Directions are something that we use everyday in life, whether that be on road signs or Google Maps, we’re exposed to the four core directions. North, south, east, and west are the directions on a compass, but are they supposed to be capitalized?
Since north, south, east, west, and other variations of the words aren’t proper nouns, they don’t need to be capitalized. However, there are cases where these directions are capitalized. If you’re referring to a specific part of America, like Northwest, then they are capitalized. That’s when they become proper nouns and need the capital letter.
The rest of this article will cover what directions are capitalized, and why proper nouns are capitalized.
What Directions Are Capitalized
Directions are complicated when it comes to capitalization, but it really boils down to identifying what ones are the proper nouns. Regions like Northwest and Midwest are formal regions. If you’re identifying the West of the United States, then it’s capitalized.
If you’re talking more in general, then the four directions stay lowercase. For example, if you’re telling someone to go west, then it stays lowercase. To keep it simple, if you’re referring to a specific place, then the directions get capitalized. Otherwise, it stays lowercase.
Even words like northern, southern, eastern, and western don’t receive an uppercase letter. They need to be a part of a proper noun in order to be considered worthy of capitalization. As confusing as it sounds, the capitalization really just depends on how you’re using it.
Are Western/Eastern Capitalized?
“Western” is captalized when referring to specific things or regions. “Western” is capitalized when refering to the genre of movie or “The Western World”.
“Eastern” is also captalized when referring to specific things or regions like “Eastern Europe”.
Why Proper Nouns Are Capitalized
A proper noun is exactly what it sounds like: proper. Whereas nouns refer to a person, place, or thing, proper nouns refer to specific people, places, or things. This means that they have their own title, earning a capitalization. It’s why names are capitalized: they’re specific people.
No matter where a proper noun is placed in the sentence, they’re capitalized. For example, if I were to talk about New York, it would be capitalized no matter where I put it. As you can see, in the previous sentence, I capitalized New York despite it being in the middle.
Even state initials get capitalized. For example, NY gets capitalized. So does NYC (New York City). They are proper nouns because they’re giving a title to something. Occasionally, you’ll see people calling proper nouns proper names. They both mean the same thing.