Why Is I Always Capitalized?

Have you ever wondered why I is the only pronoun we capitalize in English? It's a little odd. There are several pronouns in English, after all. If you're going to capitalize one of them, why not capitalize all of them? For that matter, why is English the only language with this particular linguistic quirk? Other Germanic and Romance languages don't capitalize their first person singular pronouns (via Thesaurus.com).

To figure out the answer, we first have to go back to the history of the word I. It derives from an earlier word, ich, which was the personal pronoun of Middle English (via Mental Floss). Over time, speakers came up with new ways to say and write this word, including "ic" and "I." Sometimes, the first letter of these words was capitalized, and other times, it was not. Eventually, the older versions of the word were trimmed from usage until only the capitalized "I" remained. That pronoun has remained in use for hundreds of years. But why the capitalization?

Theories about pronoun capitalization

There are a few theories that can account for the choice. One suggestion is that the capitalization of I indicates its significance, giving emphasis to the person who wrote it (via Thesaurus.com). Other linguists have suggested that capitalizing the pronoun I makes it easier to read (via Mental Floss). Especially in medieval times, when writing was done by hand with ink that could easily smear, it was important for letters to be highly legible. Over time, the lowercase i could have become naturally harder to read, as the dot disappeared into parchment. In this sense, it would look like a small uppercase I anyway, so it may have been simpler to just bite the bullet and make it uppercase from the get-go.

Ultimately, we'll likely never know for sure why I alone of the English pronouns is capitalized. But with the grammatical choice sticking around as a standard since the 1300s, we can be pretty sure it'll remain a feature of our language well into the future.