Why is "university" not capitalised in the second sentence below?

The Guardian: West Virginia University suspends fraternities and sororities after student lands in intensive care unit.

The Guardian: Students sue Virginia university after campus feminist group member killed.

  • 18
    There's an implied article, of that helps: "Students sue [a] Virginia university"
    – ikegami
    Jun 29 '20 at 17:42
  • 2
    And in my opinion it would be even better if it were written as “Students sue a Virginian university” with an n at the end. Jun 30 '20 at 17:22
  • 1
    Headline writers are known for sacrificing grammatical niceties for the sake of a shorter headline.
    – Lee Mosher
    Jul 1 '20 at 3:22
  • @gen-zreadytoperish: If you don't mind my asking -- where are you from? Personally, I'd find "a Virginian university" rather strange; "a Virginia university" is maybe a bit newspaper-y, but I think the regular-person version would be "a university in Virginia". [Google Ngram Viewer comparison] I'm American, FWIW.
    – ruakh
    Jul 1 '20 at 21:21
  • 1
    @ruakh Yes, I’ve noticed English speakers aren’t as fond of demonyms as I am. I think I like them because I also speak Spanish. We have an adjective form of basically everything—even simple words, like beach. Jul 1 '20 at 21:29

In your first sentence, "West Virginia University" is a proper name (proper noun phrase), while in the second sentence, the university is not specified. It is just a university (common noun) located in Virginia, and so it should not be capitalized.

The likely cause for your confusion is the fact that news headlines usually don't follow conventional grammar rules, and abbreviate titles, e.g. by leaving out articles.

As OP Costa points out in the comments, if the second headline was written in accordance with conventional grammar rules, and not headlinese (as pointed out in the comments by Kevin), it may have read something like this:

Students sued a Virginia university after a campus feminist group member was killed.

  • 22
    A similar distinction can be seen with "Florida man" (a man from Florida) and "Florida Man" (the infamous superhero).
    – JiK
    Jun 29 '20 at 9:25
  • 12
    @Wehage your last sentence made it clear for me, but please edit your post and make it clearer for others who might find this post. Please write how the sentence is supposed to be "Students sue a Virginia university after a campus feminist group member was killed."
    – Costa
    Jun 29 '20 at 11:54
  • 4
    Specifically, the university in the second article is the University of Mary Washington. But the average UK reader (and indeed the average US reader) probably wouldn't have heard of it, so the headline referred to it as "[a] Virginia university." Jun 29 '20 at 15:02
  • 15
    @Costa: It's not "supposed to" be anything. It's written in headlinese, and articles are routinely omitted in newspaper headlines. Note also the bizarre use of simple present tense, which would be incorrect in regular writing (should be simple past).
    – Kevin
    Jun 30 '20 at 1:05
  • 2
    @costa: check the "crash blossoms" syntactic-ambiguity link in the "Crticism" section of the "Headlinese" link above. They are notoriously difficult to tease out the meaning without context. "Infant Pulled from Wrecked Car Involved in Short Police Pursuit" is particularly funny
    – Yorik
    Jun 30 '20 at 19:41

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