Why do we capitalize the word ‘I’?

It’s so ingrained that we hardly even notice it anymore, but ‘I’ is the only capitalized preposition in the English language. Why is this the case? Well, there are a few different theories.

why do we capitalize I
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In truth, experts aren’t entirely sure of the reason. Etymologists, linguists and historians have not been able to definitively find a record of why we capitalize ‘I’ the way we do, but tracing the language back to Old and Middle English gives us a better ideas of how our modern version came to be.

Before we moved to the single letter ‘I’, we used ‘ich’ – a German word pronounced like ‘ick’. Gradually, other variations began appearing, including both lowercase and capitalized spellings of the single-letter ‘i’. Eventually, the ‘ch’ from ich was dropped entirely and the pronunciation of a longer ‘eye’ sound became the norm. One theory as to why we decided to universally capitalize it is to convey this longer sound. 

Another theory is that it simply looked better and was easier to read. This wasn’t enough of a reason to write ‘a’ uppercase, despite being the only other one-letter word, but ‘i’ is a less distinctive symbol and it could have helped maintain the legibility of the word after multiple readings of ink manuscripts and letters. 

Read More: Susie Dent’s Top Tens: 10 ‘Americanisms’ that aren’t actually American

The importance of the first-person perspective is also put forward as one possible reason. Capitalizing ‘I’ emphasizes the person speaking, and humans have been known to enjoy the sound of their own voice. A caveat to this theory is the lack of an uppercase ‘M’ in ‘Me’ and ‘Myself’. 

A final theory was to give English a clear identity, setting it apart from the other languages being spoken on the British Isle at the time. In seeking to establish differences with Latin, old forms of French and Middle English, switching to the uppercase ‘I’ could have been one of the clear distinctions proponents of new English chose to make.

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