Definition: Capital

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From Middle English capital ("of or pertaining to the head,") borrowed from Latin capitālis (“of the head”), hence "capital, chief, first," from caput (genitive capitis) "head." Use in trade and finance originated in Medieval economies when a common but expensive transaction involved trading heads of cattle.



  1. A city designated as a legislative seat by the government or some other authority, often the city in which the government is located; otherwise the most important city within a country or a subdivision of it.
    Washington D.C. is the capital of the United States of America.
    The Welsh government claims that Cardiff is Europe’s youngest capital.
  2. (economics) Money and wealth. The means to acquire goods and services, especially in a non-barter system.
  3. (economics) Already-produced durable goods available for use as a factor of production, such as steam shovels (equipment) and office buildings (structures).
  4. An uppercase letter.
  5. (architecture) The uppermost part of a column.

Usage notes

The homophone capitol refers only to a building, usually one that houses the legislative branch of a government, and often one located in a capital city.

Derived terms

  • block capital
  • real capital
  • financial capital
  • economic capital
  • social capital
  • working capital
  • capitalism


capital (not comparable)

  1. Of prime importance.
  2. Chief, in a political sense, as being the seat of the general government of a state or nation.
    London and Paris are capital cities.
  3. (comparable, Britain, dated) Excellent.
    That is a capital idea!
  4. (crime) Punishable by, or involving punishment by, death.
  5. Uppercase. (Antonym: lower-case)
    One begins a sentence with a capital letter.
  6. used to emphasize greatness or absoluteness
    You're a genius with a capital G!
    He's dead with a capital D!
  7. Of or relating to the head.

Derived terms

  • capital asset
  • capital city
  • capital crime
  • capital gains tax
  • capital ship


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