0

Capitalization of the word FREE is widespread in the Internet.

Not actually free
image courtesy of

According to my understanding of netiquette, capitalization stands for SHOUTING. There are other uses of capitalization, like in legal documents or for book titles, but I think they aren't very relevant.

OTOH, this very word is capitalized much more often than others. I can't recall other words were capitalized, even in similar contexts, like this:

Our service is your BEST friend;
Our dictionary is the LARGEST in the world;
Subscribe to receive our INTERESTING news feed;

Being in I.T., I often receive requests to capitalize free across an entire Web site I'm responsible for. There's also a programmer's anecdote that there's a new grammar rule requiring the word FREE to be always capitalized.

Surprisingly, dictionaries don't cover this aspect.

In the context of Internet usage,
Are the meanings of free and FREE the same? If so, is it grammatical to capitalize FREE?

  • 7
    It is neither grammatical nor ungrammatical but extragrammatical. – StoneyB on hiatus Feb 17 '13 at 0:28
  • 8
    @Carlo_R. I disagree. This site isn't about English grammar. It's about helping people who are learning English to get on in the English speaking world. Someone learning English wanting to know if a capitalized word "FREE" means the same (or is grammatical) compared with the word "free" sounds like an entirely legitimate question for ELL. – Matt Feb 17 '13 at 0:36
  • 4
    But is the use of capital letters to emphasize a word limited to English? I would imagine that this is also done in French, Italian, German etc. – Jim Feb 17 '13 at 1:25
  • 4
    @bytebuster- To be correct it should be "he visited the U.S." and so there is no real ambiguity in between US and U.S. – Jim Feb 17 '13 at 1:27
  • 4
    Voted to re-open. See meta.ell.stackexchange.com/questions/308/… – Matt Feb 17 '13 at 20:48
10

In advertising, capitalization is often used for emphasis, to attract people's attention (which is the primary goal of advertising). It would not be unreasonable to interpret it as shouting, since advertisers frequently shout things that make whatever they are promoting sound better. On television and radio, they often shout the entire ad (which I find extremely annoying) to get your attention.

In formal writing, capitalization should not be used this way. However, advertisers seldom care about formal correctness in their ads. In fact, it is quite common for them to capitalize and/or misspell words to attract attention.

7

it's not a matter of grammar, but of style. capitalized words stand out because of CONTRAST. if i decided to write in all-lowercase, even though it wouldn't be stylistically appropriate for a formal paper, it still wouldn't be ungrammatical.

arguably, some sentences become ungrammatical with incorrect capitalization. this is usually because of word pairs distinguished by capitalization, such as march and March. even in these cases, though, confusion is unlikely. if i write the date march 23, 1981, it's unlikely that any readers will think i meant the verb "to march".

even though it's not ungrammatical, this sort of emphasis may be considered poor style. if you start EMPHASIZING lots of WORDS with CAPITALIZATION, it becomes harder to read. many people consider this sort of emphasis annoying, especially if you do it a lot, so tread lightly.

(this is true for any sort of emphasis, including putting phrase after phrase in italics or boldface; if you try to make everything stand out, nothing does. contrast is key.)

  • 2
    @ctype.h You realize that it was in lowercase on purpose, right? :-) I was trying to make a point. – snailcar Feb 17 '13 at 1:53
2

Although I suppose it is technically wrong to capitalize the word free in this sense, it is common practice in informal writing. What you are seeing is an emphasis being placed on the word "free" in order to draw your attention to it.

Although technically invalid, there is an increasing trend towards capitalization of words that are to be emphasised or "shouted", for example, the following is ungrammatical with its use of capitals, but uses artistic licence to give a better impression of the speaker's tonality:

Where did I put my car keys? Are they in here? No? Ok maybe here? No? Oh my goodness I need my keys. In here? No. Oh My God. Where are my keys? On the shelf? No. In the draws? No. On the fridge? Seriously. OH MY GOD. Where are my FREAKING keys!? Oh, here they are. Thank GOD.

In this case we can see a lot of abuse of grammar going on. In particular, excessive capitalisation of

Oh My God

suggests an increasing frustration in the speaker's voice. Later in the sentence this is repeated again, but with more emphasis:

OH MY GOD

This means the same as "Oh my god", but in this case, with the implication that the speaker is now quite loud (and presumably angry).

Later in the sentence, the word FREAKING is capitalized as an emphasiser to show that the speaker is stressing that word, and there's also the completely ungrammatical !? mark giving additional emphasis and force to the question.

Note that the final GOD is emphatic as a sigh of relief, rather than stress.

Be aware that generally you should avoid this style of writing in business and formal settings.

You'll tend to find this style of emphasis more common on the Internet, where forums and instant messaging tend to be quite informal and "chatty".

You'll also see it in adverts, where the intention of the author is to grab your attention rather than to be grammatical, and in non-fiction writing as emphasis of spoken text.

-2

I honestly think that capping the word FREE comes from Amazon's FREE Super Saver Shipping call out. It's annoying when others do it because I used to work there and I got sick of it then, now there's no escape. But really.. rules about always capitalizing that? Ridic..

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.