Capitalization of Proper Nouns: Simple Rules Breakdown and Examples

list of four capitalized proper nouns from the article
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Some languages, such as German, capitalize all of their nouns so you can easily find them in a sentence. But in English, it gets a little more complicated — you only capitalize proper nouns, not common nouns. So when do you capitalize nouns in English, and how can you tell if a noun is proper in the first place?

When To Capitalize Proper Nouns

Proper nouns are specific nouns (people, places, things, and ideas). For example, instead of the common noun dog, you may say Scout to describe a specific dog. Instead of the common noun country, you’d use the proper noun Ireland.

Proper noun capitalization rules seem complicated, but it really comes down to this: If a person, place, thing, or idea has a specific name, it gets capitalized.

 

Type of Proper Noun

Examples

People

Names of people (first and last)

James, Wendy, George Washington

 

Titles of people

Mr. Wong, Dr. Taylor, Miss Stevens

Places

Names of places

Austin, Argentina, Europe

 

Specific geographic landmarks

Mount Vesuvius, the Mississippi River, Muscogee Creek

Things and Ideas

Languages and nationalities

French, English, Japanese

 

Months of the year

January, May, December

 

Days of the week

Sunday, Wednesday, Friday

 

Holidays

Halloween, Valentine’s Day, New Year’s Eve

 

Works of art

Mona Lisa, Girl With a Pearl Earring, The Scream

 

Architectural monuments

the Statue of Liberty, the Holland Tunnel, the Lincoln Memorial

 

Companies and brand names

McDonald's, Toyota, Mattel

 

Religions

Islam, Judaism, Christianity

 

Names of courses 

Algebra II, British Literature, Biology IA

 

Acronyms and initialisms (all letters)

ADHD, FBI, NATO

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Examples of Proper Noun Capitalization in a Sentence

The basic rule for proper nouns says that the first letter of a proper noun should be capitalized — no matter where it appears in a sentence.

  • My iguana, Spike, loves to eat crickets.
  • Sean Menegon works at the movie theater.
  • Are you taking American History 101?
  • Dr. Harmon has been my dentist since I was a child.
  • We have been studying Buddhism all semester.
  • Let’s take a trip to Miami this year.
  • Ollie bought a Tesla last month.
  • Spanish is a beautiful language to learn.
  • Can we meet next Thursday?
  • Australia is both a continent and an island.

Proper Noun Capitalization Mistakes To Avoid

There are a few tricky situations to consider related to proper noun capitalization. Make sure you’re aware of these common capitalization errors so you can avoid them in your own writing.

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Don’t Capitalize Seasons

While days and months are capitalized, seasons are not. Avoid capitalizing spring, summer, fall, and winter.

Don’t Capitalize General Subjects and Courses

While you would capitalize Chemistry 101, you would not capitalize the word chemistry in general usage, such as “I am studying chemistry.”

Don’t Capitalize “Sun” and “Moon”

The words sun and moon are generally not capitalized in sentences unless they are a part of a list of other astronomical names.

Don’t Capitalize General Titles

When titles are part of the name they are capitalized, but they are not capitalized when discussed generally. For example, "The president of China will be in Washington D.C. next week to visit with President Obama."

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Proper Noun Capitalization Quiz

Want to test your capitalization knowledge? See if you can identify all the proper nouns that should be capitalized in each sentence and any common nouns that shouldn’t be capitalized. 

  1. Mr. Li speaks three languages: chinese, english, and Japanese.
  2. In june, we spent a lot of time at the metropolitan museum and at central park.
  3. Next year in economic history of europe, we’re going to study international business.
  4. We had a very hot Summer. I cannot wait until September.
  5. They took their daughter to see dr. Lucas last friday.

Answer Key for Proper Noun Capitalization Quiz

Did you find all the mistakes?

  1. Mr. Li speaks three languages: Chinese, English, and Japanese.
  2. In June, we spent a lot of time at the Metropolitan Museum and at Central Park.
  3. Next year in Economic History of Europe, we’re going to study international business.
  4. We had a very hot summer. I cannot wait until September.
  5. They took their daughter to see Dr. Lucas last Friday.