Is it incorrect grammar to make the first letter of a proper noun small letters ?
I found that most of the online grammar checkers will mark it as an error if you don't
capitalize the first letter of a proper noun. What's the logic behind that.

  • 3
    The "logic" is that proper nouns are capitalized in English. That's the rule. Could you clarify what exactly you'd like to know? (There are exceptions and edge cases, but they don't seem relevant here). Mar 11 at 10:28

You may have noticed that May is the name of a month and a girl's name, but it is also a verb, a modal verb to be precise. Capitalising proper nouns avoids possible ambiguity or confusion. Compare "rolling stones" and the "Rolling Stones", the first is an activity the latter is the name of a well-known rock band.

In the 17th and 18th century, English used to capitalise nouns that were considered important or significant, but not everyone agreed which nouns were important and which were not. Until a certain Thomas Dyche, in 1764, wrote:

  1. Let Proper Names of Persons Places, Ships Rivers, &c. be always distinguished by the beginning with a Capital, or great Letter.

  2. ’Tis esteem'd Ornamental to begin any Substantive in the Sentence with a Capital, if it bear some considerable Stress of the Author's Sense upon it, to make it the more remarkable and conspicuous. "'Tis grown Customary in Printing to begin every Substantive with a Capital, but in my Opinion 'tis unnecessary, and hinders that remarkable Distinction intended by a Capital".

A Guide to the English Tongue in Two Parts

Note the author's idiosyncratic use of italics and capital letters, which appears to contradict, somewhat, his provided guidelines.

  • That was really cool explanation. So if I am writing as in month I will write May as a verb may and May if I was referring to a name of a person Mar 12 at 4:52
  • @Amitwadhwa Your summary is absolutely correct. 😊
    – Mari-Lou A
    Mar 12 at 5:54

Proper noun definition: A proper noun is any person, place or thing. A proper noun refers to anything or concept that is particular or specific.

What is a Proper Noun?

What are proper nouns? A proper noun is any noun that names anything specific. Therefore, a proper noun is any particular name of a person, place, or thing. Proper nouns are always capitalized.

Examples of Proper Nouns:

Cathy (specific name of person) London (specific name of place) Spot (specific name of thing)

Proper noun definition:

  • Spot are you sure? Mar 11 at 10:40
  • 1
    @RonaldSole Spot the dog Mar 11 at 10:58
  • @PrimeMover Maybe, but dogs are not typically referred to as things. They’re usually pets if they’re named.
    – ColleenV
    Mar 11 at 13:34
  • @ColleenV Maybe to you. Not everyone appreciates dogs. Mar 11 at 13:39
  • @PrimeMover Well, I would point out the confusion referring to a pet as a thing instead of a pet caused in the previous comment. How do you know Spot isn’t a fish?
    – ColleenV
    Mar 11 at 13:42

Is it incorrect grammar to make the first letter of a proper noun small letters ?

Short answer - yes, according to the rules of the English language. Proper nouns - unique names of people, places, or one-of-a-kind items - are always capitalised.

The only exception to this would be if writing in block capitals, in which case every letter would be capitalised and the first letter would not be distinguishable from any other. This is common on signage, such as when the names of places are written on road signs.

There may be some comparable situations where, for entirely stylistic reasons, a proper noun may be written in lower-case letters, but this would be considered as a mistake unless it were clear that only lower-case letters were being used for stylistic reasons. Even in such a case, it might be thought of as a deliberate mistake.

Of course, some words which are proper nouns may also be used in other contexts as common nouns. A good example are the compass directions, which are common nouns because every place on earth has 'a north', but may also be used with a country to refer specifically to a region, ie 'the North'.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.