Grammar Monster
Grammar Monster

Capital Letters with North, East, South, and West (Grammar Lesson)

The Quick Answer
Do not use a capital letter for north, south, east, or west (i.e., the points of the compass) unless the word forms part of a name. For example:
  • Go north then west.
  • I live in West Ham.

Capital Letters with North, East, South, and West

The directions north, east, south, and west should not be given capital letters unless they form part of a name like West Ham, West Sussex, and South Africa.

When used in a name (e.g., North Pole), the word North, East, South, or West is part of a proper noun, and all proper nouns are written with capital letters.

When used to convey a direction (e.g., head north for a mile), the word North, East, South, or West is a common noun, and common nouns are written with lowercase letters.

Examples with North, East, South, and West

Below are some example sentences that include the points of the compass.
  • I travel north at weekends.

  • There are no penguins at the North Pole.
  • (In this example, North is part of the proper noun North Pole.)

  • Take ten paces East and then dig. 
  • (In this example, East is not part of a proper noun. Therefore, the capital letter is incorrect.)

  • Keep driving north on the M1 until you reach the M62 and then head west towards West Yorkshire.

The North, The East, The South, and The West

The geographical areas The North, The East, The South, and The West are considered proper nouns. They should be written with capital letters. For example:
  • I live in The North.
  • (There is a lot of leniency on whether to capitalize The. Few would argue that the region is called The North as opposed to North, but, for many, the capital T looks too unwieldy.)
Note

When's a Name a Name?

The issue of whether to use a capital letter gets more complicated when you have a debate over whether the place name is an official title. For example, should you write North Wales or north Wales?

Some will argue that North Wales is not a recognized area; therefore, the term cannot be a proper noun. However, here at Grammar Monster, our position is that such terms are being used as proper nouns regardless of whether they are official titles. Also, from a purely aesthetic perspective, north Wales looks worse than North Wales. If you really want to play it safe, use terms like northern Wales or, safer still, the northern region of Wales.