GrammarPhile Blog

When to Capitalize North, South, East, and West

Posted by Sara Richmond   Oct 20, 2021 10:30:00 AM

Credit for the original, and extremely popular, blog post, North, East, South or West - Capitalize or Not?, goes to President Phil Jamieson.


The other day, I got lost in the jungle, but luckily, I had a compass with me …

So I was able to draw perfect circles with a pencil.1

Do you feel this way? You have the raw materials (a knowledge of compass directions, the ability to point toward the sun and grunt “east”) but you don’t know “where to go” with them.

If you cringe every time you write a compass direction or a related term, you’ve found the perfect resource.

While there are some distinctions between style guides,2 this post serves as an overview of the most important, well-accepted, and concise d

irections on the subject as it applies to business writing.

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Topics: capitalization

Internet: Making the Case for Lowercase

Posted by Terri Porter   Jun 8, 2016 7:30:00 AM

The release of the 2016 AP Stylebook on June 1 tolled the blessed end of a style point I’ve never understood: the capitalization of internet (and the related web). It evokes a similar sense of satisfaction as AP’s decisions in 2010 to use website instead of Web site and in 2011 to use email instead of e-mail.

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Topics: capitalization, AP style, AP stylebook

North, South, West, East … Capitalizing Can Be a Beast

Posted by Terri Porter   Apr 23, 2015 6:00:00 PM

Feeling lost? Rudderless? Unsure which way to turn? Unfortunately, we can’t help you find your way. We are, after all, a proofreading site. BUT … we can offer some direction on directions — specifically, whether to capitalize them.

At the most basic level, the standard advice is to lowercase north, south, east and west when used as compass directions and to capitalize them when they are used as part of a proper noun or adjective or refer to regions or geographic areas. So:

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Topics: capitalization

Names of Government Bodies (Be Nice Now!)

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

Though 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.

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Topics: capitalization

Words Religious

Posted by Phil Jamieson   Oct 9, 2014 5:00:00 AM

People have said that the best advice is to never discuss religion and politics. Well, maybe. Today's post is not about religion itself, but about words having to do with "religion."

What to capitalize. Names of religions, denominations, communions, and sects are capitalized, as are their adherents and adjectives derived from them.

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Topics: capitalization, religious words

Do You Believe in Capital Punishment?

Posted by Phil Jamieson   May 22, 2014 10:09:20 AM

The consequence for abusing uppercase letters is Capital Punishment. Don't let us find you guilty! Take heed of the following and let's "eliminate" mistakes before they end up in print.

Capitalize these common terms:
  • the Gulf
  • the Upper West Side
  • the Promised Land
  • the Sun Belt
  • the continental United States
  • Lake Michigan; Lakes Michigan and Erie; the Great Lakes
  • Washington State; the state of Washington
  • the Great Plains
  • the Wild West
  • the Old World
  • Back Bay
  • the Badger State
  • the Upper West Side
  • Skid Row
Other terms are not so straightforward. There are variations based on context and usage.
  • Central America; central Asia; central Illinois
  • southern Colorado; Southern California; South Florida; Central Florida
  • the Southeast, the Southwest, southeastern, southwestern
  • the West, western, westerner (of a country); the West Coast; the West, Western (referring to the culture of the Occident, or Europe and the Western Hemisphere)
  • the South, southern, a southerner (of a country); but the South, Southern, a Southerner (in American War Between the States contexts)
  • the equator; equatorial climate; the Equatorial Current; Equatorial Guinea (formerly Spanish Guinea)
  • the tropics, tropical; the Tropic of Cancer; the Neotropics, Neotropical; the subtropics
  • the poles; the North Pole; the North Polar ice cap; polar regions
  • Antarctica; the Arctic; Arctic waters; a mass of Arctic air
Entities that appear on maps are always capitalized, as are adjectives and nouns derived from them. An initial the as part of a name is lowercased in running text, except in the rare case of an initial the in the name of a city.
  • Asia; Asian
  • South China Sea
  • Ireland; Irish
  • the North Pole
  • BUT The Hague
Governmental entities are sometimes treated differently.
  • Bozo works for the Village of Forest Park.
  • That is a City of Chicago ordinance.
  • BUT Residents of the village of Forest Park enjoy easy access to the city of Chicago.

Source: The Chicago Manual of Style, 16th edition.
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Topics: capitalization

Capital Advice

Posted by Phil Jamieson   Dec 11, 2013 5:30:00 AM

the White HousePeople are sometimes confused regarding what words should be capitalized and what words should be all lowercase, especially when it comes to government bodies. Here's a partial list for you to refer to when writing your next proposal or press release:
  • administration; the Obama administration
  • brain trust
  • cabinet (but the Cabinet in the Obama administration)
  • city hall (the municipal government)
  • civil service
  • court (a royal court)
  • executive, legislative, or judicial branch
  • federal; the federal government; federal agencies
  • government
  • monarchy
  • parlement (French; but the Parlement of Paris)
  • state; church and state; state powers
  • the Department of State; the State Department; the department
  • the Bureau of the Census; the census of 1960
  • the County Board of Brevard County; the Brevard County Board; the county board
  • the Peace Corps
  • the United States Congress; the U.S. Congress; the Ninety-seventh Congress; Congress; 97th Cong.; congressional
  • the Crown (the British monarchy); Crown lands
  • the Privy Council (but a Privy Counsellor)
  • the Parliament of Canada; the Senate (upper house); the House of Commons (lower house)
  • the Chicago City Council; the city council
  • the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit; the court of appeals
  • the Supreme Court of Canada
  • the League of Nations; the League
  • the Capitol (as distinct from the capital city)
Below are some other words and phrases we often see clients capitalize incorrectly. Here they are shown in the proper case.
  • the Boston Tea Party
  • the Cultural Revolution
  • the War on Poverty
  • the Great Depression; the Depression
  • the Great Recession
  • the Industrial Revolution
  • the civil rights movement
  • the cold war
  • the crash of 1929
  • the gold rush
  • the baby boom
  • September 11; 9/11
  • (President Johnson's) Great Society
  • the annual State of the Union address
  • the Checkers speech
  • Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech
  • ancient Greece
  • the baroque period
  • the colonial period
  • the Victorian era
  • the antebellum period
  • the Age of Reason
  • the Common Era
  • the Gay Nineties
  • the Enlightenment
  • the Middle Ages (but the medieval era)
  • the Bronze Age
  • the Ice Age
  • the nuclear age
  • the information age
  • the Great Plague; the plague
  • the Chicago Fire; the fire
  • the Kentucky Derby; the derby
  • Girl Scouts of America; a Girl Scout; a Scout
  • the League of Women Voters; the league

When in doubt, refer to the Chicago Manual of Style, your stylebook of choice, or a good dictionary for direction.
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Topics: capitalization

Should You Cap Titles (of people)?

Posted by Phil Jamieson   Jul 10, 2013 5:30:00 AM

Queen Elizabeth IIOne of the most troublesome rules concerns whether or not to capitalize titles when they follow a person's name or are used in place of the name. According to many authorities, only the titles of "high-ranking" officials and dignitaries should be capitalized when they follow or replace a person's name. But how high is high? Where does one draw the line?

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Topics: capitalization

Using Civil Titles

Posted by Phil Jamieson   Sep 4, 2012 5:30:00 AM

Titles of people in positions of authority are among the most inconsistent terms we see in all the documents we proof and edit for our clients. Sure, readers are not dumb, and they'll know whom you're referring to when you write "We saw the President boarding Air Force One" or "The secretary of State used to teach at Stanford." But there are established standards, and following those standards tells your readers that you are thoughtful, knowledgeable, and precise. So, before you write your next letter to the president, check out what the Chicago Manual of Style prescribes for these civil titles.
  • the president; George Washington, first president of the United States; President Ford; the presidency; presidential; the Taft administration; Chandrika Kumaratunga, president of Sri Lanka; President Kumaratunga or Mrs. Kumaratunga
  • the vice president; Joseph Biden, vice president of the United States; Vice President Biden; vice-presidential duties; Jorge Quiroga, vice president of Bolivia; Vice President Quiroga
  • the secretary of state; Hillary Rodham Clinton, secretary of state; Secretary of State Clinton or Secretary Clinton
  • the senator; the senator from West Virginia; Senator Robert C. Byrd; Senators Byrd and Trent; Sen. John Glenn, Democrat from Ohio (or D-OH)
  • the representative; the congressman; the congresswoman; Henry Hyde, representative from Illinois or congressman from Illinois; Congressman Hyde or Rep. Henry Hyde (R-IL) or Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.); Maxine Waters, representative from California; Congresswoman Waters; the congresswoman or the representative; Representatives Hyde and Waters
  • the Speaker; John Boehner, Speaker of the House of Representatives; Speaker Boehner (Speaker is traditionally capitalized)
  • the chief justice; [the late] William H. Rehnquist, chief justice of the United States; Chief Justice Rehnquist
  • the associate justice; Antonin Kennedy, associate justice; Justice Kennedy; Justices Kennedy and Thomas
  • the chief judge; Henry Tonigan, chief judge; Judge Tonigan
  • the ambassador; Philip Lader, ambassador to the Court of St. James's or ambassador to the United Kingdom; Ambassador Lader
  • the governor; Ruth Ann Minner, governor of the state of Delaware; Governor Minner
  • the mayor; Rahm Emanuel, mayor of Chicago; Mayor Emanuel
  • the state senator; Olga Parker, Ohio state senator; the Honorable Olga Parker
  • the state representative (same pattern as state senator)
  • the governor-general of Canada; the Right Honourable David Johnston
  • the minister; Motohisa Furukawa, Japanese economics minister; Mr. Furukawa
  • the prime minister; the Right Honourable Pierre Elliott Trudeau, former prime minister of Canada; David Cameron, the British prime minister
  • the premier (of a Canadian province); the Right Honourable Roy Romanow
  • the member of Parliament (UK and Canada); Jane Doe, member of Parliament or, more commonly, Jane Doe, MP (not used as a title preceding the name); Jane Doe, the member for West Hamage
  • the chief whip; Tony Yengeni, chief whip of the African National Congress; Yengini
  • the foreign secretary (UK); the foreign minister (other nations); the British foreign secretary; the German foreign minister (not used as a title preceding the name)
  • the chancellor; Angela Merkel, chancellor of Germany; Chancellor Merkel
  • the chancellor of the exchequer (UK); George Osborne; Chancellor Osborne
  • the Lord Privy Seal (UK; always capitalized)

Note that some company style sheets make the president of the United States an exception: "The President went to New Orleans today." That's fine; just be consistent!
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Topics: capitalization, Chicago Manual of Style

Going Back to School?

Posted by Phil Jamieson   Aug 28, 2012 5:30:00 AM

Kids going back to school soon? Are you going back to school soon? Brush up on some academic terms so your notes to the teacher don't come back with a big, fat F on them!

Disciplines. Academic subjects are not capitalized unless they form part of a department name or an official course name or are themselves proper nouns (e.g., English, Latin).
  • She has published widely in the history of religions.
  • They have introduced a course in gender studies.
  • He is majoring in comparative literature, and Janie is majoring in biology.
  • She is pursuing graduate studies in philosophy of science.
  • Jones is chair of the Committee on Comparative Literature.

Courses. Official names of courses of study are capitalized.
  • I am signing up for Beginning Archaeology.
  • A popular course this fall is Basic Manuscript Editing.
  • His ballroom dancing classes have failed to civilize him.

Lectures. Names of lecture series are capitalized. Individual lectures are capitalized and usually enclosed in quotation marks.
  • This year's Robinson Memorial Lectures were devoted to the nursing profession. The first lecture, "How Nightingale Got Her Way," was a sellout.

Some academic degrees. In conservative practice, periods are added to abbreviations of all academic degrees (B.A., D.D.S., etc.). In today's writing, periods can be omitted unless they are required for tradition or consistency. In the following list, periods are shown only where uncertainty might arise as to their placement.
  • BA - Bachelor of Arts
  • BFA - Bachelor of Fine Arts
  • BM - Bachelor of Music
  • BS - Bachelor of Science
  • DD - Doctor of Divinity
  • DDS - Doctor of Dental Surgery
  • DMin (D.Min.) - Doctor of Ministry
  • DVM - Doctor of Veterinary Medicine
  • EdD - Doctor of Education
  • JD - Juris Doctor (Doctor of Law)
  • LittD (Litt.D.) - Litterarum Doctor (Doctor of Letters)
  • MA - Master of Arts
  • MBA - Master of Business Administration
  • MD - Medicinae Doctor (Doctor of Medicine)
  • MS - Master of Science
  • MSN - Master of Science in Nursing
  • MSW - Master of Social Welfare or Master of Social Work
  • PhD (Ph.D.) - Philosophiae Doctor (Doctor of Philosophy)

These designations are set off by commas when they follow a personal name.
  • Mortimer Snerd, JD, attended Wooden Memorial Law School.

Source: The Chicago Manual of Style.

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Topics: academic terms, capitalization

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