Common nouns

In English, capital letters are not used for common nouns (ie general names of things):

Call now to take advantage of this special offer.
Call now to take advantage of this Special Offer.

Well-trained optometrists are essential to the delivery of quality eye care.
Well-trained Optometrists are essential to the delivery of quality Eye Care.

The department takes its responsibilities for work health and safety (WHS) very seriously.
The Department takes its responsibilities for Work Health and Safety (WHS) very seriously.

Reminder. Just because the abbreviation of a term is made up of capitals, it does not mean that the term has initial capitals when it is spelled out. 

Do not use capital letters for:

  • organisational units mentioned in running text
institute     committee     high school     hospital      
  • family members
cousin     mother     sister     uncle
  • job descriptions and professions
airline pilot     cleaner     chartered accountant     nurse     obstetrician      
  • services
financial planning     physiotherapy     proofreading     sports medicine     
  • policies, concepts and expressions

environmental purchasing     freedom of information     work health and safety     ecologically sustainable development

  • serially numbered items referred to in the text
day 1, day 2     factor A, factor B     phase 1, phase 2     type 1, type 2
  • page numbers in a publication
page 5     pages 57–64
  • emphasis

Find a bargain in our bonanza sale!   not   Find a Bargain in our Bonanza Sale!

Our goal was peace in our time.   not   Our Goal was Peace in our time.

Exceptions to not capitalising common nouns

The general rule of not capitalising common nouns has 4 exceptions:

  • some commons nouns associated with government
  • common nouns in legal writing
  • common nouns referring to Indigenous Australians
  • common nouns referring to parts of a publication (eg chapters, tables, figures); see Refer readers to sections of the text.

Usage of capitals varies when displaying the titles of written and creative works; see Presenting titles.

Common nouns associated with government

Some common nouns associated with the Australian Government, and the state and territory governments are capitalised:

the Budget     the Cabinet     the House     the Senate     the House of Representatives     the Treasury     the Legislative Assembly

But when used as a defining adjective or in the plural, they are not capitalised:

… included in the budget provisions     the last 2 federal budgets     both houses of parliament

In Australian documents, the Commonwealth can be used as a shorthand for the Commonwealth of Australia. It is usually only used in relation to law (eg Commonwealth legislation) and is not used as a name for the government (Australian Government, not Commonwealth Government).  

Common nouns in legal writing

Initial capitals are often used for common nouns in legal writing, especially for terms that have been legally defined:

The Court should allow the Plaintiff to amend her Complaint in this matter.

For further details, see Legislation and Law.

Common nouns referring to Indigenous Australians

In Australia, common nouns and their associated adjectives used to describe Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are capitalised:

Indigenous     Aboriginal     First Nations     Original Owners     Elders

See Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples for further information on writing about Australian Indigenous peoples.

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