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The Common Noun

Recognize a common noun when you find one.

Nouns name people, places, and things. Every noun can further be classified as common or proper. A common noun names general items.

Go into the kitchen. What do you find? Refrigerator, magnet, stove, window, coffee maker, wallpaper, spatula, sink, plate—all of these things are common nouns.

Leave the house. Where can you go? Mall, restaurant, school, post office, backyard, beach, pet store, supermarket, gas station—all of these places are common nouns.

Go to the mall. Who do you find? Teenager, grandmother, salesclerk, police officer, toddler, manager, window dresser, janitor, shoplifter—all of these people are common nouns.

The important thing to remember is that common nouns are general names. Thus, they are not capitalized unless they begin a sentence or are part of a title. Proper nouns, those that name specific, one-of-a-kind things, do require capitalization, no matter where they appear in the sentence.

Notice the difference in the chart below:

Common Nouns Proper Nouns
coffee shop
fire fighter
Big Mac
Hollywood Bowl
Captain Richard Orsini

Read these examples:

Although there are five other chairs in the living room, everyone in Jim's family fights to sit in the puffy new Roll-O-Rocker.

Chairs = common noun; Roll-O-Rocker = proper noun.

Harriet threw the stale cucumber sandwich in the trash can and fantasized about a Big Mac dripping with special sauce.

Sandwich = common noun; Big Mac = proper noun.

Because we like an attentive waiter, we always ask for Simon when we eat at Mama Rizzoli's Pizzeria.

Waiter = common noun; Simon = proper noun.

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