Since this topic is the most popular on this blog and since it took me three tries to get it right, I wanted to redo the information in one post to make it easier for people to find and to give others a refresh on this topic. So when do you capitalize “state”?
According to the Gregg Reference Manual ¶ 335:
- Capitalize state only when it follows the name of a state or is part of an imaginative name:
- The state of Arizona is known as the Grand Canyon State.
- One of my favorite places to visit is Washington State.
- Do not capitalize state when it is used in place of the actual state name
- She is an employee of the state. Note, however, that people who are actually working for state government will probably write it as “State.”
According to The Bluebook, capitalize the word “state”:
- When it is part of the full name of the state
- The State of Arizona is the 48th state admitted to the Union.
- When the word it modifies in capitalized
- In Michigan, the State Corrections Director is in charge of the correctional system.
- When referring to the state as a party to litigation or a governmental actor
- The State filed a Motion to Dismiss.
Obviously, The Bluebook is not a grammar guide—it is a style guide for legal citation.
Most other sources I’ve found disagree with Bluebook’s first example and say that “state” should not be capitalized when used as a proper noun but is capitalized when used in place of a particular state or referring to a specific governmental body:
- The residents of the state of California have a reputation for being healthier than most.
- The corporation, registered to do business in the state of California, is actually an Arizona corporation.
According to another favorite resource of attorneys, the Chicago Manual of Style, “where the government rather than the place is meant, the words state, city, and the like are usually capitalized.”
- The State of Florida’s statutes regarding corporations are codified at Title XXXVI.
Another resource simplifies it as when you are using “state” as a common noun, you would not capitalize it:
- She loved visiting the Northwestern states because she loved the rain.
- The state of California has a beautiful coastline.
But do capitalize “state” if it is part of a proper name
- I love visiting Washington State (as opposed to Washington, D.C.—although I love visiting there too).
- I have visited New York City, but not the rest of New York State (capitalized to differentiate between New York City and New York State).
All resources agree that “state” should be capitalized when it is a party to litigation.
- The response to the Motion to Dismiss was filed by the State yesterday.
The only comfort in all this confusion is that obviously everyone is confused. In fact, in many recent U.S. Supreme Court cases, “state” is capitalized in different instances, which may be a holdover from style from the 18th Century when many common nouns are capitalized.