Author Topic: Are capitalized nouns always proper nouns?  (Read 124 times)

Offline DavidShan

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Are capitalized nouns always proper nouns?
« on: May 15, 2017, 04:59:52 AM »
Hello. I would like to ask if capitalized nouns are always proper nouns.

For example, in a long sentence like 'United Nations is a great establishment. People have stated in the Charter that peace is important. Member States are working together to achieve it.'

Obviously, United Nations is a proper noun. However I'm not sure if Charter and Member States are? I'm thinking there is no reason for them to be capitalized if they aren't proper noun?

At the same time, Charter and Member States are something that is made up by the organization. If they are proper nouns, does it mean if I say something like 'I'm the Leader of XXX Organization', 'Leader' would also be proper noun?

Just feeling very confused about it, would love to see what everyone thinks. Thanks!

Offline Daniel

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Re: Are capitalized nouns always proper nouns?
« Reply #1 on: May 15, 2017, 08:36:09 AM »
Capitalization is more a matter of style than language/linguistics per se. It is taught and follows instructed 'rules' (and stylistic variation) rather than any sort of innate grammatical properties. Not all languages have capitalization, and when they do they often use it differently.

Originally Greek and Latin were written in all capitals. Then lowercase came about through cursive, and the capitals remained in use for important words, and also as a stylistic way to start a page/paragraph. Eventually it became conventional to start a sentence with a capital letter. But other usage included capitalizing all nouns (as is still done in German, but you can find this in earlier English documents as well), capitalizing 'proper nouns' (and adjectives, etc.), as well as just capitalizing "important" words for emphasis.

What you are describing for modern English, setting aside the history and what may occur in other languages, fits in somewhere between just emphasis and 'proper nouns'. In a sense we could say that a proper noun is anything specific and contextually-specified beyond its literal meaning. So 'moon' and 'sun' can be a generic/common noun (e.g. 'satellite' and 'star' if you prefer), but 'Moon' and 'Sun' are proper nouns because they refer to specific named individuals. By capitalizing a word like "Charter", we could say that's a kind of "naming" and therefore making it a proper noun. Or we could just say it's emphatic, for no other reason than being emphatic.

The other way to look at this would be from a legal perspective, where proxy naming is used once terms are defined. So you might have a rental agreement like the following:

The Renter John Doe and The Landlord Someone Else agree that The Renter will pay $500 to The Landlord every month.

Since you're referring to something that is similar to a contract, and certainly a legally-relevant document, that might be what's going on in that case.


In short, sometimes words are 'erroneously' (stylistically?) capitalized just for emphasis. But sometimes when this happens (or perhaps for other intentions) it becomes like a proper noun because "Charter" is no longer interpreted literally but instead refers like a name to the specific document in question.

Of course all of these are unusual uses of punctuation, but again there are no real "rules" for it except what people are taught and decide to follow. It doesn't "mean" anything necessarily, except that it gives some sort of emphasis compared to the normal, uncapitalized form. So it's up to the writer and reader to work out what is intended (which may not always be clear).

Additionally, the term "proper noun" does not seem to have an absolute definition to me (it's easy to give clear examples of proper or common nouns, but there are some borderline cases), so usage may be fuzzy and, sure, why not, we can say "Charter" is a proper noun (or could argue it isn't).

All we can say for sure is:
1. Capitalization makes words stand out.
2. Sometimes the purpose is to use words like 'naming' rather than normal words.
3. There are some specific uses/traditions in legal writing.
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