Below are some examples of proper nouns that should be capitalized when written in the OET writing sub-test:
Brand names and company names
When referring to a type of drug, if it has a brand name or is manufactured by a particular company that you will mention, you should use a capital letter.
- Vicodin, Zocor, Norvasc
- Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer
Hospitals or other institutions
If you need to mention a place, you should use capital letters for the name of the hospital or institution.
- University of Dublin, Cardiff Hospital, Saint Mary’s Hospital
Note that if you didn’t name a specific hospital, you would still use lower case: “She has been to the hospital twice in the previous year.”
Similar to the above rule, you should also use capitals for addresses and other place names such as towns, cities, and so on.
- 19 Main Road, Edinburgh
Although in some forms of writing it is not common to capitalize job titles (such as teacher, janitor, doctor, etc), in formal writing such as an OET referral letter, you should use capitals. This is the full title alone, as well as when it precedes a person’s surname:
- Oral Surgeon, Dental Hygienist
- Doctor Roberts, Nurse Johnson
Days and Holidays
The various days of the week should be capitalized, along with months and holidays. However, seasons (summer, spring, etc) do not need to be capitalized.
- Monday, Friday, Christmas Day, January
When to Use Lower Case Letters
As you may have guessed, lower case letters are used for most other words except the ones mentioned above. However, to make it clearer when these should actually be used, and to reinforce the correct use of capitals, we will explain some of the cases when you may wonder if capitals should or shouldn’t be used for OET.
Diseases and Illnesses
Most diseases and illnesses should not be capitalized.
- skin cancer, heart disease, liver failure, migraine
There is one exception to this rule, and that is for diseases that were named after people. In this case, the person’s name should be capitalized.
- Crohn’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, Tourette syndrome
Chemicals and General Drugs
Although I stated above that the brand name of a medication should be capitalized, if it is just a chemical name or the generic name of a drug, then it should not be capitalized:
- alprazolam, clonazepam, methylphenidate
No medical procedures should be capitalized.
- appendectomy, biopsy, artery bypass
The different parts of the human body are also considered to be common nouns, and should definitely not be capitalized.
- scalp, finger, femur, stomach
Read the following passage and correct the mistakes and simply click on the word with incorrect capitalisation before you see the correct answer.
- Thank you for your assistance with Mr sands. I saw him on 10 july for a consultation regarding his Hernia. His medical history was Unremarkable, although he had recently visited the queen Anne Hospital for an Appendectomy.