compass points

(A similar topic is discussed in French in the article points cardinaux.)

In writing compass points (or compass directions), follow the guidelines below.

On this page


Capitalize when the compass points refer to

  • part of an address:
    • 150 East Dundas Street
    • 111 King St. West
  • abbreviated directions:
    • winds NNW
    • 28 miles SW of the city
  • informal district names:
    • the Eastern Townships
    • the South Shore
  • specific geographic divisions:
    • the Northwest Territories
    • North Vancouver
  • political or administrative rather than simply geographic divisions:
    • the West
    • Western values
    • Western Europe
    • the East Coast
    • the Far North
    • Northern Ireland

Do not capitalize

Do not capitalize when the compass points are used

  • as purely descriptive terms:
    • southern exposure
    • the north side of the house
  • as compass directions:
    • Go south four blocks.
    • Drive north to get to the highway.
  • as orientations:
    • a garden to the west of the house
    • We live east of Ottawa.
  • for unofficial geographic divisions:
    • northern New Brunswick
    • the west of Saskatchewan
    • the east coast of Canada


Compass points containing two directions are written as one word:

  • northeast
  • southwest

Compass points containing three directions are hyphenated:

  • north-northeast
  • west-southwest


The list below shows the abbreviations for the 16 compass points.

Compass point abbreviations
Compass Point Abbreviation
north N
northeast NE
northwest NW
north-northeast NNE
north-northwest NNW
east E
east-northeast ENE
east-southeast ESE
south S
southeast SE
southwest SW
south-southeast SSE
south-southwest SSW
west W
west-northwest WNW
west-southwest WSW

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© His Majesty the King in Right of Canada, represented by the Minister of Public Services and Procurement
A tool created and made available online by the Translation Bureau, Public Services and Procurement Canada

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