1. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    Grammar Ma/Mama/Momma/Mother. Which one is appropriate?

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Link the Writer, Jun 23, 2014.

    As I was writing, I noticed that my characters refer to their mother as 'Mama'. That had me thinking: there are a bunch of names that refer to a mother, and I guess depending on social class of the time, the higher ups would be expected to refer to their mother as 'Mother' rather than 'Ma'/'Mama'. It also occurred to me that if the word 'Mama' appeared over and over again, it would quickly become redundant and irritating. Is it OK if I mix it up a bit? How should I make it not annoying?

    Also, when do I capitalize the noun? Is it when I'm referring directly to the character's mother? So Emily would say, "My Mama" instead of, "My mama"? Is it the same if she were referring to someone else's mother?

    However, when not in dialogue, does the same rule apply? For example:

    Her mama was a high-class Southern woman with plenty of political clout, and she knew it. She would be a dangerous one to anger...

    Thoughts?
     
  2. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Only capitalize the noun if it takes the place of a name. In your example, it would be "my mama" (no capitalization). But it would be capitalized in something like "When I went home, Mom wasn't there."

    Regarding your first question, draw from experience. How often do you mix it up? Do you prefer one over the other? Also, if you're worried about repetition, think about how you would handle it if it were, say, "John" instead of "Mama." Would you repeat "John" over and over again, or would you find ways to get around that? Treat "Mama" as you would any other name, and you should be fine.
     
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  3. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    This depends on where the family is from, what their traditions are, and possibly what their social class is. I grew up in Canada and called my mother Mom. I've heard British people say Mum. I've heard people from the Southern States say Mama. I've never heard anyone say Mother, unless they're upper-class Brits on TV.

    Capitalization depends on whether the word is used as a proper noun (directly addressing the mother) or not. When I was a kid, I might say to a friend, "My mom wore a red dress last night." If I were addressing my mother directly, I'd say, "Are you going to wear your red dress, Mom?" In the first case, I'm just specifying my mom as opposed to someone else's mom, as if everyone has a mom. In the second case, I'm using Mom as a name; as a form of direct address.
     
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  4. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    I see, makes sense. Capitalize the noun when it is used as a name (As in, the mother is being spoken to directly), and don't capitalize it if it's just being used to describe a character's specific mother. :) Thanks for the help.
     
    Last edited: Jun 23, 2014
  5. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Well, it isn't quite that simple, but it's close. I have to make this addition to my earlier post. I'd capitalize it if I was using it as a proper noun even to someone else. For example, I might ask my sister, "Is Mom coming to visit you next month?" If I was speaking to a stranger, I'd say, "I have to go visit my mom this weekend." If I have to qualify "mom" with a specifier like "my" or "your", it would not be capitalized. If I don't qualify it (in my first example above, Mom is Mom to both me and my sister), it's capitalized.
     
  6. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    Ah, I see. That was the other thing I had some difficulty with.

    So suppose I had this sentence: "Papa, Bernice's dad wanted you to have this..." In this case, 'Papa' would be capitalize because the speaker is speaking to his/her father, but 'dad' isn't, because Bernice's dad isn't being used as a proper noun?

    But if Bernice were saying, "My mom and dad wanted you to have this." then the 'mom' and 'dad' still shouldn't be capitalized because it's using a specifier?
     
  7. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Correct and correct.
     
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  8. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Yep. As @thirdwind says, now you've got it. :)
     
  9. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    re: the redundancy - I called my mother "Mom" and my father "Dad". I never called them "Mother" and "Father", or "Mama" and "Papa". Those weren't their 'names'. So if Character A calls her "Mom", it should always be "Mom" (the exception being how so many people will get formal when arguing ie "Mother!"). The only time I've noticed people change the method of address is with age ("Mommy" becomes "Mom").
     
  10. Thomas Kitchen
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    Thomas Kitchen Proofreader in the Making Contributor

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    Not always when she's being directly spoken to; you could say something like, "Uncle Bert is on his way, and Mama's just gone to get the shopping." :)
     
  11. thewordsmith
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    thewordsmith Contributing Member Contributor

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    To address both of your questions:
    Let's assume Mama's name is Nell. How do you keep from making "Nell", the name of the person you are address, from sounding like Chinese Water Torture? Follow the same considerations when the 'name' is 'Mama".

    This segues easily to the next question: When do I capitalize and when not? If the situation readily allows for the name, Nell, to be substituted for the common noun, Mama, you would capitalize the common noun as it is substituting for the proper noun, Nell. For instance, you would not likely say, "She is waiting for her Nell." So you would, likewise, not say, "She is waiting for her Mama," capital 'M'. You would say, "She is waiting for her mama," lower case 'm'. Generally, if you can readily substitute the proper noun, you would capitalize the common noun.

    This is a very loose explanation but it should help to find your dividing line, or... divining line, as the case may be.
     
  12. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    Where I'm originally from, (Yorkshire) and in a lot of other places in the UK, 'Mum' would be used most often but in the North East UK, 'Mam' is used almost exclusively.
     
  13. caters
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    caters Member

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    re about redundancy: I used to call my mother Momma and my father Dada. Now I call my father Dad but still call my mother Momma.

    Not only are there several words that mean mother but there are also several spellings of those words.

    I find in the synonym list for mother the word grandmother. And not only that but it is in the highest relevance and I think that it is lower in relevance than parent is because grandmother means "mother of parent" and yes mother is in that meaning but still I don't think of grandmother and mother as synonyms at all much less near synonyms
     
  14. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    People also use different names for Mum depending what they are after - especially children. I get called Mum by my kids unless they are annoyed at me, in which case they will call me 'Mother'. If they want something (usually money or a lift) they will call me 'Mummy' or 'Mummy dearest' and if they want me to break up a fight between them, they shout 'Muuuuummmm!'
     
  15. Garball
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    Garball Sometimes nothing can be a real cool hand. Supporter Contributor

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    In my neck of the woods, there is a significant racial bias for word usage. The Black population, as adults, is more likely to use 'mama,' whereas I see mama turning into mom during early adolescence in the White Community. This is, of course, stereotypical and not an absolute.
     

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