A noun is a person, place, or thing. A common noun is a generic name, while a proper noun is the specific name of a specific person, place, or thing.
Proper nouns should always be capitalized, no matter where they occur in a sentence. Because they serve as a specific name for the object, they are also known as proper names.
Below are several examples of possible proper nouns for a generic common noun:
Common Noun: woman
Proper Nouns: Jane Austen, Katherine, Melissa, Miss May
Common Noun: book
Proper Nouns: The Secret Garden, The Once and Future King, Chronicles of Narnia
Common Noun: city
Proper Nouns: New York City, Salt Lake City, Seoul
Basic Rules for Identifying Proper Nouns
In spoken language, it may be necessary to identify proper nouns. But in writing, you will have to know which words are proper nouns so you can capitalize them. The following rules should help you identify proper nouns:
1. Names and titles of people
First, middle, and last names, nicknames, and titles or honorific for a person are all considered proper nouns and should be capitalized.
Correct: James Kent Smith
Incorrect: James kent Smith
Correct: Mr. Jones
Incorrect: mr. Jones
Correct: Dr. John Dolittle
Incorrect: dr. John Dolittle
2. Names of cities
If “city” is part of its name, it’s also part of the proper noun.
Correct: New York City
Incorrect: New York city
Correct: I went to the city of Tokyo, Japan.
Incorrect: I went to the City of Tokyo, Japan.
Correct: Bangkok is a very busy city.
Incorrect: Bangkok is a very busy City.
3. County names
If “County” is part of its name, it’s also part of the proper noun and should be capitalized.
- Washington County
- Lincoln County
- Madison County
4. Country names
Country names are proper nouns, but if the name comes with “the,” keep it in lowercase.
- the Philippines
- the Bahamas
- the Maldives
5. Names we call family members
Nicknames of family members are proper nouns if they are used in direct address, or to refer to the specific person.
Correct: Ugh, Mom is always after me to get home by dinner time. I bet your mom doesn’t do that.
Incorrect: Ugh, my Mom is always after me to get home by dinner time. I bet your Mom doesn’t do that.
Correct: Hey, Mom, do we have any cookies left?
Incorrect: Hey, mom, do we have any cookies left?
Directions are not proper nouns unless they are part of the proper name of a place or region.
Correct: Are you from the West Coast?
Incorrect: Are you from the west Coast?
Correct: Drive 50 kilometers west all the way to the coastal area.
Incorrect: Drive 50 kilometers West all the way to the coastal area.
Season names are not proper nouns unless they are part of a proper name of an event or item.
Correct: Are you joining the Summer Silly Hats Contest?
Incorrect: Are you joining the summer Silly Hats Contest?
Correct: He’s flying back to the mission field come autumn.
Incorrect: He’s flying back to the mission field come Autumn.
Correct: Have you done your spring cleaning* yet?
Incorrect: Have you done your Spring Cleaning yet?
*Spring cleaning is not a proper name of an event.
8. Job titles
Job titles and other titles are proper nouns only if they are part of naming a person, not a job position.
Correct: Melissa is scheduled for an orientation with Creative Director Joe Lymington.
Incorrect: Melissa is scheduled for an orientation with creative director Joe Lymington.
Correct: Melissa is scheduled for an orientation with the creative director, Joe Lymington.
Incorrect: Melissa is scheduled for an orientation with the Creative Director, Joe Lymington.
9. Brand names
Brand names are proper nouns and should be capitalized.
- Dunkin’ Donuts
10. Works of art
Book, poem, play, and movie titles are proper nouns.
- Gone With the Wind
- The Lord of the Rings
- Shakespeare In Love
General names of sports, fruits, or similar items are not proper nouns, and only become proper nouns if they are part of a proper name, such as a league or company name.
- basketball, National Basketball Association
- banana, Banana Leaf Singaporean Restaurant
- football, National Football League
Proper Nouns Quiz
Test your understanding of proper nouns with this free PDF quiz. On a separate document or sheet of paper, copy all the proper nouns from the following sentences. Then write what common noun they represent. If there is no proper noun, write “no proper nouns.”
- The Kansas City Chiefs won their first game in years.
- Marguerite Henry wrote a biography of Robert Fulton, the inventor known for making steamboat transportation a mainstay in United States history.
- Have you met Fin, my mom’s new shih tzu?
- Everyone on the team has a new MacBook Air.
- Her volleyball team won the championships during the spring and summer seasons.
- She booked flights to Japan, China, and Singapore, but everything got cancelled.
- The children in Mrs. Fritz’s class love it when they have Cheerios in their lunch boxes.
- Mr. Kirk’s library has an extensive collection of classic books.
- Welcome to Extreme, the team that will help you grow your business!
- How many Zoom meetings do you normally do per week?
- He spent several years as a salesman with UBX Corporation selling photocopiers.
- Her wish list includes an iPhone, a Samsung Galaxy, or any other high-end smartphone.
- Her favorite books are The Secret Garden, Anne of Green Gables, and Little Women.
- His garden has several papaya trees, tomato plants, and lettuces.
- The boys learned to play pickleball from a young age.
- Kansas City Chiefs – football or sports team
- Marguerite Henry – author or writer; Robert Fulton – inventor
- Fin – shih tzu or dog
- MacBook Air – laptop
- no proper nouns
- Japan, China, Singapore – countries
- Mrs. Fritz – teacher; Cheerios – cereal brand
- Mr. Kirk – man
- Extreme – team
- Zoom – computer app
- UBX Corporation – company
- iPhone, Samsung Galaxy – smartphone
- The Secret Garden, Anne of Green Gables, Little Women – books
- no proper nouns
- no proper nouns
Can You Use Proper Nouns in Scrabble?
One place where proper nouns won’t do you much good is in the classic game of Scrabble. However, a spinoff game, Scrabble Trickster, includes squares on which a player can draw a card, which will allow them the options to to take a tile off of an opponent’s rack, play a word backward, or play a proper noun.
Learning to Use Proper Nouns
The easiest way to determine if something is a proper noun is to check if it refers to one specific person, place, or thing. If it refers to more than one, usually it is a common noun.
If you want to continue improving your grasp of the English language, be sure to check out the different parts of speech as well.
Did you find this post helpful? Let us know in the comments below!
If you enjoyed this post, then you might also like:
- Intensive Pronouns: How to Use Them to Add Emphasis in Your Writing
- Concrete vs. Abstract Nouns: What’s the Difference?
- Personal Pronouns: Uses, Charts, and Examples
- How to Use Coordinating Conjunctions: Rules and Examples
Yen Cabag is the Blog Writer of TCK Publishing. She is also a homeschooling mom, family coach, and speaker for the Charlotte Mason method, an educational philosophy that places great emphasis on classic literature and the masterpieces in art and music. She has also written several books, both fiction and nonfiction. Her passion is to see the next generation of children become lovers of reading and learning in the midst of short attention spans.