Often I get confused when to capitalise the word state. In the following three different meanings of the word, when should the letter S be capitalized?

  1. Synonymous to the words country, nation or government. Even though there are subtle differences among them.
  2. 1st-tier administrative division of a country. Examples: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Baden-Württemberg.
  3. Status of something. Examples:

    The state of education in this State is pathetic.


There are no special rules for capitalizing the word "state" in ordinary, non-technical English. It should be capitalized when at the start of a sentence, or when it is part of a proper noun.

The state (3) of affairs is that the State of Washington (proper noun) is a state (2) within the sovereign state (1) known as The United States of America (proper noun).

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Although I broadly agree with the first answer to this question, I note that in legal writing (particularly in the field of public international law) the word "state" is widely capitalised when used in the meaning of a nation state (i.e. a subject of public international law). I have often struggled with this usage, as it goes against the generally accepted rules on capitalisation of words in English. However, given the extent to which this usage is established in the aforementioned field, I thought it worth mentioning.

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    Can you quote an article using it that way? Interesting finding – Azor Ahai -- he him Aug 7 '18 at 22:17
  • Hi Deckleff, welcome to English Language & Usage. If you think you might use our site again (and I hope you do!), please make sure you take the Tour. :-) – Chappo Hasn't Forgotten Monica Aug 7 '18 at 22:39

As we always capitalize countries, I believe it would be logical to capitalize 'state' when it refers directly to the institution of a particular sovereign country and its government;

for example:

You cannot discuss the Spanish colonization without referring to the complex and intertwining history of the Church and the State.

Here 'the State' directly means 'the Kingdom of Spain/the Hispanic Monarchy/the Spanish Empire'.

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  • Hi there shogun. It would be of help to us if you could back this up with a source and possibly extend your answer? – Lordology Feb 16 '19 at 11:52

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