What Are Proper Nouns? (with Examples)

Proper Nouns

A proper noun is the name given to something to make it more specific (e.g., Johnathan, Ollie, New York, Monday). Proper nouns are written with capital letters regardless of where they appear in a sentence.

Proper nouns contrast with common nouns, which are the words for something (e.g., boy, dog, city, day). Common nouns are written with a capital letter only when they start a sentence.

Remember that everything we can see or discuss is represented by a word that names it. That word is called a noun. All nouns can be categorized into one of two groups: common nouns and proper nouns. This entry is about proper nouns, but it is worth learning about proper nouns and common nouns at the same time.

Click on Two Proper Nouns

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A More Formal Definition of Proper Noun and Common Noun

Here is a more formal definition for proper and common nouns:

Examples of Proper Nouns and Common Nouns

The difference between proper nouns and common nouns becomes clearer when you see them side by side:

Proper NounCommon Noun
Ford Mondeocar
Lake Superiorlake
Heididog
The Pacific Oceanocean
Tannersrestaurant
General McChrystalsoldier
Cost Cuttersupermarket
Gold Blendcoffee

Examples of Proper Nouns in Sentences

Below are some examples of proper nouns (shaded) and common nouns (bold) in the same sentence.
  • Those idiots have been annoying Jason.
  • (Jason is a proper noun. It's the name of a specific boy. The word idiots is a common noun.)
  • I would like to visit an old castle. Can we visit Warwick Castle?
  • (Warwick Castle is a proper noun. It's the name of a specific castle. The word castle is a common noun.)
  • All water tastes the same. There's a reason why Evian is "naive" backwards.
  • (Evian is a proper noun. It's the name of some specific water. The words water and reason are common nouns.)
  • Walt Disney got the inspiration for Mickey Mouse from a tame mouse at his desk at Laugh-O-Gram Studio in Kansas City.
Read more about capital letters with proper and common nouns.

Slide Presentation Explaining Proper Nouns

Here is a slide presentation that explains the use of capital letters with proper nouns.

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Video Summarizing Proper and Common Nouns

Here is a video summarizing the difference between proper nouns and common nouns:


Why Should I Care about Proper Nouns?

A proper noun is written with a capital letter because it is a name or a title. Do not give a word a capital letter just because it's an important word in your sentence.
  • As a valued Client, you have been selected for a special Gift.
  • (The words client and gift are common nouns and should not have capital letters.)
Here are four common issues related to proper nouns and capital letters.

(Issue 1) Use capital letters for just the principal words in a title.

It is a common convention when writing a name or a title to use capital letters only for the principal words. This is called title case. All words are principal words expect articles (i.e., a, an, the), conjunctions (e.g., and, but, or), and prepositions (e.g., on, in, with). Here are some examples:
  • Tower of London
  • Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
  • Catcher in the Rye
  • The Last of the Mohicans
  • (A non-principal word gets a capital letter if it starts the title.)
  • Leonardo da Vinci / Ludwig van Beethoven
  • (Title case is often used with foreign names but not always, e.g., Dick Van Dyke. It depends how the individuals wrote it themselves.)
Read more about title case.

(Issue 2) Do not write the seasons (e.g., summer) and the points of the compass (e.g., north) with uppercase letters.

The names of the seasons and the points of the compass are not proper nouns. They are written with lowercase letters.
  • In the autumn, some geese fly south for the winter.
Read more about using capital letters with the seasons.
Read more about using capital letters with north, south, east, and west.

(Issue 3) Write the Sun and the Moon with capital letters.

The Earth's moon is called the Moon, and our sun is called the Sun. When referring to the Earth's moon and our sun specifically, use capital letters.
  • A solar eclipse occurs when the Moon fully or partially blocks the Sun.
  • (More often than not, Moon and Sun (i.e., with capital letters) are preceded by the.)
Read more about using capital letters with the Sun and the Moon.

(Issue 4) Write terms like Director and Finance Department with capital letters if they refer to specific people or departments.

Treat job titles and office names (e.g., Director and Finance Department) as proper nouns when they refer to specific people or offices, otherwise use lowercase letters. More often than not, such terms will refer to specific people or offices when preceded by the.
  • The Prime Minister has nicer legs than every other prime minister.
  • You work in the Human Resources Section? I didn't know we had a human-resources office.
Read more about this on the common nouns page.
Interactive Test
 
 

See Also

Take a test on proper nouns What are common nouns? The different types of nouns What is title case? Capital letters (with proper and common nouns) Glossary of grammatical terms