Make Your Editor Cry: Capital vs. Capitol

Make Your Editor Cry:  Capital vs. Capitol

A nation’s or state’s capital is the primary city and usually the seat of the government. The most important city (at least in terms of government) is the capital city. The capital of Florida is Tallahassee, for example. Washington DC is the capital of the United States. The capital of Djibouti is Djibouti. That’s right. I said Djibouti.

A capital letter starts a sentence or a proper noun, like the capital K in the word Kentucky.

A capital crime carries with it the maximum penalty.

Capital is also a financial word referring to the total amount of money (and things with monetary value, like houses, precious gems, or stocks) that a person or institution owns. If you do well in the stock market and sell some shares for a profit, the profit you make is subject to capital gains taxation.

British folks sometimes use the word capital to mean excellent, first rate, or really important. Folks in the US did, too, up until the about late 1800s.

A capitol with an “-o” is a building that houses a government’s legislative branch. In the US, each state capital also hosts a Capitol Building for the state legislature. When capitol is capitalized (See what I did there?), it refers to a Capitol Building like the one in Washington, DC, that’s home to US Senators and Representatives. It’s located on Capitol Hill behind a big fence.

Wait a second. I thought fences didn’t work? I must be confused. I’ll check my facts on that and get back with you.

So to keep it straight, capitol with an “-o” is always something about a building. It’s either the building itself or the hill the building stands on. Meanwhile, capital with an “-a” is everything else.

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