Want to learn more about proper nouns? You've come to the right place! This article will teach you everything you need to know about proper nouns, what counts as a proper noun, and how to use them correctly in writing.
This guide is part of our free online Grammar Book.
There are two types of nouns: common nouns and proper nouns. Common nouns are those words that refer to a generic person, place, or thing. On the other hand, proper nouns refer to a specific person, place, or thing.
Another word for 'proper noun' could be 'name' because that's what they are:
As you may know, the names of things are capitalized, and that's why proper nouns are always capitalized. This means the first letter must be in uppercase.
Here are some examples:
Second World War
Notice how some proper nouns have more than one word and that each word must be capitalized.
In this article, I will go into detail about what proper nouns are and what they aren't and show you examples of each. But before we get started, you should know that this isn't always as straightforward as we'd like.
For example, some words that used to be proper nouns are now so commonly used that they're considered common nouns, and we no longer capitalize them.
Furthermore, some words can be both types of nouns, depending on how they are used. Take the word 'war,' for example. It's a common noun, but when it's used as part of the name of a well-known war, then it becomes a proper noun.
Here are some examples of this in action:
These countries have been at war for decades.
In high school you learn about the First and Second World War.
There's a great park just west of here.
I live in West Covina.
I'm a professor of literature.
Please welcome Professor Klump.
To make matters even more confusing, people disagree on whether specific nouns should be treated as common or proper. Take a job title, for example; is it a proper noun? Should it be capitalized? Different style books will tell you different things.
On top of that, it's become common practice to capitalize the titles of articles, as we've done with this one. And some companies will capitalize some of their words to make them stand out or grab your attention, leaving you confused about what type of noun they are. In the internet age, many spelling and grammar conventions have gone through the window, so making heads or tails of it can be difficult.
The best thing to do if you're unsure is to do a little research online and consult your style guide if you use one.
With that said, let's take a look at the categorizations of nouns most people agree on. These are non-exhaustive lists, as it would be difficult to list all the things that count as proper nouns, but I think it'll help you get a good idea.
Here's a list of what is commonly agreed constitutes a proper noun:
You might be thinking that it's pretty obvious what proper nouns are not: common nouns. And you'd be correct. But there are times when the lines can be blurred, as I explained earlier, so I want to highlight a few nouns that are often mistaken for proper nouns.
We use definite and indefinite articles with common nouns but not with proper nouns. They just stand on their own.
Add me on the Facebook! ❌
Add me on Facebook! ✅
Have you spoken to a Jason today? ❌
Have you spoken to Jason today? ✅
I live in the New York. ❌
I live in New York. ✅
As you can see, using an article in front of a proper noun sounds pretty weird.
But of course, there are some exceptions. Some countries or organizations choose to use the definite article 'the' in their name. This is often the case when they're plural or if they have words like 'States,' 'Kingdom,' 'Isle,' and 'Republic' in their name (but not always).
Here are some examples:
The Empire State Building
The United States
The British Isles
The Republic of China
Another example is if there are several people, places, or things with the same name, then you might need to use an article to clarify which one you are referring to.
No, I don't mean that John, I mean the John from accounts.
Just like you can make an adjective out of a common noun, you can also make adjectives out of proper nouns. These are often referred to as proper adjectives.
These should also be capitalized.
Proper adjectives tend to be words to refer to someone's nationality or language, or other defining characteristics. Or they can be derivatives of someone's name.
I'm currently learning Spanish.
She's the only German kid in the school.
There's a Kafkaesque quality to his writing.
That concludes this article on proper nouns. I hope you found it helpful.
Let's summarize what we've learned:
We have many more articles like this one in our Grammar Book. It's a free online database of grammar articles where we get into all kinds of grammar concepts. If you enjoyed this article, you should totally check it out!