Does capitalizing the pronoun I feel like aggrandizing your own self-importance? Timna, an English Composition professor at an Illinois community college, reports that a student refused to capitalize this first person pronoun, arguing that to do so was egotistical. But it’s a standard convention of written English going back to the 13th century, and to not capitalize it would draw even more attention. When writing a formal document, always capitalize the I. It’s a pronoun, not a computer brand. This is part of a complete episode.

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7 Responses

  1. Heimhenge says:

    A good friend of mine spells his name “kai” in lowercase for most communications. For legal or business documents, he capitalizes the K. When I asked him why he did that, he said is was “just a personal thing with him, and related to his philosophy of humility in the face of the cosmos.” Yes, he’s a geek.

    Strangely, he always capitalizes I in his writing when used as a personal pronoun. He’s in the computer business, so some small i’s creep into his other usage.

    Grant said: … to not capitalize it would draw even more attention.

    Ironically, that’s exactly what happens every time I see his lowercase name on an email. But maybe that’s what he wants.

  2. natatorium says:

    *shakes head* My guess is that the student was making up an excuse to cover up the real reason–that they are so used to texting i that they think it’s OK. They actually think they’re writing when they’re texting. In fact, what they’re doing over their devices is sending code. The idea that I is somehow self-aggrandizing has never occurred to me and is just laughable. Why doesn’t the student take it a step further and really bring themselves down by using me instead? If me write like Tarzan, me seem very humble. Don’t me?

  3. AnMa says:

    To me, deliberately violating the usual capitalization rules for things like I or personal names is what is egotistical.

  4. Bob Bridges says:

    The idea that capitalizing “I” reflects ego has indeed occurred to me.   Consider what else we capitalize: proper nouns, of course, but also pronouns and nouns that refer to God and certain phrases that we wish to be emphatic.   And then, in German and Spanish they capitalize “you” instead of “I”, which furthers the humility comparison.

    Still, I never tried to stop.   E e cummings is free to do differently (who expects grammar from a poet?), but I stick to the convention and just have to live with the knowledge that others will assume I’m a raging egomaniac.   They certainly could have no other reason for suspecting it.

  5. Robert says:

    It is good to see your posts again, Bob Bridges.


  6. Bob Bridges says:

    Hey, Robert.   I got too busy for a while; and I knew that once I came back, I’d probably start spending more time here than I can afford.   Then Rafee’ emailed me and we talked, and I broke down and looked anyway.

    Well, I’ll probably get busy again eventually, but I’m glad to back while I can be.   Hi, y’all!

  7. AnMa says:

    Bob Bridges said E e cummings is free to do differently (who expects grammar from a poet?)

    Cummings used all lower case in his poetry, but best evidence is that he wrote and signed his own name as “E. E. Cummings.” The all-lower-case version was done on book jackets for stylistic purposes by his publishers.