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Why Do We Capitalize I?

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Why do we capitalize the first-person pronoun, I? The short answer is because we do. But that’s not a very satisfactory answer. Even though it feels natural to English speakers, capitalizing I is unusual. In fact, English is the only language that does. Germanic and Romantic languages typically have some conventions for capitalizing proper nouns, like Deutschland (in German) or Place de la Concorde (in French), but English is the only one that selfishly insists on capitalizing the personal pronoun. We do not, you will recall, even capitalize we.

(Wondering why we capitalize letters at all? Learn the full story here.)

It turns out that this unusual convention was a bit of an accident. In Old and Middle English, the word for “I” was closer to its German cousin, “ich,” and it was often spelled “ic.” At this point, the word was not capitalized. However, the pronunciation changed over time and so did the spelling, losing the consonant c.

At first, the new word, i, was left lowercase. However, it began to grow taller than other words. It grew for a silly reason: a single letter looks bad. Look at it: i. How sad. By the time Chaucer wrote The Canterbury Tales in the late 1300s, I, the personal pronoun, was slightly taller than its lowercase equivalent. From that point on, it was typically capitalized.

The only other accepted single-letter word in English, a, is a larger presence on the page. Its appearance isn’t as offensive as the thin i.

Today, though, some of us are regressing. In e-mails and instant message conversations, capitalization conventions are backsliding.

Do you think the capitalized I will go extinct?

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KRT Photos October 16, 2007 | JULIAN H. GONZALEZ

KRT Photos 10-16-2007

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(Julian H. Gonzalez/Detroit Free Press/MCT)

Document Name |SPORTS FBN-LIONS-PIZZA 3 DE ——————–+————————————————- Document Date |Oct/16/2007 ——————–+————————————————- Photographer |JULIAN H. GONZALEZ ——————–+————————————————- Format |3000 x 1988 Color DOWNLOAD ——————–+————————————————- Category |S FBN ——————–+————————————————- |krtsports sports, SPO, krtedonly, mct, 15003001, |FBN, krtfootball football, krtnfl nfl national |football league, krtussports, u.s. us united |states, 2007, krt2007 ——————–+————————————————- Special Instructions|NC WEB BL LN ——————–+————————————————- web site pizzahut coupon codes

?© 2007 Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service JULIAN H. GONZALEZ

384 Comments

  1. vanboy -  March 29, 2014 - 5:06 pm

    Not a great deal of details within this story, what happened for the boat?

    Reply
  2. Christopher -  March 16, 2014 - 2:46 pm

    yes because Im 13 and earlyer this year one of my friends told me to capitalize I and im telling another friend to capitalize I and all over Miiverese I have only seen a few people capitalizeing there I’s

    Reply
  3. wolf tamer and coal miner -  February 5, 2014 - 12:53 am

    Hmm. As long as we have email, texting, and social media like Facebook and Twitter, “I” will sometimes be capitalized and sometimes not. Although a single, uncapitalized i does look kind of lonesome.

    Reply
  4. Bikash Jain -  February 1, 2014 - 11:56 am

    I stands tall when it is ‘I’ and not ‘i’. It don’t think it should/will go extinct. We should always retain the intrinsic value of old, that is Gold. There will always be talks on reason on “why something is the way it is”. Either we know the reason or we don’t; but the bottom line is, modify it if and only if it makes the world (or precisely the object) better. Let’s stick with a tall I.

    Reply
  5. Chris -  January 29, 2014 - 9:22 am

    I think if the letter i is at the beginning then yes capitalize it but i think if it is within a sentence there is no logical reason thus its naming convention should be changed. It is not good to do things “just because”. That is not the scientific way!

    Reply
  6. Not an English major -  November 24, 2013 - 8:23 pm

    Hey, I certainly hope that we as people can get together and totally destroy our own language. This makes it possible for everyone to get a great job. If we all sound like morons, we can all be scientists, doctors and presidents. One would never know if we were intelligent or just outright stupid.

    I guess for the I or i part, when referring to ourselves I always thought we used the capital I. As for the lowercase i, I always thought it was used in things such as stories for example.

    John wrote that i was using the uppercase and lowercase I incorrectly, referring to myself and not himself. (PS, I am no English major and probably made a mistake or two here.)

    I do hope that internet talk goes away. I am scared to death on the future of us, our children, and our country.

    Reply
  7. Jynx Monroe -  October 19, 2013 - 2:53 pm

    I hope that the capitalisation of the letter “I” doesn’t go “extinct”. The only reason it would “go extinct” is purely because people don’t want to put the extra effort in to capitalising it in their e-mails and texts.
    Yes, languages change as time and culture does, but if this were to be changed it would be purely because people are becoming lazy and neglect to put effort in to speech and typing, not because of any fantastic, significant reason.

    Reply
  8. j -  April 21, 2013 - 9:08 am

    Personally I NEVER captilize names of corporations or people I have no respect for – an example includes facebook

    Reply
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