What Are Common Nouns? Common and Proper Nouns in English

What are common nouns in English grammar? A noun is a part of the sentence that refers to a person, place or thing. A common noun specifies that person, place or thing without fully defining it and is not capitalized. Common nouns can refer to places, things and people all over the world. A proper noun defines the person, place or thing and is almost always capitalized.

What Are Common Nouns?

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Common nouns are the most basic and widely used type of nouns in English grammar. They are words that refer to general people, places, things, and ideas, rather than specific ones. Examples of common nouns include “cat,” “dog,” “house,” “city,” “book,” “idea,” and “friend.”

The first letter of a sentence is always capitalized, even if they are common nouns. If you’re planning a visit to a local dog park and want to invite a friend, you might email them that “Dogs are allowed to run free at the new park downtown.” While “dogs” is a common noun, it’s capitalized in the previous sentence because it’s the first word in the sentence.

Related: Types of Nouns

Common Nouns vs. Proper Nouns

Common Nouns

Common nouns are non-specific. The sentences below include only common nouns and can be compared to the proper nouns in the next section. Note that the first word in each sentence is capitalized.

  • I am going to a new city for my vacation next summer.
  • My family owns one cat and we just got a new dog.
  • I’m going to get a new car this fall.
  • The sunset over the sea was beautiful last night.
  • My favorite cuisine changes often.
  • Has anyone read any interesting authors lately?
  • My doctor recommended I walk more.

Proper Nouns

Common nouns are specific. Rather than a general city or sea, they designate a particular place. Rather than just the title of doctor, they assign a name. Proper nouns are capitalized.

  • I’m vacationing in Berlin next summer.
  • Our cat is named Molly and our new dog is Buster.
  • This fall I think I will buy a Volkswagen.
  • The sunset over the Atlantic was gorgeous last night.
  • Right now, I love French food but I also enjoy Chinese cuisine.
  • Have you read anything by Ken Ilgunas?
  • The rule is that Dr. Smith says I need to move more.

Names, including brand names and the names of individuals, are proper nouns. Titles, such as Dr., Mrs. or Mr. are also proper and should be capitalized. It’s also important to consider abbreviations. The title Dr. should never be used without the name of the doctor. If you’re just talking about your doctor, you need to spell it out completely.

Related: Proper Nouns

Brand Considerations

The manner in which companies brand their products can be a bit confusing. For example, if you’re talking about a touchscreen computer tablet or a smartphone, you don’t need to capitalize anything. If you’re talking about an iPad or an iPhone, you do. Because the Apple branding process includes a lower case letter at the beginning of these names, writers will need to use that spelling. However, if such a word is used at the beginning of a sentence, the first letter will need to be capitalized.


List of Common Nouns and Proper Nouns

Common Nouns Proper Nouns
dog Fido
book Harry Potter
city New York
dessert Chocolate Cake
phone iPhone
tree Oak
river Nile
country United States
house White House
university Harvard
bird Bald Eagle
mountain Mount Fuji
sport Football
flower Rose
planet Mars
fruit Mango
company Apple Inc.
movie The Godfather
animal Lion
food Sushi
beach Bondi Beach
color Indigo
language English
celebrity Beyoncé
car brand Lamborghini
mountain range Rocky Mountains
superhero Spider-Man
ocean Indian Ocean
musician Mozart
beverage Coca-Cola
vegetable Carrot
clothing Levi’s Jeans
dessert Cheesecake
city Paris
instrument Piano
book The Catcher in the Rye
social media Instagram
gemstone Diamond
singer Adele
body part Hand
profession Doctor
landmark Great Wall of China
bird Penguin
brand Nike
artist Leonardo da Vinci
car model Tesla Model S
composer Beethoven
movie Star Wars
fruit Apple
sport Basketball
gemstone Ruby
monument Statue of Liberty
car brand Porsche
insect Ladybug
actor Meryl Streep
clothing Levi’s Jeans
building Eiffel Tower
software Photoshop
holiday Lunar New Year
continent Asia
herb Basil

Types of Common Nouns

Common nouns play an essential role in the English language as they name or label general items, people, or ideas. There are three main types of common nouns: concrete nounsabstract nouns, and collective nouns. Each type has its unique characteristics, and understanding these distinctions can enhance one’s writing and communication skills.

Concrete nouns refer to tangible things that can be perceived by the senses. They describe objects, people, animals, or places that can be seen, heard, touched, tasted, or smelled. Some examples of concrete nouns include bookdogtree, and ocean. These nouns create vivid images in the reader’s mind, allowing for a better understanding of the subject being described.

Abstract nouns represent intangible ideas, concepts, or qualities that cannot be detected through the senses. They include emotions, feelings, states of mind, or concepts. Examples of abstract nouns are happinesslovefreedom, and knowledge. While they cannot be directly experienced, abstract nouns help convey complex ideas and emotions.

Collective nouns denote a group or collection of similar items, people, or animals. They function as a single unit when referring to the group as a whole. Some well-known collective nouns are teamflockbunch, and family. They are particularly useful when describing a general group rather than listing individual members or components.

When Common Nouns Gain Capitalization

Common nouns generally do not require capitalization, as they refer to general things, ideas, or people. However, there are instances when a common noun may gain capitalization, essentially taking on the properties of a proper noun. This occurs when the common noun represents a specific name or title. In such cases, capitalizing the common noun helps distinguish it from its usual generic use.

For example, consider the following situation:

  • I gave my mom a hug. (common noun usage, not capitalized)
  • Can I talk to you, Mom? (used as a specific title, capitalized)

In the second sentence, “Mom” is used as a name, which warrants capitalization. Similarly, titles like “President,” “Doctor,” and “Professor” gain capitalization when used as a specific title before a person’s name:

  • The doctor is running late. (common noun usage, not capitalized)
  • I have an appointment with Doctor Smith. (used as a title, capitalized)

Additionally, certain geographical terms may also be capitalized when they represent more specific or unique entities:

  • The western part of the country is drier. (directional, not capitalized)
  • We are traveling to Western Europe this summer. (a specific region, capitalized)

In summary, common nouns gain capitalization when they serve as specific names, titles, or identifiers. Proper use of capitalization in these situations helps to clarify the intended meaning, ensuring readers can easily distinguish between generic and specific usage.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between common and proper nouns?

Common nouns are used to refer to general categories of people, places, things, or ideas, whereas proper nouns are used to describe specific individuals, places, or organizations. Common nouns are not capitalized unless they appear at the beginning of a sentence, while proper nouns are always capitalized.

Can you provide examples of common nouns for people, places, and things?

Examples of common nouns for people include teacher, police officer, and cousin. For places, some examples are city, farm, and hospital. Common nouns for things can be as varied as chair, book, or tree. These nouns describe general categories and do not refer to any specific person, place, or thing.

How can common nouns be identified in a text?

To identify common nouns in a text, look for words that are not capitalized (unless they appear at the beginning of a sentence) and refer to general categories of people, places, or things. Common nouns are often used in conjunction with articles (a, an, the) and adjectives that provide additional information, such as color, size, or type.

What are some common noun rules and exceptions in English?

While common nouns follow relatively simple rules, such as being capitalized only when starting a sentence and not referring to specific entities, there are some special cases. One exception is when a common noun becomes part of a proper noun, as in the case of “United States.” Here, “states” is a common noun, but it is capitalized because it is part of a proper name. Additionally, certain terms like “earth” or “sun” can be treated as both common and proper nouns, depending on context. For example, “Earth” is treated as a proper noun when referring to the planet, but as a common noun when describing the ground or soil.

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