There are quite a few differences between capitalization in English and in French. You may have already noticed that the first person singular pronoun “I” is not capitalized in French except at the beginning of a sentence. For example, you would write: “Je t’aime,” but “Tu sais que je t’aime.”
Ok, this seems pretty obvious, right? But there are quite a few other differences as well. In general, French words are not capitalized as often as in English, even in titles of published works. For a list of useful French capitalization rules, see below:
- Months and days of the year are not capitalized: janvier, février, mars, avril, mai, juin, juillet, août, septembre, octobre, novembre, décembre and lundi, mardi, mercredi, jeudi, vendredi, samedi, dimanche.
- Religions are not capitalized: This also holds true to adjectives referring to religious groups. For example: Christian and chrétien, Muslim and musulman, Jew and juif. There are three exceptions to this rule: l’Islam is always capitalized (although le christianisme et le judaïsme are not) and the adjectives Hindou and Bouddhiste are always capitalized as well.
- Nationalities and languages are not capitalized (unless they are proper nouns): French and le français, Spanish and l’espagnol. “I have a French friend” would become j’ai un ami français. However, if the nationality is used as a proper noun, then it is capitalized in French. For example: “I spoke with an American man today” would become j’ai parlé avec un Américain aujourd’hui.
- Titles in front of a Proper Noun: For example, in English we would say Professor Smith, because this is a title preceding a proper noun. In French, however, it not be capitalized: le professeur Smith.
- But…titles in French are capitalized differently than in English: This can get somewhat complicated. In English, important words and words that are over a certain length are normally capitalized in titles. There seems to be less agreement in French. However, an easy rule to remember is that the first word is always capitalized, along with the second word if the first word is an article. So, this would give: Les Misérables or Les Fleurs du mal. Importantly, if another word has the same weight as the first capitalized word, than that would be capitalized, too. Here’s an example of this: Dostoyevsky’s Crime et Chatîment. Because these two words (“crime” and “punishment”) are separated by a conjunction and bear equal weight in the sentence, they are both capitalized.
- French family names are normally in all caps for official documents: Often, when writing one’s surname on official documents, the French will write their last name in all caps. For example: Pierre RICHARD or Victor HUGO.
Do you have any other questions about capitalization that I may have left out? Leave your questions in the comments and I’ll get back to you.