Certain rules regarding the capitalization of animal names in English can be mind-boggling. Not only for the natives but nonnatives alike. They all find them perplexing. You always hear people complaining about English language grammar rules, how ‘not very uniform’ they are. No matter how much of a ‘connoisseur’ one is in English the rules and regulations are always one step ahead (at making a mess out of the whole text).
Spell check programs can help but only to some extent and cannot be trusted entirely. Working knowledge of capitalization rules is handier when such situations arise. Read on to get the answer to, “when to capitalize the word ‘zebra’ and when to refrain from doing so”.
The capitalization of an animal’s name depends upon if the name is categorized as a regular noun or a common noun. If it is used as a common noun, then the word is not capitalized. However, if it is used as a proper noun in the context, we have to do it in the honor of capitalization.
To jog your memory, common nouns refer to the general name of a person, place, or thing. It can be anything a cat, dog, zebra, boy, male, etc. Whereas proper nouns are unique to a person, place, or thing for example Nile, Italy, Sarah, Jupiter.
To all my non-English, clueless pals out there zebras are African equines with distinct black and white striped coats. Yes, those donkey-like animals that are always on the national geographic channel and make a fine proteinaceous meal for the lions. They are herbivores as their diet consists of grass and leaves. They share the genus Equus with horses and asses.
The English name “zebra” dates back to the 1600s. It was derived from Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese. Its origin may lie in the Latin ‘equiferus’ which translates to “wild or untamed horse”. In ancient times, Greeks and Romans used the word “hippotigris” for them which means “horse tigers”.
The category of animals is not generally capitalized. They are mostly written in lowercase because there are a variety of species within that category of noun. When it comes to the capitalization of animal names, zebras to be specific, are lowercased in most of the cases. For example “dog, cat, and panda” are not capitalized so is the word “zebra” not capitalized.
When Not to Capitalize the Word “Zebra”
When used as common nouns and in generic terms, the word “zebra” is not capitalized.
- The genus Equus contains horses, zebras, and asses.
- Lions prey on the zebras.
- His favorite animal is the zebra.
- Who doesn’t find zebras cute?
- Plains zebras are the most common species of zebra.
- A young zebra is known as a foal.
Generic Animal Names and Titles
Generic animal names are lowercased unless they are used in a title. If the word “zebra” is a part of a title then we’ll capitalize it.
- The War of the Planet of the Zebras.
- The Brutal World of a Zebra.
- A Behavioral Guide to the Zebras.
- Survival Of The Fittest: Zebras.
When You Should Uppercase the Word “Zebra”
It is not possible to mention all the different situations that may arise in which one has to capitalize the word “zebra”. Sometimes it is crystal clear that you have to use the capital counterpart but often times you might have to wing it as you go along. Try to read the sentence aloud if it sounds and looks fine you’re good to go! But if you find that the flow is not smooth or inconsistent try using the other option.
Below we have mentioned various situations in which you can make use of capital or lowercase “zebra’. They may help you in understanding when and when not to use capitalized zebra.
Zebra as the First Word of the Sentence
Always, always capitalize the first word of a sentence. If the sentence starts with “zebra” capitalize the word.
- Zebras are easily recognized by their black and white stripes.
- Zebras are native to Africa.
- Zebras are fascinating creatures.
- Zebras migrate to better-watered areas.
- Zebras may spend seven hours a day sleeping.
- Zebras eat primarily grass and sedges.
Capitalize the First Word of Direct Speech
If zebra is the first word of the direct speech we capitalize it.
- My mother said “Zebras are unique creatures”
- The vet said “Zebras cannot be tamed”
- “Zebra stripes come in various patterns” the guide carried on.
Pet names are considered proper nouns hence they are capitalized, just as human names are uppercased. For example
- “Ponyo the Zebra”.
Here we capitalize “zebra” because it’s a proper noun and is a name given to the actual animal. Don’t get it mixed up just because it has zebra in it, it is a part of the name.
However, we don’t capitalize when zebra is not part of the name and is used as a common noun. For example
- Duke the zebra.
Here it means that duke is the zebra’s name hence the word “zebra” is not capitalized.
To clear the confusion here are some examples that might help you grasp the concept.
- Zebbie the Zebra. (A full name )
- Zebbie the zebra. ( Zebbie is the zebra’s name )
- Marty the Zebra. ( Actual name )
- Marty the zebra. ( Marty is the zebra’s name)
In all the aforementioned examples common nouns and proper nouns have been mixed. It will do you good to keep in mind ‘what the actual name is of the animal’ when writing such sentences. If you still don’t get it just go with lowercase “zebra” and capitalize only the name that is the proper noun.
Similar capitalization rules are applied to individual species, varieties, or breeds within a category. The part of the breed that is derived from a proper noun is to be capitalized and the part derived from a common noun is lowercased.
- Grevy’s zebra are territorial and mostly live alone.
- Plain’s zebras are herd animals.
- Mountain zebras were traditionally placed with Plain’s zebras.
Here ‘Grevyi’ ‘Plain’s’ and ‘Mountain’ is the part that is derived from a proper noun or is considered a proper noun because they are names of different types of species. Whereas ‘zebra’ is lowercase because it is considered a common noun.
The scientific way of writing an animal’s name is known as binomial nomenclature. These scientific names are not only capitalized but italicized. The name is made by joining the genus and the species name. For zebras this is;
- Equus quagga.
- Equus greyi.
- Equus capensis.
Thus the name of the zebra species is uppercased.
Exceptions / Special Cases
As in every case, there is an exception. These can be abundant when you imagine or come across certain contexts. Some animal websites such as national geographic capitalize the animal category even when it is ofttimes considered wrong.
It is not an actual crime per se, to practice this because many organizations and sites associated with animals do this. It all depends upon how the writer intended it to sound as. If he wants to put emphasis on the word “zebra” he might use capital Z, even when it is used as a common noun or an umbrella term.
- Not all Zebras are pesky animals.
- All Zebras are wretched creatures! They bite you!
According to the Chicago style of manual general animal categories are not be capitalized. For example cats, rats, dogs, and horses. As they are used as an umbrella term and are also not proper nouns.
Some people that are fond of the animal or have it as a pet (not very common) may use the capital letter “Z” when writing about it. It is totally fine as the person is just expressing the love he or she has for the zebra.
- My Zebra is very fond of me.
- Us rehab guys have adopted the little Zebra.
Even though English grammar rules can be a pain in the neck one must make a truce with them. Despite being good at it myself grammar has always been an Achilles heel. I always mix up the rules. Who doesn’t? No one is perfect, not even spell/ grammar sites. It is what it is.
Hopefully, this page provided enough food for thought to you guys! And that maybe you ace at distinguishing between using “Zebra” or “zebra” depending upon the situation and circumstance.
The general rule of thumb is to keep all the factors in mind, and just to be on the safe side use lowercase “zebra” because in most of the cases, and according to the grammar rules, that is how it is meant to be used. Exceptions are there but they are few and far between and trust me when you face such a situation you’ll be better prepared and will know when to capitalize the word “Zebra” after going through this page! Another great tip that can help you in improving your knowledge of the English language is to read a lot. Nothing helps better than that!