Commonly Confused Words: Capital vs. Capitol

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What does each word mean?

Among other things the word capital can refer to a city or town that functions as the seat of government and administrative centre of a country or region, one of the types of alphabetic letters, wealth in the form of money or property, or a centre associated with some activity or product.

Click here for the full Spellzone dictionary definition of the word.

Here is capital used in some example sentences:

  • Spain’s capital city is Madrid.
  • Sentences should begin with a capital letter.
  • The return on invested capital was high.
  • New York boasts a reputation for being the fashion capital of the United States of America.

Click here to find the Spellzone study lists related to the word capital.

Capitol is mostly used as a proper noun referring specifically to the seat of US Congress in Washington DC (and so should be capitalised). It is also sometimes used to refer to other buildings that are occupied by state legislature.

Click here for the full Spellzone dictionary definition of the word.

Here is Capitol used in an example sentence:

  • The United States Capitol, sometimes referred to as the Capitol Building, is located on Capitol Hill.
  • You will find the information displayed at the state capitol.

Click here to create a Spellzone study list including the word Capitol.

Where does each word come from?

Capital comes from the Latin ‘capitalis’ meaning ‘of the head’ hence ‘capital, chief, first’, which in turn comes from ‘caput’ meaning ‘head’ (from the PIE root ‘kaput’) It entered English in the early thirteenth century via Old French.

Capitol has been used to refer to the building in Washington D.C. since 1793 and comes from ‘Capitolium’, the Latin name of the temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus (which stood on Capitoline Hill in ancient Rome). The temple is sometimes also referred to as the Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus.

Are there any tricks to help remember the difference between capital and capitol?

Focus on the a and o that differentiate the spellings of the two words:

  • Capital always refers to the government and administrative centres of countries.
  • Capitol only refers to the congress building in Washington D.C.

What words do you constantly mix up? Let us know and we’ll cover them in our Commonly Confused Words series.

Sources: The Online Etymology Dictionary.

15 Aug 2018
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"This is a fantastic opportunity for our students!  I'm sure Spellzone will be invaluable in helping them to improve their spellings and therefore improve the quality of their writing in all subject areas!"

Teacher, High School, UK