I was trying to find a definitive source on whether or not to capitalize "rainforest" when it follows "Amazon" in the Amazon rainforest. Wikipedia seems to have it not capitalized, though they strangely capitalize "Amazon Jungle". I went to look for "Sahara desert" and came across the same phenomenon. Many sources seem to not capitalize the second word in these two examples.

Other rainforests and deserts (such as the Daintree Rainforest and the Mojave Desert) seem to be rather uniformly capitalized.

Are these two different because their names are "the Amazon" and "the Sahara" as opposed to "the Amazon Rainforest" and "the Sahara Desert"?

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    What style guide are you using? What does it say? – jejorda2 Apr 21 '17 at 12:17
  • I am not writing for any particular publication, so I am not using any specific style guide. However, Chicago says "When a generic term is used descriptively (or in apposition) rather than as part of a name, or when used alone, it is lowercased". They give the example of the Amazon basin. But I am unsure if "Amazon rainforest" is really being used descriptively as opposed to part of a name. – trident Apr 21 '17 at 12:39

The reason that Mohave Desert is capitalized more often than Sahara Desert seems to be a difference between practice in the U.K. and the U.S. See this Ngram, which shows that Americans are much more likely to use capitalization in "Sahara Desert" than Brits are. And clearly, Americans are also much more likely to mention the Mohave.

Both capital and lowercase are used, but you should pick one style and be consistent. There is absolutely no reason to be inconsistent, and treat the Mohave differently from the Sahara.

I don't know what the practice is in Australia, but from the example of "Daintree Rainforest", I would expect capitalization to be the usual form, as well.

  • Interesting. I never considered British vs. American usage as a possible reason for the disconnect. I am still confused as to why these words are not capitalized, but this answer goes some way toward making an explanation. Thanks! – trident Apr 22 '17 at 1:23

When I just did a Google search, I found the 'rainforest' in the Amazon and the 'desert' in the Sahara capitalized as often as not, which seems to indicate that there is no absolute rule in these cases. When in doubt, it would be better not to capitalize 'rainforest' and 'desert' in these 2 specific cases, taking your cue from Wikipedia. One reason is that capitalization is best kept to the mandatory minimum, and the mandatory capitalization of 'Amazon' and 'Sahara' should be sufficient for your purpose.

  • While I certainly agree with the sentiment that less is better, I am looking for a more grammatical reason. Why have a large number of publications and online sources decided that these terms should not be capitalized versus the Daintree Rainforest and the Mojave Desert? – trident Apr 21 '17 at 12:43
  • It would be mainly because there seems to be neither a rule nor a consensus for or against capitalization in such cases; and if there is one, the writers are unaware, or dont care. So the various different media don't feel obliged to write it one way or the other, leading to a mix of styles. Similarly we can see 'the Himalayas', 'the Rockies', etc where the word 'mountains' is itself omitted as being self-evident. At the same time, some people write it as "the Rocky Mountains" and others as "the Rocky mountains" without a capital M -- the meaning does not change one bit for the general reader! – English Student Apr 21 '17 at 12:51
  • The Chicago example of 'Amazon basin' should sufficiently answer your original question. – English Student Apr 21 '17 at 12:53
  • Thanks for your responses. While I am by no means prescriptivist, I am having trouble understanding why writing "Rocky mountains" would be correct under any circumstance when referring to the Rockies. The "Amazon basin" example does give a clue (Chicago seems to suggest "rainforest" is being used descriptively). But...is it? Why is then Daintree Rainforest not being used descriptively? Is it because "Amazon" is the name itself as opposed to "Amazon Rainforest"? – trident Apr 21 '17 at 13:02
  • I could only guess that for the vast majority of readers and writers, both styles are acceptable and they are not aware of the importance of capitalization of the second word, provided the first is properly capitalized! – English Student Apr 21 '17 at 13:14

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