Street sign structures
Vivian Cook

Punctuation and grammar of street signs
Locator noun phrases line-break all caps or all lowercase
Header noun phrases
verb phrases
line-break boldness
Expander phrases line-break  
Identifier phrases list commas word initial caps
List noun phrases    
Informer full sentences . ,  


Many signs simply assert the name or number of the premises, as in <Barker & Stonehouse> and <18>. For many this is proclaiming not just location but also ownership. A Locator structure mostly consists of one or more noun phrases with proper nouns, often connected with ampersand <&>, frequent in street signs. When the Locator is too long to fit on one line, it is divided by line-breaks, which coincide with word divisions.

Street sign shop capitals Barker and Stonehouse  house number 18 brass street sign

The line-breaks within a Locator mostly correspond to grammatical divisions. But not necessarily. For example the dentists' sign below belies the underlying phrase structure by implying (kingswalk dental) (implant practice) rather than (kingswalk (dental implant) practice).


Dentists street sign KDIP Newcastle

Locators are often all capitals or all lowercase rather than word initial capital letters.


The most prominent feature of the opening times sign below is <Opening times>, which we can call the Header, signalled by its greater point size, boldness, underlining etc. It has no punctuation apart from fromto dashes and numerical full stops..

street signs opening times

The sandwich blackboard on the pavement below starts with a Header <Coffee & Sandwich Shop.> and continues with a List of items for sale.

street signs blackboard menu

The estate agents’ board below has a Header <for sale> in the middle of the sign, all in lower case.

street signs for sale Sanderson Young estate agent

A Header can occur where the writer chooses rather than at the top. That is to say it is not the same as a heading.


<KING NEPTUNE> below is accompanied by an Expander <SEAFOOD & PEKING RESTAURANT>.

street sign restaurant King Neptune

An Expander is typically another noun phrase or pair of phrases, separated by a line break from the Locator. The Parking Notice below has a Header <paybyphone>, and an Expander <the alternative way to pay>.

paybyphone street sign


Identifiers give an address, as seen below, whether web address <>, street address <50 Leazes Park Road> or phone number <Tel: 0191 236 6622>.

street sign LMR

These may have no punctuation or conventional commas and often have least prominence in appearing at the bottom in smaller font sizes as in the Sanderson sign above.

Street signs shop fireworks

Identifiers differ from Locators in not being indexically linked to the location of the sign and in proclaiming ownership of the sign rather than of the property.


Informers provide detailed information, mostly through full lexical sentences with initial caps and final full stops.

street signs planning notice

Other notices conspicously use lowercase and minimal punctuation to get the same effect.


Lists are structures of similar items, punctuated by line-breaks, commas etc and by layout and by change of colour. <ROSIE'S BAR> provides a typical List – a series of equivalent items detailing what’s on offer, consisting of noun phrases marked out by a change of colour with each noun having initial caps apart from <spirits>. The division between list items is a line-break with additional leading.

street signs Rosie's bar

<Coffee and Sandwich Shop> above uses full stops for the same effect <Jacket Potatoes. Salads. Savouries and Cakes.>; <pay by phone> above shows a list separated by bullets <no more pocketfuls of change>, under the influence of word processing. In most Lists like <Coffee and Sandwich Shop>, all the nouns have word-initial capitals and the division between items is through line-breaks. <TO LET> below shows a more conventional use of the comma as a list separator <2, 3, 4, 5 & 6>.

street sign to let

Lists in a sense can occur within the other structures rather than being independent structures. The two examples above are then part of informers.

Language of the Streets menu   Punctuation of the street