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In British English, it would be River Thames, River Jordan, etc, (as opposed to AmE requiring “River” after the name). So:

I swam in River Jordan.

But, what happens to river’s capitalisation when the is added?

I swam in the River Jordan

OR

I swam in the river Jordan

as in

I played the game Half-life

Edit

Damn! I just came across a PDF on Chicago Manual of Style. Agreed it's for AmE, but the first page itself talks about “the river Elbe” having a lowercase “R” because it’s “added by way of description”. Hence, my question stands. Does something similar apply to BrE or do we stick to capitalised “River” in all situations as long as it’s followed by a proper noun.

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When you name the river, you capitalise river, so it would be:

River Jordan
I swam in the River Jordan

but without the name:

I swam in the river.

The presence of 'the' is less relevant than the presence of the name of the feature. There are similar conventions with other natural features, for example mountains, e.g. Mount Everest.

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    Except that you don't say "I climbed the Mount Everest." – Andrew Leach Jul 17 '14 at 11:23
  • The point remains - if you name the feature, you capitalise the first noun. – ElendilTheTall Jul 17 '14 at 11:26
  • But is River part of the name when you add the definite article? Rivers are a special case since you can add River before some of them and create a new pseudo-name, quite apart from the simple name of the river. I can't think of any other things that share this feature. Mount is similar, but not quite the same thing, since you cannot add the definite article. My gut feeling is that when you add the article, you're using a generic noun + river name, similar to saying “the mountain [called] Everest” as opposed to “Mount Everest”. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jul 17 '14 at 11:43
  • @JanusBahsJacquet: in English, 'the' is required when naming rivers whether 'River' is used or not. Thus: 'he crossed the (River) Jordan', but NOT 'he crossed River Jordan'. The latter sounds like foreigner talk. – Peter Jul 17 '14 at 13:40
  • @Peter That is how I would say it too. I was going by the question which claims that BrE does not use the article here, though I find it unnatural-sounding. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jul 17 '14 at 13:42
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Capitalise River because it is part of the name: thus, the River Nile, the River Euphrates, the River Rhine. I call this the 'generic' element of a geographical name; it specifies the kind of feature that we are talking about.

Sure, we can say the Nile, the Euphrates and the Rhine, but these would be short versions of the full name.

Consider street names which also have generic elements, say, Robinson Drive. 'Drive' is the generic element, and suggests that the road is probably scenic in some way. It is standardly capitalised.

Just one more analogue. Country names often have full forms and short forms. The Commonwealth of Australia is the full form - again the generic element (Commonwealth) is capitalised.

However, in the case of the game, it is called Half-life. It is the complete form, and 'game' is not part of the name. I would therefore not capitalise game in your sentence.

  • This is the same as the Pacific Ocean, the Aegean Sea, the Gulf of Mexico, the Firth of Forth, Cape Horn, Lake Superior, Lake Geneva, (the) Lake of the Woods, and Oconomowoc Lake. – tchrist Jul 17 '14 at 15:04
  • Most islands don't include 'Island' in their official name. Thus, the island of Malta / Ireland / Tangier. But the people on The Island of Mozambique insist on 'The Island of Mozambique'. – Edwin Ashworth Jul 17 '14 at 16:17
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    The nation of Mozambique isn't an Island. Do you mean Madagascar? – Oldcat Jul 17 '14 at 17:01
  • But Holy Island, like Fair Isle is anarthrous; unlike The Scilly Isles. – Colin Fine Jul 17 '14 at 23:52
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Most of these answers misconstrue the question, which is a good one. There is no question that one capitalizes the generic element when it comes after the name--that convention is clear. And it is also clear that one does not capitalize when the generic element comes before if the resulting unit is not an organic name, like the game Half-Life. The question is about the gray area in between, when you have the somewhat poetic inversion of river names, as in the River Thames, or the River Ganges, or the River Jordan. Some rivers it would just be out of the question, since no one says the River Ohio or the River St. Lawrence. But there are few iconic examples where the "river" part appended beforehand does function in the way of an organic part of the name. Chicago Manual, in 8.53 of the 16th edition clearly treats this generic, and so lowercase. But I would argue that it is not always merely descriptive. It is tantamount to being part of the name.

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