Proper nouns

Level: beginner

Names of people, places and organisations are called proper nouns. We spell proper nouns with a capital letter:

Muhammad Ali Birmingham China Oxford University the United Nations

We use capital letters for festivals:

Christmas Deepavali Easter Ramadan Thanksgiving

We use capital letters for people's titles:

I was talking to Doctor Wilson recently.
Everything depends on President Obama.

When we give the names of books, films, plays and paintings, we use capital letters for the nouns, adjectives and verbs in the name:

I have been reading The Old Man and the Sea.
Beatrix Potter wrote
The Tale of Peter Rabbit.
You can see the
Mona Lisa in the Louvre.

Level: intermediate

Sometimes we use a person's name to refer to something they have created:

Recently a Van Gogh was sold for 15 million dollars.
We were listening to Mozart.
I'm reading an Agatha Christie.

Proper nouns



Hello. Today, my colleagues have a discussion session about the following two sentences:
1- Half of the staff in my school are/is under the age of 40.
2- All the staff are/is invited to the meeting.
3- Our staff meet, meets to discuss the company’s progress.
Some say that "singular verb" and "plural verb" are both correct. But others argue that only "plural verbs" is correct with the words such as "all", "half", "some", "rest".
Which one is grammatically correct?
Thank you.

Hello Ahmed Imam,
The verb agrees with the noun, so if the noun is countable and plural then a plural verb is used. If the noun is countable singular or uncountable then a singular verb is used.
For example:
Half of the cheese is gone! [cheese=uncountable so a singular verb is needed]
Half of the people are missing! [people=plural so a plural verb is needed]
The complicating factor in your examples is that the noun 'staff' can be used as a singular noun or a plural noun, similar to 'team', 'police', 'government' and so on. Thus, both singular and plural are possible.
The LearnEnglish Team

Could you help me with the following? - In the sentences like 'Recently a Van Gogh was sold for fifteen million dollars.' / 'We were listening to Mozart.' / 'I’m reading an Agatha Christie.' - are the words 'Van Gogh' / 'Mozart' / 'Agatha Christie.' still considred to be proper nouns?

Hello oyc,

Yes, they are and that is why they are capitalised. The figure of speech here is metonymy, which means describing a thing or concept by the name of something closely associated with that thing or concept. For example, in informal language a pejorative term for 'business people' is 'suits':

Half a dozen suits were waiting for me when I arrived.


When the thing referred to is a proper noun, it retains its capitalisation:

Congress has passed the law and now the White House must decide whether to sign it or veto it.

Here, 'the White House' means 'the President'.


Silicon Valley is an important part of the world economy.

'Silicon Vally' means 'the tech/computer industry'



The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Teachers

I have a question about the word "high street". I found on the internet that this word is widely used as a proper noun beginning with the capital letter like "High Street". But is it also possible to use it as a common noun, too? In other word, are these sentences interchangeable, maintaining the same meaning?

1.) It is wise of the bird to build its nest in a tree on a "busy" street.
2.) It is wise of the bird to build its nest in a tree on a "high" street.

(The first one is the example sentence I saw in my English class.)

Thank you,
Best Regards

Hello Ysato201602

Yes, some streets are named 'High Street', but in British English, the 'high street' also refers to a street or area where the most important or famous shops are located.

Both of your sentences are correct (though we usually say 'the high street') and mean mostly the same thing. The difference is that there are many busy streets in a city, but only one high street.

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Mr. Kirk

Thank you very much for your answer! I could understand the difference between “busy street” and “high street” very clearly!

Best Regards

Dear sir
Are nail and bread material noun?

And leg, hand arm and face are proper noun?
would you please help me?

Thanks in advance.

Hello AminulIslam.,

Proper nouns are names of people or institutions of some kind. They begin with capital letters. For example:


The United Nations

the British Council



I understand that you have a task from somewhere else which asks you to categorise the items you listed in your previous post but I think this is probably a set of categories created by the authors of the task rather than one widely recognised in linguistic study. I'm afraid we can't help you with the task.



The LearnEnglish Team

Dear sir
I don't know what kind of nouns these words are.

1.Face,arm, hair,nose,mouth,hand,leg, belly.
2.Sweet, sour.
3.Bread, nail etc.
would you please explain the words in details.