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"I" is the only pronoun in English that is always capitalized. Is it correct to write it non-capitalized? Are there historical reasons beyond that rule?

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4 Answers 4

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According to Dictionary.com, there is no reason. It's just a rule you have to follow.

The English word "I" is related to the German word "ich". Historically, the final consonant was lost and it was shortened eventually to just "i".

Apparently a lower-case "i" looks small and weak by itself. "I" and "a" are the only words that are only one letter long, and "i" is much smaller than "a" when written by hand. If you capitalize it, "I" looks larger and more like a full word. (Again, the difference is bigger if you write the letters by hand).

It is not grammatically correct to write it un-capitalized.

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    The English pronoun is related to the German one, but it is inaccurate to say that it comes from it. That's the same mistake as saying that humans are descended from apes. The English and German words are descended from a common ancestor.
    – sumelic
    Commented Mar 20, 2015 at 23:34
  • @sumelic In fact, in Early English, even Middle English, ich was used as well as I as a first person singular pronoun--although I became the standard.
    – user6951
    Commented Mar 20, 2015 at 23:37
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    @δοῦλος: The Early English and German words are only spelled the same by happenstance. Both ultimately come from Proto-Germanic *ik~*ek. In English, the spelling "ich" indicated the palatalization of the final consonant. (It was spelled "ic" in Old English, but was later spelled "ich" due to the influence of French orthography.) In German, the spelling "ich" reflects the spirantization of the final consonant. These were different processes, that coincidentally resulted in the same spelling in this case.
    – sumelic
    Commented Mar 20, 2015 at 23:50
  • I feel like the last sentence's double negative is very confusing and recommend it be clarified.
    – Catija
    Commented Mar 21, 2015 at 2:25
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There is a thread about this on English Language and Usage.

The important information in this thread is from Etymonline.com:

The reason for writing I is ... the orthographic habit in the middle ages of using a 'long i' (that is, j or I) whenever the letter was isolated or formed the last letter of a group; the numeral 'one' was written j or I (and three iij, etc.), just as much as the pronoun.

[Otto Jespersen, "Growth and Structure of the English Language," p.233]

This means:

In the Middle Ages sometimes people needed to write 'i' a lot. For example, they used Roman numerals. Roman numerals are Roman symbols for numbers. They looked like this:

  1. i
  2. ii
  3. iii
  4. iv
  5. v
  6. vi
  7. vii
  8. viii
  9. ix

You can see that they used a lot of 'i's in their numbers. Because it's difficult to read these numbers when they are mixed up with writing, they used to make the last 'i' in any number very big. It used to look like capital 'i': "I" - or it used to look like 'j': "J".

So for example, in the middle ages, people used to write the number three like this:

  • iiI

... or like this:

  • iiJ

Because of this when there was only one 'i' it used to look like this:

  • I

... or like this:

  • J

So when we started to use the letter 'i' to represent the pronoun I, people started to print it like one 'i'. They printed it like this:

  • I

i hope this is helpful!

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    this is a good answer +1. I used to advise my small daughter like this only! Her 'i' and 'I' were same! haha
    – Maulik V
    Commented Mar 21, 2015 at 7:20
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It is not correct in standard usage to write the word I non-capitalized. If you want to type a text message or an IM and you want to say something like 'i got your email,' that's fine. But in normal writing, even informal, 'I' is always capitalized. As to why, I dunno.

As to historical reasons, you may wish to refer to this question on ELU:

Why should the first person pronoun 'I' always be capitalized?

It is a rule. And all rules can be broken. Sometimes the name of the poet E. E. Cummings is written in all lower letters: e e cummings. But this is a special case. If you want a good grade in a class or if you want to appear like you have been well-educated in English, then, yes, the capital I is necessary.

Are they historic reasons beyond that rule?

Note: historic means 'famous', and historical means 'past'. Unless you are asking about famous or notable reasons, the word you want is historical.

Usage

...2 In general, historic means ‘notable in history, significant in history,’ as in a Supreme Court decision, a battlefield, or a great discovery. Historical means ‘relating to history or past events’: ( historical society; historical documents). To write historic instead of historical may imply a greater significance than is warranted: a historical lecture may simply tell about something that happened, whereas a historic lecture would in some way change the course of human events. It would be correct to say, Professor Suarez’s historical lecture on the Old Southwest was given at the historic mission church.

Source: Oxford Dictionary.

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Because it's a rule, and you can't write it by lowercase letter....

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