The sentence I'm wondering about:

Living in the [S/s]outh during the early 1900’s, the most decisive factor of a man’s life was determined at birth: the color of his skin.

Should South be capitalized because it's a noun?

3 Answers 3


"South" here is a proper noun, so it needs to be capitalized. Yes, everytime "south" is being used to indicate a place, it needs to be capitalized.

When I say "indicate", I mean used in their name, i.e. South Pole, or The South Country, or South Australia, or just "The South"

  • 3
    In Italy, those who live in the south are often looked down on by those in the north. I don't think that requires capitalisation. But certainly OP's example does - as you say, because it's a proper noun. In my example it's part of a 'locatory adjectival phrase', to coin a phrase. Different enough to me that I wouldn't capitalise it. Jul 12, 2011 at 1:58
  • Most information, first reply. And that's a good point @FumbleFingers, thanks. :)
    – John M.
    Jul 12, 2011 at 2:00

South here is referring to the Southern United States, not merely the cardinal direction, so it should be capitalized.

  • 2
    It's a bit parochial to assume Southern US - it could have been Southern UK! I'd like to hope colour prejudice was less here 100 years ago than in the US, but that's probably just wishful (read, parochial) thinking! :) Jul 12, 2011 at 1:52
  • Ah, true enough, I just assumed. Jul 12, 2011 at 2:00
  • ...having said that, +1 for making the point (or at least, implying) that 'south' is only capitalised if it refers to a specific area known by that name, not if it's just a general direction indicator. Jul 12, 2011 at 2:02

As the other answers have indicated, it should be the South. However, I think it needs to be made clear that the reason is that "the South" is a proper noun referring to the southern part of the United States. Most of the time, south is used as a common noun and does not need to be capitalized:

I live to the south.

The wind blew in from the south.

Keep going towards the south until you see the big tree.

The word south only needs to be capitalized when it's part of a proper name, either the official name of a territory such as South Dakota or New South Wales, or the name of the region of the US known as the South.

The West is also frequently used as a proper noun to refer to the western region of the United States. Somewhat less frequently you may also see the North or the East used as proper nouns.

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