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I am trying to understand capitalization rules with Mom and Dad. I believe I have it correct below, but please let me know if I do not.

The one thing I learned from my dad was that it was good to earn the trust of one's children. Dad has shown me how good that a dad can be. One day when I went to his house, and Dad wasn't there, I ran outside....

The above passage is just made-up just so that you would see what I mean about capitalization. Let's put numbers by each one, like so:

The one thing I learned from my dad(1) was that it was good to earn the trust of one's children. Dad(2) has shown me how good that a dad(3) can be. One day when I went to his house, and Dad(4) wasn't there, I ran outside....

  1. This is one where I'm not certain. I believe in this sense I'm showing possession here with "my", and it just didn't seem right saying "my Dad". I don't know what the grammar rule is here, or if I even have it right.

  2. This one is obvious—it starts the sentence.

  3. In this case, I'm using Dad like a name instead of saying "Larry". Therefore, it should be capitalized.

  4. Again, just like 3.

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2 Answers 2

up vote 8 down vote accepted

"Dad" is a specific reference (when you say it you mean somebody different from when I say it), so it gets capitalized like any proper noun. On the other hand, "dad" is a common noun meaning "father" (anybody's). You only use disambiguators like "my" or "a" with common nouns ("my dad", but not "my Dad" just like you wouldn't say "my John Smith").

So the passage you quoted has it right. (3) is not capitalized because it's using a common noun ("a dad"), not a proper one ("Dad").

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The (original or quoted?) passage uses it correctly, but the OP's understanding may not be completely correct. You might want to address that it seems like the OP thinks use (3) should be capitalized, but this is an instance where it's used to mean "father" and would not be capitalized, in opposition to (not "just like") use (4), where it's a name. –  aedia λ Oct 11 '11 at 18:07
    
Thanks, good catch. Edited. –  Monica Cellio Oct 11 '11 at 18:28
    
Actually I see possessives used that way all the time like "my little Johnny" or "our Sean", etc. Granted, this is probably a colloquialism, but there it is. –  willoller Oct 11 '11 at 19:16
2  
You may need something like "our Sean" as there is more than one person in the world called "Sean", but there is only (normally) one person that anyone calls "Dad". –  neil Oct 11 '11 at 19:41
    
I think "my Dad" would be fine here as well, since the dad here is both a proper name and a common name. For example, Walt Whitman has "O Captain, my Captain". For case (1), I don't believe there is a definitive rule. –  Peter Shor Oct 11 '11 at 20:04

When you are using the word "Dad" to refer to a specific person, it's standing in place of their name, and thus, like their name, would be capitalized. When you're talking about dads in general, it's a common noun.

Say you had a horse named Betsy and were re-writing the sentence to refer to her:

The one thing I learned from my horse was that it was good to earn the trust of one's children. Betsy has shown me how good that a horse can be. One day when I went to her house, and Betsy wasn't there, I ran outside....

Any time you're using "Dad" the same way you use "Betsy", it's capitalized. Any time you're using "dad" the same way you'd use "horse", it's not capitalized.

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