How to use capital and capitol


Aha! A capital is a stash of money or the government headquarters of a state. Oh, a capitol is a building.



Capital is the total amount of money (and things with a monetary value, like houses or cars) that a person or institution owns. A bank’s capital might be in the billions, while your capital barely makes it into the hundreds.

Capital comes from the Latin capitalis, or “head,” which some would argue is the command center of your body. Because your head is so important, capital, as a noun and as an adjective, has come to refer to the primary or chief example of something — whether it’s money, a letter, a crime, or the national or state seat of a government. It can be easily confused with the American word capitol, which refers to the buildings where government activities take place.


When you march on the state capitol to protest a bill before the legislature, you are assembling outside a building that houses the state government.

Use the noun capitol when you’re talking about the building where a legislature assembles to govern a state or region. In the United States, each state has an individual capitol building, and the federal government has one too — although when you mention “the Capitol” in Washington, D.C., it is capitalized. Speaking of which, be careful not to confuse capitol with its homophone,capital. Capitol comes from the Latin Capitolium, a famous ancient Roman temple.

A state’s capital is the primary city and usually the seat of the state government. The most important city is the capital city. The capital of New York is Albany, for example. Washington DC is the nation’s capital:

Park Police found an abandoned vehicle, with an assault rifle inside it, near a bridge leading out of the nation’s capital to Virginia. (New York Times)

Capital is also a financial word referring to, in a nutshell, the money a person or business has, not including debts. But wait, there’s more! A capital letter starts a sentence or a proper noun, like the capital V for Virginia. It’s also a crime that carries with it the severest penalty (life in prison or execution):

Wilson is the 19th death row inmate to commit suicide since California reinstated capital punishment in 1978, according to the Department of Corrections. (Reuters)

If you want to sound like a British spy, use capital to mean excellent, first rate, or really important:

In the realm of amateur fruit growing, on the other hand — a realm now daily widening — dwarf fruit trees are of capital importance. (F.A. Waugh)

A capitol (with an o) is a building that houses a government’s legislative branch. When capitolis capitalized (ahem), it refers to the Capitol Building in Washington, DC, that is home to US Senators and Representatives. It’s located on — where else? — Capitol Hill.

Remember that capitol with an o refers to a certain type of building that usually has a dome,then you’ll know that in all other cases you want capital with an a.

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