GrammarPhile Blog

Names of Government Bodies (Be Nice Now!)

Posted by Phil Jamieson   Oct 29, 2014 7:00:00 AM

the Capital buildingThough you may have your own private names for some governmental agencies, you'll want to use the formal, proper names in your professional writing. Here's some help when writing your next proposal for that grant for ten million from Uncle Sam.

Capitalize the names of countries and international organizations as well as national, state, county, and city bodies and their subdivisions. Do not capitalize generic terms.

  • the United Nations
  • the Cabinet
  • but: the Obama administration
  • the Ninety-ninth Congress
  • the House of Representatives
  • but: the federal government
  • the Utah Bureau of Air Quality
  • the Ohio Legislature
  • the Court of Appeals of the State of Wisconsin
  • the Boston City Council

Capitalize short forms of names and national and international bodies and their major divisions

  • the House (referring to the House of Representatives)
  • the Department (referring to a federal cabinet-level agency)
  • the Court (referring to the US Supreme Court, the International Court of Justice, etc.)
  • the Fed (referring to the Federal Reserve Board)
  • but: the feds (referring to federal regulators)

As a rule, do not capitalize short forms of state or local government groups except when special circumstances warrant emphasis or distinction.

Common terms such as police department, board of education, and county court need not be capitalized (even when referring to a specific body), since they are terms of general classification. However, such terms should be capitalized when the writer intends to refer to the organization in all of its official dignity.

  • The Police Department has announced the promotion of Mortimer Schnerd to the rank of sergeant.
  • but: The Topsfield police department sponsors a water-ski tournament in early September.

Note: Don't capitalize the short form if it is not actually derived from the complete name. For example, do not capitalize the short form police department if the full name is Department of Public Safety

Capitalize federal only when it is part of the official name of a federal agency, a federal act, or some other proper noun.

  • the Federal Reserve Board
  • Federal Insurance Contributions Act
  • but: ... subject to federal, state, and local laws.

The terms federal government and government (referring specifically to the United States government) are now commonly written in lowercase letters because they are considered terms of general classification. In government documents, however, and in other types of communications where these terms are intended to have the force of an official name, they are capitalized.

Capitalize the words union and commonwealth only when they refer to a specific government.

  • Smithers has water-skied on lakes in almost every state of the Union.

Source: The Gregg Reference Manual

Topics: capitalization

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