upper case vs. capital

Discussion in 'English Only' started by Zsuzsu, Apr 5, 2009.

  1. Zsuzsu Senior Member

    Budapest, Hungary
    Hi there,

    Is there any difference between the meaning/usage of "upper case" and "capital" (referring to letters, of course). And if the pair of upper case is lower case, is there any pair of capital?

    Thanks in advance!
  2. thaitang Member

    In general usage, when I hear the term UPPERCASE I think of an entire set of letters being displayed in UPPERCASE. Whereas when I hear the word Capital being used (referring to letters, of course) I think of proper grammar, where the beginning of each sentence is started using a Capital letter, or Proper nouns being started using Capital letters.

  3. vicky1027 Senior Member

    usa english
    Although I understand what you're saying thaitang, I have to disagree. When I grew up we were taught Capital and small letters. Nowadays when children are taught to write their letters, they use the terms Upper case and Lower case. The also use Cursive instead of what we used to call Script. But maybe that's just here in America.
  4. In BrE, "Capitals" and "small letters" were the norm until about ten or fifteen years ago.

    "Upper" and "lower" case are printers' terms, I think, and have been adopted into ordinary speech by the introduction of fonts in word processors. Font designers have used printers' jargon to describe their letters, and the rest of us have taken it on.
  5. R1chard Senior Member

    British English
    I agree with Kevin. Upper and lower cases originally referred to actual cases in which individual printer's letters were kept - the capitals in the case furthest away from the typesetter and the more commonly used small letters and punctuation marks in the case nearest the typesetter.

    To answer Zsuzsu's question, the terms upper case and capital are completely interchangeable for everday purposes.

  6. JulianStuart

    JulianStuart Senior Member

    Sonoma County CA
    English (UK then US)
    Zsuzsu, I think the first part of your question is already well answered. However, I don't understand the second part - cold you rephrase it?
  7. Grumpy Old Man Senior Member

    I think the poster means that upper case and lower case are "opposites" in a way and would like to know whether there is a similar "opposite" for capital. No, unless one wants to regard small letter as such.
  8. Zsuzsu Senior Member

    Budapest, Hungary
    Thanks for the answers everybody! They were really helpful!
    As for the second part of the question (the "pair" of capitals), Grumpy Old Man got it right - I just didn't want to use the word "opposite". If it was an IQ test, I would write:
    upper case : lower case
    capitals : ?
    But it seems that there is no such "opposite" or "pair". What about Grumpy Old Man's "small letters"?
    One more thing: most of you wrote Upper case, Lower case and Capital - is there a rule to start these words with capitals?
  9. ewie

    ewie Senior Member

    Another Country
    English English
    Hi Zsu ~ the opposite of capital letter is small letter for me too. (But like Mr.Beach above, I'm just as likely to use uppercase and lowercase nowadays.) Capitals is often abbreviated to caps:)
  10. Zsuzsu Senior Member

    Budapest, Hungary
    Thanks Ewie!:)
  11. ewie

    ewie Senior Member

    Another Country
    English English
    Oh and I think everyone was just having a fit of over-capitalization above with their Uppercases, Capital letters, Proper nouns and so on:D
  12. natkretep

    natkretep Moderato con anima (English Only)

    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    I just thought it interesting to point out that in proofreading (at least, the version that I'm used to), you ask the typesetter to change to capitals by double underscoring and writing Cap or Caps on the margin. To change to small letters, you write l.c. on the margin! So capitals are contrasted to lower case.
  13. roxcyn

    roxcyn Senior Member

    American English [AmE]
    Zsuzsu: Those words are synonyms. They mean the same thing to me. "Write in capital letters"/Write in upper case letters": OK I WILL ONLY WRITE IN ALL CAPITAL LETTERS ;) (not shouting)
  14. sdgraham

    sdgraham Senior Member

    Oregon, USA
    USA English
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 6, 2009
  15. Zsuzsu Senior Member

    Budapest, Hungary
    Thank you, too, natkretep, roxcyn, and sdgraham! For the link, too!:)
  16. patproulx New Member

    French/English - Canada
    I might have a different point of view about upper case vs. capital.

    When I hear "capital letters", I think about the Legal Capitalization, which is someone "capitalizing" or gaining something, and can be associated with Capitalism.

    Now I am not a member of any Law Society, however it's my understanding that they "capitalize" on the English language by re-defining English words, and calling their language "legalese" as opposed to plain English. They did not "upper case" on the language, they capitalized on it.

    Now I need to clarify that I do not understand this language(legalese). I do not stand under it, I do not know it, I do not comprehend the nature of the meaning of it, I do not grasp, assume, or infer this language. I do not know how to translate or read this language.

    My point is that I can say for certain that I do not know what the implications are for using capital letters. I could be "shooting myself in the foot" if I assume that they are the same, however since I make no assumptions, I don't use it.

    I only use upper case and lower case letters. If someone says that it is a capital letter, I can reject the notion that I am using such a tool, as i do not understand this tool. I cannot use something I do not understand, so I play it safe. No one in their right mind is going to argue with you what an upper case letter looks like, so why bother arguing what it is synonymous with? Are you 100% sure that it's synonymous with "capital", or is that an assumption or a presumption?

    Unless you have a clear understanding of the implications of such a word, then you should not use it.
    Remember, if they are the exact same thing, then why are they two different words? Which of these is more ambiguous, upper case, or capital. Which one of these have more meanings?

    think about it, learn to question it.
    Last edited: Jun 6, 2009
  17. Lawyers tend to use capital (i.e. upper case) initials for two reasons. The first is knowledgeable; the other is not.

    The first is that, if a word is given a specific definition in a document, which is different from its ordinary and natural meaning, then capitalising its initial helps to highlight it and show that it is meant to be understood in the way that has been specially defined.

    The other is an insufficiently tutored draftsman thinks it looks clever to sprinkle capital initials all over his work, to make it look "official".
  18. Gwan Senior Member

    Indre et Loire, France
    New Zealand, English
    There's also small caps (capitals) where all the letters are uppercase but the letters that would normally be the capital letters are larger than the rest. If that makes sense. If not, you can see it on Wikipedia.

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