With reference to the following sentence:

I am returning to University in a few weeks.

Given that the person stating this is referring to a specific university through implication (for example, because they are returning for their second year of study at the university they studied at during their first year), is this still considered a proper noun, or should it be treated as a common noun?

In other words, should the spelling of University be capitalised in this context?

  • 1
    There would, of course, be nothing wrong with the uncapitalised common noun usage here. With abbreviated proper nouns, the capitalisation is retained (City were beaten by Stoke at the weekend). However, 'University' is not a recognised abbreviation of any university, as far as I'm aware. Would you say 'It's back to School next week'? Commented Sep 2, 2014 at 21:29
  • @EdwinAshworth I wonder if the audience of the comment would affect whether it was perceived as a proper noun or a common noun? i.e. Somebody who knew he meant a specific University would treat it as a proper noun, but somebody that wasn't aware of the specific university might expect it's a common noun? In terms of, Would you say 'It's back to School next week', to be perfectly honest, I don't know, hence my question.
    – user7403
    Commented Sep 2, 2014 at 21:51
  • It's not inconceivable. But I'd go with the balance of probabilities. Commented Sep 2, 2014 at 22:01
  • I'd have to have the in front of it to see it capitalized. Basically, if you would have said in full the University of Somewhere, the replacement would be acceptable (and I'm pretty sure I've seen it with relative frequency). The edits that @tchrist made getting rid of the capitals in your post though are correct — in each case the term wasn't applying to a specific institution (that is, where you could substitute the full name). Commented Sep 3, 2014 at 0:42
  • @EdwinAshworth consider "The School of Medicine just hired three new faculty members […] This now means the School (= School of Medicine) is top-ranked for its student-faculty ratio". Here it seems appropriate to me. "Back to school" is a much more generic use of school, so I capitalization would be in my mind unwarranted. Commented Sep 3, 2014 at 0:56

1 Answer 1


Many years ago I attended classes (sporadically) at a tiny college in Maryland whose staff and students consistently referred to it in internal correspondence as "The College." The college's quarterly magazine was even named The College. Then I attended classes in graduate school (even more sporadically) at a gigantic state university that so dominated its in-state peers (in the minds of its staff and students) that many people would buy stick-on decals for their car that read "The University of Texas" and then snip off the "of Texas," confident that everyone would know what school "The University" referred to.

In both instances, however, the definite article was always included with "College" or "University." Without "The" (or at the very least "the"), the designation would have become too amorphous to sustain its sense, I think. In any case, I would spell university with a lowercase u in the example sentence you give, since I don't see any improvement in meaning to be got from the capital U.

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