Common versus Proper Nouns

In this lesson we'll look at Common versus Proper Nouns.

Learners often find the difference perplexing but understanding the difference between these two types of nouns is crucial for effective communication.

In this article, we'll explore these two types of noun, provide examples, and offer tips on how to recognise and use them correctly.

Common Nouns

Common nouns are everyday words that refer to general things, people, places, or ideas. They are not capitalised unless they appear at the beginning of a sentence. Common nouns help us classify objects and concepts into broad categories and they are usually used in combination with articles and other determiners.

Generic References

Common nouns are used to refer to general or unspecified entities. Note the use of articles or determiners (i.e. a, the, some).

  • I saw a dog in the park.
    (Referring to any dog, not a specific one). 

  • The city is bustling with activity.
    (Referring to any city in general)

  • There's some milk in the fridge.
    (referring to milk generally)


Common nouns can be pluralised by adding "s" or "es" to indicate more than one.

  • Dogs make great pets.
  • Many cities have public transportation systems.

More Examples

  • I think many people will come to the party
  • The television is quite loud.
  • It was a great book

Proper Nouns

Proper nouns are specific names of people, places, things, or entities. They are always capitalised, regardless of their position in a sentence. Proper nouns help identify unique individuals or unique instances of common nouns.

Specific Identification

Proper nouns are used to identify and specify particular entities:

  • Mary is my best friend. 
    (a person's name)

  • I visited New York City last summer. 
    (a specific place)


Always capitalise proper nouns, even in the middle of a sentence.

  • Harry Potter is a famous wizard. 
    (a character's name)

  • I love drinking Coca-Cola every day.
    (a brand name)

More examples

  • Jennifer is a talented pianist who has won numerous awards for her performances.

  • I'm planning a trip to Paris next summer to visit the Louvre Museum and see the Eiffel Tower up close.

  • Harry and Hermione, along with their friend Ron, embarked on a magical adventure at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

  • NASA's Perseverance rover recently made significant discoveries on Mars, including evidence of ancient life.

  • My favorite author is J.K. Rowling, who created the enchanting world of Harry Potter.

Nouns that are both Common and Proper Nouns

One intriguing aspect of nouns and something you'll have noticed from the examples above is that some can be both common and proper, depending on their usage.

This is best illustrated by looking at some examples.


  • Common Noun: I love to swim in the river. (Referring to any river)
  • Proper Noun: I visited the Mississippi River last summer. (Referring to a specific river)


  • Common Noun: I live on a quiet street. (Referring to any street)
  • Proper Noun: The party is at Elm Street. (Referring to a specific street)


  • Common Noun: Climbing a mountain is a challenging endeavour. (Referring to any mountain)
  • Proper Noun: I ascended Mount Everest last year. (Referring to a specific mountain)


  • Common Noun: The north is known for its cold winters. (Referring to the general direction of the north)
  • Proper Noun: I'm planning a trip to North Dakota. (Referring to a specific state, North Dakota, which contains "north" in its name)

Tips for Recognising Common & Proper Nouns

  1. Capitalisation: Proper nouns are always capitalised, while common nouns are not unless they start a sentence.

  2. Specific vs. General: Proper nouns refer to unique, specific entities, whereas common nouns refer to general categories or ideas.

  3. Articles and Determiners: Common nouns commonly come after articles (a, an, the) or determiners (e.g. some, any, one)

Common versus Proper Nouns: Summing Up

Understanding common versus proper nouns is a fundamental aspect of English grammar. By recognising their differences and following the rules of capitalisation, you can use these nouns effectively in your writing and speech.

Remember, common nouns encompass general ideas, while proper nouns specify unique individuals or entities. Practice identifying and using them correctly, and you'll be well on your way to mastering English nouns!

Test yourself in this common versus proper nouns quiz >>

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