When to Captalize North, South, East or West

When writing or editing, uncertainties often arise about capitalizing directional and geographical terms. Here’s a streamlined guide:

  1. Specific Areas and Formal Names: Capitalize “north,” “south,” “east,” “west,” and variations for distinct areas or formal titles.

    Examples: the Far East, Upper Midwest, Southern Peninsula, Western Highlands.

  2. General Directions or Locations: Don’t capitalize these terms for directions or vague locations.

    For example, moving from the Upper Midwest to the Gulf Coast is common, but one might find a vineyard in west Spain or travel east on Main Street then south on Oak Avenue.

  3. Individuals and Cultural Elements: Capitalize “Easterners,” “Westerners,” “Southerners,” and adjectives for people from a region or their actions.

    Examples: Midwestern traditions, Eastern philosophy, Southern cuisine, Western vote. Don’t capitalize for geographical or climatic features, like “western shores of Michigan” or “eastern weather patterns.”

  4. Organizational Divisions: Capitalize names like “Eastern Division” or “Northern Sector.”

    For instance, The Northern Sector might report increased productivity.

  5. Location vs. Specific Names: Words like “northern,” “southern,” “eastern,” and “western” stay lowercase for general locations but are capitalized for official place names.

    Contrast “southern Texas” and “eastern Oregon” with “Southern France” and “Eastern China.”

  6. Local Preferences: Residents may capitalize these adjectives out of regional pride.

    What might be “the northern lakes” could be “the Northern Lakes” to locals.

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