The Grammarphobia Blog

We the People

Q: Why are there so many seemingly random capital letters used in the preamble to the Constitution and in the Bill of Rights? Were the rules of capitalization different or nonexistent in those days?

A: Capitalization is more a matter of style than of grammar or usage. That’s why each newspaper, book publisher, and magazine has its own rules of capitalization. And, of course, that’s why each age has its own ideas about capitalization.

Bryan A. Garner, in Garner’s Modern American Usage, says there’s a “modern trend away from capitalization, resulting in a minimalist rule: unless there’s a good reason to capitalize, don’t.”

No wonder the capitalization in the preamble to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights seems random to you. Jefferson would probably feel the same about the capitalization on The Grammarphobia Blog.

Much of what you see as random in the Constitution may be attempts to emphasize certain words, like “Union,” “Tranquility,” “Liberty,” and “Posterity.” Of course magazine ad writers do the same thing these days.

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