When I write a word with “God” in it, I sometimes need to pause to make sure I’m capitalizing—or not capitalizing—the word appropriately. Given my lifelong Christian faith, my first thought is to capitalize almost all such words. If “God” is in it, out of reverence, the word should be capitalized. But is that necessary or grammatically correct?
The truth is, most “God” words are actually “god” words, with lowercase g’s, and writing them according to long-established and widely accepted conventions of Standard Written English does not make a person of faith less faithful. Let’s consider the most common “God” words. I’ve consulted several sources for this, including Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th ed., and The Christian Writer’s Manual of Style.
A small handful of words with “God” should normally be capitalized. We are essentially talking about three words here: (1) God (of course) as the designation for the supreme being acknowledged by monotheistic faiths as the creator and ruler of the universe; (2) Godspeed, from the Middle English God spede you, meaning “God prosper you” or “may God give you success” (on your journey); and (3) God’s acre, an old word of Germanic origin meaning the churchyard or burial ground. And that, folks, is about it.
The following “god” words, however, all begin with a lowercase g, according to most widely accepted conventions:
- god (for a divine or supernatural being other than the God of monotheistic religions, or for a person or thing of supreme value)
- god-awful (abominable, disagreeable—note the hyphen there)
- godfather; godmother; godson; goddaughter; godchild; godparent
- goddamn (or goddamned or goddam)
- goddess (a female god, or a woman of great beauty or charm)
- godhead (the divine nature of God, especially as existing in three persons [i.e., the Trinity or triune God])
- godhood (the quality or state of being a god; divinity)
- godly (divine; pious, devout)
- godlike (resembling or having the qualities of God or a god)
- godling (a minor god)
- godsend (something desirable or needed that comes unexpectedly)
- godless (not acknowledging a deity or divine law)
- godforsaken (remote, desolate, neglected, miserable)
So we find that, according to Standard Written English, only three “God” words begin with capital g: God and the now nearly extinct Godspeed and God’s acre. All the rest begin with a lowercase g.
© 2016 by Dean Christensen. All rights reserved.