Capital vs. Capitol: Which is which?
Is the government headquarters of a state referred to as the state’s capital or capitol? How does one refer to a building in which government business takes place? The words capital and capitol are two of the most commonly confused words in the English language today. The usage of these words often stumps both students and adults alike. How does one find a method of remembering which word to use in the correct situation? While the term capital refers to the city in which government activity takes place, the term capitol refers to the building in which those business activities take place.
It can feel impossible to keep these two straight, it’s torture, it’s capital punishment…or is it capitol punishment?
Why are the words capital and capitol so difficult to distinguish?
First things first, they are homophones. So both words sound the same. In this case, even the spelling is varied only by one differing letter. Regardless, each word has a very unique meaning. Capital typically refers to a governmental seat. For instance, Washington, D.C. is the capital of the nation; Sacramento is the capital city of California.
But we are not done, capital can have another meaning as well. Capital can also be used in a financial sense to describe money or property. Businesses raise capital to fund their projects.
Hold on, we aren’t done with capital yet. Don’t forget that it also applies to an uppercase letter used at the beginning sentences or proper nouns.
Capitol generally refers to a building in which all the important work government bodies takes place. Remember that, as an important building, the term capitol in this sense should be capitalized. For example the – Massachusetts state legislature began its 2013 session in the Capitol. By the same token, if an individual is merely referring to a general building, then the term capitol need not be given a capital letter. For example – most capitol buildings have offices for legislators – does not need to be distinguished; it is not a specific building.
But, but, but how do you keep this straight? The easiest way is to connect that capitol wth an O is only for buildings like domes. The Capitol building is round like the letter O in the word itself. Capitol also only has one meaning while capital is varied.
If this is all clear, you are ready for intellectual capitol…er capital gains!
Derek Pharr is Vice President of Products at Sporcle and an occasional writer of random topics and bad jokes. He also has an odd addiction to Taylor Swift songs and hates white foods.