Tag Archives: common nouns

A Treatise on Nouns

I’ve noticed recently that when people are writing about our planet they are not giving it a capital letter.

When I was at school, I learned that there are three kinds of nouns, common, abstract, collective and proper. Of those three, proper nouns need a capital letter.

Common nouns are the names of most objects, such as dog. house. flower. There are many of these things and the name does not refer to any particular one.

A dog is an animal with four legs.

Jane lives in a big house,

Johnnie gave me flowers for my birthday.

And so on.

Abstract nouns are intangible things, such as an emotion.

Jo felt fear when confronted by the snarling dog.

The love that the elderly couple shared was obvious.

Freedom is important.

And so on.

Collective nouns refer to a group. When I was at school, we learned the collective nouns for a number of things



A flock of sheep (not a herd as I’ve sometimes seen.)

A herd of cows.

A skein of geese when flying but a gaggle when on the ground.

A charm of larks, a murmuration of starlings and a murder of crows etc.

Collective nouns are referring to ONE thing. That think might be made up of a number of individuals, but it’s still ONE thing. Thus you should use the singular form of the verb.

The team are playing well. (wrong)
The team is playing well. (correct)


The government are going to pass a law. (wrong)
The government is going to pass a law. (correct)

The crowd are applauding. (wrong)
The crowd is applauding. (correct)

Finally, we come to what started this off. Proper Nouns. They always begin with a capital letter.

The names of people are an obvious one. We refer to Harry Brown. It’s one specific person we are talking about, so Harry has a capital letter.

If we know the name of the dog we were talking about in the first example, its name would be in a capital letter.

Come here, Rover.

If we are going to a particular place, it would have a capital letter.

I’m going to Paris next week.

Now I’ve noticed that people are no longer giving our planet a capital letter. If we are talking about Mars, Venus, Saturn, or any of the other planets, people always capitalise the first letter. Not so our own planet. Why is that? Is Earth not as important as another planet? Are we saying that Earth is a generality? Why? Surely the planet we live on is more important to us than all the others.

My reasoning goes like this:
We often refer the stuff the planet is made from as earth. Thus we don’t make a difference when referring to the planet.
The gardener planted the tree in the earth.

That’s fine, because in this case, earth is another word for soil, which is a common noun. But we must be careful when we are referring to our planet. Then Earth is a proper noun, so should be capitalised.

And while we’re on it—Fantasy and SciFi writers, please don’t refer to the soil or ground as earth. It’s not.

Thank you for reading. Please leave comments in the box. I would like to know what you think of this.