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  • Kat Taylor

Making sense of capitalisation: week 4 - capitalising common nouns


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A common noun is the generic name for a person, place or thing in a class or group. For example, boy, city and cat are common nouns, whereas James, Sheffield and Felix are the proper nouns that name the specific person, place or thing.


A common noun is not capitalised unless it begins a sentence or appears in a title, unlike proper nouns which are always capitalised.


It's usually fairly obvious if a specific person, place or thing is being named, yet, many writers wrongly capitalise common nouns. Understanding the difference between a common noun and a proper noun will help you know when to capitalise and when not to.


So, time for a quick quiz! Can you tell which of these examples are common nouns and which are proper nouns?


1) Never stroke a tiger, it will eat you for breakfast.


2) "The name's Tigger! T-I-double-guh-ER!"


3) Who was the first president of the United States?


4) A girl came to see you earlier.


5) I'm learning to fly an aeroplane.


6) I'm learning to fly a Spitfire.


Here's a clue: the common nouns are NOT capitalised.


Example number 3 is a good one because the word president could be a common noun or a proper noun, depending on whether it is naming a specific president.


"According to a recent survey, President Abraham Lincoln is the highest ranking US president of all time."


In this example, president is used as both a common noun and a proper noun. Can you tell the difference? It is first used as a proper noun (where it refers to a specific person), and later it is used as a common noun (where it refers to a non-specific person).



I hope this article has made things clearer for you. If you are still feeling baffled, consider having your writing proofread by a professional like me.


 

Also in this series...

Over the coming weeks, we'll discuss all you need to know about capitalisation.


Week 1: the three case systems

Week 2: the rules of capitalisation

Week 3: capitalising proper nouns

Week 4: capitalising common nouns

Week 5: academic texts (headings, bullets, lists and quotations)

Week 6: common mistakes



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Photo by Zhen Hu on Unsplash

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