Let's say that I defined a new term in my writing, such as (yes, it's second-person):

You spot a Holo-Reader—a long, silver metal tube that records holograms in three dimensions for later playback.

It's pretty clear that the first time I mention and define the new term, it's a name, and thus should be properly capitalized (as "Holo-Reader.")

But what about subsequent uses of the term? Should I capitalize it or not?

I feel personally that maybe I should, but it draws too much attention to it and treats it as a name; whereas now, it has become part of the lingua franca of the reader, of the world in which the writing inhibits; and is therefore not a name, but a "common" object.

How should I deal with this in my writing?

  • 2
    This isn't really related to your question, just a pet peeve. The word tense has an extremely specific meaning, which has nothing to do with person. “Past”, “present”, and “future” are examples of tense; “2nd person” is not. Jul 17, 2011 at 7:15
  • @Jon: fixed. I admit, I wrote this question under duress :)
    – ashes999
    Jul 18, 2011 at 3:24
  • No worries, my friend! :) Jul 18, 2011 at 3:39
  • Relevant blog post: Particularly Important Words Mar 12, 2012 at 17:09

4 Answers 4


My preference would lean toward no capitalization at all. Definitely not differing caps throughout the book. In fact, I wouldn't hyphenate it. To treat a new word as a normally used word gives a valuable feel of reality to the object. Isaac Asimov used this technique in his sci-fi Foundation series, and it lent credibility to the world he created.

Of course, that is just the preference of an avid reader. You could probably get more authoritative suggestions and opinions from Writers.SE.

You spot a holoreader—a long, silver metal tube that records holograms in three dimensions for later playback.

  • Hyphenation is a matter of style and is not specific to every case of me doing this.
    – ashes999
    Jul 17, 2011 at 0:13
  • 4
    Agreed. If "holo-reader" is analogous to "book," you wouldn't capitalize it. Only capitalize proper nouns.
    – The Raven
    Jul 17, 2011 at 1:17
  • 1
    "You spot a holoreader—a long [boring description] …" is not how to write. Show, don't tell! is the golden rule. ¶ "You spot a holoreader and play it. … The solid image briefly shimmered as Fred passed through it on his way to … ." ¶ And unless it's going to be part of the plot, why bother to mention that it is long, silver, metal, or tubular? Asimov would never waste words (or the gentle readers' time) adding pointless descriptions. Consider how many of his stories used neuronic whips, and yet we haven't the slightest idea what they looked like or how they worked, nor do we care. Jan 3, 2023 at 4:34
  • I agree - I did not stray from OP's question toward more encompassing critique. Oddly enough, I linked to this very same stack in my answer, indicating the question must have migrated from another stack in the nearly 12 years since it was asked. Edit: I just checked the post history: it was migrated here from English.SE which is where I answered it. I've never actually posted in Writing.SE.
    – Daniel
    Mar 21, 2023 at 22:37

If it's a specific model name, such as an iPod you would, if it's just a general term 'tablet' you wouldn't.

It also depends how strict the lawyers are in your imaginary world!


I think it depends on what you are trying to do. By capitalising it, you are emphasising the difference - rather like saying "Now I am going to use and define a term - read carefully". By using the term as it would be normally used by your characters, you don't highlight this so much - it is just part of their world.

You can de-emphasise it even more by modifying the description, which itself feels like a side note to people who are not part of the story. Maybe something like:

"You spot a holoreader, which may prove useful to record and playback full holographic images. The long silver tube will fit well into your trouser leg."

Or whatever. The less you take your reader out of the story, the more they will be glued into it.


Names of things (book, chair, car, house) are not capitalized, as they are common nouns, not proper (unique) nouns.

If this is THE Holo-Reader, (the only one that exists) then yes, capitalize it. "We were going to retrieve the Holo-Reader, which had been locked behind the Gates of Time for centuries."

If it is a Holo-Reader, as opposed to some other brand of holographic reading device (Holographix, 3DBook, etc.) then yes, capitalize it.

Otherwise, no, common nouns are not capitalized.

  • I agree about capitalizing brand names, but being the only example of something does not make it a proper noun. Mar 12, 2012 at 17:08

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