Capital vs. Capitol – How to Use Each Correctly

enhancedwriting/ September 2, 2017/ Uncategorized

capital versus capitol

What’s the Difference Between Capital and Capitol?

Capital and capitol are homophones, which means that they share the same pronunciation but are spelled differently and have different definitions.

Capital can act as either a noun or an adjective. It has several definitions, of which the primary one is the city that is the official seat of a government. The other definitions appear in greater detail below.

  • Beijing is the capital of China.

Capitol also relates to government. However, the definition of this word is narrower. It refers to the building used by the federal or state legislature.

  • The photographer is taking pictures of the various capitol buildings in all fifty states of America.

Let’s look at how to use these words in context and how to avoid mixing the two up.

Using Capital in a Sentence

When to use capital: Capital can be either a noun or an adjective.

As a noun, its definitions include the seat of government for a nation or state and uppercase letters.

As an adjective, it can refer to finances and money, something excellent, or a crime punishable by death.

For example:

  • Washington D.C. is the capital of the USA.
  • Remember to use a capital letter for the first letter to start the sentence.
  • Some people disagree with capital punishment on moral or religious grounds.

Capital can also appear in several expressions:

  • with a capital (letter): to an extreme degree
    • He’s a model, so he cute with a capital C!
  • to make capital out of something: to use something to one’s advantage
    • The employee is making capital out of her boss’s excessive time off by making herself look good to her boss’s boss.

When used as an exclamation meaning excellent, capital sounds dated. This exclamation is more common in British English.

Using Capitol in a Sentence

When to use capitol: Capitol can refer either to the building in Washington D.C. that houses the U.S. Congress or to any building that houses a state legislature.

For example:

  • I’m going to D.C., and I want to see the Capitol.
  • I just took a tour of the Texas capitol building.

When referring to the U.S. Congress’s building, Capitol should have a capital C.

Remembering Capital vs. Capitol

This spelling difference between capital and capitol can act as a helpful mnemonic device.

Capital ends with the letters al, just like the words almost and all start with al. This can help you remember that capital is the spelling for almost all of the definitions between capital and capitol.

Capitol, on the other hand, contains the letter o, just like the word only and on. This can help you remember that between capital and capitol, it has only one definition, the building used by the legislative branch.

Outside Examples

  • The vivacious teen whose shoes were stamped with “BELIEVE” during those magical, memorable two weeks in New York closed her three-tweet message to fans and others Friday with that very same word, in all capital letters for emphasis. –USA Today
  • “I don’t think so,” Epstein said. “We’ve expended a lot of prospect capital trying to make this team better”. –Chicago Tribune
  • “If you bring corruption to New York – whether to the State Capitol in Albany or to the halls of the U.N. General Assembly – your journey may very well end in a Manhattan federal courtroom, with a unanimous jury announcing your guilt,” Kim said. –New York Post
  • Two outside groups have put forward initiatives that propose much higher spending on water projects, and they’re influencing the debate at the Capitol. –LA Times

Quiz: Capitol vs. Capital

Instructions: Fill in the blank with the correct word, either capitol or capital, in the correct form.

  1. Proper nouns, such as a person’s name, should always start with a ___________ letter.
  2. I couldn’t get a tour of the White House but at least I got to see the _____________. It was a very interesting building.
  3. We need to build our __________ if we want our startup to be successful.

See answers below.

Article Summary

Should I use capital or capitol? Despite having the same pronunciation and similar meanings, there is an important distinction between these two words.

  • Capital refers to the main government of a nation or state, an uppercase letter, or money.
  • Capitol only refers to the building that houses the national or state legislature.

Capital is much more common than capitol. When discussing Washington D.C., either one would make sense depending on the context (capital for the city itself, and the Capitol for the Congress building).


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