30

I am of the belief that Hell should be capitalized because real or not, it is the name of a place, and thus a proper noun. It should be capitalized correct?

I have seen it written without capitalization plenty of times, but I suspect that most of those were just due to laziness or illiteracy (it tends to be written with a lower-case ‘h’ mostly on the Internet–sigh).

Other uses, including expletives seem to use it as a place name as well:

  • What [in] the Hell‽

  • Go to Hell!

Google gives mixed results and checking the WikiPedia entry for Hell to get a proper definition does indicate that it is a location, but even on that same page, there are plenty of instances with a lower-case ‘h’.

Is there a situation in which it would not be capitalized? What about uses as an adjective:

that job was Hell?

4
  • 3
    That's a hella cool question!
    – user541686
    Mar 2, 2011 at 4:28
  • 2
    @Mehrdad, knock it off Cartman.
    – Synetech
    Mar 2, 2011 at 4:29
  • For the record, I have since capitalized it only when referring to the location.
    – Synetech
    Feb 21, 2013 at 19:47
  • I agree with the answer of @user2683, not the selected answer because "hell" needn't be capitalized when it is used as a proper noun. It certainly isn't in the Bible. There just are certain words that fall into the gray area between being a proper noun and being a common noun for a thing there's only one of, thus making it so you can pretty much do whatever the hell you want for those words (e.g., "the Earth" and "the earth," "the Internet" and "the internet," "the Devil" and "the devil," etc.). I've sometimes wondered why "the sky" and "the universe" don't fall into this quagmire. Mar 30, 2019 at 3:08

3 Answers 3

25

"Hell" is capitalized when it is used as a proper noun. That is, you capitalize it when you are referring to it as a specific place. However, it can be perfectly legitimate to leave it uncapitalized if you are not referring to a specific place.

"That job was hell" does not refer to a specific location, but rather a nebulous concept of torture. Thus, it is not capitalized in this sentence.

2
  • 10
    I agree. (well unless the job literally was Hell, although I would say in that case you have bigger problems than grammar)
    – Adam
    Mar 1, 2011 at 17:50
  • 2
    of the Corn, sounds good to me. @advs89, true, but in this economy, a job is a job. :-D
    – Synetech
    Mar 1, 2011 at 21:06
16

Hell need not be capitalized, even when it refers to a specific place, in the same way we need not capitalize equator (see for example Larry Trask's Guide to Punctuation).

The Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary also allows for it to remain uncapitalized. Its capitalization then is possibly due to its religious significance and not its reference to a specific place.

Checking several bibles (that is as real as hell can be) also shows that it need not be capitalized.

18
  • 2
    But why? It is a place and every student learns that place names are capitalized.
    – Synetech
    Mar 1, 2011 at 5:47
  • 2
    Take a look at definition three for equator. "a circle separating a surface into two congruent parts." If it's using that definition, it's not capitalized. If referring to our equator on Earth, then it is.
    – Adam
    Mar 1, 2011 at 21:31
  • 2
    All of this is sometimes relaxed, though, for words that are common. (which is probably your point) That doesn't necessarily make it "correct" though. (whatever "correct" means)
    – Adam
    Mar 1, 2011 at 21:39
  • 1
    I just now read the excerpt in question... I'll admit I'm not a linguist but I don't see how the equator isn't "strictly a proper name." It fits the dictionary definition of "proper name/noun" perfectly. Even longer articles on the subject describe it that way.
    – Adam
    Mar 1, 2011 at 21:47
  • 3
    +1. This answer is correct. Peter Of The Corn's answer is wrong. A quick Google search shows that the Vatican usually does not capitalize hell, even when it is apparently being used as a proper noun. Apr 1, 2011 at 19:34
-6

If you believe it's a real place, then make it capitalized.

Hypothetical locations, on the other hand, can go without capitalization - no one would capitalize "la-la land", for example.

11
  • 11
    I suppose in the context of an RPG where there could be multiple hells, then sure, but in the Biblical context, there is a single Hell, regardless of existence, thus making it a proper noun. As for la-la-land, if it is used as a synonym for Los Angeles, then I believe it is indeed capitalized.
    – Synetech
    Mar 1, 2011 at 5:58
  • 11
    Belief has nothing to do with whether you capitalize it or not. Proper nouns are capitalized. You wouldn't write "atlantis" simply because you do not believe it exists. Mar 1, 2011 at 17:52
  • 4
    If la-la land refers to a specific hypothetical place, then it should be capitalized. Also, as a rebuttal to your assertion that hypothetical locations don't have to be capitalized, consider works of fiction. Would you argue that you could get away with not capitalizing Narnia even though it doesn't exist? (granted, that's fictional and not hypothetical but the difference in the two grammatically is arguably negligible)
    – Adam
    Mar 1, 2011 at 18:12
  • 3
    Also, I would argue that "la-la land" is a fictional location and not a hypothetical one. It's only hypothetical if there exists people who hypothesize that it exists (people who don't currently reside in an insane asylum). And since it's fictional and a proper noun, it must be capitalized (just like Narnia, etc.)
    – Adam
    Mar 1, 2011 at 18:22
  • 6
    Capitalization rules are independent of any belief.
    – pferor
    Feb 8, 2012 at 12:55

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.