cap·​i·​tol ˈka-pə-tᵊl How to pronounce capitol (audio)
: a building in which a state legislative body meets
the dome of the state capitol
: a group of buildings in which the functions of state government are carried out
capitalized : the building in which the U.S. Congress meets at Washington

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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 capitol in a Sentence

the dome of the state capitol the legislators were called to the capitol for an emergency session
Recent Examples on the Web Three police officers were shot trying to make an animal cruelty arrest that touched off an hourslong standoff in the nation's capitol on Wednesday, which ended late at night with a man's arrest. CBS News, 14 Feb. 2024 Tensions between Kansas and Missouri date back to the Civil War but still crop up in both state capitols as lawmakers seek to beat — or mimic — legislation on the other side of the border. Katie Bernard, Kansas City Star, 5 Feb. 2024 Under the gaze of the public eye for more than half of her life, the eldest Obama daughter is forging a path of her own outside of D.C., having traded our nation’s capitol for L.A. Hannah Jackson, Vogue, 2 Feb. 2024 In the months ahead, advocates are also planning public education campaigns, community listening sessions and rallies at the capitol, hoping to get more Black Californians enthusiastic enough to push state lawmakers to start debating reparations. Emmanuel Felton, Washington Post, 28 Jan. 2024 About 300 students showed up at the capitol, doubling the presence from last year, for a press conference and rally held on Wednesday. Ashley Miznazi, Miami Herald, 26 Jan. 2024 The state capitol is on a little hill less than a mile away, looking like half a dozen other state capitols and the nation’s capitol in Washington, D.C.. Tower windows are long, vertical slits, like Medieval fortress towers in Italy. Brian T. Allen, National Review, 20 Jan. 2024 In December, a legislative committee on addiction and community safety held a hearing at the state capitol. E. Tammy Kim, The New Yorker, 15 Jan. 2024 The vice president drew a parallel between the teachings of Martin Luther King Jr. and the struggles of today during a speech at the state capitol. Haisten Willis, Washington Examiner, 15 Jan. 2024 See More

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

Word History


Latin Capitolium, temple of Jupiter at Rome on the Capitoline hill

First Known Use

1679, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

Time Traveler
The first known use of capitol was in 1679

Dictionary Entries Near capitol

Cite this Entry

“Capitol.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 27 Feb. 2024.

Kids Definition


cap·​i·​tol ˈkap-ət-ᵊl How to pronounce capitol (audio)
: the building in which a state legislature meets
capitalized : the building in which the U.S. Congress meets in Washington, D.C.

More from Merriam-Webster on capitol

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