Nouns and pronouns

Capitalization and proper nouns

Proper nouns are one of a kind—unique people, places, and things. Capitalize proper nouns wherever they occur.

Proper nouns include:

  • Names and titles of individuals.

  • Unique, named places, organizations, events, shows, corporate and philanthropic programs, and other things.

  • Product, service, app, and tool names.

  • Trademarks.

  • Titles of books, songs, and other published works.

  • Managed standards, such as Bluetooth.

If there's more than one of a thing, it's a common noun. For example, there are lots of chief operating officers, so chief operating officer is a common noun. There's only one Chief Operating Officer Latasha Sharp, so that's a proper noun.

Don't capitalize common nouns unless they begin a sentence or the situation calls for title-style capitalization. Most technology concepts, product categories, devices, and features are common nouns, not proper nouns. Examples of common nouns include cloud computing, smartphone, e-commerce, and open source.

Capitalize technology terms as proper nouns only when:

  • You need to distinguish a component or product, such as SQL Server, from a general technology with a similar name, such as an SQL database server.

  • The terms are typically capitalized in the industry. Search The American Heritage Dictionary, reputable internet sites, and industry-specific dictionaries. Don't rely on unedited websites.

If you're not sure whether a term is a proper noun (and thus capitalized) or a common noun (lowercase), check The American Heritage Dictionary and the A–Z word list. Default to lowercase unless there's a compelling reason to capitalize the term.

Learn more For guidelines for sentence-style and title-style capitalization, see Capitalization.

Plural nouns

Some nouns can be challenging to use in the plural. The simple rules that follow will help.

To check the spelling of plural forms of words derived from Latin and Greek that retain their Latin or Greek endings (typically -a, -us, -um, -on, -ix, or -ex), see specific entries in the A–Z word list and The American Heritage Dictionary.

Noun Plural form Examples
Common and proper nouns ending in s If the noun ends in s, add es. the Johnsons
the Joneses
Singular abbreviation Add an s, even if the abbreviation ends in s. ISVs
Plural abbreviation If an abbreviation already represents a plural, don't add an s. MFC (Microsoft Foundation Classes)
Single letter Add an apostrophe and an s.
The letter itself (but not the apostrophe or the ending s) is italic.
Number Add an s. the 1950s
Variable Don't add (s) to a word to indicate that it could be either singular or plural unless you have no other choice. Use the plural form instead. Wait for x minutes.

Pronouns and gender

Don't use gendered pronouns in generic references. Instead, rewrite—for example, use the second person (you).

Or refer to a person's role (customer, employee, or client). It's OK to use he, she, or they when you're writing about real people who use those pronouns themselves.

They can be used as a non-binary pronoun for a singular person instead of a binary pronoun (she or he).

For more guidelines about how to write using gender-neutral pronouns, see Bias-free communication.

Pronouns and collective nouns

Collective nouns like company take a singular pronoun. Don't use a plural pronoun (like they) for a collective noun.
Meet with up to 250 people. All they need is a phone or internet connection.
The company upgraded its cloud storage solution to Microsoft Azure.

Exception If the emphasis is on the individuals in a group, it's OK to use a plural pronoun with a singular noun.

Using pronouns in product UI

See also Person.