Lowercasing the First Word of a Sentence
Note: This article originally appeared in Copyediting newsletter, which explains the low word-to-humor ratio, and is reproduced with permission.
As a reader of Macworld, I am accustomed to reading sentences and headlines that start with iPhone or iPad—with the lowercase initial letter intact. Though some may consider this a defilement, capitalizing the first word of a sentence, in certain cases, is negotiable.
Most language guides recommend recasting the sentence so that brand and company names with a lowercase initial letter are tucked away, but this isn’t always practical. In real life, you have space limitations, touchy clients, grammar-doubting bosses, and expectations to “clean up” an unedited piece that has already been laid out and approved.
Awkward cases support the need for more give.
Thankfully, language guides usually provide an “in case you can’t reword” option. As expected, many default to capitalization, including The Associated Press Stylebook, The Gregg Reference Manual, and The Yahoo! Style Guide. However, according to Chicago, brand or company names spelled with a lowercase letter followed by a capital, like eBay or the i– prefixed trademarks by Apple, “need not” be capitalized.
For headline style, some guides that veer away from lowercase sentence beginnings support retaining a brand’s or company’s lowercase initial letters within a headline (e.g., Gregg, Yahoo! Style): Protect Your iCloud. For all-cap headlines, Chicago recommends overriding the lowercase letter, and Macworld capitalizes every letter but the lowercase letter (iOS CENTRAL).
Further complicating capitalization is the use of figures, which many of us have been trained to spell out (and capitalize) when starting a sentence. AP Stylebook has long made years an exception to this rule (1967 was the Summer of Love). But what about 3M? 7-Eleven? A generic abbreviation, like 3D?
Awkward cases support the need for more give. Otherwise, you may find yourself equally dismayed by sentences leading with IOS, K. d. lang, or Three-D.