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Exact duplicate:
How do you capitalize a proper noun such as “iPhone”?
Also related:
Capitalising a sentence whose first word is explicitly lowercase
Should I change the structure of a sentence/add filler words to make sure that the sentence always starts with a capital letter?
Is it a good idea to begin a sentence with a number or a variable name?

Is the following sentence alright?

von Braun was a pioneer in space technology.

I am not referring to this sentence alone — most probably it's wrong (on Wikipedia, it would have been written as "Von Braun was a pioneer in space technology", in spite of the fact that his actual name was spelt as Wernher Magnus Maximilian Freiherr von Braun).

My question is more general: is there any grammatically correct sentence which starts with a small letter?

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Dutch, German, French names beginning with small letters are capitalized at the beginning of a sentence, just like ordinary words (even when writing in Dutch, German, and French). –  Peter Shor May 22 '12 at 23:48
    
I am closing this as per this comment by the OP: "I asked this question for a conference paper that I am trying to publish. My actuator is named similar to 'eRTED actuator'. I was wondering if it would be alright to start a sentence with 'eRTED'." This makes it a perfect duplicate of the iPhone question. –  RegDwigнt May 23 '12 at 8:55
    
@RegDwightΒВBẞ8 Aren't you confusing the reason for asking the question with the question itself? The question is definitely more general in scope than the Iphone one. –  Christi May 23 '12 at 14:42
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marked as duplicate by RegDwigнt May 23 '12 at 8:52

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1 Answer

up vote 7 down vote accepted

No, one would normally capitalise the V in these circumstances. However, it is possible that the sentence

"e e cummings was a poet who never used capital letters."

is grammatically correct, as he was known to spell his name in precisely this fashion. Wikipedia notes that modern scholars tend to spell his name in the normal way, and that there appears to have been some scholarly dispute over the form that the Cummings himself preferred.

In a similar vein, one might look at recent Apple product naming conventions to see another possible example, such as

"iTunes is a music management application that copies music onto iPads and iPhones."

Having quickly scanned the Apple web pages they seem to be very careful about not using an "iWord" at the start of a sentence, possibly to avoid annoying grammar pedants. Personally I regard this as an objectionable neologism and usually refer to their devices in written communication as "the Ipad" etc., but if you're prepared to accept Apple's wanton tinkering with the rules of grammar, it would certainly be more odd and wrong to start a sentence with "ITunes is ...."

A further example from the world of computing would be Hungarian Notation, which uses a lower case prefix to indicate the type of a variable in languages with strong typing, such as C. So the age of a person would be stored in an unsigned long integer, and referred to as "ulAge". Capitalising the first letter of this variable would be actively confusing, since C is case sensitive, and "ulAge" and "UlAge" are not interchangeable. This then gives the following possible sentence.

"ulAge contains the user's age in years."

I would suggest that having a capital letter at the beginning of a sentence is a sufficiently hard and fast rule of grammar that you, like Apple, should seek to avoid any unusual situations in which it might be broken.

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Other examples occur in computing when you need to quote verbatim variable names which generally start with small letters by convention. However, if you think it looks odd, you can usually get round it by just rearranging the sentence to start with some other word. –  Neil Coffey May 22 '12 at 23:55
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@neilCoffey an excellent example, hope you don't mind if I add it to the answer. –  Christi May 22 '12 at 23:57
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No, that's why I mentioned it! Though the phenomenon isn't restricted to Hungarian notation (which I think isn't really in fashion any more except among some Windows programmers). In many mainstream languages, the convention is simply to start variable names with a lower case letter to distinguish them from class names, which start with an upper case letter. So for example, a variable might be called "ageOfPerson" but not "AgeOfPerson". –  Neil Coffey May 23 '12 at 0:05
    
Fair enough (I've not programmed professionally for some years). –  Christi May 23 '12 at 0:11
    
@NeilCoffey Plenty of mainstream programming languages believe underscores for separating words makes variables more readable, including C, C++, Perl, and Python. We spend all our lives using spaces to separate words, AndThenYouMakeThemAllGoAway. I promise you that NobodyWantsToReadStuffLikeThis instead of reading_stuff_like_this. See how much more natural that is??? –  tchrist May 23 '12 at 0:14
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