Common and Proper Nouns
Nouns fall into one of two broad categories: common nouns and proper nouns.
What is a common noun?
All nouns serve to name a person, place, or thing.
Those that identify general people, places, or things are called common nouns—they name that which is common among others.
- “He sat on the chair.”
- “I live in a city.”
- “We met some people.”
- “She went into politics.”
- “Our teacher is angry.”
- “Let’s go down to the lake.”
What is a proper noun?
Proper nouns, on the other hand, are used to identify a unique person, place, or thing. A proper noun names someone or something that is one of a kind, which is signified by the use of a capital letter, no matter where it appears in a sentence.
The most common proper nouns are names, as of people, places, or events. For example:
- “Go find Jeff and tell him dinner is ready.”
- “I lived in Cincinnati before I moved to New York.”
- “My parents still talk about how great Woodstock was in 1969.”
Proper nouns are also used for commercial brands. In this case, the object that’s being referred to is not unique in itself, but the brand it belongs to is. For example:
- “Pass me the Hellmann’s mayonnaise.”
- “I’ll have a Pepsi, please.”
- “My new MacBook is incredibly fast.”
When a person has additional words added to his or her name (known as an appellation), this becomes part of the proper noun and is also capitalized. (Some linguists distinguish these as proper names, rather than proper nouns.) For example:
- “Prince William is adored by many.”
- “Italy was invaded by Attila the Hun in 452.”
Job Titles and Familial Roles
Many times, a person may be referred to according to a professional title or familial role instead of by name. In this case, the title is being used as a noun of address and is considered a proper noun, even if it would be a common noun in other circumstances. For example:
- “How are you doing, Coach?”
- “I need your advice, Mr. President.”
- "Mom, can you come with me to the playground?”
- “Pleased to meet you, Doctor.”