ADVERTISEMENT

Wilbers: Who(m)ever made the rules for capitalizing place names?

  • Article by: STEPHEN WILBERS
  • Special to the Star Tribune
  • June 30, 2013 - 2:00 PM

Fred writes:

“I don’t know if you answer questions via e-mail, but I’ll give it a try! The sentence is: “The prize goes to whomever comes in first.”

“My friend says it should be whomever because it’s the object of the preposition. I say … it should be whoever.

“Tell me I’m right. Save our friendship.”

Well, Fred, to preserve your friendship (and abide by the rules of grammar), I declare you the winner.

In your example, the pronoun case (subjective whoever or objective whomever) is determined by how the pronoun functions in its own clause, not by how it functions in the main clause.

In “The prize goes to whoever comes in first,” whoever is the subject of the verb comes, so it should be in the subjective case.

I can see why your friend thought the pronoun should be in the objective case. The dependent clause “whoever comes in first” is the object of the preposition to in the main clause, “The prize goes to.” Even so, the case is determined not by the structure of the main clause but by how the pronoun functions in its own clause “whoever comes in first.” Since the pronoun acts as the subject, it’s whoever.

For example, note how the pronoun functions in this sentence: “I don’t know who would do a better job.” It’s who, not whom, because the pronoun acts as the subject of its own clause.

In contrast, note how the pronoun functions in this sentence: “I don’t know whom to vote for.” It’s whom, not who, because the pronoun is the object of the preposition for.

Steve, senior horticulturist at the Fort Worth Botanic Garden, signs his query “horticulturally yours”:

“Please solve a matter. We’re making a sign to post in the botanic garden. Should we say North Texas or north Texas?

“Here in Dallas-Fort Worth you see North Central Texas a lot. I learned that only regions of the country should be capitalized (the North, the South, etc.) and not regions within a state. What do you say?”

Your choice depends on whether you think of the phrase as a name for a place or as a description of a place. Names or proper nouns are capitalized; descriptive phrases are generally lowercase.

I can’t give you a definitive answer because capitalization of regional names is determined by local usage, but I suggest North Texas because it presents the area as a distinct region.

Here in Minneapolis, we have Uptown and Midtown, as well as south Minneapolis and north Minneapolis. However, I like to refer to my neighborhood as South Minneapolis because it sounds more like a distinct neighborhood.

But here’s an inconsistency. Nearly everyone capitalizes the North Side, which is a name for north Minneapolis, but north Minneapolis is generally not capitalized.

Nevertheless, a good guideline is to use uppercase for names of places and lowercase for descriptions of places. In short, if a word or phrase is thought of as a name rather than a place, capitalize it.

Stephen Wilbers offers training seminars in effective business writing. E-mail him at wilbe004@umn.edu. His website is www.wilbers.com.

© 2014 Star Tribune