The English language is unique in what it considers to be common and proper nouns, and there are special rules in place to help you identify both. Read on to learn more about the difference between common and proper nouns, how to use them correctly and how to come up with your own examples.
Common and Proper Nouns Simply Explained
Difference Between Common and Proper Nouns
Students of English grammar classes are often confused by the difference between common nouns and proper nouns. Simply put, a proper noun is capitalized while a common noun is not. View a few examples of common and proper nouns before breaking these grammar concepts down.
Now that you’ve seen a few different common and proper noun examples, it’s time to explore each one in a bit more depth.
What Are Common Nouns?
When you think of a common noun, you want to focus on the common part. These are your generic nouns within a sentence. For example, "The boy rode his bike." In this sentence, “boy” and “bike” are generic nouns. You have generic nouns all around you, from your phone to your friends. See a few different examples of generic nouns.
Using Common Nouns in a Sentence
Common nouns can be both singular and plural. Additionally, these nouns are only capitalized when at the beginning of a sentence. Explore a few example sentences with common nouns.
The man walked down the road.
The car sat in the lot.
The bus pulled up to the stop.
We landed at the airport.
She went to her friend’s house.
His religion was important to him.
He rode the buggy to school.
They sang at the concert.
The woman danced in the street.
The baseball player threw the ball.
What Are Proper Nouns?
A proper noun functions in the same way as a common noun. It is a person, place, thing, or idea. However, these types of nouns are capitalized.
Proper nouns include the days of the week, the months of the year, towns, cities, streets, states, countries, and brands. Names of people and pets are all proper nouns, too! Notice how your first, middle and last name are all capitalized: they are proper nouns because they indicate a specific, particular person — you! Explore a few examples of other proper nouns.
How to Use Proper Nouns in a Sentence
You use proper nouns in sentences the same way you use common nouns, but they retain their capitalization whether or not they come at the beginning of a sentence. Explore what sentence examples look like with proper nouns.
Terrance walked down Crestwood St.
The Toyota sat in the Grand Valley parking ramp.
The Metrobus pulled up to the Barber St. stop.
We landed at the Detroit International Airport.
She went to Shelby’s house.
Christianity was important to him.
He rode the Kawasaki Teryx to Meachum Junior High.
They sang at the Metallica concert.
Gladys danced down Swaffer Rd.
Mike Trout threw the ball.
Proper Nouns vs. Proper Adjectives
Now that you know that proper nouns are capitalized in a sentence, you might start thinking every capitalized word is a proper noun. But it's not. You can also find proper adjectives too. Whenever you see a capitalized letter, question whether or not it is a noun. Ask yourself: Is it a person, place, thing, or idea?
For example, Asia in the sentence, "Asia is one of the world's seven continents," is a proper noun. However, Asian in the sentence, "Many people like to eat Asian food," is a proper adjective. Why? Because Asian is describing a type of food rather than a person, place, thing, or idea.
The Relationship Between Common and Proper Nouns
It wouldn’t make sense to have sentences with only common nouns because you wouldn’t know exactly what something was. However, you also wouldn’t want to put proper nouns in every sentence. This is especially true if you don’t know who or what something is. So, common and proper nouns are used together in sentences to make them more enjoyable and easier to understand.
For example, it’s easy to say, “that building over there,” if you don't know the name of the building. However, you can also say, “Grand Central Station over there.” Both sentences can convey what you mean. The second one is just more specific.
Explore a few sentence examples using common and proper nouns.
common noun - Mary liked to read a book every night before she went to bed.
proper noun - Mary liked to read Harry Potter every night before she went to bed.
common noun - My favorite thing to drink is soda.
proper noun - My favorite thing to drink is Diet Coke.
common noun - In my country, you cannot marry more than one person at a time.
proper noun - In the United States, you cannot marry more than one person at a time.
Practice With Common and Proper Nouns
It doesn’t take much to know which nouns in a sentence are proper nouns unless the proper noun is the first word in the sentence. Remember — just because it’s capitalized doesn’t mean it’s a proper noun. Now that you’re a common and proper noun master, feel free to fill out these common and proper noun worksheets!