Homophones—words that are pronounced the same but spelled differently—are the bane of writers, professional and otherwise. Here we discuss capital and capitol.
Capital is a very handy word. Capitol not so much.
Capital has been around since the 14th century, and it shows up about 89 times out of every million words in written American English.
Webster says it can refer to
- a capital letter (capital A)
- a crime punishable by death (capital crime)
- the most important thing (capital ships)
- the seat of government (capital of Missouri)
- excellence (capital idea)
Capitol on the other hand, is dull, dull, dull. It has been around since the 17th century, and it is used less than a third as often. Capitol has two, nearly identical, meanings: a building or set of buildings that house a state government or, capitalized, the building in which Congress meets.
Bottom line: If it’s not a building, use capital.