[ kap-i-tl ]
/ ˈkæp ɪ tl /
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Definition of capital

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Origin of capital

First recorded in 1175–1225; Middle English; (adjective) from Anglo-French or directly from Latin capitālis “of the head” (capit-, stem of caput “head” + -ālis adjective suffix; see -al1); (noun) from Medieval Latin capitāle “wealth,” noun use of neuter of the adjective capitālis

synonym study for capital

11. The adjectives capital, chief, major, principal apply to a main or leading representative of a kind. Capital may mean larger or more prominent; it may also suggest preeminence or excellence: capital letter, idea, virtue, etc. Chief means leading, highest in office or power: the chief clerk. Major may refer to greatness of importance, number, or quantity: a major operation, the major part of a population. Principal refers to most distinguished, influential, or foremost: principal officer.

words often confused with capital

The noun capital1 refers to a city or town that is the seat of government; to a capital letter as opposed to a lowercase letter; and to wealth or resources. The noun Capitol refers primarily to the building in Washington, D.C., in which Congress sits or to similar buildings used by state legislatures.


cap·i·tal·ness, noun


capital , Capitol (see confusables note at the current entry)

Other definitions for capital (2 of 2)

[ kap-i-tl ]
/ ˈkæp ɪ tl /

noun Architecture.
the distinctively treated upper end of a column, pier, or the like.

Origin of capital

First recorded in 1300–50; Middle English capital(e) “head of a pillar,” from Anglo-French capital, capitel, from Late Latin capitellum “capital of a column,” equivalent to capit- (stem of caput ) “head” + -ellum diminutive suffix
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2022


What does capital mean?

A capital is a city or town that acts as the center of a government, such as a city’s or nation’s government, as in Washington, DC, is the capital of the United States.

More casually, a city or town might be a capital of some special importance. For example, New York City is sometimes called the “business capital of the world,” but Albany is the official state capital of New York.

In business and finance, capital is wealth owned by a person or company. Your capital can include the money you have in the bank, property you own, and any stocks or bonds you’ve purchased.

Capital can also describe something very important or first-rate, as in We had so much fun at the fair, that it was a capital day.

Example: The bill was supported by Congressional representatives from 13 states and the capital.

Where does capital come from?

The first records of the term capital come from around 1175. It ultimately comes from the Medieval Latin capitālis, meaning “wealth.” Capital has several other uses besides describing a nation’s seat of government, most of which stem from wealth and importance, although the capital of a nation tends to have quite a bit of wealth in the sense that it collects taxes.

Your financial capital can be used to spend, provide, and invest in the furthering of one’s wealth, normally in the form of stock market investments or investing into new means of production or projects to improve profits, bringing in more capital. While the terms wealth and capital are synonymous, you’ll find that wealth is used to describe a personal profit, while capital is used to describe funds that are set aside for investing. Capital can also be used in this way to describe something beyond money, such as political power.

In the sense of prominent or important, capital can also describe the most serious crimes, including murder and treason. Someone found guilting of a capital crime would receive capital punishment, that is, the death penalty. Related to this sense, a capital error would be one that is fatal or otherwise extremely serious.

Did you know … ?

What are some other forms related to capital?

What are some synonyms for capital?

What are some words that share a root or word element with capital

What are some words that often get used in discussing capital?

What are some words capital may be commonly confused with?

How is capital used in real life?

Capital is frequently used to describe a city where a government is centered. It’s also used frequently in the business sense of wealth.


Try using capital!

Which of the following is NOT a synonym for capital?

A. cash
B. invoice
C. stocks
D. property

How to use capital in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for capital (1 of 2)

/ (ˈkæpɪtəl) /


Word Origin for capital

C13: from Latin capitālis (adj) concerning the head, chief, from caput head; compare Medieval Latin capitāle (n) wealth, from capitālis (adj)

British Dictionary definitions for capital (2 of 2)

/ (ˈkæpɪtəl) /

the upper part of a column or pier that supports the entablatureAlso called: chapiter, cap

Word Origin for capital

C14: from Old French capitel, from Late Latin capitellum, diminutive of caput head
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Cultural definitions for capital (1 of 2)


In architecture, the top portion of a column.

notes for capital

The form of the capital often serves to distinguish one style of architecture from another. For example, the Corinthian, Doric, and Ionic styles of Greek architecture all have different capitals.

Cultural definitions for capital (2 of 2)


Money used to finance the purchase of the means of production, such as machines, or the machines themselves.

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

Other Idioms and Phrases with capital


see make capital out of.

The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.