I’ve just had a very peculiar response to an English proofread I completed for a German speaker.

She had written a letter thus:

Dear James,

it was lovely to see you at the weekend….

Naturally I corrected the ‘it’ to read ‘It’; she responded ardently stating that this should not be capitalized; I checked around to confirm I was correct, looking at business letter templates and so forth and found no version that wasn’t capitalized.

But in fact grammatically speaking it’s right, isn’t it? There is no other time we’d capitalize after a comma, so why do we in a letter?

What do you think? Has anyone ever seen the rule that states the beginning of a letter should be capitalized?

2 Thoughts on “To capitalize or not?”

  • I was confronted by the same question just now – also by a German speaker.
    ,Searching around for corroboration, I found, from Birmingham University (they speak English in Brum?):
    http://library.bcu.ac.uk/learner/writingguides/1.06.htm
    which shows the Dear…. ,(comma) followed by the capitalised start.
    Also – a web-site for English Residents in Germany (obviously they get confronted by this more often (funny how foreigners know our language better than we do . . . )
    http://www.toytowngermany.com/lofi/index.php/t208529.html#
    Anyway, I wondered if you ever had any answers, WHY the capital letter after a comma following Dear …, Just the usual exception to confuse the TOEFL crowd, I guess ; )
    If you had any other comments in the 18 months, it would be good to know if so many of us have been misled for so many years.
    Regards = John

    • Hi John,

      I had several offline comments! Essentially, the only reason is it is part of the conventions of letter writing. We might also ask ourselves why we (used to) sign under the side our address is on, or why US users add a subject line before (I think!) the salutation, and the Brits add it after. It’s just the way it is.

      What I found most disturbing, when questioned, was my immediate assumption that I was wrong — that it should be a lowercase letter after the comma. Logic – and every other grammar point that involves the comma – dictates lowercase, so why not now?! Sorry I can’t give you a hard-and-fast rule … ‘it just does’ seems so weak, but it’s the only really valid answer I can give you.

      Thanks for visiting, anyway.

      Hope to see you back here again soon.

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