How to use this capital letters?
May 1, 2012 7:08 AM   Subscribe

I'm learning English and I found the sentence, "Most Likely to Succeed." on the internet. Why are they spelled with a capital initial? Is there any particular rule of English grammar...? How different from "most likely to succeed" ?
posted by mizukko to Writing & Language (12 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Okay, this is from the American High School phenomenon known as a Yearbook.

In this book, people are usually voted in different categories, Most Likely To Succeed being one of them. Best Dressed, Biggest Flirt being others.

There are jokes based on this concept. Such as: She was voted Most Likely to Get an STD.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:13 AM on May 1, 2012

In American high schools, students often vote for awards for their fellow students, for things like "Most Popular," "Best Dressed," or "Most Likely to Succeed." The title will sometimes be next to their picture in the yearbook. Because it's a title, it's capitalized.
posted by HotToddy at 7:14 AM on May 1, 2012 [4 favorites]

It's a title or honorific originally given to graduating seniors in their yearbook. It would be used like this:
Betsy's classmates voted her "Most Likely to Succeed".
Titles and honorifics are usually capitalized, like President of the United States. Now it's usage is a bit broader to refer to the phenomenon of Yearbook honorifics or high-acheiving students.

A different context for the same phrase wouldn't be an honorific:
Of all his classmates, Mark is most likely to succeed at schoolwoork.
It's not capitalized because it's just a phrase, not a title.
posted by muddgirl at 7:15 AM on May 1, 2012 [14 favorites]

In American High Schools, there are awards that are given out to graduating Seniors (fourth-year students) called "Senior Superlatives". They are sometimes serious, sometimes joking predictions or awards: "Best Hair", "Most Likely to Succeed", "Most Likely to Change the World". Like Hot Toddy said, it's capitalized because it is, in this usage, a title.
posted by The Michael The at 7:15 AM on May 1, 2012

You found that phrase used as a title. Titles are capitalized. When used in a sentence: "mizukko is the most likely to succeed at learning English," there would be no capitalization.
posted by OmieWise at 7:15 AM on May 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

That's a phrase that was often bestowed upon someone in a high school graduating class. I would suspect that the capitalization is because it is being used as a title of sorts.
posted by HuronBob at 7:15 AM on May 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

When the concept "Most Likely To Succeed" is being referenced as a category heading (usually about a yearbook,) it uses caps because it's the title of something. When used generally, it's just a phrase and requires no special capitalization:

Steve was voted Most Likely To Succeed in the yearbook.

Of all his classmates, Steve is most likely to succeed.
posted by griphus at 7:16 AM on May 1, 2012

"Most Likely to Succeed" is a phrase that comes from a kind of weird tradition in American high schools. The students will vote various people for certain titles, some of them mocking, some of them complimentary, like "Best-Looking" or "Most Likely to become Famous" or "Most Likely to Miss Class" or whatever. I think you've found that phrase capitalized because it is a reference to an actual title, although perhaps a gently mocking one.

On preview: everyone else said it, too.
posted by gauche at 7:16 AM on May 1, 2012

In English, titles have their own capitalization rules. They differ slightly from publication to publication, but the rules from the Chicago Manual of Style are:
1. Always capitalize the first and the last word.
2. Capitalize all nouns, pronouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs, and subordinate conjunctions ("as", "because", "although").
3. Lowercase all articles, coordinate conjunctions ("and", "or", "nor"), and prepositions regardless of length, when they are other than the first or last word.
4. Lowercase the "to" in an infinitive.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 7:18 AM on May 1, 2012 [11 favorites]

I think everyone else has already answered well, but I just wanted to say that I skimmed through your previous questions and they are all very good and interesting questions. English is such a strange language, and as a native speaker, it's sometimes easy to miss that unless someone points it out. I can't imagine trying to learn all of this from the beginning.
posted by empath at 8:56 AM on May 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

Another possibility for strictly informal internet use depending on context is to denote emphasis or sarcasm. But that would be an internet colloquialism that you probably shouldn't use in an academic or professional context.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 8:57 AM on May 1, 2012

Just a few small clarifications if you want more details about this usage: The phrase "Senior Superlatives" isn't universal. Some schools may use it, but many others do not.

Also, these titles aren't always "yearbook" titles; sometimes they are used in another context (for example, they might be announced at the senior prom, at a senior breakfast or other celebration, etc.) and never actually make it into the yearbook. But it's fairly common that they are in the yearbook.

Sometimes they are used in other schools that are not high schools. I went to a junior high school (now we mostly call them "middle schools") that had a Most Likely to Succeed Award for the students in the eighth grade class -- they were "graduating" up to high school.
posted by litlnemo at 1:18 AM on May 2, 2012

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