31

What is the cover of the head of a pen called in English?

In my native language it is simply called a cover.

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  • 6
    Cap is the one I have heard; another one is lid. – Aman Rajliwal Jun 12 '17 at 12:20
  • 13
    I'm British English, and I would never call it a 'lid'. It's a cap. – Strawberry Jun 12 '17 at 16:14
  • 7
    I've generally called it a "cap". – Hot Licks Jun 12 '17 at 19:33
  • Has anyone heard "cork"? – Vikram Jun 14 '17 at 6:57
  • 3
    I'm British English, and I would never call it a 'cap'. It's a lid. – Paul Suart Jun 14 '17 at 9:33
67

It is called

a pen cap
Do you know where the cap for this pen is?

is an often heard question for small children after they've been drawing.

  • 21
    I'm an American, and I would definitely call it a cap (as you suggest), not a lid or a top. – Tanner Swett Jun 12 '17 at 11:28
  • 4
    What eloquent and articulate small children you know! – KRyan Jun 12 '17 at 13:59
  • 1
    The apple falls not far from the tree (their Mom)... – Peter Jun 12 '17 at 14:44
  • 5
    As an American, I would go with "cap" (most likely) or "cover" (less likely but still plausible). A "lid" generally covers an opening (and thus is usually more or less flat) like a lid to a pot; a manhole cover could technically be a "lid" too. "Top" might work, but is somewhat ambiguous (consider "pencil topper", which is either a decorative or functional thing attached to the eraser end of a pencil -- which would be the opposite of a pen cap that covers the writing side). – Doktor J Jun 12 '17 at 17:24
  • 1
    Isn't that a question asked by an adult, to a child? That's how I read "question for small children" (and it's by far the more common experience in my house than the other way around). Though it wouldn't surprise me at all if Peter's children are eloquent and articulate! – 1006a Jun 13 '17 at 20:37
32

There are a few different names for it, which vary in preference depending on your locale. I've heard pen cap and pen lid, and while doing some further research on this question top seems to be a word used as well.

For the most part they can be used interchangeably, though some people will insist lid is incorrect. Lid is the natural word for me, so your mileage may vary.

  • 26
    I have never heard it called a pen lid - as an American English speaker, it's always pen cap for me. – Nuclear Wang Jun 12 '17 at 12:49
  • 6
    In British English, cap was used by my parents, but nowadays I hear lid – Greenonline Jun 12 '17 at 13:49
  • 4
    @Greenonline I've never heard "lid" in British English (native speaker, late 30s). – David Richerby Jun 12 '17 at 19:34
  • 2
    For context, I am an Australian English speaker. I don't think I've ever even heard someone in person refer to it as a cap. Not saying that's indicative of all Australian English speakers. – Cantalouping Jun 13 '17 at 2:33
  • 5
    American. I have only heard it called "cap", and the idea that anyone anywhere would call it a "lid" confuses and terrifies me. – Nick Matteo Jun 13 '17 at 16:59
16

In England, pen lid tends to be preferred, with pen cap also being used. This may be subject to regional or age difference though (Britain has a very high level of regional difference).

Pen top would be least common. It would possibly be used to indicate the top end of a pen distinct from its bottom, but very unlikely to be used to refer to the lid itself.

  • 3
    @Jules Firstly ngrams are not always acurate, secondly you don't know the exact contexts (that search could be firing in cases where the context may be referring to the opposite end of the pen or to the top of the pen as a whole rather than to its lid) and lastly ngrams only reflect a subset of written English, not all written English and not spoken English. – Pharap Jun 12 '17 at 10:26
  • 10
    My (born and bred in the UK) experience would rank "cap" most common, followed by "top". "Lid" would be least common. Without obvious context, if hearing the word "lid" I would tend to think of something flatter: the lid of a pan/jar/pot of paint etc. – TripeHound Jun 12 '17 at 10:59
  • 2
    In my experience (also born and bred UK), "lid" on it's own is unlikely, but "pen lid" is the most common term. I think the bold in the answer is slightly misleading, since both parts are necessary. Next most common (again, in my experience) would be "cap", which works better on its own. – Guy G Jun 12 '17 at 11:11
  • 3
    Born and bred UK here - "pen lid" would be what I'd use, and hear the most. "Lid" and "cap" would be followed, but rarely "top". – Tom Jun 12 '17 at 11:30
  • 2
    A search for "pen lid" leads to plenty of results, including from a UK national newspaper. Personally I'd say lid (I'm from northeast England). – Tom Fenech Jun 13 '17 at 12:07
14

I would call this a cap in American English.

In American English a lid is often thought of as a flat item that covers something. It often snaps or holds in place somehow. For instance, the floppy plastic cover on top of a can of peanuts would be a lid.

A cap has similar purpose to a lid, but it is slightly different in that a cap will typically completely encompass the object that it is covering, whereas a lid usually rests on top.

Webster's defines a cap this way:

Something that serves as a cover or protection especially for a tip, knob, or end

Source

  • +1 for explaining lid's suggestion of flatness and resting on top (at least in AmE), and the "encompassing" of cap. These are the kinds of subtleties of meaning that people usually don't think to tell you and can't be found by counting word frequencies. – Ben Kovitz Jun 15 '17 at 14:50
2

Pen top is also used by native speakers. As in:

Where is the top of this pen?

and

Have you seen my pen top?

I've used it on two continents and no one has indicated my dialect usage is not natural.

  • 2
    I'm not sure I would even agree on which end of a pen is the “top” or “bottom”. – JDługosz Jun 13 '17 at 18:33

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