In BDSM relationships, a dominant male is often referred by his submissive counterpart as a "master", "sir" or by some other honorific. Some in the BDSM lifestyle insist that words referring to the dominant person in a relationship should always be capitalized, whereas those referring to the submissive partner should be written in lower case. While such a generalization does not adhere to the rules of the English language, I can't help but think that there are situations where capitalization is appropriate.

In particular, I am wondering whether capitalization of "master" is appropriate in the following examples, where the word refers to a specific person:

"Welcome home, Master."

"No, Master, I haven't finished my chores yet."

"My Master will be with you shortly."

I believe that the capitalization in the first two examples is correct, but not in the third. However, I am not certain about which rules apply and I'd appreciate it if somebody could shed more light on the matter.

3 Answers 3


Capitalization (especially of titles) is a tricky business in English. There is no hard-and-fast rule about capitalization. In fact, many of the major style guides disagree on exactly what should or shouldn't be capitalized. However, I'll give some general guidelines and let you make up your own mind:

Titles in direct address

In all major style guides, when a title is used as a name in direct address of that individual, it is capitalized. For example: "That was very kind of you Mom." "I love you Dad." "Stop being so good to me, Master." "So, I have to have surgery, Doctor?"

Titles used in direct reference

When referring to a specific individual with their title, the title should be capitalized. For example: "I was excited when President Barrack Obama walked in the room." "My favorite comic book character is Mr. Tony Stark." "It took a while, but we finally got in to see Doctor John Smith."

However, (somewhat less commonly) some prefer that occupational titles not be capitalized, unless abbreviated. For example, "Dr. John Smith" and "doctor John Smith".

Titles used in indirect reference

Most style guides prefer titles used in reference to be lowercase. For example, "I love my mother." "The president gave a great speech." "My doctor did a great job with my surgery."

However, some titles are exempted from this. God (when referring to the Judeo-Christian god) is always capitalized. The King and the Queen are often capitalized. (For example, "The Queen has quite a way with words.") When referring to a specific office, there is disagreement about what should or should not be capitalized. Chicago and Wikipedia prefer "the president of the United States", while NY Times prefers "the President of the United States". However, everyone prefers "King of France" to "king of France".

  • Re. your last paragraph, maybe that's because there are many doctors in the world, but there's only one Queen, one God, etc. (so those are a bit like proper nouns).
    – ChrisW
    Commented Nov 10, 2014 at 17:35
  • @ChrisW Actually, there are lots of queens, lots of kings, lots of gods, etc. However, by convention, those titles get to be capitalized.
    – Nick2253
    Commented Nov 10, 2014 at 17:38
  • Maybe not: because if you were talking about the queen of Holland, for example, then you might say that, "the queen has a way with words" ... whereas, if you say "the Queen", I think that probably implies you're talking about, specifically, Her Britannic Majesty. Similarly there is only one King of France.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Nov 10, 2014 at 17:45
  • @ChrisW I think you're assuming heck of a lot of context when you say "the Queen" means the Queen of the Commonwealth. For example, "I just visited Holland. It was such a great place. And the Queen is such a nice woman!" However, you would also see "I just visited Doctor Jim's office. It was such a great place. And the doctor is such a nice man!" Again, these aren't hard and fast rules. Historically, royalty and religious titles were always capitalized, and some style guides preserve that today, some don't.
    – Nick2253
    Commented Nov 10, 2014 at 17:48
  • Again in your example, there is only one of her. To be honest I wouldn't mind seeing "the Doctor" or "the Professor" or "the Major" either, especially if I knew who you were talking about. See also, By the 17th century, the practice had extended to titles etc.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Nov 10, 2014 at 17:59

The correct answer may be simpler than any given. In the world of BDSM, it is your Master or Mistress who determines all your rules of capitalization, not the grammar books. (Using the male gender for simplicity), he may want you to capitalize He and You when writing to Him. He may want you to write Master with a capital no matter what the context, and he may want you to use the word "Master" at the end of any phrase, not just the end of a sentence. When you have a Master, you do exactly as he/He/she/She tells you. Secondly, when addressing a person who is or has been at the status of Master, if you have been at the (lower) status of a pet, servant or slave, you must address that individual as "sir" or "madame," ending all comments with "sir" or "madam" unless they tell you otherwise. If he tells you to capitalize "Sir" (or "Madame"), then you must. In short, then, this is less a grammar question and more a question that the world of BDSM answers.

  • How does this post answer the question?
    – user140086
    Commented Apr 27, 2016 at 16:18
  • 1
    The context of the question is exclusively about the rules of capitalization in a BDSM milieau. The answer keeps within the precise context of the question. Please tell me me how my post does not answer the question. Good luck.
    – Bethie
    Commented Apr 30, 2016 at 2:53

You are right. The rule is that titles should be capitalised when used with the person's name or as a direct address, and not capitalized when used generally.

  • The 'rule' is not universally observed for the direct address. Twelve of the 46 citations for Yes D/doctor have a lower case d for D/doctor.
    – tunny
    Commented Nov 10, 2014 at 17:07

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