If I am referring to a specific country's constitution, but not to America's, should the word 'constitution' be capitalised or not?

Edit: I think that giving an example would help make my question more clear.

"In China's 1978 Constitution, we can see that..."

I have seen 'constitution' capitalised often when referring to America's constitution. In this case, however, I do not want to refer to the American constitution, so my question is: should I or should I not capitalise 'constitution' here?

  • What do you mean by 'but not to America's? Did you mean it as country or continent e.g., North America? – Ahmed Aug 23 '18 at 9:19
  • @IqbalAhmedSiyal How could OP have meant a continent? Continents don't have constitutions. Let's not start an argument over how some people think "America" can't be used to refer to the USA. – Azor Ahai -- he him Aug 23 '18 at 16:06
  • @AzorAhai, I meant both that America can be used to refer to the USA as well as its continent. That's the reason I asked the OP. :) – Ahmed Aug 24 '18 at 3:05
  • Here is the link in which OED refers America as the USA as well as the continents, north, south and central America: en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/america – Ahmed Aug 24 '18 at 3:16
  • @iqbal When referring to the continents, "the Americas" is the usual English phrasing – Azor Ahai -- he him Aug 24 '18 at 5:31

Technically, 'constitution', (like 'president') is not a proper noun so it shouldn't be capitalised. But American veneration for their political system's institutions is such that these terms have taken on the status of proper nouns. And the decision to capitalise (or not) such terms is codified in media style guides. The (UK) Guardian takes a somewhat iconoclastic view in such things (even for UK institutions), often choosing not to capitalise these terms, and not even 'queen' unless it's referring formally to Queen Elizabeth II.

In answer to your question, then, as a non-US person, I would recommend not capitalising 'constitution' at all, ever, unless it's the first word in a sentence!

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  • I'm aware that many Americans will, of course, disagree with me. I'm happy (if that's the word) to refer to President Donald J. Trump; but also to say Mr. Trump is the president of the United States, which has a constitution dating from September 17, 1787. – Charl E Aug 23 '18 at 10:03

In general, when one is discussing a named document or committee or some such, if a common word in the official title is used as a shorthand name for the entity, that word may be capitalized. (It's not a given -- there are several issues with regard to style and context.)

For instance, in an article discussing "The Constitution of the United States of America" (or perhaps "The US Constitution"), it would be fairly normal to use the capitalized "the Constitution" as a shorthand term, after the full name had been spelled out once in the article.

Similarly, in a story about "The Committee to Re-Elect the Erroneous President", it would be normal to use capitalized "the Committee" after the first appearance of the full name.

This doesn't happen all the time -- as I said, it depends on style and context.

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If it is a reference to a specific countries constitution, I would treat is a proper noun and capitalise it. When it is just a constitution generally, treat it as a common noun without capitals.

This specifically mentions the US Constitution, but I see no reason why it wouldn't apply to any other country with a constitution.

Constitution: Capitalize references to the U.S. Constitution, with or without the "U.S." Place "constitutional" in lowercase. Declaration of Independence, Bill of Rights, First Amendment, and other legislation and treaties are capitalized.

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  • 1
    I read that quote as exclusively referring to the US Constitution, so see no immediate reason why the advice would apply to other countries' constitutions. – TripeHound Aug 23 '18 at 13:37
  • It is a linguistic convention. When it is part of a title it is a proper noun, and when it isn’t it common noun. What makes you think that convention is unique the the US Constitution? Would you write “queen Elizabeth” or “Queen Elizabeth”? Would you write “Princesses like to dance” or “princesses like to dance?” Same convention; different country. – Roaring Fish Aug 23 '18 at 13:45
  • As Charl E points, out, it is often different country, different convention. The main point of my comment was that some countries' conventions would be to capitalise, and others will be to not capitalise – however, the quote you found only talks about the convention in the US. – TripeHound Aug 23 '18 at 13:51
  • Okay... then prove your point and show me the English speaking country that doesn’t follow the convention of capitalising proper nouns but not common nouns. – Roaring Fish Aug 23 '18 at 13:54
  • a. You're missing the point of the original comment, which was simply that the quote you gave is only about how to refer to the US Constitution and therefore doesn't imply anything about how other countries refer to their constitutions (if they have one). That stands even if every other country in the world with a constitution chooses to capitalise. b. The discussion (as I and Charl E see it) is not so much about whether to capitalise proper nouns, but whether a country's constitution counts as a proper noun. c. FWIW: Queen Elizabeth but princesses like to dance. – TripeHound Aug 23 '18 at 14:08

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