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Proper Nouns

What Are Proper Nouns?

homesitemapA-Z grammar terms proper nouns
A proper noun is the name given to something (e.g., "Jonathan," "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 things (e.g., "boy," "dog," "city," "day"). Common nouns are written with a capital letter only when they start a sentence.

Table of Contents

  • Examples of Proper Nouns and Common Nouns
  • Find the Proper Noun Test
  • Formal Definition of "Proper Noun" and "Common Noun"
  • Examples of Proper Nouns in Sentences
  • Video Lesson
  • Why Proper Nouns Are Important
  • Test Time!
common nouns and proper 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
Lake Superiorlake
Heididog
The Pacific Oceanocean
Tannersrestaurant
General McChrystalsoldier
Cost Cuttersupermarket
Gold Blendcoffee
Ford Cougarcar
Notice that proper nouns are specific (e.g., Johnny Wilkinson, New York), but common nouns are generic (e.g., man, city).

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.

Find the Proper Noun Test

It's your go! Select the proper noun.

Can You Identify Proper Nouns?

Formal Definition of "Proper Noun" and "Common Noun"

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

Formal Definition

A proper noun is used for a specific person, place, or thing. A common noun is used for a class of person, place, or thing.

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.

Video Lesson

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

Are you a visual learner? Do you prefer video to text? Here is a list of all our grammar videos.


Why Proper Nouns Are Important

Here are five common issues related to proper nouns and capital letters.

(Issue 1) Don't capitalize a word just because it's an important word in your sentence.

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. wrong cross
  • (The words "client" and "gift" are common nouns and should not have capital letters.)

(Issue 2) 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 except 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 3) 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. correct tick
Read more about using capital letters with the seasons. Read more about using capital letters with north, south, east, and west.

(Issue 4) 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. correct tick
  • (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 5) 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. correct tick
  • You work in the Human Resources Section? I didn't know we had a human-resources office. correct tick
Read more about this on the common nouns page.

Key Points

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This page was written by Craig Shrives.

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