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What are Common Nouns vs. Proper Nouns?

Proper nouns name specific people, places or things. Common nouns name general categories and types.

Common nouns vs. proper nouns.
Common nouns vs. proper nouns. Designed my Grammarflex.



Common nouns vs. proper nouns

Consider how we write the sentence, “Queen Elizabeth II was a celebrated queen”.


Why should ‘Queen Elizabeth II‘ use capitals, and not the word ‘queen‘ itself?


Queen Elizabeth II is the name of a specific person, and so (to that extent) specifies what or who specifically is being mentioned.


The word “queen” itself, however, could mean any queen (fictional or historical). This makes “queen” a common noun: it names a category or kind of thing (that specific things of that kind belong to; such as Queen Elizabeth II).



Proper nouns & common nouns explained

Proper nouns name specific people places or thing, such as Queen Elizabeth II, Mt. Vesuvius or a MacBook Pro.


Common nouns name groups or kinds of things, such as an actor, country and food.


Because proper nouns specify what they refer to, (and only refer to that thing, person, place), we capitalize the first letter no matter where they appear in a sentence.


Conversely, commons nouns do not use capital letters unless they begin a sentence or are part of a proper noun (as in the name of a title of a work or novel, e.g., The Winter of Our Discontent by John Steinbeck). Otherwise, they use lowercases.


common nounsproper nouns
A musicianJon Batiste
A continent or countryIndia
A companyGoogle
A newspaperThe New Yorker
A religionBuddhism

Examples of proper nouns

The proper nouns are in italics:

  1. I’ve never been to France.
  2. Barbara’s cat is named Scout.
  3. My favourite book is Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.
  4. Mount Everest is the tallest mountain on Earth.
  5. Existentialism is a branch of philosophy that questions the meaning of existence.

Examples of common nouns in writing

The common nouns are in italics:

  1. My favourite activity in the summer is to hike mountains.
  2. Many dog breeds are not suitable for living indoors.
  3. I wish I could remember the name of that painter.
  4. They’re all waiting for us at the restaurant.
  5. These buildings are magnificent pieces of architecture.



Read more about nouns

Types of nounsWhat’s the plural of …?
plural-only nounsmoose?
mass nouns octopus?
collective nounscactus?
abstract nouns vs. concrete nounsanalysis?
possessive nounscurriculum?
regular and irregular nounscrisis?



Sources

  1. English Grammar and Composition, P.C. Wren.
  2. Grammarly on mass nouns.

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