Capital vs. Capitol – How To Distinguish Them

15.02.24 Commonly confused words Time to read: 6min

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Using a variety of terms in an academic paper helps you to create a better flow and avoid repetition and redundancy. However, it is integral to focus on the correct meanings of these terms to ensure credibility and academic integrity. The words “capital” and “capitol” belong to the group of commonly confused words. The following article delves into the correct meaning and usage of both words, including examples.

Definition of “capital” vs. “capitol”

Both words have phonetic similarities but differ in their meaning. The word “capital” used as a noun can have a geographical, political or economic and financial meaning. In a political sense, it refers to the town or city where the seat of government is situated, while economically or financially, it describes wealth in the form of assets, money, funds, or stocks. “Capital” used as an adjective usually describes something as being of the highest importance or something being exceptionally qualitative. Financially, it can describe anything concerning assets or resources. In a legal context, “capital” can describe the severity of a crime, offense, or punishment. Regarding the geographical and political meaning, it can refer to something that pertains to a capital city such as “capital culture,” referring to the cultural aspects found in a capital.

In writing, “capital” describes the uppercase letters (capital letters), which are typically used at the beginning of a sentence or for emphasis. The word “capitol” functions as a noun and merely refers to the building that houses the state legislative assembly where governmental duties are carried out. It is often associated with the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C.

Capital

… acts as an adjective, meaning primary or uppercased. As a noun, it refers to financial assets or the governmental city.

Capitol

… acts as a noun and refers to the building, where the state legislative and government is seated in.

There are two helpful mnemonics to differentiate these two words. “Capital” is written with an “a.” Keeping in mind that the alphabet starts with an “a” and the first letter at the beginning of a sentence must be uppercased, can help you spell it correctly. On the contrary, “capitol,” refers to the location and the building of a state legislative. Keeping in mind that some governmental buildings in the United States, such as the dome in Washington, are round-shaped can assist in remembering the correct meaning, as the letter “o” is also round.

Using the word “capital”

The word “capital” can be used as an adjective and as a noun, as outlined in the following.

“Capital” as an adjective

“Capital” as an adjective, refers to the principal aspect of something. It also describes the uppercase of a word. Alternative words for “capital” are “excellent,” “primary,” or “supreme.”

Examples

  • Washington is the capital city of the United States.
  • At the beginning of a sentence, you write with a capital letter.
  • Faust by Goethe is a capital book of German literature.

“Capital” as a noun

When “capital” functions as a noun, it primarily refers to financial aspects such as “stock,” “profit,” or “asset.” It can also refer to a location or city where a special activity is predominantly carried out, or the city where the government is situated.

Examples

  • The company Apple has a high capital for external projects.
  • When countries are at war, other countries usually make capital of it.
  • Milan has always been the capital of Italian fashion.

Tip for using “capital” correctly

A helpful tip to use “capital” correctly is to remember that it is related to the main aspect of something or the financial aspects of larger organizations. Furthermore, since it has the letter “a,” you can think of the word “administration,” which describes the leading and principal organ of an institution where decisions are made. To avoid making mistakes, however, you can always use synonyms such as “key,” “main,” “major,” or “principal” when used as an adjective, or “center,” “funds,” “heart” or “hotspot” when used as a noun.

Synonyms (adjectives) Examples
Key Romeo and Juliet are capital figures in this play.
Romeo and Juliet are key figures in this play.
Main Ankara is the capital city of Turkey.
Ankara is the main city of Turkey.
Major The president has reached capital accomplishments.
The president has reached major accomplishments.
Principal The capital aspect of this book is freedom.
The principal aspect of this book is freedom.
Synonyms (nouns) Examples
Center Seoul is the capital of South Korea.
Seoul is the center of South Korea.
Funds The company has no capital left to invest more.
The company has no funds left to invest more.
Heart Paris is the capital of fashion shows.
Paris is the heart of fashion shows.
Hotspot Berlin is an artistic and cultural capital for artists.
Berlin is an artistic and cultural hotspot for artists.

Using the word “capitol”

The word “capitol” can only be used as a noun, as described in the following.

“Capitol” as a noun

“Capitol” as a noun refers to the building in which governmental decisions are made, and the legislative power is seated in. Unlike “capital”, the word “capitol” is only used as a noun in the English language.

Examples

  • Due to unprecedented events, the legislators were summoned to the capitol.
  • There was a protest in front of the Capitol in Washington.
  • The capitol of the country was famous for its architecture.

Tip for using “capitol” correctly

Keeping in mind that “capitol” refers to the building of the government where meetings are held, and legislative decisions are made, can help you to differentiate it from similar words. If you, however, want to minimize the risk of using it wrongly, you can choose to use synonyms, such as “seat of government,” “senate,” or “statehouse.”

Synonyms Examples
Seat of government All ambassadors were called back to the capitol of the U.S.
All ambassadors were called back to the seat of government of the U.S.
Senate The American capitol declared an unusual circumstance.
The American Senate declared an unusual circumstance.
Statehouse The German capitol is called Bundestag.
The German statehouse is called Bundestag.

Test yourself!

Practice sheet

With the following test, you can check your understanding of the distinction between “capital” and “capitol.” Fill out the blank spaces in the following 10 sentences and check your answers in the second tab.

  1. Rome is the ____ city of Italy.
  2. The first letter of a sentence is called the ____ letter.
  3. The American ____ is in Washington, where decisions are made.
  4. The U.S. ____ is a round-shaped building.
  5. The ____ of runway shows are Paris and Milan.
  6. To buy a house, you should have a strong ____.
  7. Many praised “To Kill A Mockingbird” as a ____ book.
  8. The ____ function of the police is protection.
  9. There is a new election in the ____ today.
  10. Acronyms and initials are typically written in ____ letters.
  1. Rome is the capital city of Italy.
  2. The first letter of a sentence is called the capital letter.
  3. The American capitol is in Washington, where decisions are made.
  4. The U.S. capitol is a round-shaped building.
  5. The capitals of runway shows are Paris and Milan.
  6. To buy a house, you should have a strong capital.
  7. Many praised “To Kill A Mockingbird” as a capital book.
  8. The capital function of the police is protection.
  9. There is a new election in the capitol today.
  10. Acronyms and initials are typically written in capital letters.
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FAQs

Both words exist in the English language but have different meanings. The word “capital” can refer to financial funds, uppercase letters, or the city where the government is based. On the other hand, “capitol” refers to the building of the seat of government.

Here are some example sentences for both words:

  • The capital letter of this sentence is a “t.”

The dome is the capitol of the U.S. in Washington.

A “capitol” describes the building that houses the state legislative of a country in which governmental functions are carried out.

The word “capitol” derives from the Latin word “Capitolium,” referring to the temple of Jupiter based on the Capitoline hill in Rome.

The correct phrase is “capital city,” as it describes the place where the “capitol” (the building in which the legislative government meets) is situated.