When Do You Capitalize Directions?

It depends on the context.

Mignon Fogarty,
January 4, 2012


capitalize directionsSometimes directional terms such as "south" are capitalized and sometimes they aren’t.

Directions: Lowercase

When you’re describing a direction, "south" is lowercase:

The map is behind a secret door on the south wall.

Directional Region Names: Capitalized

When you’re naming a region, "South" is capitalized. Atlanta, New Orleans, and Mobile are all in the South, not the south. The same holds true for other directional terms that are also the names of regions: Midwest, Northeast, Northwest, Middle East, and so on. Often, if you can put "the" in front of the name, it’s capitalized:

He’s from the South.

Directional Terms to Describe People: It Depends

When directional terms are used to describe people, style guides offer differing advice. For example, the Chicago Manual of Style prefers "southerner," whereas the Associated Press prefers "Southerner."


If a directional term is the name of a region, capitalize it. If it’s just a compass point, lowercase it. If you’re unsure, check a dictionary or style guide.

The Grammar DevotionalGet more tips like this in The Grammar Devotional:

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Image: Grey Compass, Keith Ramsey at Flickr. CC BY 2.0 Generic. 

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