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Common Nouns & Proper Nouns
What's the difference?

Free English Grammar Lessons Online

* What is a noun?
* Some basic definitions of nouns
* Proper nouns
* Common nouns
* Eponyms

Deciding whether or not a noun should have a capital letter or not can be confusing! But there are a few easy ways to remember how!

Try the corresponding common nouns and proper nouns Free Online Multiple Choice Test

* What is a noun?

The noun is the first of the eight parts of speech. Just for the record, here are all eight:

The noun is the first of the eight parts of speech.


Some basic definitions of nouns

Nouns name persons, places, things, or ideas.

  • Persons: Mr. Johnson, mother, woman, Maria
  • Places: city, home, Texas, Canada
  • Things: house, ring, shoe, table, desk, month, light
  • Ideas: grief, democracy, courage, obedience

Concrete nouns can be touched.

Concrete nouns can be touched.

Abstract nouns (like love, bitterness, or happiness) cannot be touched
but are, nonetheless, still nouns because they name entities.

Abstract nouns (like love, bitterness, or happiness) cannot be touched

Nouns can be used in different ways. They can be common or proper. They can be subjects of sentences, direct objects, predicate nominatives, objects of prepositions, or indirect objects. There are also nouns of address, objects of infinitives, and gerund nouns. Nouns, nouns, nouns… where do we begin?

* Proper nouns

Nouns can be proper or common

Nouns which begin with a capital letter are proper nouns. They have a specific name or title and refer to a particular person, place, thing, or idea. Common nouns do not begin with capital letters because they are less specific.

Here is a comparison:
Common nouns are words like country, language, mother, brother, teacher, pastor.

Those same nouns, converted into Proper nouns might be England, German, Mother Theresa, Sammy, Ms. Holstrom, Pastor Hill.

Proper nouns are nouns used for a specific person, place, organization, ideology or academic discipline.

PAPIO is a useful acronym to remember when considering whether something is a proper noun. Papio is also the scientific genus to which baboons belong, so it helps to picture a rather upper-class baboon, perhaps with a monocle and a pipe, if you wish to remember this little mnemonic device. It’s rather hard to imagine why you’d be thinking about an upper-class baboon for any other reason, as they’re rather unique creatures so it should provide a good reason to remember which nouns are proper!

PAPIO - proper nouns

Person: when used to identify a particular person.
Examples are: Shakira, George Washington

Academic discipline: when used to discuss a field of study.
Examples are: Philosophy, Physics, Mathematics. However, this may require some thought, because these words are also used when not discussing the academic discipline, in which case they do not take a capital letter.

Therefore: “I studied Philosophy at Berkeley” BUT “I do not agree with her philosophy of life.”
“I love my Calculus tutor” BUT “the cold calculus of human suffering.”

Place: When identifying a named place.
Examples are: Germany, Paris, Antarctica.
Interestingly, the rather useful American innovation of following the city with the country of origin, as in "Paris, France" is not widely practiced outside of the US. It should be.

Ideology: when used to identify a particular religion or school of thought.
Examples are: Marxism, Buddhism, Pacifism.

Organization: when used to identify a particular organization or group.
Examples are: United Nations, National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

* Common nouns

These nouns are used to denote a class of objects, people or ideas, rather than specific individuals, places, and so forth. They’re what most people think of when they think about nouns. So common nouns denote a class, while proper nouns denote a specific member of that class.















And so forth.

* Eponyms

These are common nouns or verbs which derive from a proper noun, but do NOT take a capital letter.


  • boycott (from Captain Charles Boycott)
  • ampere (French mathematician Andre-Marie Ampere)
  • jersey (from the island of Jersey)
  • braille (Louis Braille)
  • ohm (physicist George Ohm)
  • sandwich (from the Earl of Sandwich)
  • platonic (from the philosopher, Plato)

Six Great Dialogues: Apology, Crito, Phaedo, Phaedrus, Symposium, The Republic

Plato: Complete Works




Now you have done the lesson...

Try the corresponding common nouns and proper nouns Free Online Multiple Choice Test
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