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Kinship Names: To Capitalize or Not to Capitalize?

Several readers have asked why kinship names, such as names of brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, etc., are sometimes capitalized and sometimes not. Let’s have a closer look.

Rule 1: Capitalize a kinship name when it immediately precedes a personal name or is used alone, in place of a personal name.

Examples
Andy and Opie loved Aunt Bee’s apple pies.
We adore Uncle Malik, because he always treats us like royalty when we visit him.
Grandma and Grandpa were married in a chapel in a small French village.
Let’s go ask Mom if we can go to the movies.

Rule 2: Do not capitalize a kinship name when it is not part of the personal name but is a word describing the personal name. This usually occurs when the kinship name is preceded by articles such as the, a, or an; or possessive pronouns such as his, her, my, our, or their.

Examples
Andy and Opie loved their aunt Bea’s apple pies.
We adore our uncle Malik, because he always treats us like royalty when we visit him.
My grandma and grandpa were married in a chapel in a small French village.
Let’s go ask my mom if we can go to the movies.

Rule 3: Do not capitalize a kinship name when it follows the personal name or is not referencing a specific person.

Examples
The James brothers were notorious for robbing scores of banks and trains.
There’s not one mother I know who would allow her child to cross that street alone.

Pop Quiz
Select the correct word:

1. We’d travel all day to eat a meal prepared by our aunt/Aunt Ella.
2. When I saw the letter from mother/Mother, I knew it contained only good news.
3. Lydia became a mother/Mother at twenty.
4. I’m sorry, son/Son, but we’re not going to have a campfire tonight.
5. Some fathers/Fathers build a campfire every night.

Answers:
1. We’d travel all day to eat a meal prepared by our aunt Ella.
2. When I saw the letter from Mother, I knew it contained only good news.
3. Lydia became a mother at twenty.
4. I’m sorry, Son, but we’re not going to have a campfire tonight.
5. Some fathers build a campfire every night.

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Posted on Sunday, July 29, 2012, at 4:16 pm


How to Reference Books and Articles in Text

Before computers, we used typewriters to underline book titles, and we placed quotation marks around article titles. However, many current style manuals recommend italicizing book titles and magazine names (impossible to do on a typewriter) and using quotation marks around articles.

Example: I read Lord of the Flies in high school.

Example: I enjoyed reading “Become Your Own Best Friend” in Newsweek.

 

Pop Quiz
Choose the correct sentence.

1A. My brother thought the “New York Times” article Homeless Team Roots for a New Life Through Soccer was fascinating.
1B. My brother thought the New York Times article “Homeless Team Roots for a New Life Through Soccer” was fascinating.

2A. “Light Meals for Nibblers” is a chapter in The Enchanted Broccoli Forest, one of my favorite vegetarian cookbooks.
2B. Light Meals for Nibblers is a chapter in “The Enchanted Broccoli Forest,” one of my favorite vegetarian cookbooks.

3A. I remember reading “The Catcher in the Rye” when I was a teenager.
3B. I remember reading The Catcher in the Rye when I was a teenager.

 

Pop Quiz Answers
1B. My brother thought the New York Times article “Homeless Team Roots for a New Life Through Soccer” was fascinating.
2A. “Light Meals for Nibblers” is a chapter in The Enchanted Broccoli Forest, one of my favorite vegetarian cookbooks.
3B. I remember reading The Catcher in the Rye when I was a teenager.

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Posted on Sunday, May 3, 2009, at 11:41 pm


Titles of Books, Plays, Articles, etc.: Underline? Italics? Quotation Marks?

Prior to computers, people were taught to underline titles of books and plays and to surround chapters, articles, songs, and other shorter works in quotation marks. However, here is what The Chicago Manual of Style says: When quoted in text or listed in a bibliography, titles of books, journals, plays, and other freestanding works are italicized; titles of articles, chapters, and other shorter works are set in roman and enclosed in quotation marks.

Below are some examples to help you:

Example:
We read A Separate Peace in class. (title of a book)

Example: That Time magazine article, “Your Brain on Drugs,” was fascinating.
Note that the word “magazine” was not italicized because that is not part of the actual name of the publication.

Example: His article, “Death by Dessert,” appeared in The New York Times Magazine.

Note that the and magazine are both capitalized and set off because the name of the publication is The New York Times Magazine.

Newspapers, which follow The Associated Press Stylebook, have their own sets of rules because italics cannot be sent through AP computers.

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Posted on Wednesday, January 30, 2008, at 2:33 am