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I have come across a few written documents by my peers that have what I would call a proper noun grouped with a common noun. So as an example without any capitalization:

Select the edit menu from the menu bar.

The way I usually see them write it is:

Select the Edit menu from the Menu bar.

I usually edit it to:

Select the Edit Menu from the Menu Bar

Because they are referring to a specific menu and a specific tool bar. Lately though, I have seen several others use the first form which makes me question if I have been making the correct edit or if I have been wrong this whole time.

Two more examples:

Example 1:

I want to be a writer.

How would the capitalization go for:

I want to be a fiction writer.

Would it still be all lower case or capitalized since it names a specific type of writer or is fiction actually an adjective in this case?

Example 2:

Imagine I have a box with three buttons on them that we have labeled play button, square button, and blue button which conveniently look exactly how the name describes them.

Press the blue button.

Would I capitalize blue button since we have labeled it as such or would it be an adjective?

I hope my question makes sense. Thanks in advance for the advice.

Note:

In typing out adjective to tag this question, I saw pop up. I never heard of this before, but the quick definition given in the tag description seems to fit my fiction writer example, meaning I would not capitalize in that case. My other examples don't seem to fit and would still be either proper nouns or adjectives. Is this a valid conclusion?

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"Edit Menu" could be correct if it is a proper noun

If the menu is officially named something like "Edit Menu", it is a proper noun and capitalization is correct. If the menu is not officially named that, then it is not correct to write "Edit Menu". Same goes for "Menu Bar"—if this is officially defined as the name of a certain part of the interface, that's its name. People are free to assign proper names to just about anything, as far as I know. (But personally, I think this style looks a bit silly.)

"Edit menu" could be correct as a common noun preceded by a "quote" of the literal text used to label the menu

However, it seems your peers are not using "Edit Menu" as a proper noun, but instead refering to the menu by taking the common noun "menu" and preposing the word that is used to label this object. Looking at my screen, this sort of label is capitalized in the Mac user interface:

Mac Finder showing "Edit" tab

But not in the Stack Exchange one:

Stack Exchange "edit" button

So it might not make sense to use a capitalized "edit" when talking about the Stack Exchange interface, but it would when talking about the Mac interface.

In a more explicit style, this type of labelling could be indicated with quotation marks: the "Edit" menu (="the menu that says "Edit"). Another possible convention is bolding (the Edit menu). A third possible convention is to use a monospaced, or otherwise distinct typeface (the Edit menu). Any of these could be correct; it all depends on the style defined for the document. In this context, "Edit" is not capitalized because it is a proper noun, but because this is how the word appears in the object that you are referring to (just like how "T" in "T-shirt" may be capitalized because it is being used to refer to the way a capital letter "T" looks). Of course, for Stack Exchange, it would be most appropriate to write "the edit button" or "the edit button".

(Incidentally, I can think of no circumstances where it would be a good idea to write something like "the Edit Menu" or "the Edit Menu", since proper nouns generally don't have special styling or typefaces associated with them in formal contexts.)

Since menu bars are usually not labeled with the word "Menu", the preceding "label" explanation doesn't work for them in most cases

I just realized that a "menu bar" usually doesn't have the word "Menu" written on it, so by the logic I gave above, it wouldn't normally have a reason to be capitalized (unless it has been offically been given the proper name "Menu Bar"). I decided to look at what some websites do.

The first two sites I found do not capitalize it:

In Microsoft Windows, the menu bar is beneath the title bar. [...]

If the File, Edit and View menus are missing, it is usually because Firefox is in full screen mode or it is not the selected application. [...] Your Mac will always display the menu bar for the program that's currently selected.

This a tiny survey, so if this is an important issue for you you should do more study, but my tentative advice would be to not use the capitalization pattern "Menu bar" unless the bar is literally labelled with the text "Menu". Use either "Menu Bar" (if you've decided to treat it as a proper noun) or the all-lowercase "menu bar".

"fiction writer" and "blue button" would almost never have capitals

As for the additional examples, of course you would write "fiction writer" and "blue button," unless you mean to refer to an author labelled with the word "Fiction" (written with a capital "F"), or a button labelled with the word "Blue" (written with a capital "B"). In fact, if you have a button labelled with the word "Blue" that is not colored blue, it would probably be confusing to refer to it as "the blue button" rather than as "the Blue button" (although "the 'Blue' button", "the Blue button, or "the Blue button" would be even better).

  • This clarifies things for me. So if I understand, internally we all need to agree if we are naming the entity Edit Menu or if we are simply referring to a labeled entity from a general group "Edit" menu? – MrJman006 Jun 27 '17 at 21:50
  • @sumerlic Thank you for clarifying. I really appreciate it! – MrJman006 Jun 27 '17 at 21:53
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Nothing in example one (fiction writer) or example two (blue button) should be capitalized except for the first letter of the first word of each sentence. In English we capitalize proper nouns (names), and none of these examples is a proper noun.

Capitalizing Edit in ...the Edit menu... is fine, as it is a proper noun and the name of that menu. Capitalizing Menu would be a style choice, so just be consistent.

See Grammarbook and Grammarly for starters.

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All of your examples seem like common nouns with an adjective. The addition of the adjective doesn't change that they're all common nouns, which do not require capitalization.

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