Over the past 12 years or so, I’ve come to realize that we didn’t all attend the very same English class. Our English teachers didn’t all go to the same class either. This statement of the obvious accounts for the fact that there are little common issues that I point out to my students on a regular basis, whether they are my college students or my ICL students, or my own kids when I review their homework.
English – being the contrived, mangled, conglomerated mess that it is – is filled with all kinds of hidden rules and guidelines that English teachers either assume you’ve learned by osmosis, forget to cover, run out of time to cover in class, or (as is often the case) we slept through that particular lesson. In my case, it was probably a run with some friends to the local Taco Time drive through for a late lunch.
So periodically, I’ll post one of these mini lessons just as a little “a-ha!” in you day.
Let’s start with something I call “Names vs. Titles” –
When do you capitalize the word mom, and when do you leave it lower case? This poses quite a problem for some students. Many will always capitalize a familial term, while others will never capitalize it, and some will select randomly when to use the shift key and when not to use it.
The general rule goes something like this: if you are using the term in place of a name, it is capitalized. For example:
“I looked at Mom, dressed in her orange sweats and fuzzy slippers, her hair shoved up on one side of her head.”
Instead of inserting a name, the familial term is used to identify the person. If that term were preceded by an article (a, an, the), or by a possessive pronoun (her, your, my, their, etc.), then the familial term becomes an identifying title and it doesn’t need to be capitalized. For example:
“I often wonder if my mom dresses this way in an attempt to ruin my social life completely.”
If you just remember to look for the article or pronoun, you’ll know whether you need to capitalize or not.
See – that wasn’t so hard now, was it? Until next class . . .