Proper nouns might sound fancy, but they’re really not that complicated to define or understand. As you might already know, a noun is a word used to describe a person, a place, or a thing. A proper noun is just a name given to a common noun to make it more specific.
If you’re still unsure what a noun is, or how it interacts with other words like verbs or adjectives, there are plenty of introductory English grammar courses like this one to help you study.
If you just need to know the definition of proper nouns, examples to help you understand, and an explanation of how they differ from common nouns, then read on!
Proper Nouns vs. Common Nouns
The definition of a proper noun relies on the understanding of common nouns. Common nouns are words that define certain types of people, places, things, and ideas. If you can see it, touch it, or feel it, there is most likely a common noun out there to describe it.
These are words like teacher, city, and happiness, which all fall into the categories person, place, or thing/idea. Common nouns are not capitalized unless they’re in a title, or the first word in a sentence.
Proper nouns differ from common nouns by being specific common nouns. If teacher is a common noun, then Ms. Wong or Mr. Baker are proper nouns. If city is a common noun, then Tokyo and San Francisco are proper nouns. These are the names given to specific common nouns, and because they are names, they need to be capitalized, always.
These are easy mistakes to make if you’re new to a language. Take a look at this overview of common grammar mistakes and how to avoid them for some additional help.
Proper Nouns Examples
To better explain proper nouns, examples have been listed below, along with related common nouns for contrast, and example sentences to illustrate proper usage. Proper nouns will appear in bold, with related common nouns appearing in italics.
Note how the capitalization works between proper and common nouns, with proper remaining capitalized and common remaining lowercase until it begins a sentence.
Consider taking an introductory to English course for more on the technical workings of the English language.
Toyota, Honda, Mercedes – car
- “I drive an old Toyota. It’s not a luxurious car, but it works.”
Coke, Pepsi, Mountain Dew – soda
- “You really shouldn’t drink so much Mountain Dew. All that soda is bad for your health.”
Iron Chef, Lost, House of Cards – show
- “Iron Chef is the only show I watch anymore.”
Tokyo, Chicago, San Francisco – city
- “I’ve always wanted to live in a big city like Chicago.”
iPhone, Android, Blackberry – smartphone
- “I finally decided to buy a smartphone, but I’m torn between iPhone and Android.”
Dell, Mac – computer
- “The computer lab only has Macs.”
Anna, Joe – person
- “I met Joe at a party, he’s not a very nice person.”
To Kill a Mockingbird, War and Peace, Animal Farm – book
- “To Kill a Mockingbird was my favorite book in high school.”
Pacific Ocean, Atlantic Ocean – ocean
- “The Pacific Ocean is the world’s biggest and oldest ocean.”
Pac-Man, Halo, Minecraft – game
- “Minecraft is the only game she ever plays nowadays.”
Professor Lee, Professor Wong, Professor Smith – professor
- “Was Professor Wong your professor for Econ 101?”
Mount Everest, Mount Fuji – mountain
- “Mount Everest is the tallest mountain on Earth.”
La-Z-Boy – recliner
- “He needs a new recliner, that old La-Z-Boy is going to fall apart.”
United States, Japan, Norway – country
- “I want to move to a new country, possibly Norway.”
Gamecube, PlayStation 4, Xbox One – video game console
- “Video game consoles are so expensive, but I really want to buy a PlayStation 4.”
Corona, Blue Moon, Pabst Blue Ribbon – beer
- “I bought them a six pack of Blue Moon, but they said they don’t drink beer.”
Trader Joe’s, Safeway, Whole Foods Market – grocery store
- “Could you go to the grocery store? There’s a Safeway down the street.”
Doritos, Lays, Ruffles – chips
- “I told him not to bring chips, but he brought a bag of Lays anyway.”
Google, Comcast, Samsung – company
- “Is Google one of the world’s richest companies?”
Jack Russel, German Shepherd, Labrador Retriever – dog
- “She has two dogs: a Jack Russel terrier and a German Shepherd.”
Snickers, Twix, Kit Kat – candy bar
- “Snickers is my least favorite candy bar.”
Mississippi, Amazon, Nile – river
- “The Nile is one of the world’s longest rivers.”