Capital vs. Capitol: Choosing the Right Word

The words capital and capitol are homophones, suggesting they sound the same but have unique spellings and meanings. Capital has a lot of definitions, meaning government, and capital letters, while capitol has only one: a structure housing a legislative body and the area surrounding that building.

How to Use ‘Capital’

The noun capital has numerous definitions: 1. a city that is a center of government, 2. wealth in the way of money or land, and 3. a capital letter, the kind of uppercase letter used at the start of a sentence.

As an adjective, capital refers to penalty by death or a letter of the alphabet in the way of the capital letters A, B, and C as opposed to a, b, c. The adjective form can also mean superb or important.

How to Use ‘Capitol’

The noun capitol refers to the building where a legislative assembly, like the U.S. Congress or state legislature, does business. At the federal level and in several states, the neighborhood adjoining the capitol is called, formally or informally, Capitol Hill.

Each word is derived from the Latin root caput, meaning head. Capital evolved from the phrase capitālis, the meaning of the head, and capitāle, or wealth, for its use to represent a financial gain. Capitol comes from Capitōlium, the given name of a temple devoted to the Roman god Jupiter that sat on the smallest of Rome’s 7 hills, Capitoline Hill.

The word should be capitalized when discussing a certain capitol, such as the U.S. Capitol or the Mississippi Capitol. Make it lowercase when referring to a nonspecific seat of government.


Here are illustrations of sentences that use capital and capitol correctly:

  • The capital of Alaska is Juneau. The word here refers to the city where the seat of government is located.
  • Proper nouns begin with a capital letter. Here capital means uppercase.

Remembering the Difference

There are two techniques for recalling the difference between the central definitions of the two words. The first notes that the o in capitol looks like the sphere-shaped dome of the U.S. Capitol and the capitols state governments. All other uses are spelled capital.

The last trick is to imagine the o in capitol as meaning only one, referring to the truth that capitol has only one meaning.


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