I am often confused how the word "English" should be written in phrases such as "English language", because I have seen both variants: capitalized and starting with lowercase letter.

What is the most accepted usage: "English language" or "english language"? And what about other possible usage of the adjective "english"?

  • 1
    +1 I recently came across someone saying that "English" was incorrect for the language, and that it ought to be "english". May 8, 2013 at 13:54
  • Seven years out and this question still has no answer. The answers just debate among themselves.
    – SigmaX
    Oct 18, 2017 at 13:54
  • 1
    Could you turn that round and explain when you think English - or any foreign equivalent - should not be capitalized? Feb 24, 2021 at 0:37

5 Answers 5


If it is a proper noun, it must be capitalized.

If it is an adjective derived from a proper noun, it should retain its capitalization, according to this Wikipedia entry:

In English, adjectives derived from proper nouns (except the names of characters in fictional works) usually retain their capitalization
– e.g. a Christian church, Canadian whisky, a Shakespearean sonnet, but not a quixotic mission, malapropism, holmesian nor pecksniffian.

Where the original capital is no longer at the beginning of the word, usage varies: anti-Christian, but Presocratic or Pre-Socratic or presocratic (not preSocratic).

The "usually" might explain why you sometimes see "english" without any capitalization. The only case of "english" as a common noun would be in the context of pool, billiards or bowling games, as described by Wiktionary:

english (uncountable)

  1. (US) Spinning or rotary motion given to a ball around the vertical axis, as in billiards or bowling.

You can't hit it directly, but maybe if you give it some english.

  • 28
    This really could have been clearer. The answer doesn’t state unambgiuously that, when referring to the language, the people or the country, English is always a proper noun. This is not obvious.
    – Timwi
    Aug 30, 2010 at 13:19
  • 2
    It's not obvious that the name of a language, a people, or a country is a proper noun?
    – Kosmonaut
    Aug 30, 2010 at 13:48
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    No, it is not obvious that a language's name is a proper noun, at least to a non-English mothertongue. Why should it be for a language and not, say, for a plant (Birch) or a tool (Hammer)? (To add something, in Italian proper nouns are capitalised too, but a language's is not considered a proper noun.)
    – DaG
    Aug 20, 2012 at 10:15
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    I can't help thinking that even in the billiards or bowling context, English ought to be capitalised. There is surely an implied noun. (English spin??). It's hard for me to tell, because in English English, you would call it screw, at least upon the green baize. Nov 5, 2012 at 22:00
  • 1
    @Kosmonaut: no, it isn't. Don't take it for granted because English treats them as such. Individual people and geographical places (including countries) are more or less universally proper nouns. But many other categories are not: months, weekdays, languages, peoples, religions and similar other items are not necessarily proper nouns in many languages.
    – Gábor
    Aug 2, 2019 at 15:03

Unless you mean spin on a billiards ball, it should be capitalized.

  • 1
    To "put english on the ball" or "use body english" seems to be captialized as often as it is not, so there doesn't seem to be consensus on that. Other than that, the only time I've seen "english" is in computer directory (folder) and file names, where the program author has just left languages in lower case. Certainly, in proper text it should otherwise always be English.
    – Phil Perry
    Apr 11, 2014 at 15:22

I often confused how the word "English" should be written in phrases like "English language", because I meet both variants: capitalized and starting with lowercase letter.

Hmm, really? Probably just seeing mistakes.

What is the most accepted usage: "English language" or "english language"? And what about other possible usage of the adjective "english"?

"English language" with a capital.

There are some uses of national adjectives which don't have to be capitalized, such as "french windows". Presumably the same logic would apply to something like "english muffins". However I don't have statistics as to which is more common.

  • 2
    I believe that both "English muffins" and "French windows" are usually capitalized. Aug 2, 2011 at 10:31
  • @FeralOink What about "french fries"? Aug 20, 2012 at 9:46
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    @YatharthROCK I would say that "French fries" is the way to go. Wikipedia agrees with me en.wikipedia.org/wiki/French_fries or does with the qualifier "generally". But the fact that Wikipedia agrees with me (or I with it) doesn't mean we are right and you are wrong. I like to capitalize anything and everything associated with a country or nationality or language as a respect thing. But that is not said sanctimoniously to you! I want to see my own favorite nationalities and languages capitalized, so I may be hyper-vigilant about ensuring that it is applied universally. Aug 27, 2012 at 5:44
  • 1
    Actually, France/the French have little to do with "french fries". The full name is "french-cut fried potatoes", where french cut is to cut a vegetable into long thin strips. Presumably it originated in French cooking. See the U.S. hysteria over France in 2003 and the renaming of "French fries" to "Freedom fries".
    – Phil Perry
    Apr 11, 2014 at 15:18
  • @YatharthROCK: There is now a question about the capitalization of "French fries" specifically: French fries or french fries?
    – herisson
    May 3, 2017 at 21:53

English as a proper noun for the people of England, or the language which bears its name, should always be capitalized. It is a proper noun, after all.

In the phrase, the English language we have two nouns, with one functioning like an adjective to refine the meaning of the final noun in the group. If it wasn't capitalized you would call english an adjective. Capitalized, it is a pronoun and makes the phrase a compound noun. Just because it is functioning to refine the meaning of the terminal noun in the phrase, does not make it an adjective. It is still a noun, I think.

Etymologically, this usage is probably derived from a common language shortcut where people just started saying things like the dining room table, instead of the table of the room of dining, which is a sort of construction you might see more often in Spanish and Italian.

  • 3
    I don't think "the English language" is a compound noun. The word "English" behaves as an adjective in other contexts: "they are English", "a very English tradition". It has the suffix "-ish", which is associated with adjectives rather than nouns. The use of "English" as a noun referring to a language seems to be a type of ellipsis.
    – herisson
    Jul 1, 2017 at 17:34
  • If it is capitalized in the phrase then it is a compound noun. It's capitalized because it is a pronoun. Not sure how one would use it as a plain adjective. Jul 2, 2017 at 15:13
  • 1
    For pete's sake, proper names function as adjectives all the time. The English language, the French language, the Spanish language=those are adjectives, my friend. Cornes-aux-cul, vive le Père Ubu ! [if I remember the play correctly!] As for it being a pronoun, retour aux livres scolaires, mon ami.
    – Lambie
    Jul 2, 2017 at 15:46
  • 1
    "They are very English" isn't English an adjective here?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jul 2, 2017 at 18:55

The dictionaries and glossaries I've look at differ considerably in what they say about English appearing with a lower-case e when using the word for spin or side.

No Mention: (Assumed upper-case only)

Print OED: no mention
Print The New Oxford American: no mention
Online M-W: no mention
Online Lexico: no mention
Online Oxford/Google (FreeDictionary): no mention

Qualified upper- or lower-case:

Print Webster's New World: [sometimes e-]
Print Collins: often not cap.

English: alternative form of “english.”
english: term usually used to refer to sidespin applied to the CB, but can also be used to refer to any type of spin applied to the CB (e.g., with draw and follow shots).
english-induced throw: same as “spin-induced throw.”
english transfer: same as “spin transfer.” Billiards Terminology Glossary

Lower-case only:

Wiktionary: entry is in lower case on a page of Glossary of cue sports terms

Looking at a few pages of hits for "put/putting english on the ball" in Google Books, the lower-case e is less common, but present.

You and your opponent each have a control unit. Each unit not only moves a square, but can put english on the ball when it hits it. Popular Science (1972)

Marie stood rigidly at a machine next to me, moving only her fingers on the flippers as if entranced, hypnotized by the lights and the computer gibberish, while I leaned into my machine or jolted it with stiff arms sometimes violently trying to put english on the ball or achieve a greater bounce off the bumpers. Blood Confessions (1992)

Studs, unconscious of everything, put the balls before him, ran the table, feeling a sense of skill and power as he made ball after ball, planning shots ahead, putting english on the ball to get position, feeling a complete mastery. Studs Logan (2001)

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