North or Northbound?

Mignon Fogarty

north or northbound

A listener named Cyndi works in the auto claims department at an insurance company and asked how to use directional words—for example, when should she use north and when should she use northbound?


Northbound is the easier word to deal with because it is just an adjective. Northbound also tends to have a sense of movement—a sense of something going in a northern direction.

Example of Northbound

You could use the word northbound like this:

The northbound lanes are closed. 

In that sentence, northbound is an adjective that describes the lanes. They are northbound lanes, or lanes in which cars move in a northern direction.


North is a more complicated word because it can be a noun, adverb, or adjective. Instead of indicating motion, north usually has more of a sense of the compass direction.

Examples of North

You could use the word north like this:

The storm is coming from the north. (In that sentence, north is a noun.)

Squiggly drove north on Main Street. (In that sentence, north is an adverb modifying the verb drove.)

Enter through the north door. (The adjective north tells us more about the door, a noun. Notice how there’s no sense of motion, north is just a compass direction.)

That was your Quick and Dirty Tip: Northbound is just an adjective, and you usually use it when you’re modifying a noun in a way that implies movement north. North can be an adjective, adverb, or noun, and it usually has more of a sense of the compass direction. 

These rules and trends are the same for all the other directional words too: north, south, east, and west are all the same, and northbound, southbound, eastbound, and westbound are all the same.


northbound. The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Merriam-Webster Inc. Springfield, MA. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/northbound (accessed April 20, 2016).

north. The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Merriam-Webster Inc. Springfield, MA. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/north (accessed April 20, 2016).

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About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of Quick and Dirty Tips and the author of seven books on language, including the New York Times bestseller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing." She is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame, and the show is a five-time winner of Best Education Podcast in the Podcast Awards. She has appeared as a guest expert on the Oprah Winfrey Show and the Today Show.

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