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I am often confused how the word "English" should be written in phrases such as "English language", because I have seen both variants: capitalized and starting with lowercase letter.

What is the most accepted usage: "English language" or "english language"? And what about other possible usage of the adjective "english"?

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+1 I recently came across someone saying that "English" was incorrect for the language, and that it ought to be "english". – Andrew Grimm May 8 '13 at 13:54
up vote 32 down vote accepted

If it is a proper noun, it must be capitalized.

If it is an adjective derived from a proper noun, it should retain its capitalization, according to this Wikipedia entry:

In English, adjectives derived from proper nouns (except the names of characters in fictional works) usually retain their capitalization
– e.g. a Christian church, Canadian whisky, a Shakespearean sonnet, but not a quixotic mission, malapropism, holmesian nor pecksniffian.

Where the original capital is no longer at the beginning of the word, usage varies: anti-Christian, but Presocratic or Pre-Socratic or presocratic (not preSocratic).

The "usually" might explain why you sometimes see "english" without any capitalization. The only case of "english" as a common noun would be in the context of pool, billiards or bowling games, as described by Wiktionary:

english (uncountable)

  1. (US) Spinning or rotary motion given to a ball around the vertical axis, as in billiards or bowling.

You can't hit it directly, but maybe if you give it some english.

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@Peter: sure. I have a tendency to write website names in lowercase. I have updated the answer. – VonC Aug 30 '10 at 12:42
This really could have been clearer. The answer doesn’t state unambgiuously that, when referring to the language, the people or the country, English is always a proper noun. This is not obvious. – Timwi Aug 30 '10 at 13:19
It's not obvious that the name of a language, a people, or a country is a proper noun? – Kosmonaut Aug 30 '10 at 13:48
No, it is not obvious that a language's name is a proper noun, at least to a non-English mothertongue. Why should it be for a language and not, say, for a plant (Birch) or a tool (Hammer)? (To add something, in Italian proper nouns are capitalised too, but a language's is not considered a proper noun.) – DaG Aug 20 '12 at 10:15
I can't help thinking that even in the billiards or bowling context, English ought to be capitalised. There is surely an implied noun. (English spin??). It's hard for me to tell, because in English English, you would call it screw, at least upon the green baize. – Dominic Cronin Nov 5 '12 at 22:00

Unless you mean spin on a billiards ball, it should be capitalized.

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To "put english on the ball" or "use body english" seems to be captialized as often as it is not, so there doesn't seem to be consensus on that. Other than that, the only time I've seen "english" is in computer directory (folder) and file names, where the program author has just left languages in lower case. Certainly, in proper text it should otherwise always be English. – Phil Perry Apr 11 '14 at 15:22

I often confused how the word "English" should be written in phrases like "English language", because I meet both variants: capitalized and starting with lowercase letter.

Hmm, really? Probably just seeing mistakes.

What is the most accepted usage: "English language" or "english language"? And what about other possible usage of the adjective "english"?

"English language" with a capital.

There are some uses of national adjectives which don't have to be capitalized, such as "french windows". Presumably the same logic would apply to something like "english muffins". However I don't have statistics as to which is more common.

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I believe that both "English muffins" and "French windows" are usually capitalized. – Ellie Kesselman Aug 2 '11 at 10:31
@FeralOink What about "french fries"? – YatharthROCK Aug 20 '12 at 9:46
@YatharthROCK I would say that "French fries" is the way to go. Wikipedia agrees with me en.wikipedia.org/wiki/French_fries or does with the qualifier "generally". But the fact that Wikipedia agrees with me (or I with it) doesn't mean we are right and you are wrong. I like to capitalize anything and everything associated with a country or nationality or language as a respect thing. But that is not said sanctimoniously to you! I want to see my own favorite nationalities and languages capitalized, so I may be hyper-vigilant about ensuring that it is applied universally. – Ellie Kesselman Aug 27 '12 at 5:44
Actually, France/the French have little to do with "french fries". The full name is "french-cut fried potatoes", where french cut is to cut a vegetable into long thin strips. Presumably it originated in French cooking. See the U.S. hysteria over France in 2003 and the renaming of "French fries" to "Freedom fries". – Phil Perry Apr 11 '14 at 15:18

protected by tchrist Aug 11 '13 at 9:30

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