Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Grammar an' Gunk

One quick reminder: MarsCon is this weekend -- if you're planning to come, please find a minute to look me up and say hi! (My schedule is at if you need it; more info at

Let's talk about the use of family words today!

By "family words", I mean exactly what it sounds like: words such as "mom" and "father" and "grandmother" and "cousin".

Paricularly, let's talk about capitalization. I see a lot of these, both of which are wrong:
  • Bob waved to his Mom across the room.
  •  I handed mom a napkin.
Here's a rule of thumb: Substitute the word "cat" (or "dog", if you prefer) into the sentence for the relative with no other adjustments. If the sentence is grammatically correct (though possibly silly), then the family word should not be capitalized.If it reads awkwardly, then you're using the family word as a name and it should be capitalized. Like so:
  • Bob waved to his cat from across the room. That seems perfectly reasonable, and therefore, the correct sentence is: Bob waved to his mom from across the room.
  • I handed cat a napkin. Not only is that silly, but "I handed cat" just doesn't sound right, unless "Cat" is the cat's name. In which case, this is being used as a name and it should be "I handed Mom a napkin."
An exception: If the family name is prepended to a proper name and they're used together as a set (e.g., "Uncle Dave",  "Grandma Jean", or "Cousin George") then you always capitalize the family name.
  • Bob waved to his Uncle Dave from across the room.
  • I handed Cousin George a napkin.
Got it? Leave your questions and special cases and nitpicks in the comments!

No comments:

Post a Comment