Why do you sometimes see god capitalized in some references but written in lowercase in others?
Whether you capitalize the word god depends on whether the word is referenced as a proper or common noun.
I regularly find experienced English speakers using the word god incorrectly in their writing and misunderstanding the difference between a proper and common noun. To first recognize when to capitalize the word god, students of the language first need to know the basics of capitalization.
Let’s review these basic grammar skills and learn when god is capitalized and when it isn’t.
Proper vs. Common Nouns
A noun is a person, place, thing, or sometimes an idea. Every noun is either a proper or common noun, and knowing which is classified as such is the difference between knowing which to capitalize and which to leave lowercase.
A common noun provides a generic name for a person, place, thing, or idea. For example, the group of people, the classroom, or the girl are all common nouns.
A proper noun names a specific noun. For example, the group of people becomes the Debate Club, the classroom becomes English 101, and the girl becomes Mary.
When to Capitalize God
As mentioned above, sometimes the word god is capitalized, and sometimes it isn’t. Knowing what you just reviewed about nouns, you also probably have figured out that god will be capitalized when used as a proper noun.
When is God a Proper Noun?
God is capitalized when it functions as a name. The three major monotheistic world religions refer to a one supreme being as God. This is a formal name, and thus a proper noun, and it deserves to be capitalized. Other forms referring to the one religious God also must be capitalized, such as Allah, Father, or Jehovah.
If this ever confuses you, ask yourself if the noun takes a definite or indefinite article. Proper nouns do not include articles, but common nouns do.
English speakers also traditionally capitalize the pronoun He in reference to God. This remains a common practice among people of faith, but it is by no means obligatory.
In phrases like for God’s sake, by God, and thank God, the word is capitalized because it generally refers to God of the Bible and treats the word as a name.
Examples of When to Capitalize God
For example, God is capitalized in these sentences because it names the religious, monotheistic god (note the lack of definite or indefinite article):
- She had some difficult decisions to make and spent some time in contemplation and prayer to God for the correct choice.
- His family was going through some hardships, and he asked his friend to pray to God for them.
- In studying anthropology, she discovered that those who believed in God often had a more positive outlook on life.
When Not to Capitalize God
When the word god is used as a common noun, it is usually preceded by an article and is a good indication that you must keep the word in lowercase.
When is God a Common Noun?
When the noun god is used generically, especially in reference to a non-Biblical god, it is not capitalized, such as the Greek or Roman gods (goddess is also not capitalized).
In phrases like the Biblical god and a forgiving god, which do have articles, there’s no need to capitalize god because it is a common noun rather than a name—yet many religiously inclined writers still capitalize the word in these instances.
Examples of When to Not to Capitalize God
When god is used generically or in reference to any but the singular, monotheistic God of the Bible, it is not capitalized:
- The early belief in polytheistic gods and goddesses was an attempt to explain the many natural phenomena occurring in the world.
- Many early gods were vengeful towards humans.
- She turned in the aisle, exclaiming, “Oh, gods of grocery! Why are items never in the same place twice?”
God is capitalized when it is used as a proper noun. God is kept lowercase when it is referred to as a common noun.
The monotheistic god of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam is the same and is referred to as God, the name. Other references or alternative names of God are also capitalized.
When god is used with an article, that is usually an indicator of lowercase use. Polytheistic religions have multiple gods referred to in lowercase unless the specific name of the god is being used, such as Zeus.