Does the adjective Machiavellian always have a capital letter? For example:

The Machiavellian Iago manipulates Othello into believing his wife, Desdemona, had an affair.

Not sure if this is anything to go by but, Microsoft Word corrects the word to have a capital. I am not sure if this is also the case when it is an adjective.


First, apart from very rare exceptions, you should capitalize all words derived from a person’s name (see here and there, on this very site). It doesn't matter whether it's a noun, an adjective, a verb, anything. Just put a damn capital!

Now, for your specific case, two additional points in support of capitalization:

  1. the New Oxford American Dictionary lists all derivatives with a capital: Machiavel, Machiavellian, Machiavellianism.

  2. of the Corpus of Contemporary American English’s most recent 100 recorded uses of Machiavellian, only 3 use the lowercase.

  • 2
    Including Sandwich, Macintosh, Wellingtons, Diesel ? – mgb May 30 '11 at 22:14
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    quixotic, poinsettia, curium, sideburns, cardigan, chauvinist, dahlia, doily, guy, galvanization, guppy, jeremiad, philippic, leotard, bloomers, lynch, boycott, mausoleum, shrapnel, nicotine. At some point, the eponym is forgotten and the capital with it. – Malvolio May 31 '11 at 1:28
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    @Malvolio And just think, had The Earl of Cardigan been a late-night gambler, and the Earl of Sandwich a Crimean War Officer, (instead of the other way around) today we would all be eating cardigans and wearing sandwiches! – WS2 Sep 27 '16 at 23:08
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    I don't wear cardigans. – Malvolio Sep 28 '16 at 14:35

It's not wrong to capitalise Machiavellian, because it is taken from a proper noun. However, it is such a common word that it is probably not necessary to capitalise it any more.

  • 1
    In this case I think it would be confusing to capitalise . If you weren't familiar with the play you would think that "Machiavellian Iago" was the full name. – mgb May 30 '11 at 18:36

If it's being used an adjective then I would have said no.

According to the dictionary, if it refers sepcificaly to something named directly for a person eg. "Parkinson's disease", "Newton's law" then it is capitalised but for a more general description eg. 'diesel' it isn't.

  • Not sure if this is anything to go by but, Microsoft Word corrects the word to have a capital. Not sure if this is also the case when it is an adjective. – Proffesor In English May 30 '11 at 18:17
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    According to which dictionary? NOAD and others report it with a capital. Also, being used as an adjective is not really important in deciding whether to capitalize. – F'x May 30 '11 at 18:53
  • Merriam webster site - but can't link directly. Arguement is that something named after X is capital, but something have X characteristic isn't – mgb May 30 '11 at 19:20
  • You could say that the characteristic term itself is named after Machiavelli. It's the same as using other proper nouns as adjectives, such as French style, American values, or Shakespearean tragedy. – Eri May 30 '11 at 20:44
  • @Eri - funnily enough that's one of their other examples. A Shakespearean tragedy - referring directly to a play of Shakespeare's is capital. But 'shakespearean' to generally mean a grand theatre actor isn't. g – mgb May 30 '11 at 22:09

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