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What is a Proper Noun? - Examples & Definition

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  • 0:01 Definition of Proper Nouns
  • 0:57 Examples of Proper Nouns
  • 4:07 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Patricia Vineski
In this lesson, you'll learn what a proper noun is, how to tell a proper noun from a common noun, and how to make your writing clearer and more interesting. Take a look at some examples, and then test your knowledge with a quiz.

Definition of Proper Nouns

We all have names. Whether you are a Patricia, a Jonathan, a Dustin, or a Mary, you go by some type of name. Because our names refer specifically to us, they are proper nouns. We also have specific places where we like to shop or have fun. You might like to shop at Walmart or Whole Foods Market or have fun at Jake's Skateboard Park or Yellowstone National Park. Because these names refer to specific places, they, too, are proper nouns.

Even the names of the sneakers we wear, and the pain relievers we buy, because they refer to a specific brand name - Nike, Reebok, Bayer, or Tylenol - are all proper nouns. So are the names of states, streets, rivers, oceans, countries, companies, institutions, churches, and the titles that come before a person's name that refer to a specific rank held within an organization.

A proper noun names a specific person, place, or thing and is always capitalized.

Examples of Proper Nouns

One of the easiest ways to understand proper nouns is to compare them with common nouns. While a common noun refers to the general names of people, places, and things, a proper noun refers to the specific names of people, places, and things.

For example, examine the following sentence: 'Every man was dressed in uniform, but James was by far the most dashing.' The noun 'man' refers generally to any and every man and is therefore a common noun. The noun 'James' refers to a specific man and is a proper noun.

While a common noun is not capitalized, proper nouns are always capitalized. For example, look at the following sentence: 'When we go to our favorite restaurant, Applebee's, we always ask for Betty, our favorite waitress.' In this sentence, 'restaurant' and 'waitress' refer generally to any and every restaurant or any and every waitress. This means they are common nouns and are not capitalized. But, because 'Applebee's' and 'Betty' refer to a specific restaurant and a specific waitress, they are proper nouns and are always capitalized.

The names of states and cities are proper nouns. For example, in the sentence, 'I was born in Danville, Virginia,' the name of the city and the state are proper nouns because they refer to a specific city, 'Danville,' and a specific state, 'Virginia.'

The names of rivers and lakes are proper nouns. For example, in the sentence, 'We swam in Lake Tahoe and rafted down the Colorado River on our vacation this year,' the name of the lake and the river are proper nouns because they refer to a specific lake, 'Lake Tahoe,' and a specific river, the 'Colorado River.'

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