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I noticed that God's pronouns are not capitalized in Paradise Lost. Take for example Book III lines 62-3: "on his right/The radiant image of his glory sat..." I would expect a Christian author such as Milton to capitalize "his." I think there are also instances where words like "creator" etc. are lowercase, but I can't find them right now.

Did Milton purposely do this in order to emphasize God's status as just another character? Or was it typical of his time?

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    Maybe there is no big mystery to be explained here. Did you read the Wikipedia article on Reverential Capitalization? Quoting: Capitalization, punctuation and spelling were not well standardized in early Modern English; for example, the 1611 King James Bible did not capitalize pronouns: For our heart shall rejoice in him, because we have trusted in his holy name. — Psalm 33:21, KJV
    – user14111
    Dec 15, 2022 at 21:05
  • I just read that same Wikipedia article and found that remark interesting, but disappointingly, totally without citation. I do think an interesting question would be "When did 'reverential capitalization' and capitalizing the word God become common?" I wonder if that question is better asked on EL&U, or History.
    – Juhasz
    Dec 15, 2022 at 21:07
  • Milton was blind by the time he dictated Paradise Lost. I don't know how far he interested himself in its typesetting.
    – mikado
    Dec 16, 2022 at 18:47
  • 2
    @mikado But surely his daughters were familiar with the Bible and its spelling conventions?
    – Tsundoku
    Dec 16, 2022 at 19:08

1 Answer 1

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Reverential capitalization has never been a constant in English language works, and it's newer than you think. John Milton, born as the final touches were being made on the King James Version, may not have even seen a work that used reverential capitalization — I certainly didn't find anything even after looking at page after page of excepts in Google Books from his lifetime.

This type of capitalization wasn't even that popular during the Heyday of capitalizing Nouns: This book of psalms (1785) shows very consistent capitalization of nouns, but only inconsistently capitalizes reverential pronouns, even within a single verse. (For more information on how we went from capitalizing some nouns, to capitalizing more nouns, to capitalizing all nouns, to going back and deciding maybe we should just capitalize proper nouns, see What were the rules for capitalising nouns in the 17th and 18th centuries?)

For a broader picture, I took BibleHub's Psalm 145:10 translations and created this table, with a few tweaks:

Version Published Caps? Text
Coverdale Bible 1535 no All thy workes prayse the (o LORDE) and thy sayntes geue thankes vnto the.
Bishops' Bible 1568 no All thy workes shall confesse it vnto thee O God: and thy saintes shall blesse thee.
Geneva Bible 1587 no All thy workes prayse thee, O Lord, and thy Saints blesse thee.
Douay-Rheims Bible 1610
(printed 1635)
no Let al thy works, o Lord, confesse to thee: and let thy Saints blesse thee.
King James Bible 1611 no All thy workes shall praise thee, O Lord: and thy Saints shal blesse thee.
Douay Rheims Version -
Bishop Challoner Revision
1749–1752 no Let all thy works, O lord, praise thee: and let thy saints bless thee.
Webster's Bible Translation 1833 no All thy works shall praise thee, O LORD; and thy saints shall bless thee.
English Revised Version 1844 no All thy works shall give thanks unto thee, O LORD; and thy saints shall bless thee.
Brenton Septuagint Translation 1851 no Let all thy works, O Lord, give thanks to thee; and let thy saints bless thee.
Young's Literal Translation 1862 yes Confess Thee O Jehovah, do all Thy works, And Thy saints do bless Thee.
American Standard Version 1901 no All thy works shall give thanks unto thee, O Jehovah; And thy saints shall bless thee.
JPS Tanakh 1917 1917 yes All Thy works shall praise Thee, O LORD; And Thy saints shall bless Thee.
Amplified Bible 1965 yes All Your works shall give thanks to You and praise You, O LORD, And Your godly ones will bless You.
Good News Translation 1966 no All your creatures, LORD, will praise you, and all your people will give you thanks.
New American Bible 1970 no All your works give you thanks, LORD and your faithful bless you.
New American Standard Bible 1971 yes All Your works will give thanks to You, LORD, And Your godly ones will bless You.
New International Version 1973–1978 no All your works praise you, LORD; your faithful people extol you.
New King James Version 1982 yes All Your works shall praise You, O LORD, And Your saints shall bless You.
King James Bible
(modernized orthography)
1987 no All thy works shall praise thee, O LORD; and thy saints shall bless thee.
New Revised Standard Version 1990 no All your works shall give thanks to you, O LORD, and all your faithful shall bless you.
World English Bible 1994–2020 no All your works will give thanks to you, Yahweh. Your saints will extol you.
NASB 1995 1995 yes All Your works shall give thanks to You, O LORD, And Your godly ones shall bless You.
GOD'S WORD® Translation 1995 no Everything that you have made will give thanks to you, O LORD, and your faithful ones will praise you.
New Living Translation 1996 no All of your works will thank you, LORD, and your faithful followers will praise you.
NASB 1977 1997 yes All Thy works shall give thanks to Thee, O LORD, And Thy godly ones shall bless Thee.
Holman Christian Standard Bible 1999–2004 no All You have made will thank You, LORD; the godly will praise You.
Contemporary English Version 2000 no All creation will thank you, and your loyal people will praise you.
English Standard Version 2001 no All your works shall give thanks to you, O LORD, and all your saints shall bless you!
Aramaic Bible in Plain English 2007 no LORD JEHOVAH, your Servants shall give thanks to you and your righteous ones shall praise you!
NET Bible 2009 no All he has made will give thanks to the LORD. Your loyal followers will praise you.
International Standard Version 2011 no LORD, everything you have done will praise you, and your holy ones will bless you.
Christian Standard Bible 2017 no All you have made will thank you, LORD; the faithful will bless you.
New Heart English Bible 2018 no All your works will give thanks to you, LORD. And your faithful ones will extol you.
Literal Standard Version 2020 yes O YHWH, all Your works confess You, And Your saints bless You.
Legacy Standard Bible 2021 yes All Your works, O Yahweh, shall give thanks to You, And Your holy ones shall bless You.
Berean Standard Bible 2022 yes All You have made will give You thanks, O LORD, and Your saints will bless You.
Majority Standard Bible 2023 yes All You have made will give You thanks, O LORD, and Your saints will bless You.

Bibles, of course, often use older language, building off the translations that came before them, but having the same passage makes for very easy comparisons.

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    You've got some major errors in the table, to the point where it's impossible to say what's what in certain rows. Any chance to go and fix those errors?
    – cmw
    May 24, 2023 at 4:51
  • @cmw It's actually the server-side markdown parser that has major errors :p . Apparently adding extra spaces to those cells fixes it.
    – Laurel
    May 24, 2023 at 11:38
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    I took the liberty of sorting the table by date, as this makes trends easier to spot. Feel free to roll back if you preferred the alphabetical order. May 24, 2023 at 16:45

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