Capitalization of Proper Nouns
and Common Nouns

by Craig Shrives
This Page Includes...

The Rules for Capitalizing Nouns

Proper nouns are capitalized. A proper noun is the personal name or title given to something. Common nouns are not capitalized unless they start a sentence. A common noun common noun is the word for something. It's the word you would find in a dictionary for something.

The difference between proper nouns and common nouns is obvious when you see some examples side by side.
Proper NounsCommon Nouns
  • New York
  • Lucky
  • Pacific Ocean
  • Uncle George
  • Sears Tower
  • city
  • cat
  • ocean
  • uncle
  • tower
  • Read more about capitalizing common nouns (e.g., after a colon or starting a quotation).
    proper nouns, common nouns, and capital letters

    More Examples of Proper Nouns and Common Nouns

    Here are some more proper nouns and common nouns shown side by side:
    Common NounProper Noun
    dogRover
    shipTitanic
    cityNew York
    auntieAuntie Sally
    captainCaptain Jones
    doctorDoctor Smith

    More about Capital Letters for Proper Nouns (Given Names)

    Use capital letters for the names given to people, places, planets, days of the week, honorifics (e.g., Sergeant Smith, Uncle Fred, Doctor Jones), months, holidays, departments, clubs, companies, institutions, bridges, buildings, monuments, parks, ships, hotels, streets, historical events, and documents. These are known as proper nouns. Proper nouns are often personal names or titles.

    More about Lowercase Letters for Common Nouns (Words for Things)

    Do not use a capital letter for a common noun, unless it starts a sentence. Bear in mind that this could be a new sentence after a colon or at the start of a quotation. Remember that a common noun is the word we use for something, e.g., "dog," "ship," "auntie." It is the word that appears in the dictionary.

    Common nouns are further classified depending on their meaning or structure.
    Read more about the different types of noun.

    Examples Showing Correct Capitalization

    All of these examples have at least one proper noun (all shown in bold) and at least one common noun (highlighted).
    • The next lake the party visited was Lake Michigan. correct tick
    • (In this example, the first "lake" is a common noun. It is the word for an in-land water feature. The second one in "Lake Michigan" is part of a proper noun. It is the name of the lake.)
    • The Church in London is not actually a church but a public house. correct tick
    • (Notice that the first "Church" is a proper noun, but the second "church" is a common noun.)
    • It was a rewarding day, and I intend to visit here again on Armistice Day next year. correct tick
    • (The first use of "day" is a common noun. The second in "Armistice Day" is part of a proper noun.)
    • Please ask Sergeant Allan or the other sergeant to arrange a patrol. correct tick
    • ("Sergeant Allan" is a proper noun. The word "sergeant" is a common noun.)

    Stick to the Rules!

    Do not be tempted to give a common noun a capital letter just because it is an important word in your sentence.
    • Place your order using the form in our latest Brochure. wrong cross
    • We value our Clients' opinions. wrong cross
    • I'm having the best day of my life, and I owe it all to not going to Church! (Homer Simpson)
    • Lisa, Vampires are make-believe, like elves, gremlins, and Eskimos. wrong cross (Homer Simpson)
    • (The word "Vampires" is wrong. The word "Eskimos" is correct.)
    • We live in an age when a Pizza gets to your home before a Firefighter. wrong cross
    Here is a video summarizing the difference between common nouns and proper nouns:

    Quirks in Business Writing

    In business writing particularly, many writers consider it good practice (usually for politeness) to capitalize common nouns, such as "Department" and "Director."
    • The manager of your finance department confirmed the booking on 15 August. correct tick
    • The Manager of your Finance Department confirmed the booking on 15 August. correct tick
    Both of these examples are correct because the finance department might be called the Finance Department. Read more about nouns that bridge the gap between common nouns and proper nouns (see Issue 1). Look at these examples:
    • The director will cast the final vote. correct tick
    • The Director will cast the final vote. correct tick
    • The Director will cast the final Vote. wrong cross
    • (The word "director" could be considered a common noun or a proper noun. The word "vote" can't. It must be lowercase.)

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