Capital versus Capitol

Capital and capitol are two commonly confused words because they are both nouns and are also homophones, which means they are pronounced similarly. In addition to their similar pronunciations, they are often used in similar contexts, further adding to confusion.

capital versus capitol

Capital is a noun that refers to a capital city in a state, province, region, or country.

  • The capital of the United States is Washington.

A capitol is the specific building where laws are made in a state, province, or country.

  • The capitol building in Washington is where the Congress meets.

When to Use Capital in a Sentence

Capital Meaning: Capital refers to the primary city of a region or country where government functions are carried out.

Example: The capital of Australia is Canberra. [Noun]

Capital can also be used to describe wealth, usually that which is used for the continued operations of a business.

Example: The merger of the companies was the result of increased capital. [Noun]

Example: I didn’t have enough capital to get a loan for the investment. [Noun]

In addition to both of these uses as a noun, capital can also function as an adjective.

Example: This clause began with a capital “T.”

Example: “That disparity is a microcosm of one of the key flaws of capital     punishment.” [Adjective] Source: L.A. Times

As you can see, capital can be two different parts of speech – a noun or an adjective – but it has two different uses as a noun. It can either refer to a city that is the politically most important place of a geographic region, or it refers to money and other measures of wealth.

Phrases that Use Capital

There aren’t many common phrases that use capital, although it is important to known that the noun is much more common than the adjective form. 

When to Use Capitol in a Sentence

Capitol Meaning: Capitol is only used to refer to the primary building where government activity takes place.

Example: “Cummings, who died on October 17, was lying state inside the U.S.           Capitol on Thursday.” [Noun] Source: USA Today

It is important to remember that when used with a specific country, capitol is always capitalized.

Examples: “The U.S. Capitol,” “The Argentine Capitol,” and “The Canadian Capitol” are three examples.

Phrases That Use Capitol

Capitol is not used in any common phrases, but it is worth noting that the plot of land on which the U.S. Capitol building and its adjacent office buildings are located is called Capitol Hill.

  • The lawmakers met this week on Capitol Hill.

This is sometimes mistakenly spelling Capital Hill.

Capital or Capitol – Keeping Them Straight

Although capitol is directly related to capital in most contexts and both words are usually nouns, they mean different things.

Since a capitol is located in a capital, the two words are often confused. Thankfully there are a few different ways to remember the difference.

For instance, it may help to remember that the U.S. Capitol building has a circular dome and that capitol has a letter “o” that is similar to that dome.

Also, remember that capital can be used as an adjective to describe something extreme, as in “capital punishment.” To make things a bit easier, think of capital with the initials “CBM,” which stands for “city,” “money,” and “bad.”

Test Your Knowledge

Use either capital or capitol correctly in each sentence.

  • Pierre is the ________ of South Dakota, but it is not the state’s largest city.
  • A memorial was held in the rotunda of the _________.
  • In must jurisdictions, murder is a _________ offense.
  • The amount of ________ he possessed was enough to make him a millionaire.
  • The opposition group traveled to the nation’s __________ to hold a protest on the steps of the ___________.

See the answers below.

Recap: When to use Capital or Capitol

These two words are often confused because they sound alike and because the most common meaning of capital is connected to capitol’s definition.

Just remember, capital can refer to a city, wealth or money, or as an adjective to describe something that is extreme or even bad.

  • Capital is usually a noun that refers to a city or wealth and money, but it can also be used as an adjective.
  • Capitol always refers to the building that is the seat of government in a government jurisdiction.


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