Lesson: when to capitalize north, south, east, and west
We have to drive southwest to get to the zoo.
He’s going to the Southwest for a business meeting.
Why is the word southwest lowercased in the first sentence, but capitalized in the second sentence? When using north, south, east, and/or west (and variations) lowercase them when referring to directions and capitalize them when referring to regions.
In the first sentence, southwest is a direction, so it remains lowercased.
In the second sentence, Southwest is a region, so it gets capitalized.
Here are two more examples:
We’re driving west to search for gold.
Pam wants to live in the Midwest and start a farm.
Again, west is a direction, so it remains lowercased; and, Midwest is a region, so it gets capitalized.
With names of nations
Unless the direction is part of the country’s actual name, it remains lowercased. Examples: southern France, northern Canada. However, if, like Northern Ireland and North Korea, the direction is part of the proper name, it should be capitalized.
With names of states
The same rule applies as with names of nations. Unless the direction is part of the state’s proper name, it remains lowercased. Examples: North Dakota, West Virginia, eastern Iowa, southern Texas.
Test your skills with a quiz. Decide whether the word in italics should be lowercased or capitalized. (They will all be lowercased in the test sentences.) The answers are at the bottom.
1. Erin wants to go to north Carolina to visit her cousin.
2. Sammy drove two hundred miles south to get to Texas.
3. Paul’s favorite part of the country is the northeast.
4. Greg’s sales district is in eastern Alabama.
5. Every winter, there’s a mass exodus of old people who head to the south to avoid winter.
1. capitalize 2. lowercase 3. capitalize 4. lowercase 5. capitalize
Erin Servais is a book editor and author coach focusing on women author-entrepreneurs. To get a free assessment about how she can help you, email her at Erin@dotanddashllc.com or check out her website: Dot and Dash.