Lindsay McMahon
"The English Adventurer"

When is the last time you were talking about your mom and dad in conversation in English?

Do you ever hear how others refer to their mom and dad in English?

Do you feel unsure which term to use when you are talking about them?

There are several terms that you can use, and they can all help you to talk about the people who raised you.

We’re going to look at these different terms and when each one may be appropriate in conversation.

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Here’s a letter from a listener that talks about this very thing.

Hi Lindsay and Michelle, how are you?

I’m Alison from Taiwan.

I really like your podcast and I listen to it everyday.

I have a question: my English teacher corrected me that I can’t say “Dad” and “Mom” because I am an adult. I should say “Father” and “Mother”.

Is that true? You said “Dad” and “Mom” in podcast, so I wondered why my teacher said that.

Thank you for reading my question.

Slight Differences Depending On The Conversation

The reality is that using the terms “mom” and “dad” aren’t really much different than “mother” and “father.”

It isn’t even necessarily about the age of the child, but rather how formal you are being.

In most instances, mother and father are more formal than mom and dad.

For example, if you were on a job interview and you were asked something about a story from childhood, you’d likely say mother and father.

If you were talking to a friend, then you’d be more likely to say mom and dad.

Sometimes it’s about the person you’re having the conversation with, and sometimes it’s just about which term comes out in that moment.

Other Terms That Can Work Well

Though mom and dad and mother and father work quite well, there are other options you can use in conversation.

There are other options to talk about the “people who raised you”.

  • Mommy and daddy–  This is one that you might hear from little kids OR adults who are very close with their parents. It may not be as common with adults, but some may still call their parents this. Though adults may call their parents this, they would not likely refer to their parents as mommy and daddy when talking to someone else. Parents usually love to hear mommy and daddy, even from slightly older children because it reminds them of when they were little.
  • Ma and pops/ mama and papa–  This is definitely a bit less formal. It’s not used as much. It’s a term of endearment and it’s cute, but it’s not as common. You might even use these terms for grandparents in some instances.
  • Parents–  This is by far the most typical way to refer to the people who raised you. It can be used in conversation in a formal or informal way, and it’s just all encompassing and easiest.
  • Folks– This is definitely a bit less formal, though it is quite common. It can be used as a political term or even to address people in a more formal setting as well.
  • Old man“This is definitely a term of endearment and not meant to be offensive. To say my “old man” is to talk about your father in an endearing way. “My old man told me to wear a suit to this party.”

It All Depends On The Variables

As you can see, there are many terms for parental figures, and which you use can depend on a few things.

If you are trying to figure out which works best, consider the following criteria.

1. Your relationship with your parents

2. How formal you are in your conversation.

3. Who you are talking to about your parents.

4. The context of the conversation and which one may fit best.

Any of these terms can work well, but consider these elements can help tremendously.


It’s possible this is all very cultural.

Relationships with parents are so different and in our culture, kids are supposed to grow up so fast.

However, typically you don’t usually only say mother or father when you’re an adult.

Listen to others and see what they say!

If you have any questions, please leave them below in the comments section.

We’ll get back to you as soon as we can.

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