When do we use CAPITAL LETTERS and SMALL LETTERS in Italian? RULES and EXAMPLES

In this lesson, we’ll talk about a very singular topic, which isn’t always addressed during language classes, but that can be very helpful when writing in Italian. In fact, we’ll talk about all cases in which we have to use capital letters, and we’ll give you many examples to help you understand more easily.

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When to CAPITALISE in Italian  

At the beginning of a sentence 

First of all, like in many other languages, in Italian capital letters are required at the beginning of a text or a paragraph. For example:

Ogni volta che ti guardo m’innamoro.
(Every time I look at you, I fall in love.)

We have to capitalise the beginning of a sentence after a full stop:

Oggi non posso. Domani sei libera?
(I can’t today. Are you free tomorrow?)

We also use it at the beginning of a direct speech, so after a colon and inverted commas or quotation marks. For example:

Maria sbottò: “Non voglio più vederti!”
(Mario said abruptly: “I never want to see you again!”)

For proper names 

For people and animals 

Then, obviously, capital letters are used for people or animal’s proper names,  surnames and nicknames for famous people derived from some of their characteristics. For example:

Giancarlo Rossi (—> who can be nicknamed Gianca)

Fiocco (for example a cat or a dog’s name)

Il Poeta [the Poet] (nickname for Dante Alighieri)

Il Vate [the Prophet] (nickname for Gabriele D’Annunzio)

For geographical names

We capitalise the name of places or geographical areas (for example cities, regions, countries, continents etc.), both real and fictional.

Roma (Rome), Lombardia, Svezia (Sweden), Africa,
Narnia.

But in some cases, when the name of a geographical location is formed by a common and a proper name, the common name can be spelled with or without a capital letter. Let’s see some examples:

We can write both  Monte Bianco and monte Bianco (Mount Blanc)
We can write both Corso Cavour and corso Cavour
We can write both Via Garibaldi and via Garibaldi

Be careful though, some street signs spell street names dedicated to famous people without capital letters, even proper names (for example: “via archimede”). It’s a way to simplify, but we cannot do it in written texts.

 

For holidays 

Capital letters in Italian are also used for holiday names (both secular and religious):

la Pasqua (Easter), il Natale (Christmas), il Ferragosto (mid-august), il Carnevale (Carnival).

 

For celestial bodies 

We use capital letters for celestial bodies names (planets, stars, satellites etc):

Giove (Jupiter), Saturno (Saturn), la cometa di Halley (Halley’s Comet).

Be careful: there are 3 names that are only spelled with capital letters in astronomy, while in other contexts we write them in lower case: luna (moon), terra (earth) and sole (sun). For example:

La Luna è un satellite del pianeta Terra.
(The Moon is an Earth’s satellite)
La Terra gira intorno al Sole.
(The Earth orbits around the Sun)

But:

Un raggio di sole filtrava dalla finestra.
(A ray of sunshine filters through the window)
Stasera c’è la luna piena.
(Tonight there’s a full moon)

 

For titles 

Capital letters are also used for books, films, songs or works of art titles. In general, we only capitalise the first word, the rest is optional:

I promessi sposi [The Betrothed] (But also: I Promessi Sposi) – a novel by Italian writer Alessandro Manzoni
La ricerca della felicità [The pursuit of happiness](but also: La Ricerca della Felicità) – film with Will Smith
Sere nere (but also: Sere Nera) – song by Italian singer Tiziano Ferro

 

For historical periods or events 

In Italian we capitalise the first letter of names of decades, centuries, historical periods or important events:

il Novecento (the twentieth century), gli anni Sessanta (the sixties), il Rinascimento (the Renaissance), la Seconda guerra mondiale (the Second world war), la Guerra delle due rose (Wars of the Roses) [also in this case the capital letter is only required for the first word].

 

For acronyms 

We capitalise acronyms ad abbreviations:

 INPS, CISL, FIAT or Inps, Cisl, Fiat.

We can use capital letters to explain what every letter of the acronym stands for:

Istituto Nazionale per la Previdenza Sociale,
(National Institute for Social Security)
C
onfederazione Italiana Sindacati Lavoratori,
(Italian Confederation of Trade Unions)
Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino
(Italian Automobiles Factory, Turin).

 

For cardinal points that designate geographical areas

With names of cardinal points, we use capital letters when they designate a specific geographical area and not just a direction.

So we’ll write:

il Mezzogiorno (Southern Italy) and Sud-est asiatico (South-east Asia)

But we’ll say:

Si è trasferita a nord di Roma.
She moved to the north of Rome. 

 

For official names 

We capitalise the first letter of institutions, establishments and organizations official names.

Università degli Studi di Pavia
(University of Pavia)

But also for palaces, museums and theaters

Teatro alla Scala
(Opera house La Scala, in Milan)
Palazzo Chigi
(The Chigi Palace in Rome)

 

For polite forms 

We can use capital letters when we want to be formal and polite in written communications when addressing important people.

For example, a very formal letter to a uni professor could start like this:

Gentile Professore,

 Le scrivo per comunicarLe che non sarò presente alla lezione di domani. Ho ricevuto la Sua ultima e-mail e sono d’accordo con quanto dichiarato dal Suo collaboratore.

(Dear Professor,

I write this email to inform you that I will not be present in tomorrow’s lesson. I received your last email and I agree with what stated by your collaborator.)

 

To distinguish homographs 

Lastly, there are some very singular cases of homograph words (words that are spelled the same way)  that mean different things depending on if they are capitalised or not.

The most common one are:

Stato (= nation) / stato (= status, condition)

Chiesa (= church, the institution, composed by clergy and believers) / chiesa (= church, the building where we say mass)

Borsa (= the stock market) / borsa (= bag)

Camera (= short for “Camera dei Deputati” the Chamber of Deputies, one of the two houses of the Italian Parliament) / camera (= bedroom)

Paese (= Country) / paese (= village).

 

 

And that’s all! These are all the cases in which, in Italian, we use capital letters. We haven’t forgotten any of them, these are really all of them. So, for example, we don’t capitalise the days of the week, months, nationalities and not even after colons and semicolons, which are often the most common mistakes.

Now, if you have to write in Italian, you won’t have any doubt. Obviously, not everyone respects all of these grammar rules, they can be more natural for some people and not really for others, it depends on what one is used to do. However, these rules are not many, you will certainly learn them in no time.

 

We’ll see you in the next lesson, and if you haven’t already, don’t forget to read our article on how to write a formal email in Italian.

 

Let’s see if you’ve mastered the contents of this class. Have a go at completing the exercises!

 

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