Here comes my second MicroBlog, where I’ll share another grammar nugget at lightening speed.
I’m sure we all know this rule better than the backs of our hands: Capitalise the first letter in a person’s name. However, there’s a lesser-known companion to this rule that we need to keep in mind: When a person’s title is used as if it were their name, its first letter should be capitalised.
By ‘title’ I mean family titles (Dad, Grandma), professional titles (Professor, Doctor), military titles (Colonel, Private), and many others—any word that can be used like a name.
So, what do I mean by ‘When a person’s title is used as if it were their name’? In the following sentence, ‘Professor’ is used like a name, and we can prove this by swapping ‘Professor’ for a name:
I’ll see you at the lecture, Professor. >> I’ll see you at the lecture, Yvonne.
However, in the next example, ‘professor’ can’t be swapped for a name:
I saw the professor on the other side of campus. >> I saw the Yvonne on the other side of campus.
‘the Yvonne’? No, no! Names don’t follow a, an, or the. Therefore, a title that follows those words can’t be functioning like a name and shouldn’t receive a capital letter.
Here’s a couple more examples:
This ship needs a captain. — Look, Captain, the weather is getting worse.
I need to visit the doctor. — Would you help me, Doctor?
Now, what about this next sentence:
He walked with Grandpa to the shop.
We can swap a name into the sentence:
He walked with Henry to the shop.
Therefore, we know the title was functioning like a name, and it rightly receives a capital letter. However, that’s not the case with the next example:
He walked with his grandpa to the shop.
Let’s try swapping in a name:
He walked with his Henry to the shop.
I know that names sometimes follow possessive terms like ‘his’. I’m sure there was once three Johns at a party: ‘his John’, ‘our John’, and ‘Ingrid’s John’! But for today’s discussion, we can safely say that names don’t (normally) follow possessive terms, and therefore, titles that follow possessive terms aren’t functioning like names and shouldn’t have capital letters.
Here’s a couple of final examples:
He drove his grandma to the gathering. — Tom, please give Grandma a hand.
You won’t believe what my mum and dad did yesterday. — Sorry, Mum, but did you hear what Dad did yesterday?
When a person’s title is used as if it were their name, its first letter should be capitalised.
You can know that a title is used like a name when it can be swapped for a name. And you can know that a title isn’t used like a name when it’s preceded by ‘a’, ‘an’, ‘the’ or a possessive term.
With that, Friend, I’m going to bid you farewell.