Monday, June 20, 2011

The Straight Dope on Capitalization (of *Some* Names and Titles)

I saw a lot of grammar abuse this weekend with Fathers' Day and everything:
My Dad is awesome.
Dad's rule!
I love you, daddy. 
Your the best Dad there is!
Since I'm bringing over some of my series posts from my old blog, I thought this might as well be the next one -- so this is a blast-from-the-past post for those of you who have been with me since Wordpress. <3 <3
"The Straight Dope" highlights common grammatical errors -- so you can stop looking dopey when you do these things incorrectly. :)

Please note: Unless otherwise specified, these are the proper grammar and formatting rules according to Chicago style -- the style in which you should generally be writing, if you're writing fiction -- and some nonfiction.  (So don't give me a laundry list of reasons why some other way is correct. It *might be*, in AP style or APA style or MLA formatting . . . but that's not what I'm talking about here.)
I can't cover everything here, as that would be quite a long post.  However.  I'd like to correct some boo-boos I've noticed in several manuscripts.

Rule #1: Capitalize "mom" or "dad" (or "grandmother," "aunt," etc.) ONLY when it's being used as a person's name.*
Mom, that is a lovely pant suit you're wearing.
Can you believe my mom bought that pant suit?
Uncle Dave took us to lunch.
My uncle Dave is so nice.
My dad could beat up your dad.
You've been working out, right, Dad?
Oh yeah? Well, my grandmother could beat up your grandfather -- so what do you make of that?
Mom---Grandpa died a long time ago, didn't he?
Rule #2: DO NOT capitalize terms of endearment -- even if they are taking the place of someone's name.*
I have a headache tonight, honey.
That's okay, schmoopie.  I'd rather catch up on my baseball statistics anyway.
Rule #3: (This one is especially relevant for my young adult fiction writers out there.)  Only capitalize classes when you are referring to the name of a course -- not when you're just referring to the subject.*
Did you do your biology homework?
Not yet. I was going to finish up my lab report real quick during Algebra II.
Rule #4: DO NOT capitalize "president" unless you are using it as a person's title or in place of the person's name and you are speaking directly to him.*


I met President Clinton a few years ago.
Whoop-a-dee-doo. I met the current president.
You met the president?  Obama?
Yes, moron. It's his birthday today.
Oh -- there he is! Happy birthday, Mr. President!
The ONLY exception to this is when you are using the title in place of the person's name in a FORMAL context (like, if you are introducing said person because they are about to give a speech):
Without further ado, I give you the President.
The end. Write well, my friends.

*This is true---UNLESS it happens to be the first word in the sentence.  Then, def capitalize it (derrrr).

Others posts in this series:

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