The words “capital” and “capitol” sound the same but have different meanings. And it’s important to know the difference to ensure clarity in your writing. Our guide below will show you how to pick the right spelling.
The Many Meanings of “Capital”
“Capital” can be used as a noun or an adjective in different contexts, and it has a range of meanings. Some key definitions include:
A centre of government for a country (e.g., Madrid is Spain’s capital city)
The centre or most important location for an activity or business (e.g., Switzerland is the yodelling capital of the world)
Money or possessions, especially when used for an investment (e.g., We need $25,000 capital for start-up costs)
There are some other definitions, too (e.g., capital punishment refers to the death penalty). However, in all these cases, the correct spelling is “capital.”
Capitol (A Government Building)
Spelled with an “o,” the word “capitol” refers to a building in which a state or national government meets. For instance, we could say:
Important legislative decisions are made in capitol buildings.
It only starts with a capital letter when it refers to a particular building:
The meeting was held at the Michigan State Capitol.
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If you see “The Capitol” on its own, meanwhile, it will refer to the United States Capitol in Washington, DC. For instance, we could say:
The Capitol Building houses the federal legislature.
In all cases, though, “capitol” with an “o” refers to a building. One extra thing to note here is that “capitol” is largely used in American English, as other countries do not refer to government buildings in the same way.
Summary: Capital or Capitol?
While they look similar, these words have different meanings:
In most cases, capital is the correct spelling. This includes when referring to a capital city, a capital letter, or financial capital.
A capitol is a building where US state or national legislative bodies meet.
And as long as you can remember that “capitol” always refers to a building, it should be easy to avoid errors with these words. But if you’d like extra help checking your spelling, or any other aspect of your writing, our proofreading service is available whenever you need it.