A photograph of a giant can of Dr. Pepper in Dublin, Texas, home of the world’s oldest Dr. Pepper bottling plant.

P1000747, kendrak, Flickr

Many decisions about whether or not to capitalize words involve knowing the difference between proper and common nouns. Common nouns name a general person, place, or thing; however, proper nouns name a specific person, place, or thing.

Common nouns begin with lowercase letters (woman, city, soft drink), while proper nouns begin with capital letters (Norah, Dublin, Dr. Pepper). Common nouns can be singular or plural, while most proper nouns are singular. Another way to distinguish common from proper nouns is to look at the words before the noun. Common nouns are almost always preceded by articles and determiners, while proper nouns seldom are. This means you can write “that woman,” “our city,” or “my soft drink.”

On the other hand, Norah refers to a single girl, Dublin a single city, and Dr. Pepper a specific thirst quencher. Of course, English is a language of exceptions. Occasionally you need determiners with proper nouns. For example, there may be more than one Norah in the room (that Norah), more than one city by the same name (the [pronounced “thee”] Dublin in Texas), or more than one soda can on the counter (my Dr. Pepper).

The name your parents gave you at birth is a proper noun, as are a number of details about how you got your start. To tell your unique story, you need to use proper nouns. Capital letters are sprinkled throughout memoirs, personal narratives, and autobiographies. A story of a girl who grew up in a Texas town sounds humdrum. However, if a girl named Norah grew up in in a brick house close enough to the Dublin Bottling Works to smell the Dr. Pepper, you read details that help you envision a unique person.

take notes icon Proper nouns are the key to everyone’s story. As you review some of the kinds of proper nouns in the chart below, you can think about your own proper nouns. Use your notes to copy and paste the chart. Fill in the last column with information from your birth history. Also, don’t forget to add the capitalization rules to your Capitalization Checklist.

 Capitalization RuleA Proper ExampleYour Information
Name Proper names of individuals are capitalized. Eleanor Cassidy  
Parents Eileen and Joseph Cassidy  
Nickname Informal titles and common nicknames are usually capitalized. Norah  
Country Proper names of places are capitalized. The United States  
State (if born in the United States) Texas  
City Dublin  
Birthdate The months of the year are capitalized. January 2, 1997  
Day of birth The days of the week are capitalized. Tuesday