Anna's Grammar Pointers #2 • 2 June 2011 • The SnowBlog
Anna's Grammar Pointers #2
Life would be so much easier if we didnt have to, like, talk to people. Both in writing and in real life. (Ha, ha! Only kidding! Im not a recluse who works from home and avoids exposure to the burning Day Star!) Here are a few tips for addressing and referring to people in text.
When you (or your characters, in dialogue) speak to somebody, the convention is to put a comma before the name. For example: Go to the bakery and get me a chocolate-glazed donut, Rob. This is an issue of clarity -- and a fairly important one, as a missing comma can often turn the preceding words into a string of adjectives describing the persons name. That is, you switch from talking to somebody to talking about him. And I dont think the bakery makes a donut Rob, much less one with chocolate icing. Speaking of icing, my high school English teacher (a huge stickler for proper grammar) used to joke that he had tubes of icing for birthday cakes that were brought into the office. Happy Birthday Joan became Happy Birthday, Joan under his watch. Thats correct usage, and if youre writing dialogue where one character greets another, youll want to stick to this rule. Hello, Miguel. Good afternoon, Grandfather.
The exception is in written correspondence - either in e-mails or, say, in a letter your character is writing. In this case, we write Dear John, or Hello Yasmine, and then carry on with the body of the message.
Since we were wishing Grandfather a good afternoon just a second ago, it would also be useful to explain when to capitalize those pesky familial relations. Basically, if you can replace Mom, Dad, or Auntie with a persons name, you should use a capital letter. For example: Im going to the store with Mom. You could just as easily say Im going to the store with Frances. When you can substitute in a name, the word in question is functioning as a proper noun, which means it should be capitalized.
The clue that you should not use a capital letter is the word my. My mom, my dad, my auntie. You wouldnt say Im going to the store with my Frances. (Well you might, colloquially, but were talking non-cutesy language here.) My turns mom into a regular noun, which takes a lowercase letter. The same goes for any other possessive pronoun (eg, her father, your grandma, etc.).
There you go! Thats how you address and refer to people. Now you can finally write a book that doesnt feature a misanthropic, orphaned hermit as the protagonist.