Making sense of capitalisation: week 3 - capitalising proper nouns
Updated: Apr 8, 2020
Let me begin by explaining what a proper noun is, for those who aren't sure.
Simply, a proper noun is the specific name of a person, place, institution, day of the week, month of the year, company, etc. A few examples of proper nouns are:
Kat Taylor (my name)
Sheffield (a place)
The University of Sheffield (an institution)
Proper nouns are always capitalised.
Where it gets confusing is when a proper noun could also just be a noun.
A good example of this, and one that catches lots of people out is 'mum'. Mum (or dad, auntie, uncle, etc) is only a proper noun (and, therefore, capitalised) when you are using the word mum to replace your mum's actual name. The dialogue below demonstrates:
Rosie: "Can you come out to play?"
Michael: "I don't know, I'll go and ask Mum."
In this example mum is capitalised because Michael is using the word mum as his mum's name, instead of Susan. In the following example, Rosie uses the word mum as her mum's position in the family.
Rosie: "Can my mum borrow a cup of sugar?"
Michael: "I'll just go and check if we've got any."
Similarly, job titles catch a lot of people out. For example prime minister, doctor, king, etc. For example:
"Call Doctor Smith right away." Here, the word doctor is being used to name a specific doctor, and so it should be capitalised.
"Somebody call a doctor!" In this sentence the speaker is asking for any old doctor, so it should not be capitalised.
"The king will have you hung drawn and quartered!" Again, the speaker is not naming a specific king so there is no need to capitalise.
"All stand for King Arthur!" In this example the speaker names a specific king, so we need a capital letter.
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 5: academic texts (headings, bullets, lists and quotations)
Week 6: common mistakes