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English Capitalization Rules + A Trip to Sacramento, California’s Capital

September 1, 2017

Do you know the basic English capitalization rules? Stick with these simple guidelines and you will understand the majority of the times that we capitalize something in English.

Basic English Capitalization Rules

The first letter of the first word of a sentence

This basic rule is something we always follow in English.

  • The thing I enjoy most about living in San Francisco is the city at night.
  • She said she loves living in California because of its beautiful sunsets.

If the sentence begins with a number, be sure to spell the number (not begin a sentence with the number).

  • Fifty states are in the United States. (correct)
  • 50 states are in the United States. (incorrect)

The word “I”

The word “I,” the first person singular subject pronoun, is always capitalized.

The first word of direct speech

Direct speech (the exact words a person says, which are in quotation marks) should be capitalized.

  • She turned to him and said, “Do you want to hear a joke?”
  • He responded, “Only if it’s a good one!”

English Capitalization Rules + A Trip to Sacramento, California’s Capital

Proper Nouns

Proper nouns (the names of people and places) are always capitalized.

There are many types of proper nouns: here are a few.

The names of people

The names of people are always capitalized.

  • Andrea and Whitney are coming to dinner on Friday evening.
  • Tim needs to respond to my email.
  • Has Mark called you yet?

Continents, countries, cities, and regions

Does a place have an official name? Capitalize it!

  • I would like to study in North America, but I can’t decide between the U.S. and Canada.
  • Where is she from in Central America?
  • We are going to Puglia, Italy next summer.
  • I had a wonderful time studying in Southern California.

Planets, mountains, oceans, seas, rivers, and lakes

Are you talking about a natural formation that has an official name? It should be capitalized.

English Capitalization Rules + A Trip to Sacramento, California’s Capital


Buildings that have official names are capitalized.

  • The San Diego Convention Center hosts ComicCon every year.
  • I think the Palace of Fine Arts Theater in San Francisco is so lovely.
  • Have you ever been to Pier 39 in SF?

Businesses, organizations, programs, and sports teams

Officially formed groups and programs are capitalized.

English Capitalization Rules + A Trip to Sacramento, California’s Capital

Days and months (but not the seasons)

This simple rule is always followed. Note: the seasons are capitalized when talking about semesters in college.

  • I will see you on Wednesday.
  • My birthday is in October.
  • I love the spring. The air smells so good!
  • I will attend Grossmont College for Fall 2018.
    English Capitalization Rules + A Trip to Sacramento, California’s Capital


Religions are always capitalized.

  • My family is Catholic.
  • My neighbors practice Islam.
  • We are learning about Buddhism in school.


Languages are capitalized when written in English.

  • I will be studying English in San Francisco this fall.
  • She speaks Farsi and German.
  • I would love to improve my English phrasal verbs.

English Capitalization Rules + A Trip to Sacramento, California’s Capital

Holidays and festivals

Official holidays, festivals, and celebrations are capitalized.

  • What are your plans for Thanksgiving?
  • I love dressing up for Halloween. It’s my favorite time to be in the U.S.!
  • San Diego’s Little Italy hosts the Art Walk every spring.

English Capitalization Rules + A Trip to Sacramento, California’s Capital

Periods of time

Periods of time that have official names are capitalized.

  • Dinosaurs lived during the Mesozoic Era.
  • I enjoy art from the Middle Ages.
  • When did World War II officially end?

Visiting Sacramento, California’s Capital

English Capitalization Rules + A Trip to Sacramento, California’s Capital

The word “capital” is often confused with the word “capitol.” Do you know the difference? A capital is the government headquarters, but a capitol is the actual building.

The most famous cities in California are probably San Francisco, San Diego, and Los Angeles . . . but the state’s capital, Sacramento, deserves some attention! Have you been to Sacramento? This beautiful city is located between two rivers and is known for its diverse population, tree-lined streets, historic Old Sacramento, incredible restaurants, and sports teams.

In honor of all things related to “capital and capitol” (in language, government, and architecture), we are looking at some of the highlights of Sacramento. Here are a few things you should see and do on a trip to Sacramento, California.

Old Sacramento

What did California look like in the 1800s? A trip to Old Sacramento will give you an excellent idea! This eight-block area has over 100 shops, restaurants, and many museums. Visit the old schoolhouse, take a ghost tour, ride a classic horse carriage, learn about the Gold Rush with the Gold Fever tour, and ride a riverboat before having dinner on the Delta King, a floating hotel and restaurant.

English Capitalization Rules + A Trip to Sacramento, California’s Capital

Sacramento Capitol building

Before seeing the government at work, walk the beautiful parks of the Sacramento Capitol. Go inside for a tour and to visit the museum: you will learn about California’s history while seeing beautiful architecture. Afterwards, visit one of the many award-winning restaurants in the area . . . or take the quick walk to Old Sacramento.

Farm-to-fork dining

Sacramento is known for its restaurants, particularly the restaurants that use farm-to-table (also called “farm-to-fork”) dining. In this concept, the chef has close relationships with local farmers and buys the restaurant’s ingredients directly from the farmers. This allows the chef to control the quality of the ingredients.

English Capitalization Rules + A Trip to Sacramento, California’s Capital

Sacramento Kings and Sacramento River Cats

While in Sacramento, check out a basketball or baseball game! An evening at a Sacramento Kings game is full of excitement and energy. During the warmer months, enjoy beautiful Raley Field and a River Cats baseball game. Play ball!

Photos from Pixabay. River Cats photo from River Cats Facebook. 


Business English Career English Featured Writing

Useful Vocabulary for Creating a Resume

May 29, 2017

How can you describe yourself, your experiences, and your education in a way that will make you stand out? Language can help! Using creative and original vocabulary will make your resume more interesting to read. Try this useful vocabulary for creating a resume to improve your resume (and perhaps improve your chances of getting an interview).

Useful Vocabulary for Creating a Resume

Useful Vocabulary for Creating a Resume

It is common to use words such as make, do, improve, or get on resumes. However, these words are too common and are seen as “weak” words: there are other stronger verbs in the English language that much more effectively express what you did at your last job. Try using some of the words below instead. In the parentheses, you will see the words or concepts that are commonly used with these power verbs. Some of the words are applicable for more than one category, so they may appear twice.

Instead of MADE or DO, say:

  • Acted as (an employee with a title)
  • Conducted (research, studies)
  • Coordinated (events. meetings, groups, activities)
  • Developed (ideas, projects)
  • Delivered (results)
  • Designed (projects, spaces, events, graphics)
  • Devoted (yourself to a cause, devoted time to something important)
  • Gathered (information, ideas, objects)
  • Participated in (events, conferences, meetings, projects)
  • Performed (tasks, duties, responsibilities)

Instead of THINK/RESEARCH, say:

  • Analyzed (data, statistics, research findings, etc.)
  • Evaluated (data, statistics, research findings, etc.)
  • Examined  (data, statistics, research findings, etc.)
  • Defined (target markets, audiences)
  • Developed (research studies, ideas, projects)
  • Observed  (data, statistics, research findings, etc.)
  • Recommended (actions based on professional experience or research)

Useful Vocabulary for Creating a Resume

Instead of GOT/RECEIVED, say:

  • Achieved (a goal)
  • Accomplished  (a goal)
  • Earned (a new job title, an award, money)
  • Fulfilled (a goal)
  • Gathered (data, information)
  • Obtained (data, information)
  • Received (data, information, objects)

Instead of HELPED or IMPROVED, say:

  • Advanced (an industry, a cause, an idea)
  • Assisted with/in (a job, tasks, duties)
  • Contributed to  (an industry, a cause, an idea)
  • Contributed by + ing (an action you took to improve this cause)
  • Consulted (a company, a person)
  • Encouraged (growth through action, a company, a person)
  • Enhanced (growth through action, a company, a person)
  • Generated  (revenue, sales, internet traffic, acclaim)
  • Gained (revenue, sales, internet traffic, acclaim)
  • Identified (a problem, a market, an audience)
  • Maximized (profits, efficiency, sales)
  • Modernized (an industry, a system, an organization)
  • Strengthened (an industry, a system, an organization)
  • Upgraded (technology, software)

Useful Vocabulary for Creating a Resume

For ACTIONS you took (organizing, managing), say:

  • Delegated (responsibilities, tasks, duties)
  • Diversified (a company’s portfolio)
  • Facilitated (meetings, changes)
  • Formulated (ideas, projects, change)
  • Headed (a project)
  • Hosted (a conference, a meeting)
  • Implemented (change)
  • Influenced (a person or company to change)
  • Launched (a project, advertising campaign)
  • Managed (people, a company, a project)
  • Mediated (issues between people, departments, or companies)
  • Negotiated (agreements and transactions between people, departments, or companies)
  • Operated (machinery, computer programs, production)
  • Organized (meetings, plans)
  • Overhauled (change in a company)
  • Oversaw (a project or company)
  • Pioneered (a new idea)
  • Planned (an event, a project)
  • Prepared (a presentation, a proposal, anything to be presented or given to the public or co-workers or clients)
  • Presented (ideas, findings, proposals)
  • Promoted (ideas, companies)
  • Provided (support, professional help)
  • Pursued (a goal or new project)
  • Redesigned or Re-engineered or Restructured (a way of doing things, a system)
  • Reorganized (a way of doing things, a system)
  • Represented (a company, an organization, a team, a department)
  • Spearheaded (a project)
  • Trained (a person or a team)
  • Unified (a group, departments, companies)
  • Utilized (resources, tools)

Useful Vocabulary for Creating a Resume

With CISL’s Career English program, students spend time with an American company and practice their English in a real working environment. Before spending time with their host company, students work with the Career English Coordinator to improve their interview skills and to create their American-style resume. 

Would you like to learn more about what it is like to spend time with an American company through CISL’s Career English program? Read about some of the experiences of former students and watch Desi’s video below. 

CISL Career English Program from Converse International School on Vimeo.

Academic English EAP Featured TOEFL University Pathway Vocabulary Writing

Academic English Vocabulary: Verbs To Use for Citations in Research Essays

March 14, 2017

When CISL English for Academic Purposes students learn to write academic English research papers, students often have difficulty citing their sources. The problem? Finding synonyms for the word “say” in order to avoid repetition in their paper. The following verbs for citations can be used in place of “say.” Some are more appropriate than others depending on the situation: to better understand their usage, we are providing the situation in which we can use this word (as well as an example, which uses the MLA format for citing sources).

With each example, we are imagining a research paper written on the effects of caffeine. We will cite an imaginary scientist with the last name “Jacobs.”

Verbs for citations

Verbs To Use for Citations in Research Essays


Usage: to cite a person who says something contrary to another argument.

Example: While many believe caffeine is harmful, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania argue that in small doses, caffeine can stimulate brain function and awareness (Jacobs 2017). 


Usage: to cite a person who says something confidently or with force.

Example: Despite arguments against the validity of his research, the professor asserts that the study’s findings are accurate (Jacobs 2017). 


Usage: to cite someone who is stating or asserting that something is the case, typically without providing evidence or proof.

Example: The anti-environment group claimed that research about global warming was flawed (Jacobs 2017). 


Usage: to cite someone who is making (secret or new information) known.

Example: Jacobs disclosed that the research was funded by a pharmaceutical company with the intention of making their new drug appear effective (199: 2017).


Usage: to make private or sensitive information known.

Example: The summary divulged that the study was funded by the government (Jacobs 2017). 

Verbs for citations


Usage: to cite a person who keeps their opinion, despite claims against it.

Example: Although over the years other studies have been published stating the dangers of caffeine, Jacobs maintains that the original study is correct and that caffeine in small doses is beneficial (199: 2017). 


Usage: to cite a person who is pointing out something interesting, adding a fact or piece of information.

Example: Jacobs additionally notes that caffeine has been shown to help maintain steady sleep patterns when used effectively (198: 2017). 

Point out

Usage: the phrasal verb “to point out” means to bring attention to an important fact.

Example: Jacobs also points out that many of the studies regarding the benefits of caffeine were paid for by the coffee industry, while his study was funded by a government grant (198: 2017). 


Usage: to cite a person who draws a conclusion based on information, evidence, or knowledge.

Example: Scientists reasoned that the study’s results were due to the use of regulated doses of coffee, as opposed to studies that gave subjects higher doses of caffeine (Jacobs 2017). 


Usage: a more formal synonym for the word “say.”

Example: Jacobs also states that the study was the first of its kind (194: 2017). 

Did you notice that each of the above words are followed by the word “that?” This is optional. To find out why, read our article on Defining vs. Non-defining Relative Clauses.

Would you like some more examples of verbs for citations? Check out the University of Toronto, Scarborough’s list of Verbs for Citing Sources, the University of Portsmouth’s Verbs for Citations list, or Centralia College in Washington’s useful Verbs of Attribution download.

Academic English Academic Year Abroad Featured University Pathway Writing

Academic English: Writing a Paragraph + CISL’s EAP and Pathway

January 18, 2017

Are you an international student preparing to attend college in the United States? With CISL’s Pathway Program, students first attend CISL’s English for Academic Purposes Program and master the academic English skills necessary to succeed in the rigorous American classroom. Students then transfer to one of CISL’s esteemed Pathway Partner schools, such as Palomar College or Santa Barbara City College, to complete their degree.

One of the main aspects of CISL’s EAP program is learning how to write an effective essay. This is the cornerstone of the American academic system! Mastering the essay begins with mastering the paragraph. Do you know how to write an effective paragraph?


Writing an Effective Body Paragraph

An essay typically consists of the following:

  • An introduction
  • Body paragraphs (2-3, but this varies)
  • A conclusion

We are going to take a look at the body paragraphs and how to write them effectively. But first, let’s look at their parts.

A paragraph consists of several parts:

  • An introductory sentence. This is the sentence that introduces the main idea of the paragraph. It tells the reader exactly what the paragraph will be about.
  • Supporting sentences. These sentences support the main idea of the introductory sentence. Every sentence in the paragraph should directly relate to this main idea. Although this sounds simple, in the end it’s very easy to begin writing and get off topic!

Here are two examples of paragraphs with an introductory sentence and supporting sentences. Where do you imagine that these paragraphs would be placed in the essay?


Paragraph 1

Researchers also discovered that flights affect one’s ability to reason. In a study of over 1,000 participants, scientists asked each person to complete puzzles and other problem-solving exercises while on the ground and then again in the air. Researchers reported a 20% decreased in the participants’ abilities to problem solve while flying versus in the air.

This next example has a sentence which doesn’t belong. Can you find it? Why do you think it doesn’t belong in the paragraph?


Paragraph 2

The first reason I believe that school uniforms are beneficial is a personal one. I attended two high schools: the first required us to wear uniforms while the second did not. I found that the morning routine during my first two years of school (in which I wore uniforms) were significantly less stressful than my last two (in which I did not wear uniforms). With uniforms, I knew exactly what to wear each day and. Also, I found it easier to make friends in the school where I wore uniforms because we did not have the distraction of fashionable clothing and the status associated with wearing certain brands.


Further practice:

Rewrite Paragraph 2 so that it meets the requirements of a good paragraph.

Write another body paragraph after Paragraph 2. What would you say?


Academic English Cambridge Exams EAP Featured IELTS TOEFL Writing

Exam Prep Writing: Beginning an Essay with an Effective Hook

December 16, 2016

Many writers (both native English speakers and English learners) agree that beginning the essay is often the most difficult part. For English proficiency exams such as TOEFL, IELTS, and Cambridge FCE and CAE, this is certainly the case!

Take a look at this sample TOEFL Agree/Disagree statement. How would you begin an essay? (For tips on TOEFL Agree/Disagree, check out our article that contains useful hints.)


Learn more TOEFL Writing Tips (and how to construct an Agree/Disagree essay) on the CISL Blog.

Writing Prompt:

Do you agree or disagree with the statement below?

There is nothing that younger people can teach older people. 

Use specific examples to support your arguments. 

Would you know how to begin an essay on this topic? Learn how to write a great “hook” (first sentence) and you will not have this problem again!

Students Writing

A strongly written essay will also include conjunctions: learn about how to use them effectively in our article about Coordinating Conjunctions.

Using the hook in writing

A “hook” is given its name because it hooks the reader. It’s the first sentence, and it entices the reader to continue through the paragraph and essay.

There are many types of hooks. Let’s look at a few.

Hook 1: A Question

Begin your essay by posing a question to your reader. It gets them thinking!

Example 1: Have you ever had a teacher who was younger than you?

Example 2: We become wiser as we get older . . . but can we learn from those who have experienced less of life?

Example 3: Have you ever had a teacher who was younger than you?

Hook 2: An anecdote

An anecdote is a personal story. Writing sections of proficiency exams ask you to use specific examples to support your opinion: with an anecdote, you are beginning with one!

Example 1: I will never forget walking into the classroom and seeing Vlad: even with his kind face, I thought to myself, “How can I teach someone who is significantly older than me?.” It turns out, I could.

Example 2: I’ve learned so much from my teachers and professors in elementary school, high school, and college . . . but I may have learned the most from my experience as teaching assistant to small children.

Example 3: Can the students be the teacher? I certainly think so after volunteering at a local elementary school.

Hook 3: A fact

In a test setting, it might be difficult to remember an exact fact or statistic. However, this is useful if you are writing research essays at home and can access a library or a computer. Even without a computer, this can still be a possible hook: check out some of these examples.

Example 1: You must complete four years of college and two years of additional training to become a high school teacher.

Example 2: Most companies ask for “2-5 years experience” from applicants.


Familiarize yourself with the many prompts you can get in TOEFL with our article on the Types of TOEFL Writing Prompts.

Hook 4: Set a scene

Grab their attention: tell a story! The reader will continue reading just to hear your ending!

Example 1: Jason watched as George slowly typed on the computer keyboard, carefully pushing one key at a time while looking confused and dismayed. “Can I help you?” Jason asked. “Sure,” George replied. “I’m trying to email my daughter a photo, but I don’t know how to attach it. This email thing is so confusing to me.”

Example 2: Looking around the classroom, Anna completed her lecture. “And that is how you publish your own webpage. Any questions?” A student in the back, a middle-aged gentleman with wire-rimmed glasses, raised his hand. “Just one question,” he said. “How did you learn all of this before learning how to drive?” The class laughed, and so did Anna. “Well,” Anna said, “I studied programming in high school and was well-versed in coding before I entered college last year.”

Hook 5: A quote

Without access to a computer, it might be difficult to remember exact quotes from famous individuals. However, your quote does not have to be from someone famous.

Example: “Yoga until you’re 90,” Sindhu kept saying during our yoga teacher training. With this in mind, we learned the best ways to practice yoga without putting strain on our bodies. Little did I know, in a few months my students would actually be near 90: I was soon to take a volunteer position as a yoga teacher for a retirement community in my town.

Hook 6: Your thesis!

Your thesis is the main idea of your paper. If you don’t feel like writing a catchy or creative hook, then begin your paper with your thesis. This direct approach is often very effective!

To write a powerful and concise thesis, check out our article on How to Write a Thesis with Predictors.

Example 1: I am a firm believer that everyone has something to offer, regardless of age; therefore, it is my opinion that the young have much to offer the elderly in regard to education.

Student Studying Writing Computer

Do you know how to write a thesis? Check out our article Writing a Thesis with Predictors for tips!

Hook 7: A misconception

Example 1: Many believe that the youth of today are misguided, self-centered, and irresponsible, and therefore have little to offer in regard to educating the wiser elderly population.

For more information on CISL’s intensive TOEFL, IELTS, and Cambridge CAE and FCE classes, check out CISL’s website.