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Should You Capitalize the French in French Fries?

You don't always capitalize a country name when it appears in the name of a food. Here's why french fries is usually lowercase.

By
Mignon Fogarty

a picture of french fries to illustrate that "french" is lowercase

Although we often capitalize a country or city name when it’s part of a food name, that’s not always the case, and it’s typically not the case with french fries. Most sources say to keep it lowercase.

The reasoning given by the AP Stylebook writers is that french describes the style of cut and doesn’t refer directly to the country. The Chicago Manual of Style also recommends keeping french lowercase because french isn’t being used to literally refer to the country. They give swiss cheese as another exampleit’s lowercase because it’s not made in Switzerland. It’s named after a cheese called Emmental, which it resembles and which is made in Switzerland. It is capitalized because the name does relate directly to the Emmental region where the cheese originated.  

On the other hand, four out of five examples of the phrase french fries in the Oxford English Dictionary have the word french capitalized, and the entry in the Merriam-Webster online dictionary has french fry lowercase, but notes that french is often capitalized. 

Ultimately, it’s a style choice, but I recommend keeping the french lowercase in french fry.

Sources

"french fries." AP Stylebook, online edition. http://www.apstylebook.com/online/?do=entry&id=1226&src=AE (subscription required, accessed July 29, 2014).

"When not to capitalize." Chicago Manual of Style, 16th edition, online, section 8.60. http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/16/ch08/ch08_sec060.html (subscription required, accessed July 29, 2014).

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of the Quick and Dirty Tips network and creator of Grammar Girl, which has been named one of Writer's Digest's 101 best websites for writers multiple times. The Grammar Girl podcast has also won Best Education Podcast multiple times in the Podcast Awards, and Mignon is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame. Mignon is the author of the New York Times best-seller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing" and six other books on writing. She has appeared as a guest on the "Oprah Winfrey Show" and the "Today Show" and has been featured in the New York Times, Business Week, the Washington Post, USA Today, CNN.com, and more. She was previously the chair of media entrepreneurship in the Reynolds School of Journalism in Reno, NV. She hates the phrase "grammar nazi" and loves the word "kerfuffle." She has a B.A. in English from the University of Washington in Seattle and an M.S. in biology from Stanford University. Mignon believes that learning is fun, and the vast rules of grammar are wonderful fodder for lifelong study. 

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