What Is a Proper Noun?

When reading novels or short stories, you would undoubtedly encounter words which are capitalized in the middle of the sentences. Surely these words would stand out because they would mean something different from the rest of the words. In English, we call these terms as proper nouns. On this article, we are going to discuss what a proper noun is and how it differs from a common noun. In addition to this, we are also going to identify several rules for capitalizing proper nouns.

What is a Proper Noun?

Before we dig in further, let’s first have a quick review of what a noun is. Generally speaking, a noun is a word that is used to determine people, places, or things. It could refer to anything you see, feel, taste, touch, and hear. From the pillows on your bed to the persons you meet every day, the name which you call these things are called nouns.

Now, nouns could be divided into two. One would be a broader term while the other is more definite. A proper noun would refer to a definite name for a specific person, place, object, or an event. This means that that the noun is not generic at all. Because if the noun is already general in nature, it would already be called as a common noun.

We can categorize every noun as common or proper. If we are going to look at the examples below, we can clearly see the distinction between these two kinds of nouns. A proper noun is precise while a common noun is just broad.

Common NounProper Noun
boyGary Wendell John
countryUnited States of America United Arab Emirates Philippines
filmPerks of Being a Wallflower In the Mood for Love Pulp Fiction
cityNew York City London Tokyo
religionChristianity Islam Judaism

If we look at our examples above, we could easily identify the difference between a common noun and a proper noun. This is where the two unique characteristics of a proper noun come in. A proper noun always begins with a capital letter. On the other hand, a common noun begins with a small letter, except when it could be found at the beginning of the sentence. Let’s take a look at the examples. The common noun is the boy, which is in small letter. Its proper noun counterparts are Gary, Wendell, and John. All of these are in capital letters.

The other distinguishing characteristic of a proper noun is that it names specific items. As mentioned above, a proper name is more specific than the common noun. The term, “country,” is generic. When we become more specific with these countries, we could come up with proper nouns such as the United States of America, United Arab Emirates, and the Philippines.

Let us analyze the concepts in the third row. We could see that the term, “film,” starts with a small letter. It is a more general term. The terms in the second column begin with a capital letter. They are more specific counterparts of the common noun. These would include, “Perks of Being a Wallflower,” “In the Mood for Love,” and “Pulp Fiction.”

You could further identify the difference between common nouns and proper nouns by analyzing the fourth and fifth examples.

Rules for Capitalizing Proper Nouns

To ensure proper grammar, you always have to abide by specific rules. While it is true that it is easy to use proper nouns, there are always certain things that you have to consider. Here are just some rules for capitalizing proper nouns.

1. Capitalize First Names

Always capitalize first names. Whether it be your best friend or your worst enemy, their names should always be capitalized. This holds true since all names are proper nouns.

Example: Please take Bonnie, my boss, to the lounge where she will rest for a while.

Note that the name was capitalized while her position – boss – is in small letters.

2. Do Not Capitalize All Letters in a Sentence

Remember, do not capitalize all letters in a formal sentence, especially when they are not proper nouns. By doing so, you could only make reading more difficult if you do so.

Example 1: Please Get the Louis Vuitton Bag Of Dorothy.

Example 2: Please get the Louis Vuitton bag of Dorothy.

The first example seemingly provides emphasis to the sentence, but it is grammatically incorrect. Only capitalize the words which are proper, such as Louis Vuitton and Dorothy.

There are some instances where you could capitalize on the important words in a sentence, but only for titles or subheads. If you take a look at the subheadings of this article, you would be able to see.

3. Capitalizing Names of Books, Films, or Song Titles

If you are describing proper names of book, film, or song titles, do not capitalize everything. Only capitalize the words which are relevant.

Example 1: Me and You and Everyone We Know

Example 2: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Example 3: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

We take these words as one when we consider them as titles. Hence, we categorize them as proper nouns. Important words are capitalized, especially if they have a bearing to the story. However, the conjunctions and articles should be in small letters.

4. Capitalizing Family Endearments

When dealing with families, there are rules that you should follow also. If you use the endearment directly, you use it as a proper noun. But if you are not using the endearment as a name, it should not be capitalized.

Example 1: Go fetch Dad his glass of water.

Example 2: Please call your dad to come tomorrow.

On the first example, the speaker could be related to the noun. Hence, it is capitalized. However, the second sentence is only used as an object so it should not be capitalized.

5. Capitalizing Directions

Directions should not be used as a proper noun unless they are a part of a place.

Example 1: Let’s go north and see if the missing dog is there.

Example 2: Have you ever visited North Carolina?


Now you know the rules for capitalizing proper nouns. If you want further help with capitalization, try out our free title capitalization tool.


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