Proper Nouns

When you think about it, nouns, along with verbs, form the basic structure of the English language. After all, a noun is a naming word. It’s used to identify, or name, a person, place, thing, animal, or idea. When small children are learning to talk usually the first words they learn are nouns, like “mama” or “daddy.”

Nouns, and proper nouns as well, have many different functions in a sentence. They can act as a subject, an adjective, an adverb, as a direct or indirect object, an appositive, or a subject or object complement. In addition to different functions, there are different types of nouns, too. This article will concentrate on one particular type, namely proper nouns.

What are Proper Nouns?

While a noun names a person, place, thing, or idea a proper noun gets more specific. It gives us the actual name of the person, place, thing, or idea.  The actual names of people are proper nouns. So are the names of states, streets, rivers, oceans, countries, companies, institutions, churches, and more.  You can see more specific examples below.

Examples of Proper Nouns

One of the easiest ways to fully grasp the meaning of proper nouns is to compare them with common nouns.  A common noun refers to the general names of things.  Look around you and name the items you see.  A desk, a chair, a lamp, a window, a door.

When you go shopping, who do you see?  A man, a child, a salesperson, an attendant, a toddler, a policeman.  These are all general, common nouns.  Now lets compare common nouns to proper nouns.

Common Noun/Proper Noun

  • man/James
  • woman/Julie
  • state/California
  • company/IBM, General Motors
  • store/Neiman Marcus
  • restaurant/Applebee’s
  • mountains/Mckinley
  • countries/Ireland, France, America
  • waitress/Betty
  • chair/La-Z-Boy
  • soldier/Lieutenant Mark Davis
  • river/the Mississippi River
  • institution/University of Georgia

Here are some example sentences to further show the difference.

Every man was dressed in uniform but James was by far the most dashing.
Man = common noun; James = proper noun.
We loved every state on the western coast but California was my favorite.
State = common noun; California = proper noun.
Lieutenant Mark Davis is a soldier in the United States Army.
Soldier = common noun; Lieutenant Mark Davis = proper noun.
When we go to our favorite restaurant, Applebee’s, we always ask for Betty, our favorite waitress.
Restaurant, waitress = common noun; Applebee’s, Betty = proper noun.

 Capitalizing Proper Nouns

The rules for capitalizing proper nouns are pretty simple. Proper nouns always begin with a capital letter.

However there are times when a word can be used as either a common noun or proper noun and you might get confused as to when you should use the capitalized form. For example, “father” can either be common or proper.

One rule for thumb is that if you are using the word as a title and name it should be capitalized.

“Would you like to have dinner with me, Father?”

See the difference? In the first example the word was used more generally as a common noun. In the second example, the word was used like a name. In this instance the term “father” took the place of the actual name, such as “Bob.”

To make things a little clearer for you, here is a list of proper nouns categories.

  • Holidays: Christmas, New Year’s Day, Hanukkah, Thanksgiving
  • Geographical areas: San Francisco, Europe, Spain, the Nile River
  • People and pets: Mrs. Caroline Jones, Rip Van Winkle, Snoopy
  • Books, Newspapers, Magazines: Wuthering Heights, Atlanta Journal, Southern Living
  • Companies and organizations: Google, ChildFund International, General Electric
  • Religious terms: Christian, Methodist, Hindu, God, Allah
  • Places, buildings: Yellowstone National Park, Empire State Building, Ritz-Carlton
  • Titles: President Bush, King George, Queen Elizabeth, Judge Judy (titles are not capitalized when they’re referred to in general terms.  For example: The criminal appeared before the judge.
  • Languages: English, French, Italian
  • Brand names: Coach, Pepsi, Lucky
  • Possessive Proper Nouns

Creating the possessive form of a proper noun follows the same rule as the possessive of a common noun.  Add ‘s if the word is singular or if the word ends in s just the apostrophe. Plural nouns that end in s get an apostrophe at the end.

  • Mary’s coat
  • United States’ health care program
  • Georgia’s swampland
  • Kansas’ prairie lands

Proper names that end in s are made possessive by adding ‘s:  Charles’s house.  It’s also correct to just add the apostrophe, such as with Jesus’ mother.