Parts of speech, such as verbs, adverbs, adjectives and nouns, can be tricky. Nouns have many different options in English vocabulary and syntax. Choosing which noun is the best noun for a specific sentence involves understanding differences between nouns, such as the difference between a proper noun and a common noun.


Nouns are parts of the English language describing a wide range of words. A noun is a person, a place or a thing. Nouns are divided into different categories to explain the function of the noun. A common noun is a person, place or thing with a common name, such as a building. Proper nouns are words belonging to a person, place or thing, such as the White House.


Proper nouns are always capitalized. Mr. George Washington is a proper noun. Common nouns follow standard sentence structure for capitalization rules. "Man" is a common noun capitalized to begin this sentence, but "man" is a common noun in lowercase because it is in the middle of the sentence.

Proper Use

Using proper and common nouns depends on placement in the sentence and the specific proper noun. For clarification of a topic, use a proper noun. In a repetitive paragraph, use common nouns. For example, "The United States Constitution is important to all Americans," uses the proper noun "Constitution." The next sentence in the same paragraph, "The document reveals American concepts," uses the common noun "document" because the proper noun identified the meaning of the common noun.


Choose a common noun or proper noun based on clarity of the whole document. If a common noun is overused, the reader may be lost; if a proper noun is overused, the document becomes repetitive. Read the document aloud and insert proper nouns where clarification is needed and common nouns where repetition needs to be eliminated.