Proper and Common Nouns

Did you know there are two kinds of noun: common nouns and proper nouns. Common nouns refer to general nouns and proper nouns refer to specific nouns.

What is the diffrence between "Proper and Common Nouns"?

What Do We Mean by Proper and Common Nouns?

Nouns can be categorized into two groups based on whether they refer to a general entity or a specific entity:

  • Common Nouns
  • Proper Nouns

Common Nouns

Common nouns are used to refer to general persons, places, or things in a class or group, rather than specific ones. Examples of common nouns include a mug, table, sofa, TV, phone, wallet, and key. In contrast to proper nouns, which refer to specific people, places, or things, common nouns provide a generic name for a class or group of items. For instance, the noun 'cat' is a common noun, but if you give your cat a name like Marlo, the word Marlo becomes a proper noun.

Common Nouns: Categorization

A vast majority of English nouns fall under the category of common nouns. They can be classified into various groups, such as:

Now let us look at some examples from each category:

doctor, restaurant, father → concrete nouns

love, pride, patience → abstract nouns

toothpaste, bedroom, daughter-in-law → compound nouns

flower, chair, book → countable nouns

rice, water, air → uncountable nouns

actress, sir, wizard → gender-specific nouns

team, society, class → collective nouns

smoking, playing, gardening → verbal nouns

Most grammatical rules related to nouns apply to common nouns, including their ability to be plural or singular, take a definite or indefinite article, and be countable or uncountable.

Warning

Common nouns are generally written in lowercase letters and are not capitalized, unless they appear at the beginning of a sentence or in a title.

His father is a hard-working man.

As you know, father is a common noun.

Fathers are hard-working.

'Fathers' is a plural common noun, yet it is written with capital letter cause it is at the beginning of the sentence.

Proper Nouns

In contrast to common nouns, which refer to general people, places, or things, proper nouns are specific and typically refer to a unique person, thing, or place. We use proper nouns to name people, places, or things that are one-of-a-kind or unique in some way.

  • Names of people: Johnny, Lisa, Tom, Max, Rafael, George Orwell, Leo Tolstoy
  • The days of the week: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday
  • The month of the year: January, February, March, April, May, June, July, etc.
  • Countries: France, England, India, Iran, Russia, Italy, Spain
  • States: New York, New Jersey, Nevada, California, Florida
  • Cities: Paris, London, New Delhi, Tehran, Moscow, Rome, Madrid
  • Towns: Louisville, Lockport, Adams, Harpersfield, Arcadia, Yorktown
  • Streets, squares, parks: Wall Street, Houston Street, Madison Avenue, Broadway, Mosholu Parkway, Victory Boulevard, Love Lane, Madison Square, Central Park

Warning

Notice that the words 'street,' 'avenue,' 'parkway,' 'boulevard,' 'lane,' 'park,' and 'square' are also capitalized because they are parts of the proper noun.

The First Letter of Proper Nouns Must Be Capitalized

  • names of pets: Bubbles, Lucy, Max, Bella
  • holidays: Thanksgiving, Halloween, Christmas, Valentine's Day, Easter
  • planets: Mercury, Mars, Earth, Venus
  • Newspaper names: the New York Time, the Guardian, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post
  • Book titles: War and Peace, Crime and Punishment, Ulysses, Nausea, To Kill a Mockingbird
  • Movie titles: Scarface, Last Tango in Paris, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, No Country for Old Men
  • Languages: English, French, Spanish, Korean, Chinese, Persian

Nouns of Address

When addressing people or things directly, we can use nouns of direct address, also known as vocatives or nominatives of address.

Job and Professional Titles

When we address or refer to people by their professional or official titles instead of their actual names, the titles or 'nouns of address' are considered proper nouns and consequently must be capitalized. However, they are common nouns in other circumstances. Take a look at the following examples:

We need your wisdom, Mr. Secretary.

Here 'Mr. Secretary' refers to a man who is the Secretary of State.

It's an honor to meet you, Doctor.

Here the noun 'Doctor' is a title used to refer to someone who is a doctor.

Who is the executive director of this company?

The 'executive director' is the title of a job, but is not preceding a proper noun, so it's not capitalized.

I had a meeting with Executive Director Rick Sanchez.

But here, 'Executive Director' is preceding a proper noun. Therefore, it is capitalized.

Have you met the pope?

Here, the noun 'pope' is not preceding a proper noun (in this case a particular pope); as a result, it is not capitalized.

I met Pope Francis when I was in Rome.

But here, the noun 'Pope' is preceding a particular pope and is used as a title. Therefore, it is capitalized.

Family Relationships or Familial Roles

When we directly address or refer to a member of our family or relatives by their titles (dad, mom, sister, aunt, etc.) instead of their actual names, we use nouns that are common in other circumstances, but in this case, are considered proper nouns and must be capitalized. Let us see some examples:

I'm really sorry, Mom.

'Mom' is used as a noun of address. As a result, it is capitalized.

Was your mom angry?

Here, although the word 'mom' is referring to a particular mom, it is not capitalized since is not addressing a person (directly).

Are you coming, Dad?

Here, 'dad' in capitalized because it is used to address a person.

Is your dad unemployed?

Here although the word 'dad' is referring to a particular 'dad,' but is still a common noun and is not used as a noun of address. Therefore, it is not capitalized.

Appellations

Appellations are names or titles, which are common nouns that can be added to people's names. In this case, the appellation is considered part of the proper noun to which it is added, and therefore should be capitalized.

Prince Charles is the heir to the British throne.

The word 'prince' is a common noun that is used as a title before a proper noun. Therefore, it is capitalized.

Who is Princess Fiona?

The word 'princess' is a common noun that is used as a title before a proper noun. Therefore, it is capitalized.

Brand Names

We consider commercial brands to be proper nouns, as the brand name itself is unique, even if the object referred to by the brand name is not. Let us see some examples:

I can't afford to buy a new MacBook.

Here 'MacBook' is the name of a laptop made by Apple.

I wish to get a Porsche.

Here 'Porsche' is a brand of car.

I ordered a Pepsi, not a Coke.

In this sentence, 'Pepsi' and 'Coke' are cola brands.

Cardinal Directions or the Directions of the Compass

Cardinal directions, such as north, south, east, and west, are generally not capitalized, except when used immediately before the names of regions.

Have you been to the west of Canada?

Here, the word 'west' is not immediately preceding the proper noun 'Canada,' so it is not capitalized.

Have you been to the West Coast?

Here, 'West' is immediately preceding the word 'Coast,' therefore it is capitalized.

Days and Month

The names of the days of the week and the months of the year should be capitalized, with the first letter of each word written in uppercase.

I was born in June.

My favorite day of the week is Sunday.

Capitalization Rule

Proper nouns should always be capitalized, whether they appear at the beginning, middle, or end of a sentence. Proper nouns can consist of one or more words, and in the case of multi-word proper nouns, all words should be capitalized. When certain words referring to specific places or regions, such as street, road, avenue, square, boulevard, lane, parkway, park, river, ocean, sea, lake, and canals, follow proper nouns, these words should also be capitalized.

Proper Adjectives

'Proper adjectives' are formed from certain proper nouns (names of people and places including continents, countries, cities, etc.) and like proper nouns, they must be capitalized.

Do you prefer Italian food or Chinese food?

The words 'Italian' and 'Chinese' are both proper adjectives and respectively made from the proper nouns 'Italy' and 'China.'

I married an African woman.

Here 'African' is a proper adjective and comes from the proper noun 'Africa.'

Proper Nouns with and without 'The' (definite article)

Normally, the definite article "the" is not used with proper nouns, unless it is part of the proper noun itself and refers to a particular place or organization, such as companies, hotels, museums, and so on. However, 'the' is used with countries that have "States," "Kingdom," or "Republic" in their names, as well as with the names of canals, rivers, seas, and oceans. "The" is also used with plural names of people and places, and with names that are made with the word "of." Let us see some examples:

Jennifer is my wife. (Not "the Jenifer is my wife.")

'Jennifer' is a proper noun, so 'the' can't precede it.

Warner Brothers is an American entertainment conglomerate.

Here, you can see the name of a company without 'the.'

The Wonderful Brothers Co.

Here, you can see a name of a company with 'the.'

Review

Different Kinds of Nouns

There are two kinds of nouns in English based on whether they refer to a generic noun or not.
Here are the tips on the table below.

Common Nouns Proper Nouns
not capitalized capitalized
not unique unique
generic specific

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