When referring to an entity like a government body, should it be capitalized if referring to is by classification(?).

E.g., if I write:

The City of New York requires us to get a building permit.

Certainly "city" should be capitalized.

However, if I'm communicating in a context where everyone should know what city I'm referring to (the one we are in), when I write:

The city requires us to get a building permit.

Should "city" still be capitalized?

3 Answers 3


In your second example, "city" should not be capitalized. Words for governmental or administrative units are only capitalized when they are used as part of a proper noun, such as the formal name of a city.

Your first example is correct so long as you're referring to the City of New York, as the formal name for New York. However, if I were simply using the word "city" to disambiguate and not as part of a formal name, I wouldn't capitalize it:

We're only going to the city of New York, not the rest of the state.

  • 1
    I believe the formal name of NYC is "New York City," not "City of New York."
    – Dori
    Commented Aug 21, 2010 at 0:00
  • 6
    @Dori, having been involved years ago in a long, drawn-out argument on Wikipedia on what to title the article there on New York City, I can tell you that the names “New York City” and “City of New York” are both used by the city to refer to itself in formal contexts. The title page of the city’s charter reads “New York City Charter” but also, at the bottom, it says “City of New York”. Go figure. nyc.gov/html/charter/downloads/pdf/citycharter2004.pdf
    – nohat
    Commented Oct 26, 2010 at 5:57
  • Neither the constitution of New York State nor the charter of the city of New York capitalizes city in "New York city" or "the city of New York."
    – deadrat
    Commented Jul 18, 2015 at 13:52

If I saw the City I would assume that what was meant was the City of London (which is not at all the same thing as London City). In other contexts, city should be spelled with a lowercase c.

  • But near both San Francisco and New York, "the City" (always capitalized) does not mean London, but SF or NYC. Washington DC is called "the District" by the locals. The rules vary locally, and you have an extremely London-centric point of view. Commented Oct 1, 2012 at 22:09
  • I live in Ireland, and I could easily accept Dublin, Belfast, Limerick and other towns being referred to as the city, with context rendering this unambiguous. But the City with the capital C, is always the City of London. That's how it works for me, anyway.
    – TRiG
    Commented Oct 1, 2012 at 22:11
  • Okay, a British-Isles-centric view. Commented Oct 1, 2012 at 22:12
  • 2
    Peter Shor, "the City" does not mean London in general. It has a particular meaning. It is a shorter way of referring to the City of London, which is one particular part of London. See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/City_of_London
    – Tristan r
    Commented Feb 18, 2014 at 19:56

City/state/province etc are qualifiers. On their own they don't specify anything specific and therefore aren't proper nouns. New York City is a vague virtual identity, meaning what it needs to mean to a particular writer. The "City" qualifier being a filler so it rolls off the tongue easier. Everyone knows New York is a city or else you can disambiguate in lowercase. It changes to uppercase when you have proper nouns like "New York City Council". Even in the case of the council only used when writing about THE New York City Council, as opposed to writing "New York city council and other city councils are considering the use of garbage cans." If we were to capitalize qualifiers referring to conceptual proper nouns, there would be capitals everywhere, like camels walking in every sentence. Making reading harder rather than easier. King George Whiting The Second went on an Abbreviated Holiday, spending his time in Elverston and Surrounding Area Park Range.

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