Proper Nouns

Proper Nouns

A proper noun is the name given to something to make it more specific (e.g., Johnathan, Ollie, London, 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.

Easy Examples of Proper Nouns

  • Sarah, Bonzo, Genghis Khan, Lake Baikal, Pythagorean Theorem, Tower of London
  • (Proper nouns are written with capital letters. We'll talk about the lowercase of in Tower of London when we cover title case below.)

Real-Life Examples of Proper Nouns

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.
Proper Nouns (starting with capital letters) Common Noun (starting with lowercase letters)
Ford Mondeocar
Lake Superiorlake
Heididog
The Pacific Oceanocean
Tanners restaurantrestaurant
General McChrystalsoldier
Cost Cuttersupermarket
Gold Blendcoffee
In the following examples, the common nouns are underlined and the proper nouns are in bold:
  • I need to visit an old castle. Can we visit Warwick Castle?
  • Walt Disney got the inspiration for Mickey Mouse from a tame mouse at his desk at Laugh-O-Gram Studio in Kansas City.
  • All water tastes the same. There's a reason why Evian is "naive" backwards.

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. [wrong]
  • (The words client and gift are common nouns and should not have capital letters.)
There is an entry dedicated to capital letters. Here are some 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.)
There is more on this subject in the entry 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. [correct]
There is more on this subject in the entry on common nouns.

(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.)
There is more on this subject in the entry on common nouns.

(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. [correct]
  • You work in the Human Resources Section? I didn't know we had a human-resources office. [correct]
There is more on this subject in the entry on common nouns.

Key Points

  • Proper nouns get capital letters. Don't give a common noun a capital letter just because it's an important word in your sentence.
  • When writing titles, use capital letters just for the principal words (i.e., not words like the, an, and, or, in and with).
  • The seasons and the points of the compass are not written with capital letters.
  • If you write the Moon/Sun but a moon/sun, you'll probably have used capital letters correctly.
  • With terms like Director and Finance Department, use capital letters when they refer to specific people or offices.
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