Submitted by andy2  •  October 1, 2009

Heaven or heaven?

Talking about the concept of the afterlife in Catholicism, would you capitalize Heaven? Moreover, what about Hell?

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And according to both the Collins Gem English Dictionary (New Edition for the 21st Century) and the Oxford Dictionary of Current English (Third Edition), "God" and "the Devil" are to be capitalized, presumably because they are the names of beings, just like "Zeus" is, but "heaven" and "hell" are, in fact, lowercase. Furthermore, in my psychology text book on death and dying, entitled, "The Last Dance: Encountering Death and Dying (Eighth Edition)" "Purgatory" is capitalized (as there is only one Purgatory), whereas "heaven" and "hell" are lowercase. This all makes perfect sense to me in accordance with the argument that I have given above.

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I was wondering about what Ross Eiry was saying about there being many different myths with versions of heaven and hell. And I thought, yes, but these words surely have their roots in the Christian Heaven and Hell. But it turns out that both words seem to have existed in Anglo-Saxon before the Anglo-Saxons adopted Christianity.

Heaven apparently comes from Old English "heofon" - "home of God," earlier "sky, firmament," probably from Proto-Germanic

Hell comes from Old English "hel, helle" - "nether world, abode of the dead, infernal regions," from Proto-Germanic *haljo "the underworld"

(Online Etymology Dictionary)

Checking with Google Ngram, in the expressions: "go to heaven", "down from heaven" and "heaven-sent", lowercase predominates in published books, but something quite interesting happens: the gap between the instances of lowercase and uppercase versions was much higher in the nineteenth century than it is today.

http://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=to...

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How does there only being one heaven and hell mean that they should be lowercase? How do you logically go from the former claim to the latter one? I don't understand. And that's not true, by the way; there are different variations of heaven and hell in the many different myths that humanity has come up with throughout history, Christianity only being one of them. In a way, you could say that there are many "heavens" and "hells" that you can find in mythology, which would actually be good reason for them to be lowercase, since, in that case, they would NOT be proper nouns. For example, Valhalla is just one version of heaven, hence making heaven like "city" or "country." Buddhism has its heaven: Nirvana. Now take a look at this statement: "There is no heaven or hell awaiting you when you die." In that sentence, it is being stated that no heaven or hell of any kind exist, making them both common nouns. And most biblical translations do, in fact, have "heaven" and "hell" as being lowercase.

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Percy - thanks for your post. It's an interesting point about there being only one heaven and hell and thus the need for lower case. On the other hand there's only one 'Earth'.

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The word 'city' is not capitalized but the British refer to the old part of London (now the financial quarter) as 'the City'. That's because a particular place is being referred to. Titles are the same. One says 'sergeant' but 'Sergeant Jones' - a particular person.

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@Learned

Shut up, no-one cares about your opinion. And implying that using logic is wrong is laughable, and given how old the Bible is, I'd hardly look there for my answers either. Heaven and Hell are the names of specific places. Like York or Manchester, the starting letter is capitalised. Oh sure, we don't know if either Heaven or Hell exists, but this is irrevelant; the same rules apply.

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In Genesis 1.1 God creates heaven, but in verse 8 he names it 'Heaven' - then it reverts to being heaven at least in the Authorized (King James) Version.

I suppose as there is only one heaven and one hell the lower case is appropriate.

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You are all wrong. You all are using logic. But in fact the words heaven and hell, regardless of usage, are not to be capitalized. I was taught this in Christian school as a child. I believe In the third grade. Read the bible. You'll see that they are not capitalized there either.

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I agree it depends on the context it is used. Is it an idea or a place? saying that you live in a city but do not capitalize it is not the same thing. For a believer there ar many cities but only one Heaven, Also Biblically speaking, Newer versions of the Bible capitalize Heaven in certian circumstances ie: The Lord's Prayer....but in the King James it is not capitalized. The difference there has to do with modern English VS. Shakespearian English.

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There seems to be a bit of a misconception here. Simply being a place doesn't make something a proper noun. It must be a specific, preferably unique place to be considered a proper noun. The city, a playground, the bathroom are all places. None are proper nouns. New Jersey, Disneyworld, etc. are specific places and are proper nouns. As for heaven and hell, I would suggest that it depends on the context.

"Will this evening ever end? I must be in hell." - an abstract state - not a proper noun.

"Lucifer reigns in Hell." - a particular place - proper noun

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I believe that heaven exists. I don't capitalize it for the same reason I don't capitalize that I live in the city (Burlington) as opposed to the country. "city" is a real place just like heaven is, but it is not a proper noun. Case closed. So what, who cares?

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You should capitalize Heaven and Hell, just as you would capitalize the place names in other myths.

You wouldn't capitalize heavenly and hellish though.

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Yes and yes.
Heaven and Hell are 'places'. Whether or not they really exist is debatable and yet to be proven (I don't believe either place exists and am not of any denomination of Christianity), but they would still be capitalized as they are proper nouns. Make-believe places in story books are also capitalized, although they do no exist.

That said, while I know this, I actually tend not to capitalize them most of the time. I wasn't raised Christian and I never have been Christian, and it feels strange to me to capitalize them. Like I'm giving them some sort of validation in my own life. If anything, I seem them as general ideas, a concept, an idea, a metaphor. It's never come naturally to me to capitalize them and I would have to think three times before doing so. I realize this can be seen as quite disrespectful. I guess I just don't use the words often enough to worry about it much.

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Yes, they are both proper nouns--names of "real" places. In my experience this applies across all of Christianity.

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