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User talk:EncycloPetey/English proper nouns

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AlbanianEdit

originally posted on User talk:V-ball
I'm seeing a pattern of confusing Noun and Proper noun in your edits. If a word has a plural, that's usually a giveaway that it's a common noun; you can't judge it by whether it's capitalized or not. So Mormon (the specific prophet) is a proper noun because it's a specific unique person. But Mormon (member of the LDS movement) is a common noun; it's a not a particular person or thing, but one of a whole group of items all labelled with the same name. Likewise Albanian (language) is a specific thing and therefore a proper noun. But Albanian (person from Albania) is a common noun. --EncycloPetey 03:04, 24 June 2007 (UTC)
Hmmm . . . just because something can be plural doesn't mean its a common noun.  Yes, the language Albanian does not have a plural, and it's a proper noun.  However, the Albanian, a person from Albania, is a proper noun and can be pluralized.  The same goes for Mormon.  The prophet is just one person, and cannot be pluralized.  However, the name for males can be pluralized.  Think, "Hey, there's three Mormons in this room."  (Three different people named Mormon.)  —  V-ball 23:16, 25 June 2007 (UTC)
I even made this distinction with the old edit where I indicated whether a specific definition pertained to a countable word or not.
# {{countable}} A person from [[Albania]] or of Albanian [[descent]].
# {{uncountable}} The [[language]] spoken by the Albanian people, primarily spoken in [[Albania]].  (ISO language codes: [[alb]]/[[sqi]]/[[sq]].) — V-ball 23:21, 25 June 2007 (UTC)
Both the Wikipedia article on w:Nouns and the Cambridge Grammar of the English Language disagree with you. The difference between the two lies in whether the noun applies to a unique entity or to a class of items. Albanian (the language) is unique, and is therefore a proper noun. Albanian (a person) belongs to a class of similarly identified individuals, and so is a common noun. --EncycloPetey 01:23, 26 June 2007 (UTC)

Proper nounsEdit

originally posted in the Tea Room

The word multiverse is a common noun, not a proper noun[1]. Proper nouns normally are not preceded by articles or other delimiting words, and, unless the definition of proper noun has changed since my university days, English proper nouns are invariably capitalized. Besides the fact that we speak of "the" multiverse, the multiverse is a common noun in that it denotes any of a hypothetical class of entities. That there is (in one theory) only one multiverse, it is still one of a hypothetical class. Just because there is, in one theory, only one multiverse in existence does not make it any less one of a class. By some accounts there is only one earth, yet the earth is a common noun; Earth, OTOH, is a proper noun (capitalized, no article). Earth lends itself to both usages, but multiverse as it stands is a common noun. —Stephen 21:43, 26 June 2007 (UTC)

Not all proper nouns are capitalized anymore; consider eBay, iTunes, etc. (And even before the current rage, "e e cummings" wrote his name in lowercase as a sign of humility, and others often his name in lowercase as an unintentional sign of their cluelessness.) Also — I'm sure you're aware of this, but it bears note anyway, as the occurrence of a "proper adjective" header suggests that many people are not — while essentially all proper nouns are capitalized, being capitalized does not make something a proper noun. For example, "American" isn't a proper noun; it's a common noun that's capitalized in English. —RuakhTALK 21:53, 26 June 2007 (UTC)
And some proper nouns are preceded by "the", such as "the Alps", "the United States", and "the Moon". In fact some proper nouns are regularly preceded by the definite article. The key distinction between a proper noun and a common noun is whether it identifies a specific, unique entity (proper noun) or places the object into a class of similar objects (common noun). The word multiverse is a specific set. It may be theoretical, but the theory specifically posits it as the unique and only set of universes that includes all possible universes, and it is therefore, by definition, unique.
Yes, there are some new proper nouns that are not capitalized, but they are all recognizeable for what they are. I don’t think anyone said that all capitalized words are proper nouns. In any case, the multiverse is not a case like eBay or e e cummings, it is a case like the universe and the earth. And yes, there are certain proper nouns that take the definite article...not only does this happen in English, but also in French and Spanish. Again, the multiverse is not such a case, the multiverse is an ordinary common noun just like the universe and the earth. The Alps is not a proper noun because the Alps are unique by definition, it is a proper noun because it is the name of the mountains. The Alps are mountains...Alps is the name, mountains is what they are. The multiverse is a composite of all universes...that’s what it is, but that’s not what its name is. The multiverse has no name, it is just a thing. Another theory is that there are an infinite number of multiverses, each containing an infinite number of universes. Our multiverse might be named the Alpha Multiverse, in which case the Alpha Multiverse would be the name of this multiverse (rather than merely what it is), and multiverse is what the Alpha Multiverse is (rather than its name). Another theory holds that there is only one universe, and therefore no multiverse, and this accident of information does not affect the grammar or semantics of the words and universe remains a common noun under any theory, and multiverse is a common noun under any theory.
If everyone on earth died except for one man, that one man’s uniqueness would not turn man into a proper noun. Even though he’s the only man, a man is what he is, but it is not his name. The multiverse is what the conglomeration is, but it is not a name. Recent Internet spellings, while they create some exceptions to rules, do not turn common nouns into proper nouns. The number one does not make a noun a proper noun. I have a videotape that is one only one like it in existence, but videotape is what it is, and is not its name. Even though there is only one, it is a common noun. —Stephen 01:33, 27 June 2007 (UTC)
I think you missed seeing my comments below, or you might have saved yourself some of the writing you did. I think on some level, we agree. A proper noun is a label for a unique item, and a key characteristic of a proper noun is that the referent is by definition unique; that is, the definition itself does not allow another item with that label to exist. If you can cite a source that describes a theory or concept of multiple multiverses, then I would agree that it becomes a common noun. However, the current definition and all the usages I've heard (including the ones in the Oxford Dictionary of Science fiction) treat it as a unique overall largest possible set of universes. If the term can be used to describe a set of universes smaller than the totality of all possible ones, it clearly isn't unique and is therefore a common noun. --EncycloPetey 01:46, 27 June 2007 (UTC)
It doesn’t matter about different theories and it doesn’t matter how many multiverses there are. There may not be even a single multiverse. Multiverse is not the name of the multiverse, if one exists, it is merely what it is. The name of the multiverse, if it had a name, would be a proper noun. However, it is not a name, it is a description. If somebody had decided to denominate all of the universes that might exist with the moniker Multiverse, then in that case, Multiverse would be a name (and proper noun), but would not be a description. As it is, Multiverse is not the name of all the universes, but all of the universes comprise a multiverse. The common noun multiverse describes what all the universes are, it is not the name of all of the universes. If it were the name, it would be capitalized (or else name i-Multiverse or e-Multiverse or some such gimmick applied for commercial purposes). —Stephen 02:00, 27 June 2007 (UTC)
I see two points in your reasoning. (1) A name and a description are not the same. I disagree; the fact that something is a name does not preclude its being a description. Both European Union and Roman Empire are proper nouns. They are names, and they are also descriptions. Likewise, we have Western Europe, Antarctic Ocean, and the Black Forest. All of these have names that are also descriptions. (2) The capitalization argument. We've already established some common nouns are capitalized, such as Frenchman or Pinto. Isn't it therefore possible that some proper nouns are not? The argument ad orthographiam is not convincing. --EncycloPetey 02:22, 27 June 2007 (UTC)
And just the quickest Internet search turns up: "Multiverses have been hypothesized in cosmology, physics, philosophy, theology, and fiction, particularly in science fiction and fantasy" at w:Metaverses. If singular and plural had anything to do with it (it doesn’t), here it is in the plural. —Stephen 02:12, 27 June 2007 (UTC)
Note that Earth and Moon are proper nouns. To make a refernce to our planet, grammars I used in school advised capitalizing it, as it is a proper noun. There are of course common nouns earth and moon as well, but these lower case labels do not apply uniquely to our planet or its satellite. There are many cases of this in astronomy, such as the Bull (Taurus) versus the common noun bull. --EncycloPetey 01:46, 27 June 2007 (UTC)
That’s because the Moon is the name of our moon. Moon is its name (proper noun), moon is what it is (common noun). —Stephen 02:15, 27 June 2007 (UTC)
OK, so what about poker? bridge? whist? I've had a conversation with someone about this before, but I can't remember who it was. Obviously, the word poker is not usually capitalized, however, it is the name of a card game. It is also clearly not descriptive. I can find examples of it capitalized. In fact, the copy I have of Hoyle's consistently capitalizes the word "Poker", even though I note that the citations given in the OED do not. Is poker a proper noun? --EncycloPetey 02:40, 27 June 2007 (UTC)
And it's not simply a matter of whether only one of them happens to exist, but whether the definition of the term prohibits the existence of another objects with the same label. There aren't any unicorns in existence, and likely never were, but the definition allows for the possibility of many members, so the word "unicorn is a common noun. There may (one day) be only one whooping crane, but the definition of a "whooping crane" permits the existence of other such things even if those others do not, so the word "whooping crane" is a common noun. The definition of Frenchman allows for many members, so it too is a common noun. The deifnition of Macedonia makes it a proper noun; even though there are multiple entities with that label, each definition identifies only one such entity each and prohibits the inclusion of other members. In like fashion, the definition of multiverse prohibits the possibility of other items bearing the same label, so it is a proper noun. --EncycloPetey 21:58, 26 June 2007 (UTC)
Note also the following invariably capitalized nouns:
"Americans" is certainly not a proper noun, but not all English speakers agree about the other two. The Wednesday entry, for example, categorizes Wednesday as a proper noun, but the July entry categorizes July as a common noun. From one point of view, the words identify one of an open set of periods of time ("last Wednesday", "this Wednesday", "next Wednesday", ...), but from another, they name unique entities within a given or assumed scope (a single week or a single year). Rod (A. Smith) 23:22, 26 June 2007 (UTC)
Thanks for the additional point. This discussion follows on several others I've had recently with people about proper nouns, so I've started organizing notes for an Appendix:English proper nouns. I hadn't thought of days and moths for examples yet. From the point of view of being days in "the week" or months of "the year", they have tradiitoinally been thought of as proper nouns, I suppose. However, you can "eat at a restaurant five Wednesdays in a row", and in that context it becomes clear that Wednesday is functionally a common noun, albeit a capitalized one. --EncycloPetey 23:33, 26 June 2007 (UTC)
So many aspects of language can be answered with the shortest cyclical argument ever, "Because." When I had to explain why "Wednesday" is capitalized to my students, I would say that Wednesday is the name of the day, and that names are capitalized. Then I quickly changed topics, or onto the next part of the lesson, before they saw through the ridiculousness of that argument. The name of the color of the board is "white", which is clearly not a proper noun. Neither "Wednesday" nor "white" are the names of anything any more than words are the names of the objects they describe. If "Wednesday" is traditionally considered a proper noun in English, then tradition got it wrong. Seriously, how many other languages classify it as such? Whether a noun is proper or not is a quality that transcends language. DAVilla 13:20, 1 July 2007 (UTC)
That's what I used to think, but it simply isn't true. Consider that when a Slovene wants to say "I speak Slovene", he would use the adverb for Slovene. In English, we don't even have an adverb form for Slovene. In some Australian Aboriginal languages, there is no distinction made between nouns and adjectives. Many languages blur the distinction by calling things "substantive adjectives" and "attributive nouns", but some languages just do away with the distinction altogether. Consider that the Ojibwe word for year is a verb. As you look at more and more languages, it becomes clear that the part of speech assigned to a concept is not a universally constant feature.
It would be nice if classification by parts of speech were transcendental over language, but it really depends on the cultural underpinning of a language. I suspect that the reason that any day names are capitalized in western Europe lies in their Latin and German etymologies from the names of deities, and not from any real perception as a proper noun. Then, when English grammarians decided that capitalization of a noun went hand-in-hand with proper status, the days of the week came to be perceived as such with rationalization to back it up. --EncycloPetey 21:28, 1 July 2007 (UTC)
What does this mean for universe? Shouldn't the first sense (as opposed to the "one component of a multiverse" sense) be a comparable proper noun? Dmcdevit·t 23:59, 26 June 2007 (UTC)
Possibly, but I don't see anything in the first definition that excludes the existence of other universes. If a person is referring to this universe as "the universe", then I would expect it to be used in a proper noun sense, just as we distinguish between "the moons of Jupiter" (common) and "We landed on the Moon in 1969" (proper); or between "the sun of an alien world" and "Our solar system in centered on the Sun". It's a messy cosmological question. I can't recall whether I've ever seen universe capitalized when referring specifically to our universe, as opposed to the other theoretical ones, which would help to make a parallel case to the way we treat sun/Sun, earth/Earth, and moon/Moon. --EncycloPetey 00:34, 27 June 2007 (UTC)
Ah! Found an example: --EncycloPetey 00:43, 27 June 2007 (UTC)
  • 1979 — John Gribbin, Time Warps, ch 6, p 91
    The possible existence of 'alternate' versions of the Universe we know is a familiar theme from science fiction...
I've definitely seen "Universe" capitalized, and that's normally how I write it (at least, when I'm referring to the whole of Creation). Regarding "multiverse": I might buy that "the multiverse" is a proper noun that's not capitalized because cosmologists are weird, but insofar as "multiverse" by itself is a word, I really think it's a common noun. —RuakhTALK 00:42, 27 June 2007 (UTC)

Round 2Edit

  • (Moving conversation back to margin.) 203.154.48.179 22:34, 3 July 2007 (UTC)

But why do you think that? I'm not simply being contrary here, but would like to hear people's reasoning. It will help me think through issues for writing the Appendix on proper nouns I mentioned above. If there is a good reason to consider multiverse a common noun, that reason could affect my approach to writing the Appendix. I've already gathered many exmplars for proper nouns that take the definite article, and I've assembled a list of situations in which common nouns are capitalized, but I have very few possibilities of cases where a proper noun is not capitalized. In addition to Ruakh's examples above, I have as possibilities universe (where the capitalization is inconsistent), multiverse, and null set. I'd like to gather as many people's thoughts on this issue as possible. --EncycloPetey 00:57, 27 June 2007 (UTC)

Practically any proper noun can function as a common noun, e.g.
I'm Slim Shady, yes I'm the real Shady
All you other Slim Shadys are just imitating
Obviously, though, we wouln't put "Slim Shady" in English nouns, as that would water down the (formal grammar) part of speech categories excessively. So, let's just separate where in our entries we describe formal and functional grammar. Our etymologically-minded formal grammar system (e.g. "==English==/===Proper noun===" with {{en-proper noun}}) should label and assign Category:English proper nouns to the primary English meaning of Wednesday and universe. Our definitions are least as descriptive as prescriptive, though, so a citation and a {{context}} tag on a definition of each should show (assuming the sense meets CFI) that it can function as a common noun as well. (BTW, applying this approach more broadly may help simplify our treatment of "===Phrase===" vs. "===Verb===", "===Verb form===" vs. "===Participle===" vs. "===Adjective===", etc.) Rod (A. Smith) 02:05, 27 June 2007 (UTC)
Because between the following sentences:
  1. We aren't even sure if the multiverse exists.
  2. We aren't even sure if there is a multiverse.
only the second makes sense. The first is like questioning reality but substituting a strange term for it. If you're out on a wing and your belief set includes the Universe being part of a greater multiverse as a fact, then you would need a name for it, and you might question your belief in reality in that way. But for the rest of us it's an abstract concept with no personality, and we would be more expected to say the second. That's because while I'm uncertain that there is a multiverse, I'm quite sure that if there is a multiverse, then it exists. Compare that with the following:
  1. We aren't even sure if Atlantis ever existed.
  2. We aren't even sure if there ever was an Atalantis.
In contrast to the first example, the meaning of these two sentences are the same because we do identify Atlantis as a specific place, fictional or not. Or as Stephen expains more simply above, "Atlantis" is a name and "Multiverse" isn't. DAVilla 13:20, 1 July 2007 (UTC)
Sorry, DAVilla , but I don't folow your reasoning here. I also think a better analogy would be to the pair
  1. We aren't even sure if God exists.
  2. We aren't even sure if there is a God.
For many people, the existence of God is part of reality in a way that Atlantis isn't. I hope you'll agree that both sentences make sense, and I see both multiverse examples making exactly the same kind of sense. I do not see a difference bwteen the two sentences. --EncycloPetey 21:18, 1 July 2007 (UTC)
Your example is identical to the one of Atlantis. In both cases the word registers as the name of some specific, known entity. Let me give an example that's inbetween my initial examples:
  1. WE AREN'T EVEN SURE IF THE MOON EXISTS.
  2. WE AREN'T EVEN SURE IF THERE IS A MOON.
In the first case, it is natural to interpret the sentence as "the Moon" since, refering to something definite, we think that the statement must mean the primary one. But because "MOON" can be either a proper or common noun, it is a little more natural to interpret the second as "a moon" rather than "a Moon", especially since we are so sure that the Moon does exist. In any case, you should be able to easily distinguish between both senses for each sentence. Even if it's not clear that the other sense is dominant in the second example, it should have at least crossed your mind on the first read.
  • We aren't even sure if the universe exists.
If you take Multiverse to be the name of the place of our existence, then this sentence about the Universe is equivalent to the first sentence in my original example. Read it again, and compare to the sentence above. With the right sense of Multiverse, they are equivalent. The fact that you had difficulty getting that meaning out of it lends credit to the claim that you do not consider Multiverse to be the name of our multiverse. It also means I gave a lousy explanation on the difference, but that's beside the point.
Whether a multiverse, Atlantis, and/or God exist is completely tangential to the question of whether they're proper nouns, by the way. I was just trying to give examples that confused you enough to where you didn't over-analyze how you were thinking about the sentences, but just tried your best to make any sort of sense of them. DAVilla 22:15, 2 July 2007 (UTC)
No, the reason I had difficulty was that (1) I couldn't parse your argument, and (2) you chose an example (Atlantis) in which the grammatical usage differed from the word multiverse. Specifically, multiverse requires use of "the" and Atlantis cannot use it. I made an attempt to suggest an alternative based on what I thought you were trying to say, but apparently misunderstood completely your point. Your choice of Moon is a much better example grammatically, since it uses a/the as multiverse does, but it fails to parallel exactly because the definition of moon allows for multiple moons to exist. The definition of multiverse (as currently given; Stephen has suggested another definiiton might be possible) prohibits the existnece of more than one, so it cannot be called parallel to the case under consideration. Likewise, the concepts underpinning the definition of multiverse prohibit the word having an identical meaning to universe, so one can't take it to name the place of our existence. It specifically is greater in scope than the word universe. Therefore, your statements above require changing the definition of multiverse to one that isn't used, and the point is irrelevant. Making an argument based on a non-definition doesn't help explain anything. --EncycloPetey 19:25, 3 July 2007 (UTC)
I didn't notice the determiner "the" is excluded for Atlantis. On the other hand, it's also excluded for God. So maybe a better example is:
  1. We aren't even sure if the Soviet Union exists.
  2. We aren't even sure if there is a Soviet Union.
I'm growing ashamed of not having been more direct from the beginning, and of still not being able to make myself clear, as you seem to be having trouble parsing my argument even now. You've said that many of the examples are not parallel, and rather than argue the point, let me toss them out. When you understand my argument you can go back and re-evaluate those examples for yourself.
I don't think you'd object to the example of the Soviet Union. That's clearly a proper noun, a single entity, etc. Now for sake of clarity, and this is the step I had missed earlier, let me give the opposite example, something that is, hopefully, clearly a common noun:
  1. We aren't even sure if the election board exists.
  2. We aren't even sure if there is an election board.
In the case of the Soviet Union, the two sentences that illustrate it are identical. In this case of an election board, both sentences are identical. The first is a proper noun, and the second is a common noun. Good so far I think.
You seem to think that my example of MOON is a good one gramatically, so I will leave it in consideration. While I was indeed constrasting it with "multiverse", I had not meant to claim that they were parallel cases in the most likely reading. The point of the MOON example is only to illustrate something that's inbetween, something that is clearly both a proper and a common noun. So hopefully you agree that so far there are three very solid examples of the kind of classification we are seeking.
Now duplicate here the examples I gave of "multiverse" that are under consideration:
  1. We aren't even sure if the multiverse exists.
  2. We aren't even sure if there is a multiverse.
You said these seem identical to you, that you do not see a difference between the two sentences. That means the sense of "multiverse" you're reading in the first definition is the same as the sense of "multiverse" you're reading in the second. This sense of "multiverse" cannot be both proper and common at the same time. These sentences do not parallel the example of MOON. They must either parallel the example of the Soviet Union or of the election board.
Now here's the point which you're missing. In fact it is possible to read these in a way that they parallel the example in MOON. It is not the primary reading, and in fact it's so unnatural as a second reading that I've not figured out a way to explain it to you yet. You're being a bit stubborn in insisting that there can only be one sense of "multiverse". But let me try again.
First let's start with something that's straight-forward. I give two meanings of the word in question and a translation:
  • We aren't even sure if the moon/Moon exists.
    1. Moon = the large body that is orbiting our planet
      We aren't sure if what looks like the large body orbiting our planet is real.
    2. moon = any large body that is orbiting a planet
      We aren't sure if the speculated large body orbiting some particular planet is just a miscalculation.
  • We aren't even sure if there is a Moon/moon.
    1. Moon = the large body that is orbiting our planet
      We aren't sure if our description of "a large body orbiting our planet" is what's really going on.
    2. moon = any large body that is orbiting a planet
      We aren't sure if a speculated large body orbiting some planet is present.
The two readings of the first sentence, one for the proper noun sense and one for the common noun, parallel the two readings of the second sentence for equivalent senses. However, for the first sentence we tend to prefer a reading that uses the proper noun, and for the second, one that uses the common. Sorry if this is dull as it's meant to be straigth-forward.
Now I think you could easily see that I could do the same thing for SOVIET UNION. We would have
  • We aren't even sure if the soviet union/Soviet Union exists.
    1. Soviet Union = the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics
    2. soviet union = a union of some elements that is soviet in nature
This second is pretty silly, so it's clear that the first dominates. There are cases where this is not so silly, like Main Street and First Bank, in which case we usually drop "the" from the proper nouns to make the two senses easier to distinguish. We don't always drop "the" though, as with the Civil War, the Restoration, the Church, the Congress, the National Archives, etc., all of which have come to be known widely as some specific entity while having been named from common nouns. That's another point, of course, that any common noun can be ascribed as the name of something. The flip side is that a proper noun can be used in a generic sense, such as with genericized trademarks. When this happens, we create both a capitalized and a lower-case page, forcing the principle in English that nouns are capitalized if they are proper. Of course, that isn't always the case, as Wednesday and iTunes demonstrate, and even if it were we'd have to be sure that we had the capitalization correct.
The point now is to determine which sense of METAVERSE MULTIVERSE is the natural read, and which one is awkward and forced. The following is what I consider to be the division between the proper and common senses:
  • We aren't even sure if the metaverse/Metaverse multiverse/Multiverse exists.
    1. Metaverse Multiverse = the collection of all universes everywhere, including our own
      We aren't sure about reality, if each of the universes, including our own, exist.
    2. metaverse multiverse = a collection of universes that might include our own
      We aren't sure if a collection of universes, which might include our own, exists.
  • We aren't even sure if there is a metaverse/Metaverse.
    1. Metaverse Multiverse = the collection of all universes everywhere, including our own
      We aren't sure if there is a reality like the collection of universes of which our own is a part.
    2. metaverse multiverse = a collection of universes that might include our own
      We aren't sure if there is a collection of universes including or outside of our own.
You claim that it is the first definition that is correct, but the common reading of this sentence illustrates that it is the second sense that is understood. 203.154.48.179 22:34, 3 July 2007 (UTC)
OK, I think I understand the direction you're trying to argue now. The addition problem I'm having though is that you don't seem to understand the definition of multiverse (you wrote metaverse above, which is not the same concept!) The word multiverse isn't and cannot be defined the way you have done so above. It is a question of the precision inherent in set theory. I would write one of the above sentence examples as follows:
  • We aren't even sure if the metaverse/Metaverse multiverse/Multiverse exists.
    1. Metaverse Multiverse = the collection of all universes everywhere, including our own
      We aren't sure about reality, whether universes exist beyond our own, contained in a single all-inclusive set.
Frankly, I cannot think of a meaningful way to express your second sentence above (of the four). No matter how I try to write it, it just doesn't work in English. The very definition of multiverse stipulates that if other universes exist in addition to our own, then there de facto the multiverse exists. If ours is the only universe, then there is no multiverse. That last sentence shows something of the charatcer of a proper noun in the way multiverse is used. Try substituting "moon" for "multiverse" in the previous sentence and you'll see that it just doesn't work grammatically. Consider:
  • If the theory is wrong then there is no multiverse.
  • If the theory is wrong then there is no soviet union.
  • If the theory is wrong then there is no god.
  • If the theory is wrong then there is no moon.
In each of these sentences, you are forced to assume the final noun is a proper noun, despite the lack of capitalization. It just wouldn't make sense to have a common noun in that position. If a common noun were placed in that position, it would be forced to be plural and change the verb to "are":
  • If the theory is wrong then there are no soviet unions.
  • If the theory is wrong then there are no gods.
  • If the theory is wrong then there are no moons.
In these sentences, it is clear that we have a common noun. I think this illustrates the point I've been trying to make that a proper noun is the name of something/someone that is unique by definition. Meanwhile, I have been trying to find a published authority that tackles this issue. So far, most books spout the traditional "Proper nouns are capitalized" and list specific examples. The CGEL isn't any help either, since it doesn't ever define "proper noun". The authors spend much more time emphasizin the difference between a "proper noun" and a "proper name" (the latter may consist of more than one word, like United States, which is very unhelpful for this discussion). I thought I had found a source today that would shed some light on this, but a more careful reading showed that the discussion only applied to the names of specific persons. I continue to look. --EncycloPetey 05:19, 4 July 2007 (UTC)
Looks like I got a chunk of your text in my last edit. I would revert but, maybe the strikethrus what you intended? DAVilla 20:42, 4 July 2007 (UTC)
I think you've been thinking about this too long … our sense of "weird" and "normal" tends to get skewed when we think for too long on whether specific examples are weird or normal. Certainly "If the theory is wrong then there is no way to do this" and "If the theory is wrong then there is no reason to doubt this" are both grammatical, but neither uses any proper nouns. —RuakhTALK 07:27, 4 July 2007 (UTC)
Okay, let me tackle this specific issue about a definition that, logically, can mean only one of something. There is a sense of zero that means "the numer corresponding to the absence of anything" i.e. "the cardinality of the empty set" i.e. "the value for which addition parallels set union with the empty set". We know that there is only one empty set and we know that there is only one zero. (A hundered has two zeros, but that's a different sense.) Zero and the empty set are unique, almost by definition. The catch is that this is actually a result of mathematics, as the definitions do not need to be phrased this way! The axiom of empty set states \exist \varnothing \forall x \lnot (x \in \varnothing) and the axiom of an additive identity of a group states \exist 0 \forall x (0 + x = x + 0 = x). With a simple notion of equivalence, as with the axiom of extensionality, it's a simple matter to prove that they are unique. But in that proof, we are required to consider two emply sets or two zeros, neither word any different in definition from our notion of the unique zero and the uniqe empty set. Now I'm sure you consider zero to be a common noun, and probably empty set without too much difficulty, so it should be clear that the fact that there can be only one is rather irrelevant to the question of whether it's the name of something. The exact same thing is being done with multiverse. The collection of all universes, or a collection of universes that contains our own, or however you want to define it, can be proved unique, but that does not make the word a proper noun. DAVilla 16:17, 4 July 2007 (UTC)
Heh. Actually, I consider zero to be a Numeral in that sense, not a noun. Numerals can function grammatically in the same positions that nouns do, but also can function as determiners, adjectives, and even as pronouns. As for null set, that's actually one of the other cases where, like multiverse, I've been thinking of it as possibly a proper noun. Like multiverse, it is defined in terms of set notation, so the analogy came to me some time ago; I just wasn't sure about raising it because it's one of the stickier concepts in set theory. I've begun to wonder whether there is a clear dichotomy between common and proper nouns. Perhaps there is a bit of fuzzy ground in between the two. --EncycloPetey 21:29, 4 July 2007 (UTC)
Does the multiverse perforce include more than one universe? I took it to be a broader term whose purpose was to allow for that possibility (as in, the multiverse refers to the collection of all universes that exist, which means just the Universe if the Universe is the only universe that exists). Your linguistic argument seems fairly sound, and ordinarily I'd say that's all that matters, but if your linguistic argument hinges on a misuse of the term, then it might not actually apply to the term as cosmologists use it — and I think they're the ones usually using it, so it's their linguistic tendencies we should be looking at. —RuakhTALK 15:16, 1 July 2007 (UTC)
No, it can't simply mean the one Universe we're familiar with. The hypothesis underpinning it assumes other universes can and do exist, and that the multiverse is the set containing all those universes. If only one Universe exists, then the multiverse is a subject for science fiction. --EncycloPetey 21:08, 1 July 2007 (UTC)

Third WorldEdit

originally posted in the Tea Room

Is Third World a proper noun? Is Third-World a proper adjective? (third-world redirects to Third-World). They are listed with caps but the headings are noun and adjective. Are they common or proper? RJFJR 15:09, 13 July 2007 (UTC)

I only recall seeing it as third world and third-world. --Connel MacKenzie 17:31, 13 July 2007 (UTC)
And no, there is no such thing as a "Proper adjective." --Connel MacKenzie 17:32, 13 July 2007 (UTC)
Really? I've always seen the noun capitalized. A Google search on Wikisource turns up almost exclusively capitalized forms. The one that isn't is from the Catholic Encyclopedia, and is not referring to the same concept. As the Third World is a specific entity (if a bit fuzzily defined), I'd call it a Proper noun, just like Old World and New World. Connel is probably right about the correct adjective form, but that doesn't mean that people are actually using the correct form. --EncycloPetey 17:44, 13 July 2007 (UTC)
proper adjective & W:Proper adjective RJFJR 18:18, 13 July 2007 (UTC)
I'm with Connel on this: the term "proper adjective" does exist, but is due to a misunderstanding of the meaning of the term "proper noun"; there's no call for Wiktionary to start using it. (As for the capitalization, I'd capitalize "the Third World", but I'd describe a country as a "third-world country". I think capitalizing "Third-World country" is somewhat dated; a quick Google News search suggests that some writers do capitalize it, but most do not.) —RuakhTALK 19:36, 13 July 2007 (UTC)
I agree as well. A proper noun is a noun that names a particular and specific entity. Logically then, proper adjectives should describe a unique and specific thing, but they do not. Some adjectives are capitalized simply because they derive from proper nouns, but they're still just adjectives. An unusual etymology does not create a new part of speech. And I note that the Cambridge Grammar of the English Language makes no mention of "proper adjectives" at all. --EncycloPetey 23:28, 13 July 2007 (UTC)

Ludo – wrongly capitalized?Edit

originally posted in the Tea Room and on Talk:Ludo

I believe that the title is wrongly capitalized – I believe that it should be ludo also for the English word, just as chess isn't capitalized either.

The word refers to a general board game, not owned or copyrighted (or patented, today at least) by a particular company. Shell-man 12:27, 14 July 2007 (UTC)

Names of specific games are sometimes capitalized, even if it is not a registered name. For instance, my copy of Hoyle consistently capitalizes the words "Poker", "Bridge", and "Whist". As these words are names of specific games, they may be considered proper nouns, even though the majority of people today tend not to capitalize them. --EncycloPetey 20:57, 16 July 2007 (UTC)

Proper NounEdit

originally posted in the Tea Room

Nobel Prize is a proper noun, name of the award, right? RJFJR 16:27, 19 July 2007 (UTC)

Nobel is a proper noun

the Nobel Foundation is a proper noun

but a Nobel Prize is a noun. SemperBlotto 16:49, 19 July 2007 (UTC)

I don't recall ever heading of winning a Nobel Prize, but winning the Nobel Prize (or "the Nobel Prize for ...") Since they are almost always referred to only individually, the references themselves end up being proper nouns: "The 1979 Nobel Peace Prize." Is a usage note the way to go for that, or should we list each type of Nobel Prize awarded annually, or both? --Connel MacKenzie 17:38, 19 July 2007 (UTC)
The phrase "a Nobel Prize" certainly exists (granted, some of those are using it attributively with a singular head noun, like "a Nobel Prize winner", but it looks like those are a small minority). I think "Nobel Prize" is both a proper noun construed with the, and a common noun; likewise for the usual names of the various specific prizes ("Nobel Prize in/for economics", etc.). —RuakhTALK 18:23, 19 July 2007 (UTC)
<pet peeve>There Is No Nobel Prize In Economics, there is (formally) only the "Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel", "Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences" or simply "Nobel Memorial Price"</pet peeve> (Ahhh, is there some drama about that name... :) \Mike 18:58, 19 July 2007 (UTC)
Likewise, there is no Nobel Prize for Biology; there is only an International Prize for Biology that has been awarded since 1985. Nor is there a Noble Prize for Mathematics; Nobel did not consider math to be of practical value. --EncycloPetey 19:47, 19 July 2007 (UTC)
Yeah, that's why I said "the usual names", not "the correct names". :-) —RuakhTALK 20:37, 19 July 2007 (UTC)
I believe that some people have won multiple Nobel Prizes - and I don't believe that proper nouns can have plurals. SemperBlotto 18:49, 19 July 2007 (UTC)
Why not? There are many people named John Smith, ergo, many John Smiths. And I am aware of at least three Miamis. :) bd2412 T 19:32, 19 July 2007 (UTC)

Sigh... I guess I need to finish that draft for Appendix:English proper nouns. Proper nouns typically don't have plurals, but many can be used grammatically as common nouns, and then acquire a plural form. The division between common and proper nouns is fuzzier than textbooks would have us believe. --EncycloPetey 19:47, 19 July 2007 (UTC)

Applicability to classes of our entriesEdit

The entries we have for given names (John), surnames {Johns), and place names (London) do not meet the criteria, it seems to me. It is only in a very specific context that "John" is a proper name, that is, when there is some pointing taking place. In what sense is Johns, as in the "Johns" (family, nuclear, extended, or all namesakes) a Proper noun? London is only a Proper noun in the sense that it is the Nickname for "London, England" or "London, Ontario". It is a lot like a given name, it seems to me. In other words our standards for entries, virtually exclude what are truly proper Proper nouns. What am I missing? DCDuring TALK 02:04, 15 May 2008 (UTC)

The subtlety of use. In most cases, the use of these words is as a proper noun. It is only rarely, and only in certain grammatical structures, that they function as common nouns. If you ask "Have you seen John?", then you are applying the label John to a specific individual. you may get a response of "Which John do you mean?", in which case it is technically now a common noun meaning "person bearing the name of John", but then English questions have many oddities of grammar anyway. now, in the case of "the Johns" you mean a specific family, so it is indeed a proper noun there; some proper nouns do take the definite article (the Alps, the Nile). It may seem odd that a proper noun can have a fuzzy boundary (which members of the family are included), but that's not a problem. Other proper nouns also have fuzzy limits, such as the Serengeti, the Arctic, or the Bronze Age. Neither of these has absolute boundaries set on what is included, and may change slightly in meaning from one person to another.
The subject of proper nouns is very, very difficult and often mired in abstract philosophy when it is properly discussed. There are distinct differences in the grammatical properties of common and proper nouns, but explaining the difference succintly is usually left to "it has a capital letter", which is no explanation at all. But yes, given names are a major class of proper nouns and so they share most of the same properties. --EncycloPetey 02:29, 15 May 2008 (UTC)
Thanks. Even when referring to all of the namesakes Johns, Johns must be a Proper noun. I realize that I hadn't gotten the previous explanation. Maybe I'll indulge myself and buy Quirk. I certainly have liked Longman's DCE where he chaired the board of advisors. Is the CGEL much better? Is there another good modern grammar, perhaps at undergrad major level ? DCDuring TALK 02:42, 15 May 2008 (UTC)
CGEL has the best description of how the POS function, including proper nouns, but it has holes and is at times "revolutionary" in the way it handles things (and not always in the good way). --EncycloPetey 03:01, 15 May 2008 (UTC)