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Monday, August 21, 2006

Capitalizing names

One query that keeps cropping up at my forum at is how to capitalize names and titles. For example, when should you write Dad and when dad?

I can't do better here than to quote one of my favourite websites, the Guide to Grammar and Writing. Here's what it says in its article on capitalization:

Capitalize names of relationships only when they are a part of or a substitute for a person's name. (Often this means that when there is a modifier, such as a possessive pronoun, in front of such a word, we do not capitalize it.)

* Let's go visit Grandmother today. Let's go visit my grandmother today.
* I remember Uncle Arthur. I remember my Uncle Arthur. My uncle is unforgettable.

This also means that we don't normally capitalize the name of a "vocative" or term of endearment:

* Can you get the paper for me, hon?
* Drop the gun, sweetie. I didn't mean it.

To read the full article, click here.

So in the case of Dad, you would capitalize it in this sentence:

Ask Dad what he wants for his tea.

But not in this one:

My dad is one in a million.

In the first case, the word Dad is being used as a direct substitute for his actual name, so you could substitute a name - say, Jack - and the sentence would still make perfect sense. But in the second example, it is merely a method of referring to the person concerned. "My Jack is one in a million" doesn't work if the speaker is talking about his father.

I hope that will clear up at least some of the confusion!


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