What is a proper noun?

A proper noun refers to a specific person, place, or thing. Because they denote the exact name of a particular noun, they are always capitalized no matter where they fall within a sentence.

What is a proper noun

Table of Contents

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  1. Definition
  2. Grammar rules
  3. Proper vs. Common nouns
  4. Examples

Grammar rules for proper nouns

There are several specific grammar rules for proper nouns that relate to capitalization, use of articles, directions, relationships, dates, and job titles.

Capitalization

  • People – A person's first, middle, and last name are considered proper nouns (or proper names) and should be capitalized. Nicknames and pet names are also proper nouns and should be capitalized.
  • Places – Specific names of locations (township, city, state, country, continent, etc.) and bodies of water (Lake Erie, Nile River, Pacific Ocean) are proper nouns. In some cases, a specific residence can function as a proper noun, such as the White House and Buckingham Palace.
  • Things – Common things that are proper nouns include company names, historical monuments, and brand names.

Only the important words are capitalized when a proper noun includes a preposition or conjunction. For example:

Fatima moved to the United States of America from Trinidad and Tobago.

Articles

The articles "a," "an," and "the" do not typically precede proper nouns.

"The" is the exception to this rule because it can precede the name of a country if that name includes "States," "Kingdom," "Republic," etc., and rivers, seas, and oceans.

“The” should not have a capital letter unless it is the first word of a sentence.

Proper noun grammar rules articles

Directions

Directions such as north, south, east, and west are only written as proper nouns if used within the name of a place.

  • Proper noun: We have family living in South America.
  • Common noun: We have family members who live in the south.

Proper noun grammar rules directions

Relationships

Words indicating a family member (mom, dad, grandma, etc.) should have an initial capital letter only if the word is used the same way as an actual name. Otherwise, it should have lowercase letters.

  • Proper noun: Can you please ask Dad what time we are leaving today?
  • Common noun: His dad decided to leave early today.

If a family title precedes a name, it is a proper noun. Examples are Aunt Vicky and Uncle Ron.

Proper noun grammar rules relationships

Dates

Days of the week and months of the year are proper nouns; however, seasons are not. For example:

Seasons should only be capitalized if used as part of a specific name:

Matt and Penelope organized the Spring Fling.

Proper noun grammar rules dates

Job titles

Job titles are not considered proper nouns. However, they should be capitalized if they precede a person's name.

  • President George Washington
  • George Washington was the president.

Proper noun grammar rules job titles

Proper noun vs. common noun

Common nouns reference general people, places, and things, whereas proper nouns are specific and exact. Due to their generic nature, common nouns are not capitalized in English.

Proper vs. common nouns
Proper noun Common noun
Person Abraham Lincoln president
Place New York City city
Thing Kleenex tissues

Proper nouns vs. common nouns

Proper noun examples

The following sentences incorporate examples of proper nouns:

People

  • Leonardo da Vinci created some of the art world's most famous paintings.
  • Steve couldn’t believe Ronald Reagan was an actor before becoming president.
  • Michael J. Fox is well known for his role in Back to the Future.

Places

  • Nick has always wanted to visit the museums in Rome.
  • Lydia took a tour of the White House last summer.
  • Which river is longer, the Nile or the Amazon?

Things

  • The Declaration of Independence is one of America's most important documents.
  • Mike prefers the original Star Wars movies over the prequels.
  • Tina enjoys Snickers more than any other type of candy.

What you learned:

After working your way through this lesson and video, you have learned:

  • What proper nouns are
  • Grammar rules for how to use proper nouns
  • The differnce between proper and common nouns
  • Examples of proper nouns for people, places, and things
Instructor: Malcolm M.
Malcolm has a Master's Degree in education and holds four teaching certificates. He has been a public school teacher for 27 years, including 15 years as a mathematics teacher.

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