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I'm writing a report. In the report we refer to program participants as either dedicated or auxiliary. Each has a unique situation in which they enter the program. Since they are a particular type of participant, I have been capitalizing them to avoid confusion, but I'm not sure if this is correct. For example:

When Dedicated participants submit an application they must...

Is this correct?

I understand it as a proper noun. I'm confused about the rule as this comes up many times in reports I need to write.

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  • When a non-default, novel and/or precising/stipulative definition is intended for a term, the usual way to show this is to set it off the first time it appears in print using scare quotes (inverted commas round the term) and giving the intended definition. You may use capitals in defining terms, but most identifiers, whether adjective, noun, or determiner, are lower-cased: a blue car, a nuclear reaction, black mambas, travellers cheques, my bike. Exceptions ... Aug 1, 2023 at 18:21
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    are admittedly often made to convey more nearly unique situations (Red Dwarf, the Black Arrow ...). // 'Dedicated' is an adjective, a nonce proper adjective if you stick with the capital letter. Aug 1, 2023 at 18:21
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    @EdwinAshworth Comments have a maximum length for a reason. Please write an answer.
    – Andrew Leach
    Aug 1, 2023 at 19:29
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    At least use an article, such as "When a Dedicated participant submits an application they must..." Aug 1, 2023 at 21:17
  • One practical alternative might be to use "DP" (for dedicated participants) - using an abbreviation indicates it's a specific class rather than just a general description of a participant.
    – Stuart F
    Sep 19, 2023 at 15:03

2 Answers 2

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I apologise for the length of the following, and I do think it’s justified, if only against the idea that ‘Proper Noun Capitalization for Type of Thing’ could ever work.

In the example, doesn’t ‘Dedicated’ derive its capital solely from differentiating various ‘participants’? How could the description be more worthy of capitalisation than the subject it described?

Isn’t the real Question, how or why you understand ‘that’ as a proper noun when Participants must be more than equally worthy of capitalisation?

Might that explain how the rule coming up many times in reports you need to write is confusing? (I suggest you try explaining the rule as you might to a learner, then look at what confusion remains…)

When my English teacher asked for examples of proper nouns I suggested ‘Red Kangaroo’ as opposed to any other, nondescript kangaroo, and was rightly corrected. A ‘red kangaroo’ is no more ‘proper’ than any other.

‘Skippy the Bush Kangaroo’ earns his initial capital twice; first from starting the sentence, which is not relevant here. More solidly, ‘Skippy’ is a personal name; a proper noun, deserving a capital wherever it falls in the sentence.

’… the Bush Kangaroo’ could never ‘earn’ capitals in ordinary English. Rather, those capitals are given gratuitously, under the aegis of a TV title.

On the simple basis of what is or is not a proper noun, I think this would be better served in English Language Learners.

Here, exceptions to the normal rules most obviously include headlines in print; titles of books, films and TV programmes like ’Skippy…’ or the like and, yes, product descriptions.

Product descriptions clearly cover Emirates’ use of capitals for Business Class, along with 187 examples to be found anywhere we look.

Consider the every-day English use of ‘… the man who would be king…’ which would earn the one capital, ’T’, only if it began the sentence.

Contrast that with Rudyard Kipling’s novel, and John Huston’s film thereof, both capitalising every word in that same ’The Man Who Would Be King.’

Headlines play at least equally, if not more fast and loose with normal rules, most readers allowing them licence to gloss over argument about the need for brevity or impact.

Beyond headlines, titles and product descriptions, house style over-rides all else… and on house style no-one here can advise, unless you’re struggling to devise a house style, which would be worthy of its own Post, somewhere such as Writing SE.

(Not that it matters in terms of noun capitalisation and there are not nor ever could be ‘more nearly unique…’ anything. The difference between ‘unique’ and ‘unusual’ is very simple. ‘Unique’ is by its nature incapable of qualification. What is ‘more nearly…’ anything could be as unusual as you like but it could never approach uniqueness.)

If ‘dedicated’ and ‘auxiliary’ being the types of participants changed anything, as when ‘… dedicated participants have a list of requirements to enter (anything)…’ why did you back away from using capitals there?

As Barmar points out, if this is for ‘a gov doc with rules and legal aspects’, the lawyer - or anyone else - drafting it should be familiar with the conventions.

Can you say exactly what is meant by ‘this is for a gov doc’ and what ‘rules and legal aspects’ apply?

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When a non-default, novel and/or precising/stipulative definition is intended for a term, the usual way to show this is to set it off the first time it appears in print using scare quotes (inverted commas round the term) and giving the intended definition, rather than to capitalise the term. See the Wikipedia article under 'Signalling unusual usage'.

You may use capitals when defining terms, but care should be exercised not to trivialise: most identifiers, whether adjective, noun, or determiner, are lower-cased:

  • a blue car
  • a nuclear reaction
  • black mambas
  • travellers cheques
  • my bike.

Exceptions are admittedly often made to convey more nearly unique situations or to convey a proprietorial regard or respectfulness (Red Dwarf, the Black Arrow, His Excellency, The Hague ...).

Incidentally, 'dedicated' is an adjective, a nonce proper adjective if you stick with the capital letter. Compare 'British'.

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    Those are not "scare quotes" they are just quotes. Aug 2, 2023 at 14:02
  • Try the broader definition Wikipedia give. Also CD. Susan Doose at MLA broadens to 'they signal a nonstandard use, which often requires a reader to read between the lines to intuit the particular sense intended by the author.' Dictionary.com has 'a pair of quotation marks used around a term or phrase to indicate that the writer does not think it is being used appropriately or that the writer is using it in a specialized sense'. Aug 2, 2023 at 15:00
  • Does it change anything if dedicated and auxiliary are the type of participants, each having special characteristics unique to the program? Such as dedicated participants have a list of requirements to enter part A of the program. They aren't necessarily more dedicated, rather they fit in a different category. Aug 2, 2023 at 15:51
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    @BrettA An introductory section of your report should explain that you're using these terms to define the categories. But thereafter you just write them normally. The only context where we capitalize introduced terms like this are legal documents, maybe that's where you got the idea.
    – Barmar
    Aug 2, 2023 at 16:41
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    ... Lower case is not mandatory. You can name / label things in any style you wish. (This soon ceases to be a question solely involving English, which is partly why I didn't give an 'answer' at first. Names are essentially arbitrary; you can use foreign or reflected characters, icons ....) // Emirates for instance uses upper case for Business Class on its flights. Convention, not grammaticality, decrees you don't stray too far from the norm. And over-brash styles are less kindly received in more formal settings. Aug 2, 2023 at 18:27

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