Capitalization of Cardinal and Intermediate Directions

Posted: May 14th, 2014, 12:36 pm   By: brittany.corners

“Ladies, if you want to know the way to my heart… good spelling and good grammar, good punctuation, capitalize only where you are supposed to capitalize, it’s done.”—John Mayer— who apparently doesn’t know any literate women.

The subject this week is the capitalization of directions.

No, we aren’t talking about capitalizing the directions on the back of your meds or the protein powder collecting weevils in your cupboard. We are talking about directional terms and when to assign or deny them capitalization.

Cardinal and Intermediate Directions

Cardinal directions are the four basic points on a compass—you remember— that primitive thing that used to help people find their way before the invention of GPS. The four cardinal directions are north, east, south and west. Intermediate directions, such as southwest, northeast and so on, make up the other compass points.

Cardinal and intermediate directions do not need capitalization when they are simply used to describe directions:

  • Writers will learn proper capitalization of directions when pigs fly north.
  • The disgruntled birds canceled their plans to fly south for the winter, fearing collisions with flying pigs.

Directional Variations

The same goes for directional terms ending in –ern and –ward. These words also require no capitalization when used merely to describe direction:

Proper Nouns and Regions

When a directional term is part of a proper noun or used to describe an entire region, it requires capitalization:

  • Wake me up when the pigs reach the North Pole.
  • Winged swine filled the Southern sky that night.
  • No one on the West Coast eats bacon, but he’s from the South.

Right and Left

Right and left are treated the same way as compass directions—do not capitalize them most of the time:

  • Turn right at the corner.
  • She has two left feet.

Of course, there are exceptions to all these rules. When in doubt, consult your dictionary.

There, now you are able to capitalize directions to perfection. Why not celebrate?