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Do You Capitalize Family Titles?

Updated on
May 7, 2019

When terms denoting family relationships are used as proper nouns (as names), they are capitalized. However, when the terms are used as common nouns (not as names), they’re not capitalized. Generally, there will be a possessive adjective (my, her, his, our) or an article (the, a, an) in front of family titles used as common nouns.

It’s easy to get confused about whether you should capitalize family names in your writing. If you come across a family “title” such as mom or dad in your writing, ask yourself: Is this title being used as if it were a person’s name? Is the person being directly addressed?

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Can I go to the mall once I finish my homework, Mom?
I know the crash was serious, Dad, but I’d really like to borrow your car.
What have you been up to, Grandma?

In the examples above, Mom, Dad, and Grandma are capitalized because they are being used like names. You could replace them with proper names without changing the rest of the sentence.

What have you been up to, Diana?

If a family member is not being directly addressed, but rather is being spoken about, his or her family title should not be capitalized, and an article or possessive adjective should be used before the title.

Gracie asked her mom if she could go to the mall after finishing her homework.
I asked my dad if I could borrow his car the day after the crash.
Lorraine wondered what her grandmother had been up to.

When quoting a conversation, simply think about whether that person is being directly addressed in the conversation.

“We will all remember Aunt Bessie for her generous nature,” Melinda said.

“I feel for Melinda’s loss,” said the neighbor. “Everyone remembers her aunt’s generous nature.”

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