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Small caps and italic used for emphasis

In typography, small capitals (usually abbreviated small caps) are uppercase (capital) characters set at the same height and weight as surrounding lowercase (small) letters or text figures. They are used in running text to prevent capitalized words from appearing too large on the page, and as a method of emphasis or distinctiveness for text alongside or instead of italics, or when boldface is inappropriate. For example, they can be used to draw attention to the opening phrase or line of a new section of text, or to provide an additional style in a dictionary entry where many parts must be typographically differentiated.

Typically, the height of a small capital will be one ex, the same height as most lowercase characters in the font; classically, small caps were very slightly taller than x-height.[citation needed] Well-designed small capitals are not simply scaled-down versions of normal capitals; they normally retain the same stroke weight as other letters, and a wider aspect ratio to facilitate readability.

Many word processors and text formatting systems include an option to format text in caps and small caps; this leaves uppercase letters as they are, but converts lowercase letters to small caps. How this is implemented depends on the typesetting system; some can use true small caps associated with a font, making text such as "Latvia joined NATO on March 29, 2004" look proportional, but most modern digital fonts do not have a small-caps case, so the typesetting system simply reduces the uppercase letters by a fraction, making them look out of proportion. (Often,[citation needed] in text, the next bolder version of the small caps generated by such systems will match well with the normal weights of capitals and lower case, especially when such small caps are extended about 5% or letterspaced a half point or a point.)


Uses of small caps

Small caps are often used for text that is all uppercase; this makes the run of capital letters seem less jarring to the reader. For example, the style of many American publications, including the Atlantic Monthly and USA Today, is to use small caps for acronyms and initialisms longer than three letters[citation needed]; thus: "U.S." and "FDR" in normal caps, but "nato" in small caps. The initialisms "ad", "bc", "am", and "pm" are often smallcapped as well.

Small caps are commonly used for showing keyboard shortcuts; for example, "The keyboard shortcut in Microsoft Word for small caps is Ctrl+Shift+K."

The capitalization of the name of the UNIX operating system was originally "Unix", but was typeset in early technical documents in small caps, until the all-caps typesetting stuck.[1]

Perhaps the most common use of small capitals is in the rendering of the word "Lord" in many versions of the Old Testament of the Bible.[2] Typically, an ordinary "Lord" corresponds to the use of the word Adonai in the original Hebrew, but the small caps "Lord" corresponds to the use of Yahweh in the original; in some versions the compound "Lord God" represents the Hebrew compound Adonai Yahweh.

French and some British publications[citation needed] use small caps to indicate the surname by which someone with a long formal name is to be designated in the rest of a written work. An elementary example is Don Quixote de La Mancha. Similarly, they are used for those languages in which the surname comes first, such as the romanization Mao Zedong.

Some publishers' house styles, such as those of Newsweek and DC Comics, use small caps to refer to the name of their own publications inside the same or another publication.

In chemical names, optical isomers are distinguished with d- and l-, when using the d/l system. For example d-glyceraldehyde.

The 2003 Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, which specifies standards for road signs used in the United States, requires that cardinal directions (such as West) be displayed in small caps. This is thought to enhance readability.

In Terry Pratchett's Discworld series Death speaks in unquoted small caps.


Small caps can be specified in CSS using "font-variant: small-caps;". For example, the HTML

<span style="font-variant: small-caps;">Jane Doe</span>
<span style="font-variant: small-caps;">AaBbCcDdEeFfGgHhIiJjKkLlMmNnOoPpQqRrSsTtUuVvWwXxYyZz</span>

renders as

Jane Doe.

Since the CSS styles the text, readers are still able to copy the normally-capitalized plain text from the web page.


Although small caps are not usually "semantically important", the Unicode standard does define a number of "small capital" characters in the IPA Extensions, Phonetic Extensions and Latin Extended-D ranges (0250–02AF, 1D00–1D7F, A720–A7FF). These characters, with official names such as "LATIN LETTER SMALL CAPITAL A", are meant for use in phonetic representations. For example, (P) represents a semi-voiced bilabial plosive [1].

As of Unicode 5.1, the only characters missing to allow representation of the full Latin alphabet in small capital Unicode characters are small capital versions of Q and X. The following table collects the existing Unicode small capital characters:

a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z
ʙ ɢ ʜ ɪ ʟ ɴ - ʀ - ʏ

Additionally, the Phonetic Extensions range has superscript "small capital" characters.


George Eliot's essay "Silly Novels by Lady Novelists" is critical of Victorian novelists for using excessive small caps and for employing them in inappropriate contexts (such as using small caps in place of italics to indicate emphasis).

See also


  • Bringhurst, Robert (2004). The Elements of Typographic Style (version 3.0). Vancouver: Hartley & Marks. ISBN 0-88179-205-5.
  1. ^
  2. ^ Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary. Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers. 2003. p. 1046. ISBN 0-8054-2836-4. 

External links

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