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When Do You Capitalize Directions?

It depends on the context.

By
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."

Summary

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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