The Capitalization of Certain Terms: Exercise, Page, Chapter, Unit, Paragraph, Line

The ESL Library team has been very busy these past few months. We’re getting ready to launch our redesigned, mobile friendly site! As the editor for ESL Library, I’ve had to spend some time reviewing our style guide and making style decisions for the new site. One issue that I thought would be useful to share with teachers is the capitalization of certain words that are common in lessons, such as page, chapter, unit, paragraph, line, and exercise. Teachers refer to these terms often. When we want to write them down, should we capitalize them or not?

Common rule

The general rule of thumb is that if the word is (or could act as) a heading, capitalize it. If not, then don’t. (Before we look at these words in more detail, I should also mention that there is no absolute right or wrong here. The most important thing is to be consistent.)

Capitalize “Chapter,” “Unit,” and “Exercise”

If the textbook has chapters, units, or exercises that are numerical (with no other name), this will be a no-brainer. The title is written out (e.g., Chapter 1), and titles should be capitalized.

However, even if the chapter has a name (e.g., Gerunds), we commonly keep the capitalization (e.g., Open your books to Chapter 1, Gerunds) because it still represents the title.

Notice that these terms are lowercased when used in general (without the number). We only need to capitalize these terms when they’re representing the title of a certain chapter, unit, or exercise. For example, I could ask my students, Which chapter did you like best? on a form, and they should answer, I preferred Chapter 2.

Finally, note that these terms are usually followed by a number in numerical form, not a spelled-out number. It’s much more common to write Chapter 1 than Chapter One.

Examples:

  • Let’s correct Exercise 3 together.
  • The test will be on Unit 2.
  • Make sure you finish Chapter 4 before starting Chapter 5.

Don’t capitalize “page,” “paragraph,” or “line”

Even though these terms may refer to a specific page or line, they are not serving as a title. We wouldn’t see Page 1 at the top of a page, so it’s natural to keep them lowercased.

Examples:

  • Please open your books to page 45.
  • You’ll find an example of that word in context in paragraph 2, line 4.
  • Did anyone notice the mistake on page 6 in the first paragraph?

Our new Detective’s Series, False Alarm, is also coming soon. In it you’ll see that we follow the normal rules—we capitalize the word episode when referring to the title but lowercase it when referring to the episodes in general. (E.g., We first meet Detective Bossley in Episode 1, but he’s in all the other episodes too.)

4 comments

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  1. Jordan Spengeman says:

    May 25, 2019 at 9:15 pm

    Why is it a “no-brainer” that students should always capitalize the term “chapter?” What writing standard are you following? Per APA, Chicago, and MLA, but to a lesser degree in MLA, titles are always capitalized as they are written. Thus, if “chapter 7” is written as “CHAPTER SEVEN,” the student would follow the same capitalization in their writing. Could you provide clarity on this subject, please? Furthermore, are you referring to lesson plans, the body of student’s written assignments, or to their pagination?

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      May 29, 2019 at 7:18 pm

      Hi Jordan,

      This post was meant to provide a list of certain terms that students might see and could follow in general (in their notes, in their assignments, etc.). Many textbooks style their chapter headings with an initial cap on “Chapter,” but you’re right that different texts (and different style guides) will do/recommend different things. At ESL Library, we follow The Chicago Manual of Style, which recommends headline-style capitalization for titles. If students have to follow a style guide that recommends something different, they should style such words according to that guide. As for lesson plans, teachers could follow the guidelines in this post unless they have to use a certain style guide that recommends something different.

  2. Donna Kovacs says:

    Oct 11, 2014 at 7:26 am

    A lesson on capitalization would be nice.Students often forget capitals for nationalities for example.
    Keep up the good work. Your site is a life saver.:-)

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Oct 11, 2014 at 8:46 pm

      Thanks, Donna! A lesson on capitalization is a great idea for our Writing in English section. I’ll pass it along to our head writer. :)

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