We're not too deep into 2021 yet, but my first impression is that grammar is needed now more than ever. Earlier this week, I posted about sedation vs. sedition, and today we're looking at when to use capital vs. capitol. I have a feeling we'll have a few more Grammar Rules posts before this month is over.
So let's look at the differences of capital and capitol, including a few examples of correct usages.
Capital vs. Capitol
Capital has many meanings and can be used as an adjective or noun. As an adjective, it can be used to describe uppercase letters, something that is punishable by death, of great seriousness or importance, related to financial assets, or a synonym for excellent.
As a noun, capital can refer to an uppercase letter. It can also refer to net worth or accumulated income and possessions. Cities can be referred to as a capital too, whether it serves as the seat of government for a territory or country or functions as a preeminent city of some industry or activity (as in "the art capital of the world" or "sports capital of the country").
Capitol, on the other hand, is a noun meaning that refers to one of two buildings. It's either the building in which a state's legislature meets and conducts official state governance, or it's the building in which the U.S. Congress meets in Washington, DC. Always spell Capitol with a capital "C" when referring to the specific state or national building.
Here are some examples:
Correct: Columbus is the capital of Ohio.
Incorrect: Columbus is the Capitol of Ohio.
Correct: In Georgia, you can find the Capitol in downtown Atlanta.
Incorrect: In Georgia, you can find the capital in downtown Atlanta. (Note: It would be correct to say, "The capital of Georgia is Atlanta.")
Correct: Washington, DC, is the capital of the United States, and the United States Capitol can be found on First Street.
Incorrect: Washington, DC, is the capitol of the United States, and the United States capital can be found on First Street.
I don't have any capital ideas on how to keep them straight, so I'll recommend this: Capitol with an "o" has "one" meaning, and that's as a building. So nearly every other connotation you might possibly mean is probably handled by "capital" with an "a."
No matter what type of writing you do, mastering the fundamentals of grammar and mechanics is an important first step to having a successful writing career.