Ask the grammar expert – Capital letters and family relationships

Reader Seema asks:

My students mess up in their writing using capital M for Mom and D for dad in all places. How can I teach them (first graders) when to capitalize mom and when not to. How can I make it easy for them?

Geeta Padmanabhan answers: 

Family relationships are capitalised when used as proper names.

I sent a thank-you note to Aunt Sarah, but not to my other aunts.

Here is a present I bought for Mother

.Did you buy a present for your mother?

If the kids are capitalizing “mom”, they can do it in two situations.

1] When they are addressing “mom”. For example:

Mom, are you there?

[2] When they use it as a proper name.

You know who is in that room? It is Mom. Here the kid thinks her mother’s name is Mom. That’s how the kid has always known her.

You will notice there is no ‘whose’ marker (my, your, his, her, their) before the word “Mom”. If the sentence establishes the relationship with that marker, “mom” starts with a lower case letter. Once the relationship is established, she is just my/your/her/his/its “mom”.

Example: “Is that your mom?” 
So if a kid writes:
“Mom makes me do all the work” or “I buy a gift for Mom” we have to accept it as right.
It becomes wrong only when the sentence goes, “My Mom drives me to school.”

Children learn through drill work. Some of the work we have for beginners:
[1] Write your name on the corner of every page of your workbook.
[2] Your city, district
[3] Names of parents, friends
[4] Then move on to sentences. The sentences are simple first and then have proper names.
Example: River Nile flows through Africa.
Exercises could be
[a] Fill in the blanks
[b] Correct the sentences.
[c] This simple letter has mistakes in capitalization. Can you fix it? Kids get familiar with letters as well.
[d] Game of tic-tac-toe for capitalization
[e] Kids pick a capital letter from a box of cards. Then write a word using it as the first letter.
[f] Make it clear there are no capital letters in the middle of a word. Give a list (fish, fiSh). Which one is right?
[g] Building sentences. Break sentences into three parts. Put them in three columns. Ask kids to form sentences using capital letters as clues.

Hope this helps. 

5 thoughts on “Ask the grammar expert – Capital letters and family relationships

  1. Seema

    Thank you! It helped a lot. I just went over various examples till the connection slowly dawned on them. It took some time but it was worth seeing their smiles!


  2. Peter

    Thanks – for making me half right.

    I just had a discussion with my wife regarding a birthday notice in the newspaper. I told her she forgot to capitalize mum and dad in “love, Mum and Dad”. She immediately told me it shouldn’t be capitalized (she remembers it clearly as she got reprimanded as a child in school) and even looked it up, and she was right -in swedish

    Maybe I should start reading more books in swedish 😳
    (Swedish is our first language).

    Peter 😉



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