Caleb S.
Caleb S.

Understanding Proper Nouns: Definition, Usage & Examples

16 min read

Published on: Jun 16, 2024

Last updated on: Jun 24, 2024

What are Proper Nouns?

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines proper nouns as: “a noun (such as Seattle, Bryce, or Empire State Building) that refers to a particular being or thing and does not take a limiting modifier. Such nouns are usually capitalized in English”

Proper nouns are capitalized to distinguish them from common nouns. Essentially, they are unique identifiers for specific entities. 

For instance, John is a proper noun because it refers to a particular person, whereas man is a common noun because it can refer to any male individual. So, proper nouns help you pinpoint exactly what or who you're talking about in a sentence.

We’ll go over this specific part of speech with examples to see how you should use them in sentences. At first, we’ll compare proper nouns with common nouns to help you grasp the difference from the get-go! 

Proper Nouns vs. Common Nouns 

Proper nouns and common nouns are both types of nouns used in the English language, but they serve different purposes.

Common Nouns:

  • Common nouns refer to general, non-specific people, places, things, or ideas.
  • They are not capitalized unless they appear at the beginning of a sentence.
  • Common nouns can be further classified into countable (e.g., book, table) and uncountable (e.g., water, air) nouns.

Proper Nouns:

  • As mentioned before, nouns refer to specific, individual people, places, things, or ideas.
  • They always begin with a capital letter, regardless of their position in a sentence.
  • These nouns are used to identify unique entities and differentiate them from others of the same type.

Let’s take a look at some proper and common noun examples in sentences. 

  • In the bustling city of New York, Emily met her childhood friend, Sarah, at Central Park, where they enjoyed a picnic under the shade of a large oak tree.


  • At the grocery store, John bought a dozen eggs, a loaf of bread, and a carton of milk before heading home to his cozy apartment in downtown San Francisco.

In the above examples, proper nouns are highlighted in green, and common nouns are highlighted in blue.

Proper Nouns and Common Nouns: Examples 

Here's a table that contains common and proper nouns list that contain examples of both noun types side by side. 

Common Nouns

Proper Nouns

dog

Rover

cat

Fluffy

city

New York

book

Harry Potter

car

Toyota Camry

computer

Apple MacBook

fruit

Banana

country

France

river

Nile

movie

Titanic

In this table, the common nouns represent general entities, whereas the proper nouns refer to specific individuals, places, or things.

Capitalization Rules for Proper Nouns 

Let’s now understand how should you capitalize different types of proper nouns in the following part of the blog. We’ll make things easier for you with the help of proper nouns example sentences as well. 

Beginning of a Sentence 

At the start of a sentence, there's a strict rule: always capitalize proper nouns, no matter what. This means, that even if a proper noun doesn't normally start with a capital letter, it should be capitalized when it's the first word in a sentence.

Names of People 

Capitalize the names of individuals, including their first names, last names, and any titles used with their names. 

Here are some proper nouns example sentences: 

  • You should meet Professor Emily Johnson; she's an expert in her field.
  • Captain Jack Sparrow is the most infamous pirate on the seven seas.
  • Have you heard about President Michelle Rodriguez's latest speech?

Names of Places

Proper nouns referring to specific geographic locations should be capitalized. These include cities, countries, states, rivers, mountains, streets, parks, and buildings. 

For example: 

  • You should visit London when you're in the UK.
  • The Grand Canyon is breathtaking.

Brand Names and Trademarks 

When referring to specific brands, trademarks, or companies, you should capitalize their names. This allows you to stay consistent in your writing. However, when dealing with common-use products, it isn’t necessary to capitalize them.

For example

  • You can't beat the taste of Coca-Cola.
  • Nike shoes are known for their quality.
  • Can you please pass me the tissue

Days, Months, and Holidays 

Capitalize the names of days, months, and holidays. By doing so, you draw attention to their importance and set them apart from ordinary nouns. 

For example: 

  • You have an appointment on Monday.
  • Christmas is my favorite holiday.

Titles and Names of Works 

Titles of books, movies, songs, plays, poems, and other creative works should always be capitalized to highlight their significance. 

For example:

  • Have you read To Kill a Mockingbird?
  • Let's watch 'The Godfather' tonight.

Proper Adjectives 

Proper adjectives are derived from proper nouns and should be capitalized. When you're talking about things related to a specific person, place, or thing, capitalize the adjective derived from it. This helps in identifying them distinctly.

For instance, when you mention something related to the United States, like “American history,” you should capitalize American because it's derived from the proper noun “America.” 

Similarly, when you’re discussing literature associated with William Shakespeare, capitalize “Shakespearean” as in “Shakespearean literature”. It's directly connected to Shakespeare's works.

When to Avoid Capitalizing Proper Nouns? 

Let’s take a look at some scenarios when you should not use capitalization rules for proper nouns.

Generic Use:

You should avoid capitalizing proper nouns when they are used in a generic or common context. This rule makes sure that proper nouns retain their specific identity. For example, in the phrase “I like to eat french fries”, french remains lowercase because it's used generically.

Species Names:

In biological contexts, species names are not capitalized unless they include a proper noun. For instance, humans and dogs remain lowercase, while African elephant and German shepherd are capitalized due to the inclusion of proper nouns.

Nouns Functioning as Either Proper or Common Nouns 

Some nouns can function as both proper nouns and common nouns, depending on how they're used in a sentence. Let's break it down:

Family Roles

Common nouns like "mom" and "grandpa" are capitalized only when used as names (without determiners like "my" or "the").

Proper: Grandpa, tell us a story from when you were young.

Common: His grandpa always took him fishing on Sundays

Jobs and Titles 

You should capitalize job titles when they’re used in the sentence to name someone. Other than that, you don’t need to capitalize them. 

Proper: Please welcome Chief Executive Officer Sarah Johnson to the stage.

Common: The new chief executive officer has ambitious plans for the company's expansion.

Cardinal Directions 

Remember that directions are only capitalized when they’re used as part of a specific place's name or used in a political or cultural sense. 

Proper: They traveled from North Dakota to South Carolina.

Common: Head north on Main Street until you reach the park

Capitalizing Seasons

Similarly, seasons are usually common nouns and are not capitalized unless they are part of a specific title or reference to a particular period.

Proper: The Spring Festival celebrates the arrival of spring.

Common: I love springtime.

Common and Proper Noun Worksheet 

To test the knowledge you’ve gained through our guide, let's try identifying common and proper nouns using a worksheet. On the left side, proper nouns are listed, and you have to write suitable common nouns in the right column.

Proper Noun

Common Nouns

Paris


Michael


Amazon


Eiffel Tower


Mona Lisa


United States


Harry Potter


Mount Everest


Facebook


Beyoncé


Here are the answers:

  • Paris - city, capital, destination
  • Michael - boy, man, name
  • Amazon - river, company, forest
  • Eiffel Tower - landmark, structure, tower
  • Mona Lisa - painting, artwork, masterpiece
  • United States - country, nation, land
  • Harry Potter - book, character, wizard
  • Mount Everest - mountain, peak, summit
  • Facebook - website, social media platform, company
  • Beyoncé - singer, artist, performer

To wrap things up, 

In this blog, we've made proper nouns easy to understand, using examples like names of people and places. We've explained when to use capital letters and offered simple rules for writers to follow. We hope that this blog has enabled you to improve your writing. 

Our goal is to help you grasp proper nouns better, so you can describe things accurately when you write. Feel free to come back to this guide whenever you need help with proper nouns!

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Continue Learning

If you want to learn more about academic writing, grammar, and related concepts, check out these blogs.

Grammar


Writing


Citation

Dangling Modifiers

Essay Writing

APA format

Homophones

Paraphrasing

MLA format

Infinitives

Thesis Statement

Chicago Style

Analogy

Paragraph

Harvard Style

Participle

Summary

IEEE Citation

Articles in Grammar

Plagiarism

Oxford Referencing

Clauses



Adjective



Adverbs



Conjunction



Interjection



Frequently Asked Questions

What are some proper nouns for animals?

When it comes to naming animals, there are plenty of proper nouns to choose from. For instance:

 

  • Tigger (tiger)
  • Nemo (fish)
  • Fido (dog)
  • Tweety (bird)
  • Shadowfax (horse)

Can you list some proper nouns things examples?

Let’s explore some examples of proper nouns for things:

 

  • PlayStation (gaming console)
  • Big Ben (clock tower)
  • Mona Lisa (painting)
  • Titanic (ship)
  • Amazon (online retailer)
  • iPhone (smartphone)
  • Statue of Liberty (monument)
  • Google (search engine)
  • Hogwarts (school)
  • Microsoft (technology company)
Caleb S.

WRITTEN BY

Caleb S. (Mass Literature and Linguistics, Masters)

Caleb S. is an accomplished author with over five years of experience and a Master's degree from Oxford University. He excels in various writing forms, including articles, press releases, blog posts, and whitepapers. As a valued author at MyEssayWriter.ai, Caleb assists students and professionals by providing practical tips on research, citation, sentence structure, and style enhancement.

Caleb S. is an accomplished author with over five years of experience and a Master's degree from Oxford University. He excels in various writing forms, including articles, press releases, blog posts, and whitepapers. As a valued author at MyEssayWriter.ai, Caleb assists students and professionals by providing practical tips on research, citation, sentence structure, and style enhancement.

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