Common and Proper Nouns

What is the difference between common and proper nouns?

What are nouns? What's the difference between common and proper nouns?


A noun is a part of speech that names some specific thing or set of things, such as living creatures, objects, places, actions, qualities, states of existence, or ideas. Grammatically, a noun can function as a subject of a clause, the object of a verb, or the object of a preposition. There are different classifications of nouns:

  • abstract nouns (e.g. freedom, love, courage...)
  • Concrete nouns (e.g. table, dog, house...)
  • Animate nouns (, elephant, chicken...)
  • Inanimate nouns (e.g. stone, wood, table...)
  • Collective nouns (e.g. family, flock, audience...)
  • Compound nouns (e.g. sister-in-law, schoolboy, fruit juice)
  • Countable nouns (e.g. friends, books, rooms...)
  • Uncountable nouns (e.g. water, bread, money...)
  • Common nouns (e.g table, book, window...)
  • Proper nouns (e.g. John, Joseph, London...)

This article will be concerned with the last two types of nouns: common and proper nouns.

Common and proper nouns

Common nouns

Common nouns name non-specific people (e.g. man, woman, girl...), places (e.g. city, ocean, country...), things (e.g. table, book, computer...), ideas (e.g. love, respect, envy...)


1. Common nouns may be preceded by an article (the or a) :

  • the city I like...
  • a woman...
  • the book over there.

2. Common nouns may be countable or uncountable:

  • Countable: cities, friends, boys...
  • Uncountable: love, hate, respect...

2. Common nouns are not capitalized unless they come at the beginning of a sentence.

Proper nouns

Proper nouns refer to specific people, places, or things.

  • John
  • Pacific Ocean
  • London
  • Mercedes


1. Proper nouns are capitalized (e.g. Leila, California, Mississippi...)

2. Proper nouns are normally invariant for number: most are singular but a few, referring for instance to a family, mountain ranges or groups of islands, are plural.

  • The Johnsons family
  • The Himalayas
  • The Hebrides.

3. Typically, English proper nouns are not preceded by an article (the or a) or other determiners (not, for instance, a John, the Kennedy).

4. English proper nouns are not also preceded by modifiers like many or much (not, many John ).

In a nutshell

Common nouns name nonspecific person, place, thing, or idea. Proper nouns are the names of specific people, places, things...

Common nouns Proper nouns
woman Nancy
city London
car Toyota
mountain Everest
writer Ernest Hemingway
restaurant Pizza Hut

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