A lot of things are capitalized in the English language, and it is easy to assume seasons are part of that list. After all, aren’t they naming different recognizable times of the year?
The rules of capitalization are fairly simple, yet I find many of my students mixing up what should be (and what should not) be capitalized. The naming of the seasons tops the list of misused words.
Reviewing the rules of capitalization and understanding what defines a proper vs. common noun is a great place to start when determining when the seasons can be capitalized, and when they shouldn’t be.
Basic Rules of Capitalization
All beginning English writers are taught basic English grammar rules and conventions. And, standard capitalization rules are one of the first lessons taught and consist of three common understandings:
- Capitalize the first word of every sentence.
- Capitalize the initial letter of all proper nouns.
- Capitalize the pronoun I.
These three rules encompass all the major reasons to use capitalization as long as you understand how words are categorized.
Are the Names of Seasons Capitalized?
Spring, summer, fall (or autumn), and winter are not considered proper nouns, so they are not capitalized. They are common nouns and are used to describe a time of year, but not formally name it.
The formal names in relation to a time of year belong to the month. These proper nouns provide a specific example of a season and thus are always capitalized.
- I cannot wait for summer to finally arrive.
- Last winter was particularly cold and blustery.
- My favorite winter month is February; it isn’t so cold that it cannot be enjoyed.
- When the rains come in the spring we know we will have flowers blooming by May.
Proper Nouns vs. Common Nouns
Nouns refer to people, places, things, or an idea. Common nouns refer to generic things, while proper nouns refer to specific things.
- Please go ask that man over there, I think his name is Michael, to open the door for us.
Man is general and refers to a larger group of people, while Michael is the specific name of a man.
Let’s look at another example:
- There are many rivers in the country of Germany, but the largest is the Rhine River.
River and country are both considered common nouns, while Germany and the Rhine River are specific examples of each and thus are proper nouns.
Proper nouns are always capitalized no matter where they are placed in a sentence.
Why Aren’t Seasons Proper Nouns?
Even though you may feel like the names of the seasons are placing a specific name upon a time of year, they are categorized as common nouns. Think this isn’t right?
Consider when summer and winter fall in the Northern and Summer Hemispheres. They aren’t the same are they? Summer specifically is marked by June, July, August, and September in the Northern Hemisphere, while represented by December, January, February, and March in the Southern.
Seasons provide a general time frame while the names of months are specific in defining when each season falls.
When to Capitalize Seasons
As with everything, there are exceptions to the capitalization of seasons rule. These exceptions do follow the common capitalization rule, and help you recognize why you may occasionally see a season in caps.
Capitalize Seasons When Personifying
A personification, is a literary tool used to create figurative language. It assigns human qualities to something not human — such as an inanimate object, abstract notion, or animal.
When a season is used as a descriptive way to personify something, it should be capitalized.
- The kiss of Winter, with her touch of darkness, made me long for spring.
- The embrace of Summer’s hold wrapped tendrils of heat throughout her dreams.
Capitalize Seasons When Used as Part of a Proper Noun
If you use a season name as part of a proper noun, you must also capitalize it. Generally, this is done when describing an event specific to a season.
- The 2020 Summer Olympics
- The Fall Classic
- The 2022 Winter Season Ski Jumping Championships
Capitalize Seasons When Used as Part of a Title
Titles are capitalized as if they were a proper noun. Shorter words use lowercase letters, but the rest of the words are specifically part of a title name and will use uppercase letters. Movie titles, book titles, journal titles are all examples of where capitalizations will be seen.
- A Winter’s Tale
- The Summer I Went Missing
- The Days of Summer
Capitalize Seasons When it Begins a New Sentence
Last, but not least, if a season begins a new sentence, you must capitalize it.
- Winter is my favorite season.
- Spring fever is a very real feeling; especially for graduating seniors.
- Autumn foliage provides amazing photographic opportunities.
- Spring semester exams are particularly challenging.
Most edited publications do not capitalize the seasons of the year, and we know of no major style guide that recommends doing so. Spring, summer, autumn, fall, and winter are common nouns like any other. Think of them as similar to morning, afternoon, and night—terms that denote clearly defined periods of time but are not capitalized because they are not proper nouns.
As parts of official names, however, seasons are capitalized.