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"In the Eden story, The Snake engages Eve in dialog."

IN this sentence, should the word "Snake" be capitalized? Should the word "The" be capitalized?

I assume that only if "The Snake" is a proper noun it gets capitalized, am I correct?

How do I know if "The Snake" is a proper noun or a regular noun?

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3 Answers

The author of the passage determines if "snake" is a proper noun, that is, if the snake's name is The Snake. If it is then "The Snake" should be capitalized. If, instead, it could be any snake, but happens to be this one, and the snake's name is actually Bob, but that isn't important enough to even note, the author may write "the snake said ...".

Note: The Snake might have multiple names, but if the author puts the capital letter on Snake then that is a signal to the reader that this snake is important, and indeed later if you see the words "The Snake" in the same work you might infer that it is the same snake.

Example:

"the architect [who designed this building] was either a certified genius or authentic wacko."

(any architect)

"I am the Architect. I created the Matrix."

(character is named the Architect)

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"the snake"

"Snake" is not a proper noun because outside of that context, it is impossible to say which snake is the snake. E.g. "God" is a proper noun because I can use it in any context and it is understood that I am talking about the monotheistic god.

The "the" is not capitalized because it is simply a descriptive article distinguishing the fact that it was a unique snake as opposed to just any snake; it is not attached to the noun in question. Even if the noun it describes were a proper noun, e.g. "He ate the Moon", "the" is not capitalized. Only capitalize the word "the" if it is part of the noun in question, e.g. "The Beatles".

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I disagree with this. What do you mean, "outside of that context, it is impossible to say which snake is the snake"? Why is it impossible? The Snake is a specific character in this story, and that is, for all intents and purposes, his name. Every time you see "The Snake" written in that story, it is referring to one specific snake. Capitalizing the noun makes it clear that it is being used as a proper noun, and this is a perfectly valid option for the author to take. This is done in countless stories. –  Kosmonaut Nov 3 '10 at 17:39
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Strictly speaking, if your sentence has 'the [common noun]', then [common noun] should not be capitalized. So,

In the Eden story, the snake engages Eve in dialog.

but

In the Eden story, Snake engages Eve in dialog.

because in the latter, 'Snake' is being used as the name of that particular snake.

(Note that 'the' should not be capitalized in either case.)

That said, however, it can be a perfectly valid stylistic choice to capitalize Snake as a sort of "important word" marking. A parallel would be a using "the Queen" and "Queen Elizabeth II" interchangeably in a document.

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