Suspended hyphens sound like troublemakers, don’t they? Before we accuse them of cutting class or being chronically late for work, let’s look at their less-than nefarious definition. We’ll follow up with five guidelines for how to use them in your writing (without getting into mischief). What Are Suspended Hyphens? Suspended hyphens, also called suspensive hyphens, replace … [Read more...] about How to Use Suspended Hyphens
Do you have a minute? The following three guidelines explain when to hyphenate numbers with units of time such as hours, days, months, years, and centuries. Before we begin, here are a couple of brief words on multi-word descriptions: multi-word descriptions, such as three-hour, that come before nouns are called compound adjectives, compound modifiers, and phrasal … [Read more...] about When to Hyphenate Numbers with Units of Time
The writing world is riddled with “rules” based on misunderstood guidelines. One such rule is that we should never start a sentence with a number. While this blanket ban is understandable—depending on the content, starting a sentence with a number can be confusing or disruptive for readers—doing so is generally grammatically acceptable if you follow the three guidelines … [Read more...] about Three Tips for Starting a Sentence with a Number
The cardinal directions (north, south, east, and west) and the intercardinal directions (northeast, northwest, southeast, and southwest) are commonly referred to as compass points. Today’s post outlines how to write compass points in sentences. First, we’ll look at the guidelines for capitalizing them and then we’ll explore the guidelines for abbreviating them in addresses in … [Read more...] about How to Write Compass Points in Sentences
The warm weather has finally arrived here in Chicagoland, so that can only mean two things: construction and ghastly traffic joy rides and road trips! So, in honor of these annual summertime traditions, today’s post explains how to write names of highways, streets, and other roadways in sentences. 1. Capitalize Road-Related Terms in Formal Names Capitalize road-related terms … [Read more...] about How to Write Names of Highways, Streets, and Other Roadways
Recently, we looked at how to write run-in lists, which are lists that appear inside sentences. In this tutorial, we’ll explore guidelines for how to write vertical lists. Vertical lists are set apart from the surrounding text and are usually prefaced with bullets or sequential numbers or letters. Vertical lists can be ordered or unordered and can be introduced by complete … [Read more...] about How to Write Vertical Lists
Run-in lists are incorporated into sentences, as opposed to horizontal lists that stand apart from the surrounding sentences. Let’s look at four different ways to write run-in lists. Run-In Lists with Commas Commas can separate simple run-in list items.1 Three famous cartoon cats are Garfield, Sylvester, and Felix the Cat. The movie Homeward Bound featured three adventurous … [Read more...] about How to Write Run-In Lists
The following guidelines explain when to use italics or quotation marks with foreign words to set them apart from the surrounding English text. These guidelines are for general words in business documents, nonfiction, journalism, and academic writing but aren’t for proper nouns, such as people’s names or place names, which typically don’t require special formatting. But … [Read more...] about When to Use Italics or Quotation Marks with Foreign Words
According to the Astrophysical Journal, our universe is home to 200 trillion galaxies—that’s ten times more than the 200 billion galaxies previously believed to be in existence.1 I can’t envision 200 billion galaxies, let alone 200 trillion. However, I can envision writing large numbers according to the recommendations provided by our primary style guides. So, whether you’re … [Read more...] about How to Write Large Numbers
You can use direct quotations or paraphrasing to include someone else’s writing or speech in your own writing. Direct quotations can be formatted as run-in or block quotations. Today’s post explains direct quotations and paraphrasing in more detail…and you can quote me on that! Direct Quotations Direct quotations present the original writer’s or speaker’s words verbatim. … [Read more...] about Direct Quotations and Paraphrasing Explained
My last currency post explained how to write euros and pounds as words and symbols. Today’s post extends the foreign currency theme by explaining how to write non-U.S. dollars as words and symbols. The guidelines below are based on The Associated Press Stylebook (AP style) and The Chicago Manual of Style (Chicago style). If your organization has an in-house style guide, … [Read more...] about How to Write Non-U.S. Dollars as Words and Symbols
Traditional authors, journalists, and those in academia usually follow their organization’s or publisher’s chosen style guide. But if you’re an independent author, blogger, or business owner, you can decide which style guide is best for your writing. Today’s post provides an overview of the “big four” style guides in American English: The Associated Press Stylebook (AP … [Read more...] about Which Style Guide Is Best for You?
Is Colorado home to the Rocky Mountains or the Rocky mountains? Is the United States flanked by the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans or the Atlantic and Pacific oceans? Besides inducing an urge to go hiking, this post explains when you should capitalize oceans, mountains, lakes, and other geographic features such as rivers, deserts, and dunes. Capitalize General Nouns in Proper … [Read more...] about When Should You Capitalize Oceans, Mountains, Lakes, and Other Geographic Features?
Are centuries spelled out or written as numerals? Are centuries hyphenated when used as adjectives? Writers and editors have been asking these questions for at least a hundred years. (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself!) So, this post is going to explore present-day recommendations for how to write centuries as words and numerals. Are Centuries Spelled Out or Written as … [Read more...] about How to Write Centuries as Words and Numerals
I previously published a post called "Five Helpful Writing and Editing Websites and Blogs." A five-item list is a measly attempt for such a large topic, so today’s post expands that original list to ten writing websites and blogs. These resources cover a wide variety of subjects, so I’m confident that you’ll find something here that you can apply to your business or nonfiction … [Read more...] about Ten Helpful Writing Websites and Blogs
At long last, this five-part ellipses series is coming to a close with a discussion on how to use ellipsis points to create pauses and disruptions in dialogue. Use Ellipses to Indicate a Pause in the Middle of a Line of Dialogue General Rule: Ellipses in the middle of a line of dialogue indicate that the speaker stopped talking momentarily.1 “Do you know of any good places … [Read more...] about How to Use Ellipses, Part 5: Ellipses in Dialogue
Today’s post shares guidelines for putting ellipsis points in brackets when they are added to quotations that already include ellipses for dialogue disruptions or text omissions. Bracketed ellipses are a rather rare occurrence; so, review the first three parts of this series if you need broader information about ellipses: How to Use Ellipses, Part 1: Ellipses within and … [Read more...] about How to Use Ellipses, Part 4: Ellipses in Brackets
The ellipsis point series just keeps rollin' along! Today’s post demonstrates how to use ellipses at the beginning and end of quoted sentences. This post was preceded by “How to Use Ellipses, Part 1: Ellipses within and between Quoted Sentences” and “How to Use Ellipses, Part 2: Ellipses between Quoted Paragraphs.” How to Use Ellipses at the Beginning of Quoted … [Read more...] about How to Use Ellipses, Part 3: Ellipses at the Beginning and End of Quoted Sentences
“How to Use Ellipses, Part 1” reviewed the purpose of ellipsis points and demonstrated how to use them within and between quoted sentences. Today’s post explains how to use ellipses between quoted paragraphs. Part 3 will cover ellipses at the beginning and at the end of a quoted sentence. Part 4 will outline ellipsis usage in brackets. And, Part 5 will close the series by … [Read more...] about How to Use Ellipses, Part 2: Ellipses between Quoted Paragraphs
Ellipses, which are also called ellipsis points and ellipsis dots, represent omissions in quotations and interruptions in dialogue. That seems simple enough, doesn’t it? But, that’s where the simplicity ends because several of our most well-respected style and usage guides disagree on how ellipses should be formatted. Let’s unravel these conflicting recommendations point by … [Read more...] about How to Use Ellipses, Part 1: Ellipses within and between Quoted Sentences
The abbreviations i.e. and e.g. can streamline examples and specific information in your sentences; however, they aren’t interchangeable, and their placement within parentheses depends upon the type of content you’re writing. Here is a quick look at how they differ and how to use them. Understanding the Difference between i.e. and e.g. The abbreviation i.e. stands for id est, … [Read more...] about How to Use i.e. and e.g.
En dashes, which are shorter than em dashes but longer than hyphens, have two primary uses: (1) create number ranges and intervals and (2) establish equality between compound adjectives. Use En Dashes in Number Ranges and Intervals En dashes can be used in number ranges and time intervals as replacements for the words to and through.1 Apartments 1–15 will be fumigated on … [Read more...] about How to Use En Dashes
The forward slash (/) appears in everything from number fractions and calendar dates to poetry and URLs.* Despite this multifunctional usage, the forward slash is frequently mishandled when used as a shortcut for joining words and creating and–or situations. Here are three guidelines on how to use forward slashes in general writing that will help you avoid your own slash … [Read more...] about How to Use Forward Slashes
Errant apostrophe s’s can infiltrate anything—even game shows. In fact, a recent episode of Wheel of Fortune featured the questionable phrase “Someone’s knocking at the door.”1 While the phrase obviously means that someone is knocking at the door, this apostrophe s actually makes the pronoun someone possessive, as in “Someone’s car is blocking the driveway” or “I just found … [Read more...] about Apostrophe S Rules for Possession, Contractions, and Plurals
In a past post, I explored various guidelines for referring to an animal by the gendered pronouns he and she rather than the neutral pronoun it. But what about the relative pronoun who, which generally applies to people? Can you write “The cat who sits on the porch every morning has bright, green eyes”? Or do you need to write “The cat that sits on the porch every morning has … [Read more...] about Relative Pronouns for Animals: Are Animals “Who” or “That”?
Keep your eyes on the ball because figuring out subject-verb agreement for sports teams with singular names isn't always an easy win. (Sorry, I promise not to overdo the sports clichés.) Take this sentence, for example: The Chicago Fire are playing the Houston Dynamo next weekend. You may have noticed that the sentence above says Fire are instead of Fire is even though … [Read more...] about Subject-Verb Agreement for Sports Teams
Just a bit of fun this week... Last month, satirical musician "Weird Al" Yankovic shook up the usually sedate writing community with his song "Word Crimes." Some writers and editors felt the song promoted grammar shaming, while others accepted it as parody—not as a legitimate teaching tool. In fact, a few of the issues "Weird Al" criminalized aren't really grammar offenses … [Read more...] about Gloriously Grammatically Incorrect Song Titles: Classic Rock Edition
I am owned by two feline brothers officially named Mr. Heckle and Mr. Jeckle. I have several additional monikers for each of them, including Big Guy, Little Guy, Tuffy, and Flying J., just to name a few. One thing I never call them is it. And I know that I'm not alone: most animal lovers use gendered pronouns (e.g., he and she) when referring to pets. But are we just … [Read more...] about Gendered Pronouns for Animals
Show Me the Plural or Singular Verbs with Money! Some people really like to talk about money. Other people put money in the do-not-discuss category alongside root canals, Brussels sprouts, and giant spiders. But even those who don't enjoy talking about money occasionally have to write about it. Here is a brief primer on when to use plural or singular verbs with money. 1. Use … [Read more...] about Should We Use Plural or Singular Verbs with Money?
Spring is finally starting to sprout here in the Midwest! Let's commemorate the occasion by reviewing the guidelines for when to capitalize seasons, solstices, and equinoxes. Guideline 1: Lowercase general references to seasons, solstices, and equinoxes unless they start a sentence.1 Tomorrow we'll start the spring cleaning. Let's go hiking in celebration of the autumn … [Read more...] about When to Capitalize Seasons, Solstices, and Equinoxes
Here is a sentence in the active voice: many writers and editors dislike the passive voice. Before we discuss the reasons behind this aversion, let’s define active and passive voice. In the active voice, the subject does something. In the passive voice, the subject has something done to it. Here are a few examples: Active: Mr. Heckle is sleeping on the blanket. (Mr. … [Read more...] about Active Voice versus Passive Voice
Em dashes, which are commonly just called dashes, have four primary functions: emphasize important or essential information, enclose additional information, connect lists with sentences, and create pauses or disruptions in dialogue. Visit “How to Insert Special Characters in Microsoft Word” and “How to Find and Replace Special Characters in Microsoft Word” for information on … [Read more...] about How to Use Em Dashes
Last week, we talked about the five primary uses for colons. Today, we'll look at how to use semicolons to connect related sentences and separate run-in list items. 1. Connect Closely Related Sentences Strengthen or highlight the relationship between two closely related sentences by connecting them with a semicolon rather than dividing them with a period:1 The kitten and the … [Read more...] about How to Use Semicolons
Regular visitors to my blog may have noticed that I love colons, semicolons, and dashes. I sneak them in wherever and whenever possible. And no, I'm not ready to attend Punctuators Anonymous meetings. Instead, I am going to celebrate my adoration with a brief how-to series. We'll kick things off with an explanation of how to use colons in six ways: (1) introduce run-in lists, … [Read more...] about How to Use Colons
A trip through almost any home decor store proves that the ampersand (&) is one of the most beloved symbols in the English language. After all, not too many people decorate their living rooms with wooden semicolons. Although ampersands make excellent art, they are also still useful in writing. This post shares six guidelines for how to use ampersands in business, academic, … [Read more...] about How to Use Ampersands
Today’s post explores compound possessives with pronouns. For example, is Windy the cairn terrier Doug and my dog, Doug's and my dog, or Doug and I's dog? Before we answer this intriguing question of canine custody, we’ll define compound possessives and then look at how to write them in a sentence with pronouns. What Are Compound Possessives? Compound possessives, also … [Read more...] about How to Write Compound Possessives with Pronouns
A reader challenged me to tackle the conflict between first-person pronouns within compound subject and object strings such as you and I versus you and me. Because I hate to see strife between perfectly decent pronouns, I gladly accept this challenge! You and I versus You and Me Technically, correct usage is determined by the pronoun's position as a subject (I) or object (me) … [Read more...] about You and I versus You and Me: Can’t We All Just Get Along?
My last post showed how to create effective bullet points using parallel construction. But, when should you actually use bullet points in business writing? Bullet points frequently appear in resumes, brochures, and on websites. These are all good locations; however, bullets tend to be underutilized in longer documents, such as case studies, white papers, and proposals. I … [Read more...] about When to Use Bullet Points in Business Writing
Bullet points can be beautiful. Well, maybe that is a stretch, but some are definitely better looking than others! Now, I’m not talking about the actual bullet symbol—that is a topic for another blog post (but here is a quick hint: smiley face bullets should generally be avoided). I am referring to the text itself. What Is the Purpose of Bullet Points? The purpose of bullet … [Read more...] about Parallel Structure—The Secret to Beautiful Bullet Points