Capitalizing Deity Pronouns

One more post on editing books for the Christian market, and this one’s a touchy subject. The Christian Writer’s Manual of Style calls for lowercase deity pronouns (that is, he and his when referring to God). This deeply offends some people, who see it as a sign of disrespect, despite the fact that for 1800 years no one ever capitalized these. Pronoun capitalization first turned up in the Victorian era and faded out in the mid-twentieth century. CWMS notes that it therefore gives text a dated feel.

But many people feel very strongly about capitalizing these pronouns. In your manuscript or self-published book, you may capitalize or not according to your preference. Be sure to inform your copyeditor what that preference is.

Religion Writing Deity Pronouns

Photo by Radu Dragos • FreeImages

But if a publisher that is paying you for your book adheres to CWMS and therefore lowercases them, don’t argue. Pronoun capitalization is not an article of the faith, or King James’s translators would be in trouble.

Also, be aware that your preferences regarding deity pronouns may be affected by your choice of translation. Because when you quote from the Bible, you must retain the capitalization and punctuation of the chosen translation:

Then the Lᴏʀᴅ put forth his hand, and touched my mouth. And the Lᴏʀᴅ said unto me, Behold, I have put my words in thy mouth.—Jeremiah 1:9 (KJV)

Note that the King James Version does not capitalize either his or my. If your text capitalizes the pronouns and your Bible quotations do not, readers may think one of them is wrong. And they’re not likely to identify the Bible translators as the ones in error. As with so much else in writing and editing, consistency is key. Ideally your pronoun capitalization will match that of your chosen translation.

So if capitalization of deity pronouns is really important to you, choose a translation that matches your preference. Most translations lowercase these pronouns, which is why CWMS advises using lower case. The following translations do use uppercase deity pronouns:

  • Amplified Bible
  • Holman Christian Standard Bible
  • Modern English Version
  • New American Standard Bible
  • New King James Version
  • New Life Version
  • Orthodox Jewish Bible
  • 21st Century King James Version
  • The Voice

What about Lᴏʀᴅ?

Note that in print, the word Lᴏʀᴅ is rendered in small caps when it represents the tetragrammaton, but not if it represents some other Hebrew word, such as Adonai. This is not readily accomplished in HTML, which explains why Bible study sites use all caps instead.* So if you’re copying and pasting from such a site (perfectly OK as long as you properly cite the translation), I recommend learning how to change it to small caps in your word processor of choice. This will reduce the chances of the wrong style making it into print.

In Microsoft Word, this function is in the Format > Font dialog box. You can also assign a keyboard shortcut to the SmallCaps command if you often quote from the Old Testament. Note that Lord is never written as the Hebrew tetragrammaton in the New Testament, even when the writers are quoting the Old Testament, because they wrote in Greek, not Hebrew. Therefore in those quotations it is not in small caps. The important thing is to retain the capitalization style of your chosen translation.

There is much, much more to be said on the subject of editing books for the Christian submarket. For example, heaven is not considered a proper name and therefore is not capitalized. If you’re doing a lot of writing for that market, you’d do well to get yourself a copy of The Christian Writer’s Manual of Style. It goes into far more detail that I can in this space.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Yep, that Amazon link is an affiliate link, which means if you click it and buy the book, I will receive a pittance of a commission from Amazon. Regardless, I only recommend books I believe will be of value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

*I use the Smallcaps Generator bookmarklet to get small caps.

 

About Kristen Stieffel

Kristen Stieffel is a writer and freelance editor specializing in speculative fiction. She's a member of the Editorial Freelancers Association, Christian Editor Connection, and American Christian Fiction Writers.

6 thoughts on “Capitalizing Deity Pronouns

  1. Kristen,
    Thank you so much for talking about this! My latest book, Five Brides, does not have the capitalization for deity because Tyndale does not follow that rule. Or, I should say, they follow the rule of CWMS. In one of the first reviews I received at Amazon, my work was blasted because of it. Someone commented: Thank you for warning me. I was going to buy this book but now I’m not (or something like that)…

    I quickly responded to the two reviewers to explain why this is. In my own journaling I DO cap the pronouns used for God. But I must adhere to the rules of the publisher.

    I fear most readers simply don’t know this. And, they haven’t bothered to really take note in their KJV they swear Paul studied by …

    So, thank you for posting this. I’m going to rave about it until I’m nearly sick of raving! LOL

  2. You made me smile over this: “Pronoun capitalization is not an article of the faith, or King James’s translators would be in trouble.”

    Indeed!

    Thank you for another excellent post.

  3. Jann Martin says:

    Thank you Kristen. I appreciate you clearing that up for me.

  4. Jan Powell says:

    Once again you come through with excellent and timely advice.

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