I received a good question by email today. A reader wanted to know my views on capitalizing words that are followed by numbers or letters, for example, Step 1 vs. step 1, Section A vs. section A, and Line 2 vs. line 2. How would you decide whether to capitalize those items?
When it comes to capitalization and rendering words correctly, I try not to have personal views. Instead, I check my style guides.
My primary guide for capitalization of nouns with numbers and letters is The Gregg Reference Manual. Although Gregg is somewhat dated (2011) and not expected to be updated, its section on nouns with numbers or letters is simple, clear, and nearly complete.
This photo shows Gregg’s complete guidance on the topic. (Click the photo for a larger image.)
I like Gregg’s approach because there are so few exceptions: line, note, page, sentence, paragraph, size, step, and verse. We can easily use it to choose the correct capitalization for the examples in my opening paragraph:
Step 1 vs. step 1, Section A vs. section A, and Line 2 vs. line 2.
Taking a different approach, The Chicago Manual of Style does not capitalize words followed by numbers or letters. Consider these examples, all from Chicago:
act 3, scene 2
chapters 4 and 5
season 5, episode 4
Chicago‘s rule leads to quirky capitalization like this:
Concerto no. 2 for Piano and Orchestra
Hungarian Rhapsody no. 12
Symphony no. 6 in F Major
Of course, Chicago always follows the capitalization of a proper name:
American Legion Post 21
Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection
Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972
United Auto Workers Local 890
US Route 41
The Associated Press Stylebook 2019 offers this list under “Sequential Designations”:
Page 1, Page 20A
sizes 4 and 5
magnitude 6 earthquake
Rooms 3 and 4
Act 3, Scene 4
Except for its rendering of the word page, AP appears to agree with Gregg.
The individual who asked me about this topic wondered whether capitalization should change if more than one number or letter follows the noun. I can’t see why making the noun plural would make a difference. AP is the only style manual of the three I checked that gave plural examples: sizes 4 and 5 and Rooms 3 and 4.
Do you follow Gregg (as I do), Chicago, or the limited examples of AP? I used Gregg to capitalize these examples, which were included in the email inquiry I received today:
It was Game 1 of the World Series.
During Games 1 and 2 . . .
During Episode 1 in Season 3
Episodes 2 and 3 during Seasons 5 and 6
Refer to Exhibit A.
Refer to Exhibits A and B.
Plan A, then Plan B
Plans A and B
Option 1 and Option 2
Options 1 and 2
The only example I am unsure about is the stages of cancer. If you are a medical professional and can comment on the capitalization of the item below, please do so.
stage 3 cancer OR Stage 3 cancer
I welcome your input!