Per this question, Polish is a capitonym.

To avoid ambiguity, should one avoid using the verb/noun form of polish at the start of the sentence or in other contexts when capitalization is required?

For example,

Polish your shoes.

Looks wrong to me (I hear it as Poh-lish your shoes), and I would prefer to use

You should polish your shoes.
  • 2
    The idea that anyone would avoid starting a sentence with the word polish (as a verb or common noun) simply to avoid readers confusing that word with the adjectival reference to the country Poland is laughable. Language is primarily spoken anyway, and in this case the two words sound completely different, even if the context didn't make it obvious which word was intended. A more meaningful example might be march (forced walk) and March (the month) - but even there, ambiguity would almost never be an issue. Oct 26, 2021 at 17:42
  • There's. no need to avoid. There's no ambiguity. Or rather there's just as much ambiguity in ''Bow before the king'. Sure one may misread it, but it's an obvious misreading.
    – Mitch
    Oct 26, 2021 at 17:44
  • 1
    The general rules surrounding any potential ambiguity are (1) assess whether, in the context obtaining, confusion is realistically likely to a proficient Anglophone (this being ELU). (2) Avoid (in accordance with Gricean maxims) anything which is ultimately ambiguous, or unnecessarily tricky to decipher, or (as per Orwell) clumsily/uglily phrased. Here, 'Polish your shoes.' has unusual context. There's usually a social interaction (between say mum and Aloysius) going on. Its appearance in writing is unnatural, especially standalone. In real contexts, pragmatics usually disambiguates. Oct 26, 2021 at 18:26
  • I am using a website's technical feature called "Polish". There's an option on the website to "Disable your Polish", and I feel like it's referring to your language settings. In context, I understand it, but still Oct 26, 2021 at 20:11

1 Answer 1


You cannot make a hard and fast rule about ambiguities. Typically, context will save the day and the reader will be in a mindset to think "Polish" or "polish" accordingly. If there is a situation where context is no help then you might want to rephrase as you suggested.

Some of the comments argue that the alternate interpretation being obviously incorrect is reason enough to not worry about it. I think there are times where the sentence might be long or challenging to parse so it may be useful to avoid starting off with a potential ambiguity.

  • 1
    It seems like my problem is that my brain reads "Polish" as always referring to the people of Poland, but it looks by the comments, that this is incorrect. Many text readers have this same issue when they read the word capitalized. Oct 26, 2021 at 20:47
  • I wouldn't say it is "correct" or "incorrect", it just depends on the context (textual and someone's experience). That is an interesting note about screen readers though, I hadn't thought about that! Oct 27, 2021 at 19:28

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