Do I Capitalize Words Followed by Numbers or Letters?

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 ManualAlthough 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.) 

The Gregg Reference Manual

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
appendix B
chapters 4 and 5   
canto 2
figure 4.1
part 3
season 5, episode 4
section 5(a) 
size 14
stanza 6 
step 3
table 4.2 
unit 114A
volume 2 

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
Exodus 20:3–17
Psalm 121
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
Chapter 2
line 1
Act 3, Scene 4
Game 1 

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!

Lynn
Syntax Training

10 COMMENTS

  1. Hi Lynn!

    That’s interesting, I had never noticed that English requires capitalization of words followed by numbers or letters!

    I also like Gregg’s approach. I’ve got a question about that though. In the first line it reads “that indicates sequence”. I’m unsure about what that means in practical terms, would you mind giving examples?

  2. I like Chicago, but I don’t think that I am completely consistent about it. Had to read the article a couple of times to get a better grasp at the rules. I may be referring back to it next time I write numbers on a document.

    As usual, thank you for the helpful article, Lynn!

  3. Can you please advise if when discussing a lot number while discussing a parcel of land if lot would be capitalized? My thought is that it would because it’s a specific lot of many for a specific address. An example would be: “Lot 6 and Lot 7 of 123 Main Street will be divided equally, but Lots 8 and 9 will remain the same.” Thank you for your guidance.

  4. Patty, you are welcome. If you use “Chicago” consistently, your job is easier when it comes to nouns followed by numbers: Always lowercase except with proper nouns. I myself like the look of the capital letters, so I follow “Gregg.”

    Lynn

  5. Hi, Lynn,

    Our community college business department instructors have used two main reference manuals over the years. Gregg has been more popular with those in the legal field, and HOW 14: A Handbook for Office Professionals (Clark & Clark, Cengage Publishing, 2017) has been used in most other business courses. I prefer HOW for its ease of use, though Gregg is unarguably more comprehensive. Now that Gregg is unlikely to be updated, HOW is our default choice. (HOW is pricey but well worth it.)

    HOW suggests in Section 3-4 that we “[c]apitalize word-numeral and word-letter combinations except in references to pages, paragraphs, lines, verses, sizes, and vitamins.”

    I’m with you in preferring to avoid the sometimes quirky rules in the Chicago Manual of Style. Thank you for sharing your research and findings in the Gregg, Chicago, and AP manuals. Wouldn’t it be nice if they could all “get along”?

    Best,

    Jane

  6. For the question (stage 3 cancer OR Stage 3 cancer), I would suggest that since “cancer” is not capitalized then any stages (or parts) of it would also not be capitalized. I feel that way because cancer is the main, significant topic. We follow its example (lowercase), and not be anything greater than it (such as uppercase would imply). But that is not proven, only my thought.
    Thank you, Roderick

  7. Jane, thank you for sharing the HOW rules. I had forgotten about that helpful manual, which I used to consult many years ago. The rule on vitamins surprised me!

    Yes, wouldn’t it be great if the style manuals agreed? But then we might be out of a job.

    I apologize for my slow response to your comment. It came while I was traveling.

    Lynn

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