A lot of baby books and products use the word baby as you would a proper noun.

For example "when lying baby down in the cot" instead of "when lying your baby down in the cot". Another example from a shampoo bottle "proven to help baby sleep better". Books about child raising don't say "when teaching child good manners".

Where did this practice arise and is it valid?

  • "Have you seen junior's grades?" (line from Van Halen lyrics, Cradle Will Rock). Interesting how baby and junior can be treated this way but not some other words like child.
    – Kaz
    Apr 30, 2012 at 6:41
  • 4
    @René: worst reason ever. Peeving is expressly off-topic on this site.
    – RegDwigнt
    Apr 30, 2012 at 9:42
  • 2
    One cannot *lie a baby down; one can only lay a baby down. The object is baby, so it must be a transitive verb; to lie is intransitive, and wrong here.
    – tchrist
    Apr 30, 2012 at 14:01
  • 1
    @tchrist: I won't lie to you – I never wanted to get that wrong, which is why I always stuck (or plopped) my babies in the crib.
    – J.R.
    Apr 30, 2012 at 16:35
  • 1
    No, proper nouns have to be capitalized.
    – Greg Lee
    Jun 10, 2015 at 23:05

4 Answers 4


We don't hear "when teaching child good manners," but we certainly hear things like "when teaching junior good manners"— as well as

why Johnny can't read

tell teacher what you saw

father knows best

when precious snowflake gets out into the real world

and so on. The baby (like junior, et al) is here an archetype, for which you may substitute any particular instance, or all instances.

Not every noun is used this way, as it must be clear we are not speaking of a specific individual but of a generic example. Mr. Burns clearly isn't meeting an actual uncle when he says he wants to

… look Uncle Fritz square in the monocle and say Nein!

  • Is Uncle Fritz a proper noun? Also see edited question.
    – nevster
    Apr 30, 2012 at 6:12
  • The question is whether one can treat people as objects, isn't it? "Tell teacher what you saw" is not very far removed grammatically from "Twist lid to remove". Using "teacher", "father", "baby" in this way would suggest a capital letter, wouldn't it?
    – Andrew Leach
    Apr 30, 2012 at 8:00
  • @Andrew Leach. It surely would, but I've been reading "The Help" recently and there's plenty of "baby" used this way. I took it as an attempt to render the speech of coloured people.
    – Paola
    Apr 30, 2012 at 9:45
  • 1
    @nevster It is a proper noun in the sense that it is a name and used to represent a unique concept; however, it does not refer to any particular individual. Writers may refer to Joe Sixpack or John Q. Public in the same way, referring to the "common man," though Mr. Burns prefers formulations like Eddie Punchclock, Sally Housecoat, and Joey Lunchpail.
    – choster
    Apr 30, 2012 at 13:08
  • @AndrewLeach Perhaps it is a matter of which style guide one is following, but I rarely see them captalized unless it is a "named character" as in the examples above.
    – choster
    Apr 30, 2012 at 13:08

I think in this usage, 'baby' is being used as a noun naming a member of the family, in the same way as 'mother' or 'father'. In the same way that we say "This is for mother/father" without any articles or possessives, we could say "This is for baby".

Having said that, I have to say that I find it quite maudlin.


I can see why such magazines would want to avoid the use of your – after all, it might not be the reader's baby. (The reader could be a grandparent, or unrelated caregiver). On the other hand, if most of the readers are the baby's parents, using an article such as a or the might read very impersonal. Maybe this is a way to settle the quandary?

By the way, I'm with you – it reads like annoying baby talk, or IDS, although I don't think it's designed to read that way.

  • 1
    Have you noticed how freaked parents get if you don't talk to their baby in baby talk? I mean, if they don't want you to try and discuss the latest LHC results with their baby - why do they stick it in your face?
    – mgb
    Apr 30, 2012 at 16:05

"Baby" is not a proper noun, unless used as an actual name. "Baby" should be referred to using an article or prepositional verb.

  • Not necessarily at all times. The usage is widely recognized.
    – Kris
    Jul 28, 2014 at 9:38

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.