Capital Letters with North, East, South, and West

by Craig Shrives
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.
directions and capital letters

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," "The North Pole," and "South Africa."

When used in a name (e.g., East Bridgford), the word "North," "East," "South," or "West" is part of a proper noun, which 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 usually an adverb or an adjective, which 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. It is an adverb. Therefore, the capital letter is incorrect.)
  • Keep driving north until you reach the junction 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 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.)

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."

Get more guidance on this issue on the "common nouns" page (see Point 3).
Interactive Exercise
Here are three randomly selected questions from a larger exercise, which can be edited, printed to create an exercise worksheet, or sent via email to friends or students.

See Also

Capital letters in advertisements Using capital letters with proper and common nouns Capital letters with the four seasons Capital letters with moons, stars and planets Capital letters start sentences What is title case? Test on using capital letters