Illustration courtesy of sketchrobin.com
Speech can bring difficulties when it is written and one area of difficulty is that of whether to capitalise some naming words. This is because words Mum, Dad and Grandad have different forms. These words can be used in their proper noun form, and this is when they should be uppercase.
Proper noun form
Sentences where these words are used as proper nouns:
|Did you like the flowers, Mum?||✔|
|Can I borrow your glasses, Dad?||✔|
|I asked Grandad to pass the map.||✔|
To check that a word is being used in this form you can keep the sentence the same but swap out the proper noun form and swap in their proper name, if the sentence still makes sense then the word was being used in its proper noun form.
The same sentences with the names swapped in:
|Did you like the flowers, Mary Gilesbie?||✔|
|Can I borrow you glasses, Ian Telling?||✔|
|I asked Alfred Potter to pass the map.||✔|
Generic noun form
However, these words can also be used generically – as generic nouns or regular nouns and when they are, they are lowercase.
Sentences where these words are used as generic nouns:
If theses sentences are given the same swap test they don’t work because the word was being used as a generic noun.
|My mum does not like red flowers.||✔|
|All dads have children.||✔|
|My granddad called on us.||✔|
Sentences where generic nouns have been swapped for proper names:
|My Mary Gilesbie does not like red flowers.||✗|
|All Ian Tellings have children.||✗|
|My Alfred Potter called on us.||✗|
Rules of thumb
- Whenever these words are preceded by a possessive adjective like (my, your, his, her, its, our, your, their) the noun will be lowercase.
- Whenever you use these directly as a name, they will be uppercase.
|I brought this for your mum.||✔|
|The coat was from my dad.||✔|
|These are from Grandad.||✔|
- When there is determiner preceding the word (such as – a, an, the, this, that, these, my, his, their, much, many, some, two, seven, all, every) use lowercase.
|Some mums drove the car.||✔|
|Seven dads ate the pizzas.||✔|
|His grandad was in the play.||✔|
This works for other similar words in the same way, these include: uncle, aunt, father, mother, daughter, cousin etc.
Is it a name?
Changing between upper and lowercase depending on usage happens with other words. This applies to when the word is a title or political entity.
Where a word is used as a name it will be uppercase:
|They followed Captain Wilson over the bridge.||✔|
|We walk up the steps to meet Queen Bess.||✔|
|Come on let’s go Governor. (instead of name)||✔|
Where a word is not when it is not being used to replace a name and is being used as a description it will be lowercase.
|Our old captain turned to fight.||✔|
|The girl was a princess.||✔|
|The governor was going to the meeting.||✔|
Style guides often have requirements regarding capitalisation and these should be followed where applicable but as with general rules about writing it is important that the rule is applied consistently or the writing can be jarring and the reader can be distracted from the meaning of the content.