capitalization competency

Capitalization Competency: More Capital Ideas

Capitalization rules are easy; it’s the exceptions that drive us crazy. 


Which is correct?

These reports were provided by the city of Jackson. 


These reports were provided by the City of Jackson.


Isn’t this a great question? And, get ready for a lot of twists and turns with the answer. This question exemplifies why capitalization rules are simple—but the exceptions drive us crazy.


Correct: These reports were provided by the city of Jackson. 

Capitalize the word city only when it is part of the corporate name of the city as in Kansas City or Mexico City. Otherwise, it is proper to write the city of Overland Park or the city of Madison.


So far, so good. Now let’s address the word state. Capitalize the word state only when it follows the name of a state:


New York State is a popular destination for international tourists.

Washington State is the nation’s top apple producer.

The state of Mississippi is known for its burgers, blues, and barbeque.

Political candidates flock to the state of Iowa in the month’s leading up to the primary elections.


Now, here’s where it gets tricky: Do not capitalize state when used in place of the actual state name.


Lesley is an employee of the state.

She is a state employee.


However, people working for state government write it as State. Often with internal governmental correspondence, the names of countries, national divisions, and governmental groups, the common noun IS capitalized when replacing the full name. In other words, when the government rather than the actual place is the intended meaning, the word state is usually capitalized.


The motion was filed by the State yesterday.


Well, this is about as clear as mud. I use four primary style guides as references, and all four books list slightly different rules. Indeed, many of the capitalization rules in the Associated Press Stylebook contradict rules listed in other grammar guides. My recommendation: Refer to the rules I’ve distilled for you above, and be consistent. Be consistent not just within the document but within your entire organization. 


To customize a keynote or professional development session that will have your audience laughing and learning, contact Mandi Stanley.

Certified Speaking Professional Mandi Stanley works with business leaders who want to boost their professional image by becoming better speakers and writers through interactive high-content keynotes, breakout sessions, workshops, technical writing seminars, and fun proofreading classes. 

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