cap·​i·​tal | \ ˈka-pə-tᵊl How to pronounce capital (audio) , ˈkap-tᵊl \

Essential Meaning of capital

1 of a letter : in the form A, B, C, etc., rather than a, b, c : uppercase capital letters a capital D His handwritten capital S's look a lot like lowercase/small s's.
2 : having the main offices of a government the state's capital city
3 of a crime : having death as a possible punishment Homicide that occurs during the course of an attempted kidnapping is a capital crime in some states. capital murder/rape charges

Full Definition of capital

 (Entry 1 of 3)

1 of a letter : of or conforming to the series A, B, C, etc. rather than a, b, c, etc.
2a : being the seat of government London is the capital city of England.
b : chief in importance or influence capital ships the capital importance of criticism in the work of creation itself— T. S. Eliot
3a : punishable by death a capital crime
b : involving execution (see execution sense 2) capital sentences — see also capital punishment
c : most serious a capital error
4 : of or relating to capital especially : relating to or being assets that add to the long-term net worth of a corporation capital improvements
5 : excellent a capital book
with a capital
used with a following capital letter to emphasize or qualify a preceding word not an accident but murder with a capital Mdesired romance with a capital R


noun (1)

Definition of capital (Entry 2 of 3)

1a(1) : a stock (see stock entry 1 sense 1a) of accumulated goods especially at a specified time and in contrast to income received during a specified period also : the value of these accumulated goods
(2) : accumulated goods devoted to the production of other goods
(3) : accumulated possessions calculated to bring in income set capital and land and labor to work— G. B. Shaw — see also venture capital
b(1) : net worth : excess of assets over liabilities
c : persons holding capital : capitalists considered as a group
d : advantage, gain make capital of the situation
e : a store or supply of useful assets or advantages wasted their political capital on an unpopular cause wrote from the capital of his emotionally desolate boyhood— E. L. Doctorow — see also human capital
2 [capital entry 1]
a : a letter that conforms to the series A, B, C, etc. rather than a, b, c, etc. : a capital letter especially : an initial capital letter
b : a letter belonging to a style of alphabet modeled on the style customarily used in inscriptions
3 [capital entry 1]
a : a city serving as a seat of government
b : a city preeminent in some special activity the fashion capital


noun (2)

Definition of capital (Entry 3 of 3)

: the uppermost member of a column or pilaster crowning the shaft and taking the weight of the entablature — see column illustration

Capital and Capitol: Which One to Use Where

What a pair these are: they sound identical and look nearly identical and both have meanings that relate to government. Mastering their use, however, is simple.

The key is this: capitol, the one with an "o," is very limited in use. It appears in the term Capitol Hill, and is used to refer to one very particular and famous building, to some other similar buildings, and, occasionally, to a group of buildings that includes those similar buildings. For all other meanings, the word you want is capital.

This means that in a state's capital city is a building or group of buildings properly referred to with the word capitol, with an "o." In this use capitol is synonymous with statehouse: both refer to the building or group of buildings where a state legislature meets. The phrase capital city utilizes capital because it refers to a city, not to a building or group of buildings.

Capitol with a capital "C" refers to the particular building in Washington, D.C. where the U.S. Congress meets. It often appears before other nouns in phrases like the Capitol building and Capitol police, and is very frequently used in the term Capitol Hill, which refers both to the legislative branch of the United States government as well as to the location of the Capitol building. The Capitol, like many state capitol buildings, has a rounded dome that is somewhat reminiscent of the top of an "o," which may help some remember the "o" spelling. Note that the word capital as used to describe an uppercase letter, like in the phrase capital "C", utilizes capital.

The word capital has three distinct homographs, two for noun uses and one for adjective uses. Readers should consult those entries for the various meanings of capital, but can be assured that they all end in al, rather than ol.

Examples of capital in a Sentence

Adjective In several district capital towns I visited, the most obvious result of increased local autonomy was a showy new government office complex … — Mel White, National Geographic, November 2008 In a nearby deli, the specials board announces in desperately bold capital letters, "WILL TRADE FOOD FOR SOX/PATS TICKETS"! — Julia Glass, Gourmet, February 2007 Few competent local lawyers are willing to take on capital defendants for $20 an hour … — Jeffrey Rosen, New Republic, 4 Oct. 1993 His handwritten capital S's look a lot like lowercase s's. Homicide that occurs during the course of an attempted kidnapping is a capital crime in some states. Noun (1) … he must have poured a lot of energy into observing the men and women around him, since they would provide the literary capital he would draw on for many years to come in three major books. — Edmund White, New York Review of Books, 12 Feb. 2009 Myrtle Beach claims to be the nation's golf capital, and given its 123 golf courses, it is hard to dispute the title. — Elizabeth Olson, New York Times, 30 Sept. 2003 The two brothers-in-law pooled their resources and scrounged capital from relatives. Thorne asked several family members, including his father, to back them, but only his uncle, Samuel Thorne, came through with the money. — Jennet Conant, Tuxedo Park, 2002 Anna is no bumpkin: she and her sisters have been dragged thriftily around the capitals of Europe by their parents, a pair of academics who have always displayed the proper American reverence for garlic and old stones, and occasionally even sprung for a fancy meal. — Andrea Lee, New Yorker, 6 May 2002 This was the incident book, and there, sure enough, was the entry detailing Moretsi's injury, the words spelled out in capitals in a barely literate hand … — Alexander McCall Smith, The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, 1998 In a sense, such stories are his capital, and if he's lucky he may be able to parlay them into a business opportunity … — Bill Barich, New Yorker, 7 May 1990 Noun (2) The transition from Greece to Rome is marked, in a propylaeum space, by a huge Ionic column's base and capital, with a space between the broad part of the column below and the narrowing segment above. — Garry Wills, New York Review of Books, 31 May 2007 According to the scrapbooks of nineteenth-century tourists, there's room for a hundred men to stand on the capital of one of these columns. That was the kind of culturally insensitive thing tourists used to do. — P. J. O'Rourke, Atlantic, September 2002

First Known Use of capital


14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Noun (1)

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 2a

Noun (2)

14th century, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for capital


Middle English, from Latin capitalis, from capit-, caput — see capital entry 3

Noun (1)

French or Italian; French, from Italian capitale, from capitale, adjective, chief, principal, from Latin capitalis — see capital entry 1

Noun (2)

Middle English capitale, from Anglo-French capital, capitel, from Late Latin capitellum small head, top of column, diminutive of Latin capit-, caput head — more at head

Learn More About capital

Time Traveler for capital

Time Traveler

The first known use of capital was in the 14th century

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Dictionary Entries Near capital



capital account

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Cite this Entry

“Capital.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 1 Dec. 2021.

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More Definitions for capital


cap·​i·​tal | \ ˈka-pə-tᵊl How to pronounce capital (audio) , ˈkap-tᵊl \

Kids Definition of capital

 (Entry 1 of 3)

1 : being like the letters A, B, C, etc. rather than a, b, c, etc.
2 : being the location of a government Columbus is the capital city of Ohio.
3 : punishable by or resulting in death a capital crime capital punishment
4 : of or relating to accumulated wealth
5 : excellent a capital idea



Kids Definition of capital (Entry 2 of 3)

1 : a capital letter Begin each sentence with a capital.
2 : a capital city Name the capital of North Dakota.
3 : the money and property that a person owns
4 : profitable use They made capital out of my weakness.



Kids Definition of capital (Entry 3 of 3)

: the top part of an architectural column



Legal Definition of capital

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1a : punishable by death capital murder
b : involving execution a capital case
2 [Medieval Latin capitalis chief, principal, from Latin caput head] : being the seat of government the capital city
3 : of or relating to capital especially : of or relating to capital assets a capital account whether the gain is capital or ordinary



Legal Definition of capital (Entry 2 of 2)

1 : accumulated assets (as money) invested or available for investment: as
a : goods (as equipment) used to produce other goods
b : property (as stocks) used to create income — see also capital stock at stock
debt capital
: capital that is raised by borrowing (as by issuing bonds or securing loans)
equity capital
: capital (as retained earnings) that is free of debt especially : paid-in capital in this entry
fixed capital
: capital that is invested on a long-term basis especially : capital that is invested in fixed assets
legal capital
: stated capital in this entry
moneyed capital
: capital that consists of or represents money that is used or invested (as by a bank or investment company) for the purpose of making a profit on it as money — see also moneyed corporation at corporation
paid-in capital
: equity capital that is received in exchange for an interest (as shares of stock) in the ownership of a business
risk capital
: venture capital in this entry
stated capital
: the total par value or stated value of no par issues of outstanding capital stock

called also legal capital

venture capital
: the initial usually paid-in capital of a new enterprise involving risk but offering potential above-average profits

called also risk capital

working capital
: the capital available for use in the course of business activity:
a : current assets less current liabilities
b : all capital of a business except the fixed capital
2 : net worth
3 : a city serving as a seat of government the state capital

History and Etymology for capital


Latin capitalis, from caput head, a person's life (as forfeit)

More from Merriam-Webster on capital

Nglish: Translation of capital for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of capital for Arabic Speakers Encyclopedia article about capital


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