Origin of capital

1175–1225; Middle English; (adj.) (< Anglo-French) < Latin capitālis of the head (capit-, stem of caput head, + -ālis -al1); (noun) < Medieval Latin capitāle wealth, noun use of neuter of capitālis (adj.)
Related formscap·i·tal·ness, noun
Can be confusedcapital Capitol (see usage note at the current entry)

Synonyms for capital

Synonym study

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.

Antonyms for capital

Usage note

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.



noun Architecture.

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

Origin of capital

1250–1300; Middle English capitale head (noun use of neuter of Latin adj.) for Latin capitellum, equivalent to capit- (stem of caput) head + -ellum diminutive suffix Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for capital

Contemporary Examples of capital

Historical Examples of capital

  • Do this up to the limit of your capital and I will make good anything you lose.

    The Spenders

    Harry Leon Wilson

  • And then we'll have to see about getting all our capital here.

    The Spenders

    Harry Leon Wilson

  • We formed a partnership, with a capital of sixty thousand dollars.

    Within the Law

    Marvin Dana

  • "He'll make a capital workman one of these days," she would probably say.

    Biographical Stories

    Nathaniel Hawthorne

  • They pay taxes on their capital and surplus, not on their loans.


    Mr. and Mrs. Haldeman-Julius

British Dictionary definitions for capital




  1. the seat of government of a country or other political unit
  2. (as modifier)a capital city
material wealth owned by an individual or business enterprise
wealth available for or capable of use in the production of further wealth, as by industrial investment
make capital of or make capital out of to get advantage from
(sometimes capital) the capitalist class or their interestscapital versus labour
  1. the ownership interests of a business as represented by the excess of assets over liabilities
  2. the nominal value of the authorized or issued shares
  3. (as modifier)capital issues
any assets or resources, esp when used to gain profit or advantage
  1. a capital letterAbbreviation: cap., cap
  2. (as modifier)capital B
with a capital letter (used to give emphasis to a statement)he is mean with a capital M


(prenominal) law involving or punishable by deatha capital offence
very serious; fatala capital error
primary, chief, or principalour capital concern is that everyone be fed
of, relating to, or designating the large modern majuscule letter used chiefly as the initial letter in personal names and place names and other uniquely specificatory nouns, and often for abbreviations and acronymsCompare small (def. 9) See also upper case
mainly British excellent; first-ratea capital idea

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)




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

Word Origin and History for capital

early 13c., "of or pertaining to the head," from Old French capital, from Latin capitalis "of the head," hence "capital, chief, first," from caput (genitive capitis) "head" (see capitulum).

Meaning "principal" is early 15c. Of letters, "upper case," from late 14c. A capital crime (1520s) is one that affects the life or "head;" capital had a sense of "deadly, mortal" from late 14c. in English, a sense also found in Latin. The felt connection between "head" and "life, mortality" also existed in Old English: e.g. heafodgilt "deadly sin, capital offense," heafdes þolian "to forfeit life." Capital punishment was in Blackstone (1765) and classical Latin capitis poena.

Capital gain is recorded from 1921. Capital goods is recorded from 1899. Of ships, "first-rate, of the line," attested from 1650s. Related: Capitally.


early 15c., "a capital letter," from capital (adj.). The meaning "capital city" is first recorded 1660s (the Old English word was heafodstol). The financial sense is from 1610s (Middle English had chief money "principal fund," mid-14c.), from Medieval Latin capitale "stock, property," noun use of neuter of capitalis "capital, chief, first." (The noun use of this adjective in classical Latin was for "a capital crime.")

[The term capital] made its first appearance in medieval Latin as an adjective capitalis (from caput, head) modifying the word pars, to designate the principal sum of a money loan. The principal part of a loan was contrasted with the "usury"--later called interest--the payment made to the lender in addition to the return of the sum lent. This usage, unknown to classical Latin, had become common by the thirteenth century and possibly had begun as early as 1100 A.D., in the first chartered towns of Europe. [Frank A. Fetter, "Reformulation of the Concepts of Capital and Income in Economics and Accounting," 1937, in "Capital, Interest, & Rent," 1977]

Also see cattle, and cf. sense development of fee, pecuniary.


"head of a column or pillar," late 13c., from Anglo-French capitel, Old French chapitel, or directly from Latin capitellum "little head," diminutive of caput (see capitulum).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

capital in Culture


In architecture, the top portion of a column.


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.


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.

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.