Although capitalization rules can be a bit tricky, rules for capitalizing proper nouns are pretty straightforward. First, though, it's important to understand the difference between common nouns and proper nouns.
- Common nouns are the general names of people, places, and things. These types of nouns are usually not capitalized (unless they begin a sentence or are part of a title).
- Proper nouns are the names of a specific person, place, or thing. The basic capitalization rule of proper nouns is that the first letters are capitalized.
Common Nouns vs. Proper Nouns
Here are some examples of common nouns and proper nouns:
Example: The woman in the restaurant lives in the city.
The common nouns woman, restaurant, and city in the sentence need to be written in lowercase.
Example: When Michelle Obama came to New York City she went to Starbucks.
The proper nouns Michelle Obama, New York City, and Starbucks in the sentence have to be capitalized.
Capitalization: Types of Proper Nouns
To help you build an understanding of the different types of proper nouns that need to be capitalized, the following are some overall proper noun categories:
- Names of People & Pets: Maria Santos, Mr. Michael Jones, Lassie
- Geographical Locations: Chicago, Asia, Ireland, Mount Everest, Mississippi River
- Months, Days of the Week, Holidays: Monday, January, Christmas (Note: We do not capitalize the names of seasons: summer, winter, fall, etc.)
- Astronomical Names: Mars, Jupiter, Saturn (Note: sun and moon are generally not capitalized in sentences unless they are a part of a list of other astronomical names)
- Newspapers, Magazines, Journals, Books: Chicago-Sun Times, Vogue, Journal of Family Psychology
- Organizations, Companies: Microsoft, Oxford University, Amnesty International
- Religious Terms: Catholic, Islam, Hindu, God
- Buildings, Monuments, Place Names: Grand Canyon, Central Park, Hyatt Hotel
- People's Titles: President Obama, King Henry V, Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Judge Thomas (note: when titles are part of the name they are capitalized; but, when titles are discussed generally, we do not capitalize them. Example: The president of China will be in Washington D.C. next week to visit with President Obama).
- Course Names: Economics 101, Child Psychology in America, Shakespeare's Comedies (Note: Do not capitalize general course names. Example: I am studying chemistry.)
- Historical Periods & Events: World War I, the Renaissance, D-Day
- Languages, Nationalities: French, English, German, American
- Brand Names: Nike, Coca-Cola, Levi's
When in doubt about the capitalization of proper nouns, look up the word in YourDictionary or conduct an online search.
Proper Noun Capitalization Test
Want to test your capitalization knowledge? Have a look at the sentences below. Can you spot the mistakes?
- Mr. Li speaks three languages, chinese, english, and Japanese.
- In june we spent a lot of time at the metropolitan museum and at central park.
- Next year I'm going to study international business. I'm looking forward to taking the course, economic history of europe.
- We had a very hot Summer. I cannot wait until September.
- They took their daughter to see dr. Lucas last friday.
Answer Key: 1 (Chinese, English, Japanese); 2. (June, Metropolitan Museum, Central Park); 3. Economic History of Europe); 4. (summer); 5. (Dr., Friday)
The rules for capitalization are very specific. Most of what we capitalize are proper nouns; however, it is always good to stay on top of the other capitalization rules so that your grammar can help make your writing more readable.