A common question is whether the word kindergarten is capitalized. Well, I’ve already given away the answer–no, kindergarten is not capitalized. But if you came to this post, you should read below so that you know how to deal with capitalization issues for other terms in the future.
Whenever you have a question about the capitalization of a word, you have to check two sources.
Step 1: Check the preferred dictionary of the style you are working in.
If you are working in an editorial style in U.S. English, your source will most likely be Merriam-Webster Collegiate. For instance, Chicago and Turabian, APA, MLA, and AMA all defer to Merriam-Webster for most instances of spelling, capitalization, and hyphenation. (If you are working in British English, you will most likely be consulting Oxford–and by the way, Oxford does not capitalize kindergarten, either.)
You can, of course, use the unabridged version (M-W now puts this online but requires an annual subscription of $40 or so), but the Collegiate version is updated more frequently and is available for free, so for anything other than obscure words, just head over to m-w.com. If a term should be capitalized, M-W will do one of two things.
For Terms That Are Always Capitalized
If the term is always capitalized, you will simply see the word capitalized in the definition. For example, the word Jerusalem is always capitalized, so it is capitalized right within the definition (see blue highlighting in following image).
But what if a term is only sometimes capitalized? Let’s take the example of the word western. Merriam-Webster explains that if we are just referring to the direction, then we lowercase the term, but if we are referring to region or culture, then we capitalize the term. Note that M-W tells us this clearly by putting the word capitalized next the usage when the term is to be treated that way. In the image below, the word capitalized only appears before Definitions 2 and 3.
So Is Kindergarten Capitalized?
Okay, so now that we know what to look for, let’s see what M-W gives us for the term kindergarten.
You can see that the term kindergarten is not capitalized in the main listing up top, and M-W does not put the word capitalized before the definition of the term. So that tells us that, normally, the term should not be capitalized. But remember that I said that we have to check two sources before we know for sure.
Step 2: Check your style guide.
Most writing style guides have entire sections on capitalization–and different styles do not always agree. For instance, APA specifically asks writers to capitalize the terms Black and White when they refer to race, whereas Chicago and MLA do not ask for this usage. Merriam-Webster tells us that the term Black is “often capitalized” when it refers to race, but if you are writing in Chicago or MLA, common usage would be to lowercase (I edit so often in APA that, personally, I find the lower casing of these terms to be a bit insensitive, but that’s just my take!).
In any case, APA 6 makes no exception to Merriam-Webster’s listing for the term kindergarten, so we leave it lowercase. Chicago 16 does not make an exception either, and the style’s preference is clear from an example provided in section 5.60: “the child whose mother we talked about is in kindergarten” (the example is used to show a different grammatical point, but we can use Chicago’s examples to gain clues to how the style prefers to treat terms–here, we have our answer, and no other section in the manual says otherwise).
So when checking terms for capitalization, remember to first check m-w.com and then double-check your style guide for any possible exceptions. In most cases, simply checking m-w.com will be fine, but double-checking doesn’t hurt if you have the time.