When referring to the British Empire, or any empire with a specific title, should the 'e' of 'empire' always be capitalised?

If so, does the rule also apply even if only 'empire' of full 'British Empire' is used in the sentence?

For example (where empire refers to the British Empire):

Glorious estates across the empire.


Glorious estates across the Empire.

  • Was "British Empire" ever the official title of the British empire?
    – GEdgar
    Commented Feb 10, 2019 at 18:00
  • @GEdgar does it matter? Commented Feb 11, 2019 at 21:28

2 Answers 2


Whether to capitalise/capitalize the name of an empire is a matter of style. British publications are inconsistent (or uneasy) about capitalising. The (UK) Guardian (centre-left) style guide gives 'British empire' as the expected style, whereas the Daily Telegraph (centre-right) guide has no mention of the term, but has plenty of articles with "British Empire" in them. The (American) Chicago Manual of Style is lukewarm and says that a writer risks...

...confusion by tampering with a fairly strong tradition of capping officially recognized territories subject to an emperor or a king or queen.

Capitalization (Titles)

Many American academic and commercial style guides recommend capitalising, and the general rule seems to be to capitalise words derived from proper names. Webster's II New Riverside University Dictionary says:

Words derived from proper names, except in their extended senses: the Byzantine Empire.


Whichever style you choose to follow, be consistent, that is, if you capitalise 'British Empire', and you mention others, you should do the same for them, for example the Roman, Ottoman, Byzantine, Holy Roman Empires. Also to note: you would never capitalise a zone of influence which is sometimes called an 'empire' of a nation, but is not officially ruled by that nation, so that if you write about the 'American empire', you should lower-case 'empire'.


I'd be guided by the imperative of making the best sense possible for my reader. I'd hope that any rules that do exist were dedicated to the same outcome (with basic English grammar, they usually are; style guides might be a different matter).

With reference to the OP's examples, I'd suggest (with Michael Harvey) that you capitalise if you're referring to the singular, formally constituted "British Empire" (or any other particular empire).


  1. Former proprietors of the Daily Telegraph may have enjoyed some of the ill-gotten gains of Empire.

  2. If the slave trade was enabled by Empire, then the Guardian has begun to confront its own entanglements with that prefiguring imperial project.

But note: 1) and 2) only work if it's already understood that the delimiting context for either statement is "Britain".

If you intend a general meaning, don't capitalise.

e.g: 3) Their Empire is, after all, just one example of empire that we could consider.

Note: 3) is just for illustration. Depending on where the sentence was placed, it might come across as wilfully contrary to leave off the "British" (or other nominal qualifier) like that.

Strictly speaking, use of the capitalised "Empire" on its own only tells the reader you are referring to one particular empire, and for your statement to make sense, the preceding text must already have made clear which one it is. If the stage is not set, sense-wise, then the capitalised "Empire" brings the reader up short, as they try to figure out which the heck Empire you're on about...

And that would be a Holy Roman f*** *p.

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