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Common Nouns vs. Proper Nouns: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Harlon Moss || Published on January 6, 2024
Common nouns are general names for people, places, or things (e.g., city, dog). Proper nouns are specific names of people, places, or things, always capitalized (e.g., New York, Rover).

Key Differences

Common nouns are general names for a class of people, places, or things, like 'river' or 'doctor', and are not capitalized unless starting a sentence. Proper nouns refer to specific names of people, places, or things, such as 'Amazon River' or 'Dr. Smith', and are always capitalized.
Common nouns represent a general category or class of entities, not specific ones. For instance, 'city' can refer to any city. Proper nouns, however, denote a unique entity, like 'London', identifying a specific city.
In a sentence, common nouns can be preceded by articles like 'a', 'an', or 'the', as in 'a car'. Proper nouns, on the other hand, typically stand alone without articles, for instance, 'Ford Mustang'.
Common nouns can be pluralized (e.g., 'dogs'), showing they can represent more than one entity in a category. Proper nouns are usually singular and represent a unique entity, like 'Mount Everest', and are not typically pluralized.
Common nouns can be modified by adjectives to specify them further, such as 'red apple'. Proper nouns are less frequently modified as they are already specific, like 'Harvard University', not 'old Harvard University'.

Comparison Chart


Not capitalized unless starting a sentence.
Always capitalized.


General, refer to a class or group.
Specific, refer to a unique entity.

Usage with Articles

Often used with articles ('a', 'the').
Typically used without articles.


Can be pluralized.
Usually singular, not commonly pluralized.


Often modified by adjectives.
Less frequently modified.

Common Nouns and Proper Nouns Definitions

Common Nouns

A term that refers to a general item or concept.
She read a book on history.

Proper Nouns

A unique identifier for an individual entity.
The Eiffel Tower is an iconic structure.

Common Nouns

A generic name for a person, place, or thing.
The park was full of people enjoying the sunshine.

Proper Nouns

A name that distinguishes a specific person, place, or object from others.
Microsoft is a leading technology company.

Common Nouns

A non-specific label for any member of a group or category.
Dogs are known for their loyalty.

Proper Nouns

A specific name for a particular person, place, or thing.
Alice visited Paris last summer.

Common Nouns

A word representing a broad category of entities.
Trees contribute significantly to our environment.

Proper Nouns

A noun that exclusively names a singular item or being.
Shakespeare's works are studied worldwide.

Common Nouns

A noun that is not unique to one particular thing.
There are many cities in Europe worth visiting.

Proper Nouns

A word that designates a particular, one-of-a-kind subject.
The Grand Canyon attracts millions of tourists annually.


Do proper nouns always need capitalization?

Yes, in all cases.

Can common nouns be plural?

Yes, like 'cars' or 'trees'.

Are proper nouns ever plural?

Rarely, and usually in special cases.

What distinguishes a common noun from a proper noun?

Common nouns are general, proper nouns are specific.

Are common nouns capitalized?

Only at the beginning of a sentence.

What is a common noun?

A name for a general type of person, place, or thing.

Do proper nouns require articles?

Typically, no, like 'Mount Everest'.

Can adjectives modify common nouns?

Yes, like 'tall building'.

Are proper nouns often modified by adjectives?

Less frequently, as they're already specific.

Can common nouns become proper nouns?

Yes, when they specify a unique entity.

Are proper nouns unique to a language?

They can be, but many are universally recognized.

Example of a proper noun?

'Amazon River', 'Mr. Jones', 'Apple Inc.'

Can a common noun be a person's title?

Yes, like 'president' or 'doctor'.

Can the same word be both a common and proper noun?

Yes, depending on context, like 'Apple' (fruit) vs 'Apple' (company).

Do common nouns use articles?

Commonly, like 'a dog' or 'the city'.

Example of a common noun?

'River', 'teacher', 'apple'.

Is a brand name a common or proper noun?

A proper noun, like 'Nike' or 'Coca-Cola'.

How do common nouns contribute to language?

They categorize and generalize entities.

Are geographic names common or proper nouns?

Proper nouns, like 'Africa' or 'Mississippi River'.

What is the role of proper nouns in language?

To uniquely identify and specify entities.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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