Should You Capitalize the Deity Pronoun?
By Evan Braun
If you sign up for editing at Word Alive Press, one of the early decisions you’ll be asked to make is whether to capitalize the deity pronoun in your manuscript.
“Why is this even a question?” you may be asking. “Isn’t capitalizing the deity pronoun a requirement?”
The short answer is no.
Today’s blog post is designed to explain what the deity pronoun is, how it has been treated historically, how it is most often used today, and what the consequences may be of your choice either way.
First of all, let’s dispense with the fundamentals. What is the deity pronoun? It’s any pronoun in your manuscript that refers to God. It’s sometimes also known as the “reverential pronoun,” which is a great name for it since it’s so self-explanatory. When you capitalize pronouns that refer to God, you’re typically doing it because you are wanting to convey to your reader that you are revering Him.
In the case of that last sentence, you’ll notice that the deity pronoun is capitalized. That may be how you’re used to seeing it.
When a Christian is asked whether they intend to capitalize the reverential pronoun, their gut instinct often tells them, “Yes! I revere God, so I’ll do it.”
This is a bit of a fallacy, however. After all, not capitalizing the reverential pronoun doesn’t at all mean you don’t revere God. It just means you’re conforming to standard and familiar rules of English grammar.
And as an editor, let me tell you—there’s nothing wrong with that! The standard and familiar rules of English grammar are our friends.
In fact, there’s nothing wrong with either choice. At the end of the day, there is no right or wrong way to approach the deity pronoun, so long as you approach it consistently over the course of a manuscript. That’s why we at Word Alive Press ask this question up front—so that our editor can apply a consistent style to the whole book right from page one.
When it comes to questions of English usage and grammar, the answer is usually found in a style guide. Style guides are in place to provide writers and editors everywhere with consistent answers to common editing questions.
Like most book publishers, Word Alive Press adheres to the Chicago Manual of Style as a matter of default, although there are other style guides in use as well. Notably, journalists follow the Canadian Press style, and academics in postsecondary settings often use MLA or APA.
It’s worth pointing out that no style guide calls to capitalize deity pronouns—including the Christian Writer’s Manual of Style, published by Zondervan, which sets out to answer certain questions particular to Christian writers. According to the CWMS, “[Capitalizing] gives a book, at best, a dated, Victorian feel, and at worse, an aura of irrelevance to modern readers.”
So far, the case seems pretty clear-cut.
Perhaps the most important consideration is whether the Bible capitalizes the deity pronoun. The answer? Some translations do, but most don’t. The two most popular versions of the Bible by a long shot—the King James Version and New International Version—both stick to the lowercase style. The same goes for the English Standard Version, the New Living Translation, or the New Revised Standard Version.
On the other hand, the Amplified Bible, the New American Study Bible, and New King James Version do capitalize.
There is no guidance to be found on this issue in the original Greek and Hebrew texts, as neither of those written languages utilize capital letters. Or rather, they don’t distinguish between uppercase and lowercase.
So what is one to do?
If you’re going for a modern style or appealing to the largest possible range of readers, the best course is probably not to capitalize the deity pronoun. This is by a long shot the most common approach. And if it’s good enough for the King James and New International Versions, it’s probably good enough for just about anyone.
But if you’re primarily using a translation of the Bible that does use capital letters, you may want to consider using them as well, to stay as consistent as possible.
At the end of the day, it’s not really about reverence. Your respect and honour of God is never in question, and no letter, capital or otherwise, can change how you feel about Him/him—or how He/he feels about you.
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Evan Braun is a full-time author and editor. He has authored three novels, the first of which, The Book of Creation, was shortlisted in two categories at the 2012 Word Awards. He has released two sequels, The City of Darkness (2013) and The Law of Radiance (2015), completing the series. Braun is an experienced professional editor, and has worked with Word Alive Press authors since 2006. He is also a regular contributor at The Fictorians, a popular writing blog.