If I'm listing a series of proper nouns (like the names of counties) that all require the same common noun to follow (like the word 'county') should I capitalize the common noun at the end of the list?

Some examples:

  • "I traveled to Cook, Fulton, and Columbia Counties" or "I traveled to Cook, Fulton and Columbia counties"
  • "I swam in the Pacific and Indian Oceans" or "I swam in the Pacific and Indian oceans"

After writing a series of comments related to your question I thought a bit more about it and came to the conclusion that capitalization is optional in these cases, depending on the context.

(1) As MikeJRamsey56 rightly noted in comments, the words 'Ocean' and 'County' as used in these examples are not really 'common nouns' as OP calls them, but (I should think) part of 'proper nouns' as in 'Pacific Ocean' and 'Columbia County' -- considered as such, capitalization of the part of a proper noun coming at the end of a list of proper nouns would be a good option:

Bob: Did you say you swam in the Pacific Ocean or the Atlantic Ocean?

Mike: In fact I swam in the Pacific, Atlantic and Arctic Oceans.

Bob: And the Arctic Ocean? Well, I just hope none of your toes got frozen off, nor any other appendages. BTW where had you worked before you started here?

Mike: Fulton County, Columbia County and Cook County...

Bob: You had better say Fulton, Columbia and Cook Counties, because the boss is a senior member at EL and U!

(2) However you can also legitimately use 'ocean' and 'county' as generic common nouns whose specific names then become identifying adjectives here.

Bob: Which oceans did you swim in?

Mike: The Pacific, Atlantic and Arctic oceans.

Bob: Which counties give special exemption on residential tax for mobile homes?

Mike: Fulton, Columbia and Cook counties, I think.

A note on style: The senior member Sven Yargs has observed in comments regarding style guides that both Chicago and AP endorse "Pacific, Atlantic[,] and Arctic oceans," without admitting any exceptions. I am sure all style guides would advise you to be consistent in either case.

  • I'm sure that some style guides must support capitalizing Oceans in a sentence like "In fact I swam in the Pacific, Atlantic and Arctic Oceans." But I haven't found one yet. The Oxford Guide to Style (2003) devotes two pages to the capitalization of place names, but it doesn't say anything about whether to capitalize the plural form of a feature (such as a river, lake, or ocean) when multiple proper-name features are rendered as here. In contrast (as I noted in the linked question), both Chicago and AP endorse "Pacific, Atlantic[,] and Arctic oceans," without admitting any exceptions.
    – Sven Yargs
    Jun 23 '17 at 22:00
  • @Sven Yargs You would agree OP has therefore asked an intriguing question! Capitalizing Ocean might be considered a special exception where what I am really saying is that 'I swam in the Pacific Ocean, the Atlantic Ocean and the Arctic Ocean' but then decide to follow my friend's advice and shorten it to 'the Pacific, Atlantic and Arctic Oceans' for the sake of avoiding tedious repetition. This is possible here only because 'Ocean' would be capitalized in the proper-name form of every ocean, but of course if OP is following a particular style guide then they should do as that style guide says! Jun 23 '17 at 22:13
  • @Sven Yargs Thank you for the helpful comments. I have used your above observation regarding style guides as an attributed insert in my answer to avoid misleading OP as to what is 'accepted style.' Jun 23 '17 at 22:22

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