For today’s Grammar Time, we’re going over the slight nuances between the types of regions and how they should or shouldn’t be capitalized. So, what’s “true north” when it comes to capitalizing directional words? That depends on whether it’s actually a direction or a region.
Cardinal directions, also known as compass directions, remain lowercase when they only indicate direction. If you need to tell someone where your office is, you might say, “It’s on the east side of the freeway and south of the Center Street freeway exit.”
Specific Regions & Locations
When talking about specific regions or locations, capitalize directions and directional words. For example, Utah is part of the West, which means we’re far away from the East Coast.
Don’t capitalize such terms if you’re referring to general locations or geography. For example, visiting western Oregon is different than visiting states on the West Coast.
These rules are consistent with popular style guides, such as Chicago and AP.
Regional Descriptions for People
But what about directional terms that refer to people in or from specific locations? Consult your style guide.
For example, if you’re from Illinois and also follow the Chicago Manual of Style, you might call yourself a midwesterner. But if you follow AP Style, you’re a Midwesterner.
When in Doubt, Consult Your Style Guide
Referring to a style guide is always a good idea. It can help you determine how well known a region actually is. The Far East may seem general, but it’s a specific and well-known region, which is why it should be capitalized. In both Chicago and AP Style, you should capitalize Southern California because it’s a well-known location. But you wouldn’t capitalize central Utah because that’s not a widely known location or region.
A company or publication may have its own rules for capitalizing or even including certain location names. A publication in New York might reference the Upper West Side without much further explanation. Even elsewhere in the United States you could use this term (whether you’re talking about the area in New York or not), but such “locations” should not be used at all if they won’t be easily understood.
If you’re writing for yourself, simply go with whichever style guide you prefer and keep it consistent throughout your essay or novel.
And there you have it! This brief guide should give you some clear direction when it comes to capitalization and directions.