Although capitalization rules can be a bit tricky, the rules for capitalizing proper nouns are pretty straightforward. When mastering proper noun capitalization, it's also important to understand the difference between common and proper nouns.
Proper Noun Capitalization Rules
Which Nouns Should Be Capitalized?
There are many examples of nouns in the English language. Not all nouns need to be capitalized. Proper nouns are always capitalized while common nouns are only capitalized if they appear at the beginning of a sentence or are part of a title.
- common nouns are the general names of people, places and things
- proper nouns are the names of specific people, places or things
Simple Proper Noun Capitalization Rules
The basic rule for capitalizing proper nouns is that the first letter of a proper noun should be capitalized no matter where it appears in a sentence or how it is being used. In addition, if a proper noun consists of multiple words, the first letter of each of the important words needs to be capitalized.
Proper Noun Capitalization Examples
The key to correctly capitalizing proper nouns lies with knowing how to identify types of proper nouns. Any noun that refers to a specific (rather than general) person, place or thing is a proper noun. Proper nouns fall into a variety of different categories.
- names of people - Maria Santos, Mr. Michael Jones
- names of pets - Lassie, Rover
- geographic locations - Chicago, Asia, Ireland, Mount Everest, Mississippi River
- months - January, February
- days of the week - Monday, Tuesday
- holidays - Christmas, Thanksgiving
- astronomical names/planets - Mars, Jupiter, Saturn
- publications (newspapers, magazines, journals) - Chicago-Sun Times, Vogue, Journal of Family Psychology
- books - The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Great Expectations
- nonprofit organizations - Amnesty International, Habitat for Humanity
- companies - Microsoft, Apple, Hyatt
- schools - Oxford University, Auburn University
- religions/faiths - Catholic, Islam, Hindu, God
- cities - San Francisco, New York City, Atlanta
- states - West Virginia, Texas, Hawaii
- place names - Cowboys Stadium, Central Park
- specific titles - President Obama, King Henry V, Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Judge Thomas
- course names - Economics 101, Child Psychology in America, Shakespeare's Comedies
- historical periods/events - World War I, the Renaissance, D-Day
- languages/nationalities - French, English, German, American
- brand names - Nike, Coca-Cola, Levi's
Common 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.
- seasons - While days and months are capitalized, seasons are not. Avoid capitalizing spring, summer, fall, and winter.
- general subjects/courses - While you would capitalize Chemistry 101, you would not capitalize the word chemistry in general usage, such as “I am studying chemistry.”
- celestial and lunar terms - The words sun and moon are generally not capitalized in sentences unless they are a part of a list of other astronomical names.
- 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."
Proper Noun Capitalization Quiz
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)
Clarifying Common Nouns vs. Proper Nouns
In case you need a little more clarity on the difference between common and proper nouns, spend some time reviewing the difference between these two types of nouns and how they are written with regards to capital or lowercase letters.
Common nouns are general; they do not refer to a specific person, place or thing.
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.
Proper nouns are specific; they do refer to a particular person, place or thing by formal name or title.
- Christopher Roberts
- San Francisco
- Pacific Ocean
Example: When Michelle came to New York City she went to Starbucks.
The proper nouns Michelle, New York City, and Starbucks in the sentence have to be capitalized.
Perfect Your Capitalization and Punctuation
The rules of capitalization are very specific. Most of the time, words that require capitalization are proper nouns. However, grammar always has a bit of complication. Make sure you’re clear on all of the capitalization rules so that your writing is as accurate and readable as possible. Expand the quality of your work by mastering correct usage of the many punctuation marks used in English grammar.