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

Commas with descriptive phrases

Welcome back to my blog. Today’s lesson is commas and how to use them when you have two ways of referring to the same person or place.

Let’s start with a warm-up exercise and you’ll see what I mean.

(By the way, all my examples today are taken from today’s news stories from various online sources.)

Insert commas in the following sentences where needed. (Some sentences may not need any commas.)

    1) Science fiction author Ray Bradbury dead at 91.

    2) David travels to Sendai the city nearest the epicenter of the quake where he witnesses the dynamic relationship between science and nature.

    3) The suspect a Caucasian man in his 40s stomped out of the store and drove away in his blue Ford pickup truck.

    4) The storm quickly tracked north, said CBC Calgary meteorologist Danielle Savoni.

    5) Ray Bradbury a giant of American literature who helped popularize science fiction with works such as “The Martian Chronicles” died on Tuesday at age 91.

In each of these examples, a person or place is described in two different ways: often a proper name and some kind of descriptive phrase. For example, in sentence (1), which is the heading of an article, the topic of the story is described both by his proper name (Ray Bradbury) and by a descriptive phrase (science fiction author).

Let’s review the rules for using commas in such situations.

Rule 1: If the title or descriptive phrase precedes the proper name or main phrase, do not use commas.

This applies to examples (1) and (4) above, where a descriptive phrase or title precedes the name.

    Science fiction author Ray Bradbury dead at 91.

    The storm quickly tracked north, said CBC Calgary meteorologist Danielle Savoni.

Here are two more examples, both correctly punctuated without commas:

    I think we’ve played some good hockey and the bounces haven’t gone our way,” said Devils forward David Clarkson.

    “We think the new phones can compete against cheap Android models,” said Pohjola analyst Hannu Rauhala.

Rule 2: If the title or descriptive phrase follows the personal name or the main phrase, use a comma before and after the phrase.

This applies to examples (2) and (5) above.

    David travels to Sendai, the city nearest the epicenter of the quake, where he witnesses the dynamic relationship between science and nature.

    Ray Bradbury, a giant of American literature who helped popularize science fiction with works such as “The Martian Chronicles,” died on Tuesday at age 91.

It also applies to example (3) where the person is identified simply as “the suspect” and further described as “a Caucasian man in his 40s.”

    The suspect, a Caucasian man in his 40s, stomped out of the store and drove away in his blue Ford pickup truck.

Of course, if the descriptive phrase comes at the end of the sentence, close it with a period rather than a comma, as is done in this example:

    Bradbury published more than 500 works including “Fahrenheit 451,” a classic novel about book censorship in a future society.

Bonus question:

News editors don’t always get it right.

What’s wrong with these sentences? (The first one is a caption that appeared with a photo.)

    David in conversation with his friend, Keibo Oiwa, cultural anthropologist, writer and a keen observer of Japanese life.

    Singer John Mayer … said he was “really humiliated” by the song “Dear John,” written by his former girlfriend country-pop star Taylor Swift.

(See answer below.)

Dirk

dirk_kievit@editors.ca
www.dirkkievit.org

(Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net. Please understand that I cannot vouch for the appropriateness of all images on that site.)

Answer to bonus question:

In the first sentence, the comma before the proper name should be removed. Correctly punctuated, the sentence should read:

    David in conversation with his friend Keibo Oiwa, cultural anthropologist, writer and a keen observer of Japanese life.

(The phrase “cultural anthropologist, writer and a keen observer of Japanese life” also describes Keibo Oiwa and since it follows the proper name, it is properly separated from the proper name by a comma.)

In the second sentence, a comma should appear after girlfriend. Correctly punctuated, the sentence should read:

    Singer John Mayer … said he was “really humiliated” by the song “Dear John,” written by his former girlfriend, country-pop star Taylor Swift.

The main phrase “country-pop star Taylor Swift” is correctly punctuated without a comma: the descriptive phrase “country-pop star” precedes the proper name. But this whole phrase describes the phrase “former girlfriend” and should, therefore, be set apart with a comma.