This question already has an answer here:

We used to capitalize references to "the President" (of the US) even when his name wasn't included. And we used to capitalize "state" even when a particular state (State of California) was not mentioned. Is it now considered proper usage not to capitalize either of those?

marked as duplicate by Hot Licks, Mitch, choster, JHCL, Sven Yargs Nov 10 '15 at 9:35

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

  • 1
    Are you sure there has been a change over time? – sumelic Nov 8 '15 at 1:34
  • 1
    The words are capitalized or not depending on how the word is being used. There is no doubt some difference between "formal" and "informal", but the basic "rules' are fairly static (if obscure). – Hot Licks Nov 8 '15 at 1:58
  • The irresistible question is who's "we"? – choster Nov 9 '15 at 16:21
  • This is certainly a duplicate of the substance of the question that Hot Licks links to in a comment above. It's unfortunate that the accepted answer there is flawed by a misstatement regarding the recommendation in The Chicago Manual of Style for handling "president Obama" versus "President Obama." (Chicago prefers the latter style.) – Sven Yargs Nov 10 '15 at 9:34

I've been doing research on the 50 U.S. states and writing articles about them for years, and I can't remember ever seeing the word state capitalized when used by itself.

I consider the two sentences below correct:

"I was born in a state, not a province." "I was born in the state of California."

This sentence is borderline...

"I was born in the State of California."

I think it's more appropriate when used in a legal or government context, e.g. a court representing the State of California. But would you write, "I was born in the Country of Japan"?

I think the rules for capitalizing the word president are a little ambiguous. I always capitalize it when it accompanies a name - President Carter, for example.

When the word president follows the word a, do not capitalize it...

"a president"

When it follows "the," I think you could probably go either way...

"The president decided to back down." "The President decided to back down."

  • Capitalization is a grammatical device and as all grammatical devices it is used to communicate something about what is being said and something about what isn't being said. The example of "state of California" vs "State of California" is actually particularly stark. So I am surprised that you would use it as an example of why capitalization isn't needed. "state of California" could be used to indicate an allusion to Californication. Whereas "State of California" makes it clear that "state" is being used an administrative unit rather than as a state of being. – grovkin Aug 27 '17 at 20:00
  • Good point. I think the context would make the meaning clear in most cases, but I took another look, and it's clear that many people do capitalize "State" as you suggested. – David Blomstrom Aug 28 '17 at 21:00

The word state isn't generally capitalized because it doesn't form part of the name of a state. For instance, you may check with the act that granted statehood to California. All references in the text are to "the state of California."

However, there are two idiosyncratic states -- the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Those initial-cap names are designated in their constitutions at the links. Of course, they're still lower-case states.

  • I grew up in Washington, and it still peeves me that journalists refer to the city Washington, D.C. as "Washington" and the state as "Washington S(s)tate". The name of the state is not "Washington S(s)tate". (That's the name of a university in Pullman, WA, fondly nicknamed "Wazzu".) So that seems to be another exception. – Brian Hitchcock Nov 8 '15 at 10:57
  • @Brian Hitchcock I'm a copy editor for a paper in Washington and AP style requests the term "Washington state" be used instead of "Washington State" for that very reason. – Azor Ahai Nov 9 '15 at 18:28
  • By Washington I mean the state north of Oregon haha. Everyone I know calls the other Washington DC in all usage – Azor Ahai Nov 9 '15 at 18:29

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.