Capital Letters with North, East, South, and West (Grammar Lesson)
The Quick AnswerDo 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.
North, East, South and West in Proper NounsThe 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. (Note: Names of places are proper nouns. All proper nouns are written with capital letters.)
Of note, the geographical areas The North, The East, The South, and The West are considered proper nouns. They should be written with capital letters.
- I travel north at weekends.
- There are no penguins at the North Pole.
- Take ten paces East and then dig.
- Keep driving north on the M1 until you reach the M62 and then head west towards West Yorkshire.
- 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.)
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.