Proper Nouns: What Are Proper Nouns? Definition and Examples

By Carly Forsaith, updated on August 1, 2023

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.

In short:

  • Proper nouns are things, places, or people with a name.
  • They refer to a specific thing, as opposed to common nouns, which refer to generic things.

This guide is part of our free online Grammar Book.

What Are Proper Nouns?

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:

  • They are the names of specific people, places, or things.

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

Grand Avenue

Sunnydale High

Notice how some proper nouns have more than one word and that each word must be capitalized.

Blurred Lines

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.

  • The term 'internet' is one example of this.
  • Another might be 'kleenex.'

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.

Proper Nouns vs Common Nouns

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.

What Proper Nouns Are

Here's a list of what is commonly agreed constitutes a proper noun:

  • Family member titles if used instead of the person's name.
    When's Pop-Pop getting here?
  • Titles when used with the person's name.
    We'll be joined by Sir Lewis Hamilton.
  • Cardinals if they're part of the place name.
    The Middle East has some of the best mochas.
  • Official terms.
    They were great at making tools during the Stone Age.
  • Brand names.
    I haven't been using Twitter much lately.
  • Countries, nationalities, and languages.
    My family comes from France.
  • Names of companies and organizations.
    Let's stop by the Home Depot on the way back.
  • Titles of books, films, songs, movies, and other media.
    Have you seen the new James Bond movie?
  • Nicknames
    What's Pip doing here?

What Proper Nouns Are Not

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.

  • Family member titles when simply referring to their role.
    I think we can all agree moms are the best.
  • Titles when not followed by the person's name.
    The president will make a special address.
  • Cardinals when just used to give directions.
    The south usually gets nicer weather.
  • Non-official terms.
    The internet age.
  • Seasons when not used as part of something's name.
    I love the colors in the fall.
  • Eponyms that have become common use.
    I'm going to boycott this brand. 

Should You Use Articles With Common 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 Smiths

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.

Proper Adjectives

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.

Concluding Thoughts

That concludes this article on proper nouns. I hope you found it helpful.

Let's summarize what we've learned:

  • Proper nouns name specific people, places, or things.
  • They are different from common nouns, which only name generic things.
  • They should always be capitalized.
  • Don't use articles with proper nouns unless it's in a special case.
  • Proper adjectives are adjectives derived from proper nouns.

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!

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Written By:
Carly Forsaith
Carly Forsaith is one of the lead freelance writers for Carly is a copywriter who has been writing about the English language for over 3 years. Before that, she was a teacher in Thailand, helping people learn English as a second language. She is a total grammar nerd and spends her time spotting language errors on signs and on the internet.

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