Grammar Corner: Capital vs. Capitol

In this edition of Grammar Corner, we discuss some of the most widely used grammar errors in the English language. We don’t just correct you, though; we pinpoint exactly why a particular word/phrase/idiom is used incorrectly, while providing the context for each mistake, and then providing the right word/phrase/idiom.

Most of the time, a grammar error occurs because of homophones. Homophones are two words that sound exactly the same, but mean vastly different things. But it’s not just their meaning that’s different; homophones can also function as vastly different parts of speech.

In this edition, we discuss another commonly confused word pair: capital vs. capitol. Aside from being homophones, both words differ only with one letter, and both are primarily used in the context of politics, both factors adding to the confusion. We’re here to clear things up.

When to Use Capital

Image from Pixabay

Most of the time, when people use the word Capital, they’re referring to the primary, or most important, city of a country or state, or as the center of a particular industry. Sometimes, however, Capital can also refer to a financial item, be it cash, people, equipment, or other things that a business might use to generate profit. It can also refer to capital letters, which is when you use upper-case letters in spelling.

For example:

Washington D.C. is the capital of the U.S. A. ­– Capital as the primary city of a country

Is Anchorage the state capital of Alaska? Nope, it’s Juneau. – Capital as the primary city of a State

Silicon Valley is kind of like the capital of the tech industry. Sadly, still no starships though. – Capital as the center of a particular industry

Listen, I know that was the kids’ college funds, but I needed capital to start my Ostrich racing business! – Capital as a financial item in the form of money

Our company’s human capital is astounding: we have over 200 writers working on just 2 campaigns! That’s like a dozen people per line of copy, it’s insane. – Capital as a financial item in terms of people

Do I capitalize the word capitalize? ­– Capital as the upper-case letters of a word.

In science fiction, a Capital Ship is the largest, most powerful type of space ship in a sci-fi faction’s arsenal, but unless you’re writing a science fiction novel set in space, this is kind of unnecessary to know.

When to Use Capitol

Image from Pixabay

In contrast to Capital, Capitol with an O refers to a specific building (or, in some cases, a complex of buildings) where a state’s legislature is set to meet. This is more often used in American English, as other countries meet in other buildings (e.g, the British parliament meets in the House of Lords or Commons, the Chinese government meets in the People’s Congress, etc.).

To note, though: the word capitol is only capitalized if it’s referring to a specific building or a complex of buildings. If it’s referring to capitols in general, then it doesn’t have to be capitalized.

The North Dakota Capitol Building is a great example of art deco architecture and looks like something out of Kafka’s worst nightmare.

I’m not saying it’s ugly, but the Oregon Capitol building looks kind of like a mausoleum to a strange, golden man from the 18th century.

Have you seen the Florida State Capitol? It looks like they hired the same architect that designed Sauron’s tower. Makes sense, considering how that state is running things.

If our country was a true democracy, then Capitol Hill would be the truest seat of power, next, of course, to Beyoncé’s throne room. – Capitol as a proper noun.

Hey man, if you don’t like our capitol buildings, then why don’t you design your own!

Listen, it’s not my job to design beautiful capitol buildings; that’s what our taxes are for!

I mean, if I were to design a capitol building, I’d put a nice garden with a fountain in the front. And, of course, a space ship. – Capitol used not to refer to any specific building

Which One to Use: Capital or Capitol?

When in doubt, always remember: Capital with an A refers to a city or money, while Capitol with an O refers to a specific building in the U.S. where the state government meets to ‘discuss’ issues.

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