Capital and Capitol

Commonly Confused Words

capital and capitol
In the U.S. Capitol (pictured here), you'll hear talk about capital gains, capital punishment, capital cities, and capital letters. (Stefan Zaklin/Getty Images)

The words capital and capitol are near-homophones: they sound almost the same but have different meanings.

Definitions

The noun capital has multiple definitions: (1) a city that serves as the seat of government; (2) wealth in the form of money or property; (3) an asset or advantage; (4) a capital letter (the type of upper-case letter used at the beginning of a sentence).

As an adjective, capital refers to punishment by death (as in "a capital offense") or a letter of the alphabet (in the form A, B, C rather than a, b, c).

The adjective capital can also mean excellent or highly important.

The noun capitol refers to the building in which a legislative assembly meets. (Remember that the o in capitol is like the o in the dome of a capitol building.)
 

Examples

  • The dome of the United States Capitol is one of the most famous man-made landmarks in America.
  • The capital of Alaska is Juneau.
     
  • "Hartford [Connecticut] had always struck him as a pleasantly hick city, a small forest of green-glass skyscrapers on the winding road to New York; when you descended out of the spaghetti of overpasses, there was a touching emptiness, of deserted after-hours streets and of a state capital's grandiose vacancies."
    (John Updike, "Grandparenting." The Maples Stories. Knopf, 2009) 
     
  • "He began to dust off the top and there found all sorts of things—a forgotten pin box, a pill box with tacks in it, two knitting needles, and an out-of-date diary on which was written in capitals: THE AIDEN CYCLE."
    (Christina Stead, The Man Who Loved Children, 1940)
     
  • "It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts."
    (Arthur Conan Doyle, "A Scandal in Bohemia," 1891)
     
  • "Though many think capital punishment is not an effective deterrent to crime, others insist this is because criminals in the United States know they are not likely to be convicted of a capital crime and that if they are convicted, they are even less likely to be executed."
    (John S. Feinberg and Paul D. Feinberg, Ethics for a Brave New World, 2nd ed. Crossway, 2010)


    Practice


    (a) The United States _____ building is located in Washington, D.C., the _____ city of the U.S.

    (b) "We lived with our grandmother and uncle in the rear of the Store (it was always spoken of with a _____ S), which she had owned some twenty-five years."
    (Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Random House, 1969)

    (c) "[T]he cost of starting a boardinghouse in San Francisco could be prohibitive, and very few newcomers to the West had the _____ to open the kind of establishment that Pleasant financed on Washington Street."
    (Lynn Maria Hudson, The Making of "Mammy Pleasant": A Black Entrepreneur in Nineteenth-Century San Francisco. University of Illinois Press, 2003)

    Answers to Practice Exercises

    Glossary of Commonly Confused Words
     

    200 Homonyms, Homophones, and Homographs​

    Answers to Practice Exercises: Capital and Capitol

    (a) The United States Capitol building is located in Washington, D.C., the capital city of the U.S.

    (b) "We lived with our grandmother and uncle in the rear of the Store (it was always spoken of with a capital ​S), which she had owned some twenty-five years."
    (Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Random House, 1969)

    (c) "[T]he cost of starting a boardinghouse in San Francisco could be prohibitive, and very few newcomers to the West had the capital to open the kind of establishment that Pleasant financed on Washington Street."
    (Lynn Maria Hudson, The Making of "Mammy Pleasant": A Black Entrepreneur in Nineteenth-Century San Francisco; University of Illinois Press, 2003)

    Glossary of Commonly Confused Words