North, South, East, West

Part of writing good, clean print is learning and understanding how to use the words you write. You don’t want to distract readers with misspellings or confusing usage. You’re the expert, the master creating what the reader will imagine. I urge you to gain the skills needed to do so well.

One thing that often seems to confuse writers is knowing when to capitalize north, south, east, and west and their variations. The determining factors on this one are a little grey, but let me give you some advice.


It turns out when the direction is in the form of a noun or adjective, it’s most always lowercase. So you travel east or eastward, or you visit the southwestern part of England.



On the other hand, if the direction is part of an official region or political entity, it should be capitalized. So the W in West Coast and E in East Coast in the United States are both capitalized. So are the S in South America and the N in North Korea.


Where It Gets Complicated

When it comes to regions and political entities, however, things can get a little hazy: not all locations directly proceeded by a compass point are official regions.

So you capitalize the S in Southeast Asia but not in southeastern Canada. You might visit the South of France or West Tennessee, but southern Brazil. You can visit the North Pole or northern Germany.

In other words, it’s not always easy to determine whether or not a region is official. Let’s look at a couple more examples: you capitalize the S in Southern California and the N in Northern California because they are political regions, but you don’t capitalize the same words in southern Oregon or northern Oregon.

There isn’t really a trick to getting some of these right, so as a writer using these terms, you’re going to have to do a little research to determine whether or not a direction should be capitalized. I assure you, however, putting in the time and effort to get these right will make a difference in your writing.

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