capital

1 of 3

adjective

cap·​i·​tal ˈka-pə-tᵊl How to pronounce capital (audio)
ˈkap-tᵊl
1
of a letter : of or conforming to the series A, B, C, etc. rather than a, b, c, etc.
2
a
: 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 itselfT. S. Eliot
3
a
: 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

capital

2 of 3

noun (1)

1
a(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 workG. 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 boyhoodE. L. Doctorow
see also human capital
2
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
a
: a city serving as a seat of government
b
: a city preeminent in some special activity
the fashion capital

capital

3 of 3

noun (2)

: the uppermost member of a column or pilaster crowning the shaft and taking the weight of the entablature see column illustration
Phrases
with a capital
used with a following capital letter to emphasize or qualify a preceding word
not an accident but murder with a capital M
desired romance with a capital R

Did you know?

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
during the 1980s Silicon Valley became the capital of the computer industry invested nearly all of their capital in the new business 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
Recent Examples on the Web
Adjective
In their proper, Adam Smith-like rendering, humans are capital. John Tamny, Forbes, 11 Feb. 2024 And as Romano observed, the court can take months to act on a clemency request in a non-capital case. Bob Egelko, San Francisco Chronicle, 4 Aug. 2022
Noun
Now, with fresh capital, the brand has plans to expand its retail footprint and grow distribution internationally. Kathryn Hopkins, WWD, 9 July 2024 Related article Copenhagen: Europe’s new capital of cool Rewards may be given if visitors show a public transport ticket, for example, but the system is mostly based on trust. Jack Guy, CNN, 9 July 2024 See all Example Sentences for capital 

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'capital.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

Etymology

Adjective

Middle English, "of the head, for the head (as a medication), chief, principal, (of a letter) larger than the other letters on the page (as an initial letter), deadly, mortal (of punishment, an enemy)," borrowed from Anglo-French & Medieval Latin; Anglo-French, "of the head, chief, large (of a letter), mortal (of a sin)," borrowed from Medieval Latin capitālis "of or for the head, mortal, entailing loss of life (of a penalty or offense), initial (of a letter), chief, principal (of a city or religious house)," going back to Latin, "entailing loss of life (of a punishment or crime), deadly, implacable (of an enemy)," from capit-, caput "head, source, leading person, chief city of a state or province, a person's life when endangered or the target of a curse, one's life as forfeit for a crime" + -ālis -al entry 1 — more at head entry 1

Note: As a derivative, classical Latin capitālis reflects only extended senses of caput, as a metonym for a human life in regard to its exposure to danger or to forfeiture as a punishment; capitālis in the literal meaning "of the head" is only attested in post-classical Latin.

Noun (1)

(sense 1) borrowed from Italian capitale "real or monetary assets, personal or corporate wealth," going back to Medieval Latin capitāle "movable property, riches," noun derivative from neuter of capitālis "of the head, chief, principal"; (sense 2) derivative of capital entry 1 (sense 1), after Middle French capitale (by ellipsis from lettre capitale) or Medieval Latin capitālis (by ellipsis from littera capitālis); (sense 3) derivative of capital entry 1 (sense 2a), after Middle French capitale (by ellipsis from ville capitale) — more at capital entry 1

Note: The Italian word capitale was diffused into other western European languages due to the European significance of the Florentine banking houses. The meaning "movable property, patrimony, riches" of capitāle is attested in Latin from the ninth century (in the half-vernacular form catallum, from Chartres) and in Romance vernaculars: in the Gallo-Romance area (Old French chatel, in the dialect of Picardy and French Flanders catel—see cattle, chattel; as Old Occitan capdal), in Iberia (Spanish caudal "property, abundance"), northern Italy (Upper Italian cavear [Genoa] "patrimony in money, riches," cavià [Asti], cavedale [Milan]—see Lessico etimologico italiano); in Tuscany, capitale. The semantic logic behind a derived nominal sense "property" from an adjectival sense "of the head, chief, principal" (if these are even the relevant meanings) is less than transparent. Note, however, the use of caput to mean "head of cattle," a form of wealth, in the early Germanic laws (Lex Salica, Lex Allamanorum—see Niemeyer, Mediae Latinitatis lexicon minus).

Noun (2)

Middle English capitale, borrowed from Anglo-French capital, capitel, borrowed from Late Latin capitellum, from Latin capit-, caput "head" + -ellum, neuter of -ellus, diminutive suffix, originally with noun stems ending in -ul-, -r- and -n- — more at head entry 1

First Known Use

Adjective

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

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

Dictionary Entries Near capital

Cite this Entry

“Capital.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/capital. Accessed 21 Jul. 2024.

Kids Definition

capital

1 of 3 adjective
cap·​i·​tal ˈkap-ət-ᵊl How to pronounce capital (audio)
ˈkap-tᵊl
1
a
: punishable by death
a capital crime
b
: resulting in death
capital punishment
2
: belonging to the series A, B, C, etc. rather than a, b, c, etc.
capital letters
3
: being the location of a government
the capital city
4
: of or relating to capital
capital investment
5
: excellent
a capital idea

capital

2 of 3 noun
1
a
: accumulated wealth especially as used to produce more wealth
b
: persons owning or investing capital
2
: profitable use
make capital out of another's weakness
3
: a capital letter
4
: a capital city
5
: a city that is most important for a particular activity or product
the oil capital of the country

capital

3 of 3 noun
: the top part of an architectural column
Etymology

Adjective

Middle English capital "of the head, principal, causing death," from early French (same meaning), from Latin capitalis (same meaning); from caput "head" — related to achieve, cadet, cape entry 1, captain, chief

Noun

Middle English capitale (same meaning), from early French (same meaning), from Latin capitellum "small head, top of a column," from caput "head"

Legal Definition

capital

1 of 2 adjective
cap·​i·​tal
1
a
: 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

capital

2 of 2 noun
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
3
: a city serving as a seat of government
the state capital
Etymology

Adjective

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

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