With only a single letter difference, it’s not surprising that ‘capital’ and ‘capitol’ are easily confused terms, which are, in fact, homophones. This means that they are pronounced the same, but differ in meaning, origin, as well as spelling.
Depending on how you use it, capital actually has different meanings. As a noun, it may refer to a city that usually serves as the seat of government for a country or state. It may also mean wealth in the form of property or money. Another use would of course be signifying our (upper) letter case. As an adjective, it may mean principal, first-rate; excellent, relating to financial assets, relating to a seat of government, or even the calling for the death penalty (capital punishment).
In relevance to the term capitol (since capitol is generally is used as a political term), the word capital simply refers to the most important town or city in a region, state, or country.
- Paris is the capital of France.
- Washington D.C. is the capital of the United States.
When used with a capital ‘c’, a Capitol specifically refers to the United States Capitol, often called Capitol building or Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. It is the seat of the United States Congress, the legislative branch of the United States federal government. Aside from that, the term capitol may also mean a building that is occupied by a state legislature.
Example (as Capitol)
- The Capitol building is located in Washington, D.C.
- The United States Congress officially meets in the north wing of the Capitol building.
Example (as capitol)
- State capitol buildings are generally located in state capital cities.
- Almost all capitol buildings have offices for legislators.
They may be homophones and have only a single letter to separate them, they do have differences that makes them entirely different from one another in meaning.
Mostly used in a political context, both words are derived from the same Latin term caput, which means ‘head’. They evolved to have separate meanings. Capital evolved from the words capitale, which means ‘wealth’, and capitalis which means ‘of the head’. Capitol on the other hand, comes from the word Capitolium. It refers to the name of a temple that once sat on one of Rome’s seven hills, the Capitoline Hill, hence the term Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.
In terms of their definitions, the word capital is more common, since it has many meanings, but capitol has only two. Generally, capital refers to the town or city that is the seat of the government. Capitol on the other hand refers to a building or buildings where a state legislature meets. If used with a capital ‘c’, it then refers to the building in Washington D.C., where the Congress of the United States meets.
|Has several meanings||Has two meanings|
|In a political context, it refers to a city or town||In a political context, it refers to a building or a complex of buildings|
|Can be used as an adjective||Not used as an adjective|