Religious Terms

And lo, the proofreader corrected the spelling and the grammar, and she did separate sentence from sentence with proper punctuation. For six days she did this, and on the seventh day she did this also, for she worked freelance and could not afford to rest. Don’t worry, we haven’t changed our style to reflect the apocalyptic times in which we live. We’re just feeling Biblical today because we’re taking a look at some religious terms and how to approach them when proofreading.

Heaven and Hell

Capitalisation can be tricky with some religious words. And while most people know to capitalise names of religions (e.g. Buddhism, Islam, Christianity), other terms are not so straightforward. Take heaven and hell, for example. Or should that be Heaven and Hell? Ah, if only it were that simple.

Some style guides give advice on this, but they do not all agree. A good rule of thumb is to capitalise Heaven and Hell when they are used as a proper noun (i.e. as the name of a specific place) but not otherwise.

For example, it is common to capitalise ‘Heaven’ when discussing the dwelling place of the Christian God:

We don’t blame him – it looks lovely.

The same applies to Hell/hell, which is capitalised when it refers to the supposed abode of sinners but not when it refers to a three-hour commute in heavy traffic.

Highway to hell.

God and Gods

A similar issue exists with the word God/god. Where it refers to the sole or main deity of a monotheistic or quasi-monotheistic religion, God should be capitalised. This is because it is a proper noun (i.e. Jesus’s dad is a god called God).

The Big ‘G’. 

The word God should also be capitalised in any case where God is part of the usual name of the deity in question. The same goes for Goddess, as in the Horned God and Great Goddess of Paganism.

Ol’ Hornie.

However, if god or goddess is not part of a name, the words are not capitalised:

Hinduism honours many gods and goddesses.

Jupiter was the Roman god of the sky.

The Passion and the Possessive

…is what we’d call our religious epic if it ever got off the ground. That’s because we know a rollercoaster of excitement ensues whenever anyone tries to correctly say that something belongs to anyone whose name ends in ‘s’.

Indicating possession for a person whose name ends in the letter ‘s’ can be confusing, largely due to the rule for plural possessives. For instance, if we want to say that a convent belongs to some nuns, we could call it the nuns’ convent. But does the same apply if we are talking about one person? Say the convent is run by Sister Jones. Is it Sister Jones’ convent or Sister Jones’s convent?

She runs a very modern establishment.

 The solution to this problem is that often (as with the whole walking on water thing) there is one rule for Jesus and another for the rest of us.

Some style guides suggest that proper nouns (such as James, for instance) generally work the same way as any other singular noun. So we might refer to James’s local church, for instance. Classical (Greek and Roman) and Biblical names, however, can work either way. So we might make a petition in Jesus’s name or in Jesus’ name.

Other guides recommend using plural style or singular style consistently for all proper nouns ending in ‘s’. So it is important to check whether your customer is following a particular style guide. If not, consistency, as always, is the key.

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