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Williamsburg eighteenth century press letters
Williamsburg eighteenth century press letters

Capital letters or majuscules [IPA pronunciation: /məˈdʒʌskjuls, ˈmædʒəˌskjuls/], in the Roman alphabet A, B, C, D, etc., may also be called capitals, or caps. Upper case, upper-case, or uppercase is also often used in this context as synonym of capital. Manual typesetters kept them in the upper drawers of a desk or in the upper type case, while keeping the more frequently used minuscule letters in the lower type case. This practice might date back to Johannes Gutenberg.

Capital and small letters are differentiated in the Roman, Greek, Glagolitic, Cyrillic and Armenian alphabets. Most writing systems (such as those used in Georgian, Arabic, Hebrew, and Devanagari) make no distinction between capital and lowercase letters (and, of course, logographic writing systems such as Chinese have no "letters" at all). Indeed, even European languages did not make this distinction before about 1300; both majuscule and minuscule letters existed, but a given text would use either one or the other.



Historically, the majuscule glyphs preceded the minuscules, which evolved from the majuscules for use in cursive writing. In Western European writing they can be divided into four eras:

  • Greek majuscule (9th – 3rd century B.C.) in contrast to the Greek uncial script (3rd century B.C. – 12 century A.D.) and the later Greek minuscule
  • Roman majuscule (7th century B.C. – 4th century A.D.) in contrast to the Roman uncial (4th – 8th century B.C.), Roman Half Uncial, and minuscule
  • Carolingian majuscule (4th – 8th century A.D.) in contrast to the Carolingian minuscule (around 780 – 12th century)
  • Gothic majuscule (13th and 14th century), in contrast to the early Gothic (end of 11th to 13th century), Gothic (14th century), and late Gothic (16th century) minuscules.


In alphabets with a case distinction, capitals are used for capitalization, acronyms, supposed better legibility (see ascender), and emphasis (in some languages).

Capital letters were sometimes used for typographical emphasis in text made on a typewriter. However, long spans of Latin-alphabet text in all upper-case are harder to read because of the absence of the ascenders and descenders found in lower-case letters, which can aid recognition. With the advent of modern computer editing technology and the Internet, emphasis is usually indicated by use of a single word Capital, italic, or bold font, similar to what has long been common practice in print. In typesetting, when an acronym or initialism requires a string of upper-case letters, it is frequently set in small capitals, to avoid overemphasizing the word in mostly lower-case running text. In electronic communications, it is often considered very poor "netiquette" to type in all capitals, because it can be harder to read and because it is seen as tantamount to shouting. Indeed, this is the oft-used name for the practice.

Capitalization is the writing of a word with its first letter in uppercase and the remaining letters in lowercase. Capitalization rules vary by language and are often quite complex, but in most modern languages that have capitalization, the first word of every sentence is capitalized, as are all proper nouns. Some languages, such as German, capitalize the first letter of all nouns; this was previously common in English as well. (See the article on capitalization for a detailed list of norms).

Other meanings

For paleographers, a Majuscule script is any script in which the letters have very few or very short ascenders and descenders, or none at all (for example, the majuscule scripts used in the Codex Vaticanus, or the Book of Kells).

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