This question comes up often. Should we say grade 8 or Grade 8? And what about eighth grade or 8th grade? Here is the skinny on capitalization and number rules in various styles.
(Note that this post might seem a little detailed, but I have done that on purpose here to help writers who have very specific questions about the usage of these terms. Hope it’s helpful!).
Grade-Level Capitalization Varies by Discipline
The first thing to note is what academic discipline you are writing for. For academic writing in education (e.g., scholarly literature, theses and dissertations), APA is almost always the required style guide. Always check the guidelines of the journal you are submitting to, however, because any given journal might have guidelines that override APA.
I will go over other styles, such as Chicago and MLA below, but first I will focus on APA because it is the predominant choice in the education literature.
APA Guidelines on Capitalizing Grade Levels
Rule 1: Capitalize grade levels when they come before a number.
APA Reference: The most direct reference here is APA 4.31, which gives the example of Grade 8.
In most cases APA asks us to capitalize nouns followed by numbers or letters that are part of a series (e.g., Model 3, Wave 2; APA 4.17). As with all rules, sometimes there are exceptions, but none of those apply here.
Rule 2: Use lowercase words for grade levels when an ordinal number is used before the grade.
APA Reference: See APA 4.31f and APA 4.34, which give similar examples to mine.
Rule 3: Similar to Rule 2, use lowercase words when using the noun form “graders.”
APA Reference: APA 4.34 explains this case. Specifically, we treat ordinal numbers the same as we treat cardinal numbers. An important note is that APA does not use a hyphen in these terms, but you might see hyphens in them in popular news articles or other media outside the scholarly education literature.
Rule 4: Use lowercase words with a hyphen for compound adjectives.
APA Reference: This is basically just an application of APA’s general hyphenation principles listed in APA 4.13. The hyphen is used because the number and grade are used together to modify “class,” “book,” “test,” or whatever word follows. Some schools might say you don’t have to use the hyphen, so you could ask your thesis or dissertation reviewer, but it’s much better to include the hyphen than to exclude it. Basically it is never incorrect to hyphenate a compound like this–it might turn out that a school or journal has a preference not to do it, but it’s always better to hyphenate a compound modifier when you’re not sure.
Rule 5: Use the capitalized form “Grade” with no hyphen for compound modifiers with Grade + Number.
APA Reference: The hyphen is not used in this case because the modifying term includes a numeral or letter (APA 4.13, Table 4.1, Exception 5).
Rule 6: Follow regular APA guidelines for capitalization and number expression in grade levels in all other cases.
APA Reference: These are just examples of APA’s general guidelines on number expression; that is, use words for numbers zero to nine but numerals for numbers 10+.
Rule 7: Follow APA’s general guidelines on number expression even when even when low numbers are grouped for comparison with high numbers.
APA Reference: See my next post on expressing low numbers when grouped in comparison with high numbers.
(Note, info on Chicago and MLA coming as soon as I get the chance!)