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Proper nouns

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




Why does English language change foreign words to something else? For example, ''Warszawa'' to ''Warsaw''

I just want to know how I should pronounce and spell foreign words (as they are originally or look for English modification)

Thank you very much

Sometimes rules have to be broken. The rule is: proper names are not translated. Therefore Amsterdam will be Amsterdam and my name will be Marinus in whatever language. But for some languages some words are difficult to pronounce without changes. My name in Spanish? Marino, just because Marinus is too difficult to pronounce for many Spanish speakers.
The same seems to be true for ''Warszawa'' in the English language, the combination of the letters S and Z is almost impossible to pronounce correctly, so it was changed to 'Warsaw'. London, in Dutch is written as 'Londen', but 'Den Haag' becomes 'The Hague', and now we are talking about the Dutch capital..., ok governmental residence. So I am sure no insults were meant here.

Hello MCWSL,

It's a feature of many, if not all, languages that they have their own versions of certain famous place names. Countries, geographical names and cities, for example, are treated as words to be translated. Thus, in English we say 'Warsaw' rather than 'Warszawa', and in Polish they say 'Londyn' rather than 'London'. The reasons why are historical and probably related to mispronunciation of names heard in other languages.

When writing in English we use the English version of a name if one exists. This does not hold for personal names, which we generally do not translate.


Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team


I have another question that is driving me nuts. In the following statement, do we use the simple past after "because": "I came to study in London because I want to improve my English."? Is it "want" or "wanted"?

Alice, are you still in London? Then it is 'want'. (present tense) Have you left the City and gone back home, then it is 'wanted'.

If she has left the city, then wouldn't she have to use 'went to London' instead of 'came to London'?


I have a question. When we refer to the past and use a phrase such as "Before I + past tense verb....," is it followed by a verb in the past tense or a verb in the past perfect tense? For example, in the following sentence, should we use "wanted" or "had wanted": "Before I hurt my back, I wanted to learn fencing." I think the past perfect might be best, but I imagine that the simple past adds a sense of finality, which might be a mistake in my thinking. And the following rearrangement does not clarify anything for me, even though it probably should: "I wanted to learn fencing before I hurt my back." Is it "wanted" or "had wanted"?

Second question. Is this a legitimate English sentence: "I had wanted to learn fencing before I hurt my back last year."? Thank you.

Hello Alice,

Both the simple past and past perfect are possible here. Most of the time, people use the simpler form (i.e. the past simple) unless they really want to emphasise the fact that the action was before the other one. In this case, this is already very clear (due to the word 'before'), so I'd recommend just using the past simple. The past perfect is not incorrect, though.

I think that answers both of your questions, but if you're unsure about anything, please ask again.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team


I have noticed that we pronounce ''boss' '' with an additional syllable, but we do not, for example, '' boys' ''. Does adding syllables depend on how the language has been used and if not, is there a fixed rule for knowing whether pronounce a word with an extra sound?

Thank you in advance.

Hello JamlMakav,

The difference in pronunciation is the result of the final sound in each word. Words which end in sibilant sounds are pronuned with an extra syllable when an -s is added (for whatever reason - a plural form, a third-person present verb form, or a possessive form).

The sibilant sounds are as follows:

[tʃ] - examples: church, watch, itch

[dʒ] - examples: garage, change, rage

[s] - examples:  kiss, slice, Paris

[z] - examples: Charles, please, dogs


Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team