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Proper Noun

Term Definition
Proper Noun

A proper noun is a name used for an individual person, place, or organization, and spelled with initial capital letters. Learn more about other nouns.

Identifying a specific noun

A proper noun is a noun that refers to one specific object within a set of objects. The first letter of a proper noun is always capitalized, no matter where it is in the sentence. Every specific name of a person, place, organization, or other object is always a proper noun. 

For example, the term valley would not be capitalized, because it refers to a class of objects. On the other hand, the term Death Valley would be capitalized, because it is a proper noun.  

Learning when to use proper nouns

Here is an example, now, of the proper noun being used correctly within the context of a sentence. 

"The family thought about going to Olive Garden for dinner, but the mother insisted that no one was really in the mood for Italian food."

In this sentence, Olive Garden is a correctly formed proper noun. 

Now, please take a look at this example of the incorrect use of the proper noun. 

"The man was going to california in order to see his Girlfriend, but he was experiencing a long delay at the airport due to bad weather."

In this sentence, California is a proper noun, whereas girlfriend is not.

In case you are still a little confused about the nature of the proper noun, here are a couple rules that may be able to help you out. 

  1. The proper noun always refers to a specific object, and it is always capitalized. The proper noun can be conceptually differentiated from the common noun, which is not capitalized and which refers more generically to a kind of object than to one specific object. 
  2. Certain common nouns could potentially become a proper noun within the context of a given subculture or social group. For example, a group of friends may be justified in calling their hangout spot simply by the proper noun the Restaurant, if they are talking about one specific restaurant where they always spend time.  

Language relies on proper nouns

The proper noun serves the invaluable function of identifying one specific person, place, or thing in a direct and effective way. For example, every person has an individual name, and that name is a proper noun. The same is true with cities, organizations, and many geographical features.

A common noun can only do this within a specific appropriate context: for example, if one lived in the suburbs of Chicago, then the common noun "city" could presumably be used to refer to Chicago, since people would generally understand what is meant. The actual proper noun Chicago, though, can be used to specifically identify the city anywhere, independent from context. 

Sometimes, for poetic purposes, objects that would otherwise be represented by a common noun are represented by a proper noun. This is generally done in order to signify importance or deep attention—as though the as far as the poet were concerned, there could only be the one concrete object, and no such thing as a broader class of objects.

For example, when a poet seems a bird, he may call it by the proper noun Bird, because within the context of the poem, this would be the only bird there was. This is related to the way in which within certain contexts, a common noun can become a proper noun (the city can become the City), if it is the only example of its kind of object within the vicinity.  

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Synonyms: proper-noun

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