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Common and Proper Nouns

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Nouns are words that name or identify general people, places, things, ideas or abstract concepts. See the examples below.

These nouns that name people: woman, grandfather, instructor, cook, scientist, participant, and so on.

These are nouns that name places: city, country, kitchen, bathroom, river, lake, school, church, hospital, and so on.

These are nouns that name things: chair, flower, mouse, pencil, photograph, pie, and so on.

These are nouns that name ideas or abstract concepts: comfort, energy, success, kindness, friendship, love, peace, hatred, and so on.

Common Nouns

Common nouns identify objects in general. When you say “the president of the United States,” the word “president” is a common noun. Although it may refer to a particular president, the word itself does not identify a president in particular.

When you say “the beach was crowed,” the word “beach” is a common noun. The word itself does not identify a specific beach.

In the sentences below, the common nouns are in bold:

  • I want to go to the beach this weekend
  • Many people learn foreign languages to advance their careers.
  • Would you like a steak or fish for dinner?
  • Winters in the mountains can be very cold.

Proper Nouns

Proper nouns name or identify a unique or specific person, place, or thing. It is important to know the difference between a common and proper noun because proper nouns are always capitalized.

Example A. Compare these example sentences:

  1. They talked to the president about the problem.
  2. They talked to President Joe Biden about the problem.

In Sentence 1, the word “president” is used as a common noun, so it is written in lowercase.

In Sentence 2, the word “president” is part of the name of the president; it is his title, so it is used as a proper noun and is capitalized.

Example B. Compare these example sentences:

  1. I gave my son an apple.
  2. I gave my son an Apple computer.

In Sentence 3, the word “apple” is used as a common noun. It is just an apple, so you write it in lowercase.

In Sentence 4, the word “Apple” is used as a proper noun. It refers to the name of a specific brand of computers, so you must capitalize it.

Example C. Compare these example sentences:

  1. What is this beach called?
  2. It’s called Sandy Beach.

In Sentence 5, “beach” is a common noun, so it is not capitalized.

In Sentence 6, “Beach” is a proper noun; it is part the name of the beach (Sandy Beach), so it is capitalized (as well as “Sandy,” of course ).

Categories of Proper Nouns

Proper noun can be further categorized as names (or proper names), brands, appelations, and nouns of address (job titles and family relationships). Let’s look at definitions and examples of these.

Names of People, Places, Brands, Publications...

Proper names are always capitalized. This includes

  • people’s names;
  • names of places: France, New York City, the “Amazon River”;
  • brand names: McDonald’s, Honda, Sina Weibo, Microsoft, Instagram, Twitter; and
  • names of books, magazines, newspapers, and other publications: The New York Times, National Geographic, Harry Potter,
  • Good morning, Patrick.
  • I saw Mary Johnshon and her husband at the party.
  • Before he was elected president of the United States, Joe Biden was a senator from Delaware.
  • What are you reading, Maria? — I’m reading “The Lord of the Rings” by J. R. R. Tolkien.
  • I hear that the Rocky Mountains in Colorado are beautiful in the spring.

Appellations and Job Titles

Sometimes you add another words to a person’s name. This is called an appellation. You can also add a job title to the name or used it itself to refer to that person by his or her title only.

Appellations and job titles are also caplitalzed because they become part of the person’s name. See the examples below.

Appelations

  • Did you watch Queen Elizabeth’s speech on TV last night?
  • John the Baptist is a character in the Bible.
  • At the end of his speech, Senator Smith rushed out of the room and did not answer reporters’s questions.
  • The reporters asked President Biden difficult questions.

Job titles

  • How are you today, Dr. Gonzalez?
  • Good morning, Doctor!
  • Thank you for inviting me to meet with you, Mr. President.
  • I attended a lecture by Professor Franco this morning.

Other Nouns That Are Capitalized

Some nouns are always capitalized in English. There is “no good reason” for it; it is just a convention you must follow. You must always caplitalize the following:

  1. Days of the week: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.
  2. Names of months: January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November, and December.
  3. Languages: American, English, Dutch, Japanese, Mandarin, Portuguese, Vietnamese, and so on.
  4. Nationalities: a Frenchman, an American, an Australian, a Brazilian, and so on.
  5. Adjectives stemming from a person’s name (i.e., eponymous adjectives): the Alexandrian period (from Alexander the Great), Aristotelian logic (from Arisotles), a Hitchcokian story (from Alfred Hitchcock), a Reaganesque policy (from Ronald Reagan), and so on.
  6. Adjectives stemming from place names: for example, Australian beer, Brazilian food, Californian wine, and so on.

Notes

1. Although this lesson is about nouns, adjectives were added here (items 4–6) because they follow the same reasoning for capitalizatoin as the other items.

2. The rules for items 5 and 6 are not always straightfoward. For example, you capitalize “Platonic” (referring to Plato, the Greek philosopher) in “Platonic philosophy” but not in “platonic love.”

Examples

  • On Friday, September 1, 1939, the German army invaded Poland. Two days later, the British and French governments declared war on Germany, thus beginning World War II.
  • Note. “German,” “British,” and “French” are adjectives stemming from the proper names of the respective countries.

  • I study Portuguese on Mondays and Wednesdays and Russian on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
  • I learned Euclidean geometry in high school.
  • Thanks to Einsteinian physics, we have a much better understanding of the universe today.

Practice

Complete a short exercise to assess what you have learned.

Concrete and Abstract Nouns

Nouns can also be categorized into concrete and abstract nouns. See Concrete and Abstract Nouns for more information.

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