I've just read something that implied that capitalization falls under the category of grammar. After looking at the definition ("the whole system and structure of a language or of languages in general..etc"), I think he may be right, but...

I feel like I've only ever heard "grammar" used to refer to someone using words correctly in terms of the... meanings of the words(?)

I think some examples might help me more here.

I've always thought something like

"I didn't saw him."

would be a grammatical mistake but that

"i didn't see him"

would not fall under the category of grammar. I know it's capitalization, and I think it might also be considered punctuation. But I've always assumed that something like that would not technically be a grammar mistake. I thought punctuation was completely separate from grammar, except perhaps in scenarios where a punctuation mark would changes the meaning of the words, like with "were" and "we're".

Can anyone clear this up? Are capitalization and punctuation both part of grammar?

  • 3
    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is not specific to English. I'd suggest migrating to linguistics or philosophy, but more properly it pertains to the philosophy of linguistics.
    – JEL
    May 10, 2017 at 9:06
  • 1
    It is specific to English because it is about English conventions for punctuation and orthography. Other languages and writing systems don't have capital letters (or use them differently) or punctuation.
    – user323578
    Apr 17, 2019 at 12:30
  • 1
    I didn’t saw him. Did you saw him? Me? I don’t even own a saw.
    – Jim
    Apr 17, 2019 at 16:29

4 Answers 4


Capitalization and punctuation (and spelling, paragraphing, and indentation, among many other things), are not part of language at all. Certainly they're not part of grammar.

Instead, they're part of Writing -- literacy, reading, printing, wordprocessing, txting -- all of which is technological, not natural.

Language (including grammar, which is formation and arrangement of words into constituents) evolved as spoken language, for a million years or so. Humans co-evolved with spoken languages, and every normal human learns at least one spoken language long before their formal literacy training (i.e, school) starts. If it ever starts -- most humans are, and always have been, illiterate.

So the answer is: No, neither capitalization nor punctuation are part of grammar.

If English were capitalized and punctuated like German (which has quite different rules from English), it would still just be written English, and no grammatical rules would be involved. No real English grammatical rule refers to punctuation (though there are plenty of zombie rules that do).

There is another, childish, sense of grammar that leads to this question, though.

This sense of grammar is very common and means 'stuff you were sposta learn in grammar school'. Or, as is most often the case, at least in the USA, 'stuff you didn't learn in grammar school'. Since English grammar is not taught in Anglophone elementary schools, this applies to all topics of grammar and literacy, which have been mixed up for at least a century.


Spelling, punctuation and capitalization are among the conventions of written English. According to the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill's site, Learn NC (http://www.learnnc.org/lp/editions/few/679):

Conventions are a courtesy to the reader, making writing easier to read by putting it in a form that the reader expects and is comfortable with.

Specifically, spelling, punctuation and capitalization are known as mechanics. Paragraphing is also included in mechanics.

Other conventions include word usage and sentence formation (structure).


Grammar is purely about sentence formation. Punctuation is part of the mechanics while capitalisation is based on spelling.

  • 1
    So neither capitalization nor punctuation are part of grammar?
    – pau
    Feb 23, 2016 at 18:57

There are different definitions of 'grammar'. From the OED:


### a. That department of the study of a language which deals with its
inflexional forms or other means of indicating the relations of words in the
sentence, and with the rules for employing these in accordance with
established usage; usually including also the department which deals with the
phonetic system of the language and the principles of its representation in
writing. Often preceded by an adj. designating the language referred to, as in
Latin, English, French grammar.In early English use grammar meant only Latin
grammar, as Latin was the only language that was taught grammatically. In the
16th c. there are some traces of a perception that the word might have an
extended application to other languages (cf. quot. 1530 at sense 2 under
grammatical adj. 1); but it was not before the 17th c. that it became so
completely a generic term that there was any need to speak explicitly of
‘Latin grammar’. Ben Jonson's book, written c1600, was app. the first to treat
of ‘English grammar’ under that name.

As above defined, grammar is a body of statements of fact—a ‘science’; but a
large portion of it may be viewed as consisting of rules for practice, and so
as forming an ‘art’. The old-fashioned definition of grammar as ‘the art of
speaking and writing a language correctly’ is from the modern point of view in
one respect too narrow, because it applies only to a portion of this branch of
study; in another respect, it is too wide, and was so even from the older
point of view, because many questions of ‘correctness’ in language were
recognized as outside the province of grammar: e.g. the use of a word in a
wrong sense, or a bad pronunciation or spelling, would not have been called a
grammatical mistake. At the same time, it was and is customary, on grounds of
convenience, for books professedly treating of grammar to include more or less
information on points not strictly belonging to the subject.

Until a not very distant date, Grammar was divided by English writers
(following the precedent of Latin grammarians) into Orthography, Etymology,
Syntax, and Prosody, to which Orthoëpy was added by some authors. All these
terms (except Syntax) were used more or less inaccurately (see the several
words). The division now usual is that into Phonology, treating of the sounds
used in the language, Accidence, of the inflexional forms or equivalent
combinations, and Syntax, of the structure of sentences; the branch of grammar
dealing with the functions of the alphabetic letters is usually treated along
with the phonology.

So the answer depends on what you take to be reasons for choosing one definition rather than another. If you care about etymology, you may find it significant that 'grammar' is from a word meaning to write (γράφειν).

  • 2
    I think it's worth pointing out that this definition dates from 1900 (it's still to be updated for OED3).
    – Andrew Leach
    Apr 17, 2019 at 15:02

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.