What Is a Proper Noun? | Definition & Examples

Nouns and Pronouns updated on  January 10, 2024 4 min read
Proper nouns are capitalized nouns that name specific, identifiable people, places, things, and sometimes concepts (e.g., “Brian,” “London,” “Kleenex,” “the Middle Ages”).

Examples of proper nouns include first names and surnames, brand and organizational names, and regional names (e.g., cities, provinces, states, counties, countries). The titles of creative works, including visual art, literature, news publications, television shows, films, podcasts, and musical works, are also proper nouns.

Examples: Proper nouns
She reminisced on her childhood in Cape Town.
The Paris Review published an interview with my favorite author.
His role in The Producers was arguably Gene Wilder's funniest performance.
"One," released on the 1991 album Achtung Baby, is one of U2's most popular songs.

Proper nouns vs common nouns

Proper nouns are contrasted with common nouns.

  • Proper nouns are always capitalized and are used to identify a specific person, place, thing, or idea.
  • Common nouns refer to types of people, places, things, or ideas, and they are capitalized only at the beginning of a sentence.


Examples: Proper and common nouns
My sister wanted to see the Mona Lisa.
Smith resigned from his job at the Federal Archives.
Alma graduated from Princeton, before moving to the South and buying a house in her favorite city, New Orleans.

Articles with proper nouns

Most proper nouns don’t require articles (i.e., “a,” “an,” or “the”) or determiners (e.g., “her,” “this,” “every”). However, numerous proper nouns do require the definite article, “the.”

Proper nouns that require “the” are often the names of places, publications, or organizations (e.g., “the Danube,” “the State Department,” “the Washington Post”). In sentences that include such proper nouns, the article “the” is not capitalized.


Examples: Proper nouns with definite articles
The United Nations plays a crucial role in upholding the Geneva Conventions.
The Great Sphinx of Giza is located on the west bank of the Nile.

Some of the proper nouns that require “the” are always plural.

Examples: Pluralized proper nouns
We spent our holiday skiing in the Swiss Alps.
I found a photo of my great-grandmother dressed in the style of the Roaring Twenties.

In some cases, a proper noun can be used as a common noun, indicating that more than one person or thing shares the same name. The proper noun retains its capitalization but might be accompanied by verbiage typically used with common nouns (e.g., it may be pluralized or used with adjectives, articles, or determiners like a common noun would be).

Examples: Proper nouns treated as common nouns
She was excited to read another Poirot.
You’re such an Einstein.
In the 1930s, Shanghai was called the Paris of the East.
Shy Rebecca from high school grew up to be a lawyer.

Nouns that can be either proper or common

Common nouns representing familial roles (e.g., “mother,” “uncle”) become proper nouns when they are used in place of, or as part of, someone’s name.

When a noun is used in place of a person’s name, it is not preceded by an article, like “the,” or a determiner, like “every” or “our.” In such cases, nouns like “dad” and “grandpa” are capitalized.


Examples: Capitalization of familial roles
I miss Grandma the most at Thanksgiving.
Please tell Mom I said hello.

Titles and offices can also be used as proper nouns when they replace or act as part of someone’s name. This includes religious titles (e.g., “bishop,” “pope”), political offices (e.g., “representative,” “prime minister”), and job-related titles (e.g., “dean,” “professor”).

Examples: Capitalization of jobs and titles
Many rabbis, like Rabbi Hillel, have debated some of the finer points of the scripture.
We received an award from Dean Judy Philips.
Could you help me, Nurse Jones?

Although compass directions typically function as common nouns, they become proper nouns when they refer to a specific recognizable location (e.g., “the Pacific Northwest”) or carry an understood sociocultural meaning (e.g., “the West,” “the Global South”).

Examples: Capitalization of compass directions
The American Civil War pitted family members from the North and the South against each other.
Edward Said considered East and West to be defined more by power dynamics than by geography.
The Republic of South Sudan has been independent from Sudan for several years.

Proper adjectives

Proper adjectives are capitalized adjectives derived from proper nouns (e.g., “Scottish,” “Olympian”). A proper adjective can be derived from a geographic region (e.g., “Venetian”), a notable person (e.g., “Orwellian”), or a religious term (e.g., “Quranic”) among other categories.

Many adjectives derived from proper nouns are not capitalized. These include “quixotic,” “biblical,” “utopian,” and “arabesque.” The capitalization of these adjectives is best committed to memory, as they are based on usage conventions rather than a clearly defined rule.

Examples: Proper adjectives
The city had a Dickensian aura, with its smoke and grime.
Her mother spoke with a Catalan accent.
Their diplomacy efforts were influenced by Confucian ideals.

Do you want to know more about commas, parts of speech, email, or other language topics? Check out some of our other language articles full of examples and quizzes.


US vs UK

Rhetoric

Verbs

Honor or honour

Onomatopoeia

Participles

Practise or practice

Palindrome

Intransitive verbs

Color or colour

Anachronism

Simple past tense

Toward or towards

Portmanteau

Regular verbs

Behaviour or behavior

Paradox

Past progressive


Frequently asked questions about proper nouns

What’s the difference between common and proper nouns?

A common noun is not capitalized, as it names a category of person, place, thing, or concept. Common nouns often require articles (e.g., “a”) or determiners (e.g., “many,” “his”).

In contrast, a proper noun is capitalized and names a specific person, place, thing, or concept. Most common nouns don’t require an article, but some require “the” (e.g., “the Great Lakes”).

Is a name a proper noun?

People’s names are proper nouns. This includes first names (e.g., “Kyle,” “Sarai”), family names (e.g., “Klein,” “the Ruperts”), and titles that are part of an individual’s name (e.g., “Pope Francis,” “Professor Martinez”).

The names of many non-human entities are also proper nouns. This includes brands (e.g., “Coca-Cola,” “Microsoft”), organizations (e.g., “New York University,” “the World Health Organization”), religions (e.g., “Eastern Orthodoxy,” “Buddhism”), and holidays (e.g., “New Year’s Day,” “Mid-Autumn Festival”), among other things.

Is earth a proper noun?

The word “earth” is treated as a proper noun only when it refers to the celestial body (e.g., “The Earth is the third planet from the sun”).

“Earth” is typically treated as a common noun (i.e., lowercase) when it denotes the surface of the planet, the sum of its inhabitants, the realm of the living, or the dry land as opposed to water or sky.

☓ The earth has been nicknamed “the Blue Planet.”

✓ The Earth has been nicknamed “the Blue Planet.”

☓ You’re my favorite person on Earth.

✓ You’re my favorite person on earth.

Is summer a proper noun?

The word “summer” is a common noun. Like the other seasons (e.g., “fall”), it doesn’t require capitalization unless it is part of a proper noun (e.g., “the 1984 Summer Olympics”).

In contrast, the names of specific months (e.g., “December”) and days of the week (e.g., “Friday”) are proper nouns and require capitalization.

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Magedah Shabo

Magedah is an author, editor, and educator who has empowered thousands of students to become better writers.

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