Variable Capitalization

French capitalization
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Capitalisation variable

For some French words, including nationalities and honorifics, capitalization or the lack thereof distinguishes between different meanings or uses.

I. Compass Points

Capitalized when they refer to a specific place:

Je veux visiter l’Europe de l’Est.   I want to visit Eastern Europe.
Nous habitons dans le Sud.   We live in the South (of France).

Not capitalized when they indicate a direction:

Je l’ai trouvé à l’est de la ville.   I found it east of the city.
Il faut continuer vers le sud pendant 20 kilomètres.   You have to continue south for 20 kilometers.

II. Honorifics

Capitalized when talking to the person:

Bonjour Madame Lefèvre, comment allez-vous ?   Hello Mrs. Lefèvre, how are you?
Un moment, s’il vous plaît, Professeur Duchamps.   A moment, please, Professeur Duchamps.

Not capitalized when talking about him or her:

J’ai vu madame Lefèvre ce matin.   I saw Mrs. Lefèvre this morning.
Il prends un cours avec le professeur Duchamps.   He’s taking a class with Professor Duchamps.

III. Nationalities

Capitalized when used as nouns:

Les Français déjeunent à 13 h.   The French eat lunch at 1pm.
J’ai fait la connaissance d’un Grec hier.   I met a Greek (man) yesterday.

Not capitalized when used as adjectives:

Mes voisins sont français.   My neighbors are French.
J’ai découvert un bon vin grec.   I discovered a good Greek wine.

IV. Places and Products

Places are capitalized:

J’ai visité la Bourgogne l’année dernière.   I visited Burgundy last year.
Il est à Gruyères, en Suisse.   He’s in Gruyères, in Switzerland.

Their eponymous products are not capitalized:

J’y ai dégusté beaucoup de bourgogne.   I tasted a lot of burgundy there.
Il n’aime pas le gruyère.   He doesn’t like gruyère cheese.

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French variable capitalization

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