The Grammarphobia Blog

Mommy tracking

Q: I’m writing about the word “mom.” Do I have to capitalize it? Do I have to put quotes around it? In other words, how would I capitalize and punctuate this comment by Karen Hughes when she was at the State Department: “My most important job is mom.”

A: Think of the word “mom” as you would “mother.” If it’s used in a generic way, lowercase it. If it’s used as a title, or in direct address, or in place of a name, uppercase it. Quote marks are unnecessary, unless you’re discussing the word itself.

Here are some examples:

“Hi, Mom. Call me when you get this message.”

“She’s a great mom. Of all the moms in the class, she volunteers the most.”

Sometimes this can be a judgment call. When you refer to your own mom in speaking to someone else (as you would “brother,” for example), I think the best policy is to lowercase it. Like so:

“I’ll have to ask my mom whether I can go camping. What did your mom say?”

But if you use it as her title, as you would a name, then uppercase it: “I’ll have to ask Mom whether I can go camping. Hey, Mom, may I go camping?”

In the example you give, I think Karen Hughes was using the word “mom” as a title, so I’d do it like so: “My most important job is Mom.”

Buy Pat’s books at a local store or Amazon.com.