Capitalizing compass points

Whether you live back East, up North, down South, or out West—I hope you’ll get something out of my post today.

My topic today is compass points (north, east, south, west) and when to capitalize them, with a bonus section on hyphenation and abbreviation.

Do not capitalize these terms if they simply show location or direction.

    The sun rises in the east.
    Go south on Canada Way.

But (of course) capitalize them if they are part of a proper name.

    the North Pole
    South Dakota
    West Virginia
    the Middle East

Also capitalize them if they refer to definite regions—even ones that don’t appear on a map.

    Thousands of fish are dying in the Midwest as the hot, dry summer dries up rivers and lakes.
    The Far North represents 42% of the province of Ontario.

As for northern/southern etc., do not capitalize these before a place name unless they are part of a proper name.

    Hurricane Isaac is expected to move over southern Missouri [a general region] Friday night.
    but:
    The first European to visit Western Australia [name of a province] was the Dutch explorer Dirk Hartog.

Two bonus points:

Hyphens

Don’t use a hyphen when combining two compass points:

    The surge was unusually bad in LaPlace, about 25 miles northwest of New Orleans.

But when adding a third point, add a hyphen between the first two:

    Isaac was moving north-northwest at 12 mph.

Abbreviations:

Single compass point abbreviations are followed by a period, two-letter ones are not

    Highway 1 W.
    Marine Blvd NE
    E. Main St

These abbreviations are used even if you quote an address in a text.

Don’t abbreviate compass points if they are part of the proper name of a street or place name:

    North Avenue
    North Shore Blvd.
    South Fraser Way

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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e.g., i.e., etc.

Here’s some advice I read about preparing for an earthquake:

• Know your safe spots in your home, i.e. against inside walls or under tables.

• Maintain emergency water, food, and other supplies, i.e. first aid kits, flash light, etc.

My topic today is the difference between e.g. and i.e.

These two abbreviations are not synonyms.

For the Latin buffs, e.g. stands for exempli gratia, which means ‘for example,’ while i.e. stands for id est and means ‘it is.’

In short:

e.g. = for example (followed by one or more examples)
i.e. = in other words/namely/that is (followed by a definition or description)

If you can replace it with ‘for example,’ use e.g.; if you can replace it with ‘namely,’ use i.e.

Note that both abbreviations are followed by a comma.

Let’s return to our original example:

• Know your safe spots in your home, i.e. against inside walls or under tables.

Try replacing the abbreviation with ‘for example’ or ‘namely’:

(a) Know your safe spots in your home, for example, against inside walls or under tables.

(b) Know your safe spots in your home, namely, against inside walls or under tables.

Option (a) means there are various safe spots during an earthquake but these are just two examples. Option (b) means that there are only two safe spots indoors during an earthquake: against inside walls and under tables.

The correct option really depends on what was meant. (Here’s where as an editor you might want to check with the author to find out what they meant to say.)

My guess for now is that the first choice was meant since a google search tells me there are other safe spots, such as under desks, in a doorway, in a hallway, and under a bed. Thus, the sentence should be corrected to:

• Know your safe spots in your home (e.g., against inside walls or under tables).

(Note that I also prefer to use parentheses to set the list of examples apart more clearly.)

One last point: when you give a list of examples, use either e.g. at the beginning or etc. at the end, but not both.

So, to come back to the second example at the top:

• Maintain emergency water, food, and other supplies, i.e. first aid kits, flash light, etc.

What are the two problems with this sentence?

First, it uses i.e. when it should use e.g. (because there are many other kinds of supplies that one needs besides first aid kits and a flash light).

Second, it also ends the list with etc., which is really redundant.

Either of these corrections would be fine:

• Maintain emergency water, food, and other supplies (first aid kits, flash light, etc.).

• Maintain emergency water, food, and other supplies (e.g., first aid kits, flash light).

Let’s close with a quick exercise. Take a look at these sentences. What abbreviation would you use?

1. Do not let the batteries come into contact with water ( ____ sea water) or other liquids.

2. We shall not be liable for any damage to this product caused by the malfunction of non-genuine accessories ( ____ a leakage and/or explosion of a battery pack).

3. E.I. sickness benefits fall into a “second payer” position ( ____ they are paid after other sources of disability income).

4. E.I. benefits will be reduced by other benefits, ____ Workers’ Comp, CPP, Group disability.

Here’s what I would do:

(1) e.g. (salt water is mentioned as one example)

(2) e.g. (because this is only one example of damage from a non-genuine accessory)

(3) i.e. (because this is a definition of what is meant by the phrase “second payor”)

(4) e.g. (assuming there are other benefits)

Have a good day!

(And don’t forget to take precautions for earthquakes and other disasters.)

Dirk

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net