This page answers some questions that university students ask about writing
Use quotation marks [ “” ]to set off material that represents quoted or spoken language. Quotation marks also set off the titles of things that
do not normally stand by themselves: short stories, poems, and articles. Usually, a quotation is set off from the rest of
the sentence by a comma; however, the typography of quoted material can become quite complicated. Here is one simple rule
In the United States, periods and commas go inside quotation marks regardless
In the United Kingdom, Canada, and islands under the influence of British education, punctuation around
quotation marks is more apt to follow logic. In American style, then, you would write: My favorite poem is Robert Frost's
"Design." But in England you would write: My favorite poem is Robert Frost's "Design". The placement of marks other than
periods and commas follows the logic that quotation marks should accompany (be right next to) the text being quoted or set
apart as a title. Thus, you would write (on either side of the Atlantic):
·What do you think of Robert Frost's "Design"?
·I love "Design"; however, my favorite poem
was written by Emily Dickinson.
punctuation around quoted speech or phrases depends on how it fits into the rest of your text. If a quoted word or phrase
fits into the flow of your sentence without a break or pause, then a comma may not be necessary:
·The phrase "lovely, dark and deep" begins to
suggest ominous overtones.
Following a form of to say, however, you'll almost always need a comma:
·My father always said, "Be careful what you
If the quoted speech follows an independent clause yet could be part of the same sentence, use a colon to set off the
·My mother's favorite quote was from Shakespeare:
"This above all, to thine own self be true."
When an attribution of speech comes in the middle of quoted language, set it apart as you would any parenthetical element:
·"I don't care," she said, "what you think about
Be careful, though, to begin a new sentence after the attribution if sense calls for it:
·"I don't care," she said. "What do you think?"
normally insists that a new paragraph begins with each change of speaker:
"I don't care what you think anymore," she said, jauntily tossing back her hair and looking askance at Edward. "What do you mean?" he replied. "What do you mean, 'What
do I mean?'" Alberta sniffed. She was becoming impatient and wished that she
were elsewhere. "You know darn well what I mean!" Edward huffed. "Have it your way," Alberta added, "if that's how you feel."
and editing your writing, remember that quotation marks always travel in pairs! Well, almost always. When quoted dialogue
carries from one paragraph to another (and to another and another), the closing quotation mark does not appear until the quoted
language finally ends (although there is a beginning quotation mark at the start of each new quoted paragraph to remind
the reader that this is quoted language). Also, in parenthetical documentation, the period comes after the parenthetical citation
which comes after the quotation mark" (Darling 553).
In reporting "silent speech"—noting
that language is "said," but internally and not spoken out loud—writers are on their own. Writers can put quotation
marks around it or not:
·Oh, what a beautiful morning, Curly said to
·"Oh, what a beautiful morning!" Curly said
writers will set such unspoken language in italics or indent it in order to set it off from other "regular" language. That's
probably not a good idea if there is a lot of it because the indents can be confusing and italics can become tiresome to read
after a while. The decision will probably depend on the amount of silent speech within the text. Probably the best way to
handle silent speech is to find an author whom you like who does a lot of this—Graham Swift in his novel Last Orders,
for instance—and copy that author's style. Consistency, of course, is very important.
Be careful not to use quotation
marks in an attempt to emphasize a word (the kind of thing you see in grocery store windows—Big "Sale" Today!). Underline or italicize
that word instead. (The quotation marks will suggest to some people that you are using that word in a special or peculiar
way and that you really mean something else—or that your sale is entirely bogus.)
The American Medical Association
Manual of Style (9th
ed, 1998) calls misused quotation marks like this Apologetic Quotation Marks and says:
Quotation marks used around words to give special effect or to indicate irony are usually unnecessary.
When irony or special effect is intended, skillful preparation can take the place of using these quotes. Resort to apologetic
quotation marks or quotation marks used to express irony only after such attempts have failed, keeping in mind that the best
writing does not rely on apologetic quotation marks. (p 220)
We do not enclose indirect quotations in quotation marks. An indirect quotation reports what someone says but
not in the exact, original language. Indirect quotations are not heard in the same way that quoted language is heard.
·The President said
that NAFTA would eventually be a boon to small businesses in both countries.
told her students the textbooks were not yet in the bookstore.
Double Punctuation with Quotations
— very occasionally, we hope — we come across a sentence that seems to demand one kind of punctuation mark within
quotation marks and another kind of punctuation mark outside the quotation marks. A kind of pecking order of punctuation marks
takes over: other marks are stronger than a period and an exclamation mark is usually stronger than a question mark. If a
statement ends in a quoted question, allow the question mark within the quotation marks suffice to end the sentence.
·Malcolm X had the courage to ask the younger
generation of American blacks, "What did we do, who preceded you?"
On the other hand, if a question ends with a quoted statement that is not a question, the question mark will
go outside the closing quotation mark.
·Who said, "Fame means when your computer modem
is broken, the repair guy comes out to your house a little faster"?
If a question ends with a quotation containing an exclamation mark, the exclamation mark will supersede the question
and suffice to end the sentence.
·Wasn't it Malcolm X who declared, "Why, that's
the most hypocritical government since the world began!"
A single question mark will suffice to end a quoted question within a question:
·"Didn't he ask, 'What did we do, who preceded
you?'" queried Johnson.
Single Quotation Marks
States, we use single quotation marks [ ‘’ ] to enclose quoted material (or the
titles of poems, stories, articles) within other quoted material:
·"'Design' is my favorite poem," he said.
·"Did she ask, 'What's going on?'"
·Ralph Ellison recalls the Golden Age of Jazz
this way: "It was itself a texture of fragments, repetitive, nervous, not fully formed; its melodic lines underground, secret
and taunting; its riffs jeering—'Salt peanuts! Salt peanuts!'"
practice, again, is quite different. In fact, single-quote marks and double-quote marks are apt to be reversed in usage. Instructors
in the U.S. should probably take this into account when reading papers submitted by students who have gone to school in other
parts of the globe.
single quotation marks are used in headlines where double quotation marks would otherwise appear.
·Congress Cries 'Shame!'
concepts may be set apart with single-quote marks. When such concepts are set off in this way, periods and commas go outside
the single-quote marks:
treatment of 'being', as opposed to his treatment of 'non-being', has been thoroughly described in Kaufm
Rules for Comma Usage
1. Use a comma to separate the
elements in a series (three or more things), including the last two. "He hit the ball, dropped the bat, and ran to first base."
You may have learned that the comma before the "and" is unnecessary, which is fine if you're in control of things. However,
there are situations in which, if you don't use this comma (especially when the list is complex or lengthy), these last two
items in the list will try to glom together (like macaroni and cheese). Using a comma between all the items in a series,
including the last two, avoids this problem. This last comma—the one between the word "and" and the preceding word—is
often called the serial comma or the Oxford comma.
In newspaper writing, incidentally, you will seldom find a serial comma, but that is not necessarily a sign that it should
be omitted in academic prose.
2. Use a comma + a little conjunction
(and, but, for, nor, yet, or, so) to connect two independent clauses, as in "He hit the ball well, but he ran toward third base."
that the coordinating conjunction is adequate separation, some writers will leave out the comma in a sentence with short,
balanced independent clauses (such as we see in the example just given). If there is ever any doubt, however, use the comma,
as it is always correct in this situation.
of the most frequent errors in comma usage is the placement of a comma after a coordinating conjunction. We cannot
say that the comma will always come before the conjunction and never after, but it would be a rare event, indeed, that we
need to follow a coordinating conjunction with a comma. When speaking, we do sometimes pause after the little conjunction,
but there is seldom a good reason to put a comma there.
3. Use a comma to set off introductory
elements, as in "Running toward third base, he suddenly realized how stupid he looked."
is permissible to omit the comma after a brief introductory element if the omission does not result in confusion or hesitancy
in reading. If there is ever any doubt, use the comma, as it is always correct.
4. Use a comma to set off parenthetical elements, as in "The Founders Bridge, which spans the Connecticut River, is falling down." By "parenthetical element," we mean a part of a sentence that can be removed without changing the
essential meaning of that sentence. The parenthetical element is sometimes called "added information." This is the most difficult
rule in punctuation because it is sometimes unclear what is "added" or "parenthetical" and what is essential to the meaning
of a sentence.
are almost always treated as parenthetical elements.
·Calhoun's ambition, to become
a goalie in professional soccer, is within his reach.
·Eleanor, his wife of thirty
years, suddenly decided to open her own business.
the appositive and the word it identifies are so closely related that the comma can be omitted, as in "His wife Eleanor suddenly
decided to open her own business." We could argue that the name "Eleanor" is not essential to the meaning of the sentence
(assuming he has only one wife), and that would suggest that we can put commas both before and after the name (and that would,
indeed, be correct). But "his wife" and "Eleanor" are so close that we can regard the entire phrase as one unit and leave
out the commas. With the phrase turned around, however, we have a more definite parenthetical element and the commas are necessary:
"Eleanor, his wife, suddenly decided to open her own business." Consider, also, the difference between "College President
Ira Rubenzahl voted to rescind the withdrawal policy" (in which we need the name "Ira Rubenzahl" or the sentence doesn't make
sense) and "Ira Rubenzahl, the college president, voted to rescind the withdrawal policy" (in which the sentence makes sense
without his title, the appositive, and we treat the appositive as a parenthetical element, with a pair of commas).
As pointed out above (Rule #3), an
adverbial clause that begins a sentence is set off with a comma:
·Although Queasybreath had spent
several years in Antarctica, he still bundled up warmly in the brisk autumns
·Because Tashonda had learned to
study by herself, she was able to pass the entrance exam.
an adverbial clause comes later on in the sentence, however, the writer must determine if the clause is essential to the meaning
of the sentence or not. A "because clause" can be particularly troublesome in this regard. In most sentences, a "because clause"
is essential to the meaning of the sentence, and it will not be set off with a comma:
·The Okies had to leave their farms
in the midwest because the drought conditions had ruined their farms.
though, the "because clause" must be set off with a comma to avoid misreading:
·I knew that President Nixon would
resign that morning, because my sister-in-law worked in the White House and she called me with the news.
Without that comma, the sentence says that Nixon's resignation was the fault of my sister-in-law. Nixon did not resign
because my sister-in-law worked in the White House, so we set off that clause to make the meaning clearly parenthetical.
When a parenthetical element —
an interjection, adverbial modifier, or even an adverbial clause — follows a coordinating conjunction used to connect
two independent clauses, we do not put a comma in front of the parenthetical element.
·The Red Sox were leading the
league at the end of May, but of course, they always do well in the spring. [no comma after "but"]
·The Yankees didn't do so well
in the early going, but frankly, everyone expects them to win the season. [no comma after "but"]
·The Tigers spent much of the
season at the bottom of the league, and even though they picked up several promising rookies, they expect to be there again
next year. [no comma after "and"]
both a city's name and that city's state or country's name are mentioned together, the state or country's name is treated
as a parenthetical element.
·We visited Hartford, Connecticut, last summer.
·Paris, France, is sometimes called "The City of Lights."
the state becomes a possessive form, this rule is no longer followed:
·Hartford, Connecticut's investment in the insurance industry is well known.
when the state or country's name becomes part of a compound structure, the second comma is dropped:
·Heublein, a Hartford, Connecticut-based
company, is moving to another state.
5. Use a comma to separate coordinate
adjectives. You could think of this as "That tall, distinguished, good looking fellow" rule (as opposed to "the little old
lady"). If you can put an and or a but between the adjectives, a comma will probably belong there. For instance,
you could say, "He is a tall and distinguished fellow" or "I live in a very old and run-down house." So you would write, "He
is a tall, distinguished man" and "I live in a very old, run-down house." But you would probably not say, "She is a little
and old lady," or "I live in a little and purple house," so commas would not appear between little and old or
between little and purple.
6. Use a comma to set off quoted
elements. Because we don't use quoted material all the time, even when writing, this is probably the most difficult rule to
remember in comma usage. It is a good idea to find a page from an article that uses several quotations, photocopy that page,
and keep it in front of you as a model when you're writing. Generally, use a comma to separate quoted material from the rest
of the sentence that explains or introduces the quotation:
·Summing up this argument, Peter
Coveney writes, "The purpose and strength of the romantic image of the child had been above all to establish a relation between
childhood and adult consciousness."
an attribution of a quoted element comes in the middle of the quotation, two commas will be required. But be careful not to
create a comma splice in so doing.
·"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many things."
·"I should like to buy an egg,
please," she said timidly. "How do you sell them?"
careful not to use commas to set off quoted elements introduced by the word that or quoted elements that are
embedded in a larger structure:
·Peter Coveney writes that "[t]he
purpose and strength of . . ."
·We often say "Sorry" when we
don't really mean it.
instead of a comma, use a colon to set off explanatory or introductory language from a quoted element that is either very
formal or long (especially if it's longer than one sentence):
·Peter Coveney had this to say
about the nineteenth-century's use of children in fiction: "The purpose and strength of . . . . "
7. Use commas to set off phrases
that express contrast.
·Some say the world will end in
ice, not fire.
·It was her money, not her charm
or personality, that first attracted him.
·The puppies were cute, but very
writers will leave out the comma that sets off a contrasting phrase beginning with but.)
8. Use a comma to avoid confusion.
This is often a matter of consistently applying rule #3.
·For most the year is already
·For most, the year is already finished.
·Outside the lawn was cluttered
with hundreds of broken branches.
·Outside, the lawn was cluttered with hundreds of broken branches.
spent most of the day putting in a comma and the rest of the day taking it out.
9. Typographical Reasons: Between
a city and a state [Hartford, Connecticut], a date and the year [June 15, 1997],
a name and a title when the title comes after the name [Bob Downey, Professor of English], in long numbers [5,456,783 and
$14,682], etc. Although you will often see a comma between a name and suffix — Bob Downey, Jr., Richard Harrison, III
— this comma is no longer regarded as necessary by most copy editors, and some individuals — such as Martin Luther
King Jr. — never used a comma there at all.
that we use a comma or a set of commas to make the year parenthetical when the date of the month is included:
1776, is regarded as
the birth date of American liberty.
the date itself, however, the comma disappears:
·July 1776 was one of the most
eventful months in our history.
international or military format, no commas are used:
·The Declaration of Independence
was signed on 4 July 1776.
10. Use Commas With Caution. As you can see, there
are many reasons for using commas, and we haven't listed them all. Yet the biggest problem that most students have with commas
is their overuse. Some essays look as though the student loaded a shotgun with commas and blasted away. Remember, too, that
a pause in reading is not always a reliable reason to use a comma. Try not to use a comma unless you can apply a specific
rule from this page to do so.
Concentrating on the proper
use of commas is not mere form for form's sake. Indeed, it causes writers to review their understanding of structure and to
consider carefully how their sentences are crafted.
The Slash or Virgule
A slash or slant or solidus or virgule [ / ] is used to indicate a choice between the words it separates.
·Using the pass/fail option backfired
on her; she could've gotten an A.
slash can be translated as or and should not be used where the word or could not be used in its place. To avoid
gender problems with pronouns, some writers use he/she, his/her, and him/her. Many authorities despise that construction and
urge writers either to pluralize when possible and appropriate (to they, their, them) or to use he or she, etc.
instead. Notice there is no space between the slash and the letters on either side of it.
is, however, a space when the slash is used to indicate a line-break in quoted poetry: "The woods are lovely, dark,
and deep / but I have promises to keep." (This way of quoting poetry is limited to four or five lines of verse, within the
normal flow of text.)
using slashes in a Uniform Resource Locator (URL) for a World Wide Web address (http://www.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/), be especially
sure not to include spaces and not to confuse the slash with its backward cousin, \, used as a path separator in Windows (for
example, c:\program files\Adobe).
a dash [ — ] (or two hyphens [ -- ] on old-fashioned typewriters) or dashes as a super-comma or set of super-commas
to set off parenthetical elements, especially when those elements contain internal forms of punctuation:
All four of them—Bob, Jeffrey, Jason, and Brett—did well in college.
most word-processors, the dash is created by holding down the option key and hitting the key that has the underline mark above
the hyphen. This can vary, though, from program to program. Usually, you get an en dash (see below) with the option + hyphen
key, and you get the larger em dash (used more frequently) with option + shift + hyphen keys.
not use dashes to set apart material when commas would do the work for you. Usually, there are no spaces between the dash
and the letters on either side of a dash, although the dash is frequently shown that way in documents prepared for the World
Wide Web and e-mail for typographical and aesthetic reasons (because the WWW authoring and e-mail clients have little control
writing dialogue, the dash is used to show breaks in thought and shifts in tone:
"How many times have I asked
you not to —" Jasion suddenly stopped talking and looked out the window.
"Not to do what?" I prompted.
"Not to — Oh heck, I forget!"
is sometimes used to set off concluding lists and explanations in a more informal and abrupt manner than the colon. We seldom
see the dash used this way in formal, academic prose.
word processors provide for two kinds of dashes: the regular dash or em dash (which is the same width as the letter "M," — ) and the en dash (which is about half the width, the same as
the letter "N," – ). We use the em dash for most purposes
and keep its smaller brother, the en dash, for marking the space between dates in a chronological range: "Kennedy's presidency
(1961–1963) marked an extraordinary era. .
. ."; in time: 6:30–8:45 p.m.; and between numbers and letters
in an indexing scheme: table 13–C, CT Statute 144–A.
en dash is also used to join compound modifiers made up of elements that are themselves either open compounds (frequently
two-word proper nouns) or already hyphenated compounds: the Puerto Rican–United States collaboration, the New York–New Jersey border, post-Darwinian–pre-Freudian
theorems. The Gregg Reference Manual and the Chicago Manual of Style both recommend using the en dash whenever
a compound modifier is combined with a participle as in "a Frank Lloyd Wright–designed building," "a White House–backed
proposal," and "a foreign exchanged–related issue."
A string of modifiers in a single compound, though, is joined with hyphens: hilarious, never-to-be-forgotten moments. If you
are using an old-fashioned typewriter that cannot create an en dash, you can denote to your typesetter or editor that a hyphen
is to be converted to an en dash by using a hyphen and hand-writing the letter "n" above it.
reference manuals are urging editors and publishers to get rid of the en dash altogether and to use the em dash exclusively,
but en and em are still handy words to know when you're trying to get rid of those extra e's at the end
of a Scrabble game. Finally, we use what is called a 3-em dash (or six typewriter hyphens) when we're showing that someone's
name or a word has been omitted (perhaps for legal reasons or issues of taste):
______ and ______ were suspended without pay for their refusal to grade papers.
[ … ] proves to be a handy device when you're quoting material and you want to omit some words. The ellipsis consists of three evenly spaced dots (periods)
with spaces between the ellipsis and surrounding letters or other marks. Let's take the sentence, "The ceremony honored twelve
brilliant athletes from the Caribbean who were visiting the U.S." and leave out "from the Caribbean who were":
The ceremony honored twelve brilliant athletes…visiting the U.S.
If the omission comes after
the end of a sentence, the ellipsis will be placed after the period, making a total of four dots. … See how that
works? Notice that there is no space between the period and the last character of the sentence.
The ellipsis can also be used
to indicate a pause in the flow of a sentence and is especially useful in quoted speech:
Juan thought and thought … and then thought some more. "I'm wondering…" Juan said,
Note carefully the spacing of
the ellipsis marks and the surrounding characters in the examples above. In mid-sentence, a space should appear between the
first and last ellipsis marks and the surrounding letters. If a quotation is meant to trail off (as in Juan's bemused thought),
leave a space between the last letter and the first ellipsis mark but do not include a period with the ellipsis marks.
If words are left off at the
end of a sentence, and that is all that is omitted, indicate the omission with ellipsis marks (preceded and followed
by a space) and then indicate the end of the sentence with a period… . If one or more sentences are omitted, end the
sentence before the ellipsis with a period and then insert your ellipsis marks with a space on both sides.… As in this
example. A coded ellipsis (used in the construction of this page) will appear tighter (with less of a space between the dots)
than the use of period-space-period-space-period.
When words at the beginning
of a quoted sentence are omitted, it is not necessary to use an ellipsis to indicate that words have been left out when that
fragment can fit into the flow of your text. An exception: in a blockquoted fragment, use an ellipsis to indicate an omission:
According to Quirk and Greenbaum, the distinctions are unimportant…for count nouns with specific
reference to definite and indefinite pronouns.
if the material quoted can be read as a complete sentence, simply capitalize the first word of the material and leave out
the ellipsis marks:
This principle is described by Quirk and Greenbaum: The distinctions for count nouns with specific
reference to definite and indefinite pronouns remain unimportant.
When a lengthy quotation begins
with a complete sentence and ends with a complete sentence, do not use an ellipsis at either the end or the beginning of the
quotation unless it is, for some reason, important to emphasize that some language has been omitted.*
The ellipsis should be regarded
as one unit and should not be broken at the end of a line. Toward that end, it is useful to know the code that will create
an unbroken and unbreakable ellipsis for you on the word-processing program you are using. On most machines, it's a simple
matter of holding down the option key and hitting the semicolon, but this varies from program to program. To avoid problems
when you reformat a paper (change margins, font sizes, etc.), the spaces that surround the ellipsis should also be created
as "non-breaking spaces."
"Bohr […] used the analogy of parallel stairways […]"
(Other research manuals do not address this use of bracketed ellipses.)
The plural of ellipsis is ellipses but the points themselves (the dots that make up the ellipsis) are called
ellipsis points or ellipsis marks.
Using Unbiased Language
A student planning to graduate this spring should see his advisor at once.
And we hope that the writer of the sentence above is working at an all-male school.
We should avoid gender problems with the singular "his".Most gender problems can be avoided without the use of the clunky
he or she/him or her construction or the more monstrous he/she by using the plural: "Students planning to graduate
this spring should see their counselor at once." An occasional he or she is all right, but after a while it becomes
too demanding of the reader's attention, and the device becomes more important than the message. Where a singular pronoun
is necessary, use either the masculine or feminine consistently enough to avoid confusion.
Avoid Sexist Terminology
language based on
hurtful assumptions about gender:
"I need to see a doctor." "She's busy right now." "No, I said a doctor."
The conversation above probably took place between some chap and the "girl" at the
front desk. A responsible, sensitive writer will never make demeaning assumptions about gender role. Whether words such as
chairman and congressman are sexist and hurtful and whether their substitutes chairperson and members
of congress are unnecessary and cumbersome is an argument that some people will still make, but if we can avoid the argument
(and the possibility of hurt) with the use of reasonable substitutes, it's well worth it. The following table lists words
that many people regard as sexist and some appropriate substitutes for those words.
of alumnus/a alumni/ae
any human being)
and their wives
and their spouses
Random House Dictionary offers an excellent online guide to "Avoiding Insensitive Language" with lists pertaining to age,
persons with disabilities, sexism, sexual orientation, national origin, etc. Click the enter button to find it.
In most cases, use "woman" as the noun
and "female" as the adjective. "Female soldiers," "female priests." Things like "women senators" should be confined to quotes
(does anybody say men senators?). "Female" is OK as a noun when talking about animals, when it hasn't been established whether
the person in question is a woman or a girl, and when talking about a group that includes both women and girls. If it's ever
necessary to use the sexist cliche "women drivers," that would be an exception.
Being careful to avoid sexist language should not lead one into silliness. High schools
do not have women's basketball programs unless they have men's basketball programs, also, which is doubtful
(in spite of the bulk and hairiness of that kid playing center). To use women and men in that context suggests
that there is something wrong with being a girl or a boy. On the other hand, why do some universities still have a women's
basketball program, but the men's program is simply called the basketball program? One last thought: writers should
no more apologize for the sexism so liberally sprinkled throughout the history of our literature than they should apologize
for the way our predecessors dressed.
A college is a corner of men's hearts where hope has not died. Here the prison house has not closed;
here no battle is yet quite lost. Here, we assert, endow, and defend as final reality the best of our dream as men. Here lies
our sense of community.
__ Howard Lowry
How would we write this piece of text differently today?
How about "A college is a corner of our hearts where hope has not died"? and "Here, we assert, endow, and defend as
final reality the best of our dreams."? We certainly have not improved upon the sound of Lowry's words, but have we
lost anything by these changes? Probably not much, and what we have lost, we've more than gained by decreasing the chances
of offending or marginalizing an entire gender from the definition of a college — something that would never have entered
Howard Lowry's unbiased mind and generous heart.
Gender Neutral Language
Referring to Groups of
Any time a writer wishes to or has to refer to a group of people to the exclusion of
others, he or she must be cautious not to use language that is regarded as hurtful by the group being referred to. Nowadays,
minority groups and special-interest groups have a great deal to say, and rightfully so, about the language used to refer
to them. More than one political career has fallen upon hard times through an insensitive or rude remark. When a presidential
candidate a few years ago made a reference to "you people," he surely did so without conscious or wicked intent. Still, the
phrase you people or those people excludes groups without reason for doing so and thus is regarded as hurtful.
Staying current with appropriate language is not always easy. In fact, following the history of the ideas and attitudes inherent
in words such as crippled or retarded can be an interesting (if not dizzying) exploration of a nation's social
The need to be sensitive, fair, and respectful can lead to all kinds of social and
personal discoveries. A blind person will be the first to remind us that he or she is, indeed, a blind person, and the term
visually impaired is a needless euphemism. On the other hand, we should speak of "blind people," not "the blind." The
word special, in this regard, has become almost meaningless, and even the term queer, which has often been used
in a nasty, derogatory way, has writers who claim it as a badge of honor. The power of language to hurt is never more clear
than in the realm of racial slurs or epithets. Within an extremely restricted context, the word nigger has been claimed
as a mark of camaraderie and affection, but only a fool or a boor would use that word outside of that limited social and artistic
context and only certain writers and journalists in special circumstances would have the artistic license to use it at all.
One must be careful, too, in using ethnic and nationalist terms. The word Asian
is now widely used instead of Oriental (except, for some reason, when talking about carpeting) and, in general, it
is wise to use a specific geographical term or area when speaking of people's origins. For that reason, the word Hispanic
seems to have been supplanted by Latino/Latina and that, in turn, by Cuban, Colombian, Puerto Rican, Chicano/Chicana, etc.
Most writers nowadays will use Native American instead of Indian or Indian-American, but many Native
American writers will use the term Indian themselves or insist that writers be more specific (and exact) about tribe
and nation grouping (Sioux, Navajo, Paugausset, etc.). In fact, American Indian seems to be regaining ascendancy. The
discussion about black versus African American (no longer Afro-American) may know no end, especially
if Islander blacks are involved. (Note that the terms black and white are not capitalized.)
And that is precisely the point: discussion — it is ongoing and it reflects
important changes in our culture. As long as writers try to be sensitive to the feelings of minorities and special-interest
groups and as long as writers consciously attempt to avoid divisive language that offends, stereotypes, belittles, or hurtfully
excludes people, i.e. all that anyone can ask.
The American Heritage Book of English Usage sums it up this way:
As a general rule, it is good to remember
that you should only refer to a person by category when it is relevant or necessary to the discussion at hand. That is, you
should ordinarily view people as individuals and not mention their racial, ethnic, or other status, unless it is important
to your larger purpose in communicating.
Sequence of Verb Tenses
Although the various shades of time and sequence are usually conveyed adequately
in informal speech and writing, especially by native speakers and writers, they can create havoc in academic writing and they
sometimes are troublesome among students for whom English is a second language. This difficulty is especially evident in complex
sentences when there is a difference between the time expressed in an independent clause and the time expressed in a dependent
clause. Another difficulty arises with the use of infinitives and participles, modals which also convey a sense of time. We
hope the tables below will provide the order necessary to help writers sort out tense sequences.
As long as the main clause's verb is in neither the past nor the past perfect
tense, the verb of the subordinate clause can be in any tense that conveys meaning accurately. When the main clause verb is
in the past or past perfect, however, the verb in the subordinate clause must be in the past or past perfect. The exception
to this rule is when the subordinate clause expresses what is commonly known as a general truth:
the 1950s, English teachers still believed that a background in Latin is essential for an understanding of English.
·Columbus somehow knew that the world is round.
widely understood that literacy among oppressed people is a dangerous thing.
The tables below demonstrate the correct relationship of tenses between clauses
where time is of the essence (i.e., within sentences used to convey ideas about actions or conditions that take place over
Tense in Independent Clause
Purpose of Dependent Clause/ Tense in Dependent Clause
To show same-time action, use the present tense
I am eager to go to the concert because I love the Wallflowers.
To show earlier action, use past tense
I know that I made the right choice.
To show a period of time extending from some point in the past to the present,
use the present perfect tense.
They believe that they have elected the right candidate.
To show action to come, use the future tense.
The President says that he will veto the bill.
To show another completed past action, use the past tense.
I wanted to go home because I missed my parents.
To show an earlier action, use the past perfect tense.
She knew she had made the right choice.
To state a general truth, use the present tense.
The Deists believed that the universe is like a giant clock.
Present Perfect or Past Perfect
For any purpose, use the past tense.
She has grown a foot since she turned nine. The crowd had
turned nasty before the sheriff returned.
To show action happening at the same time, use the present tense.
I will be so happy if they fix my car today.
To show an earlier action, use the past tense.
You will surely pass this exam if you studied hard.
To show future action earlier than the action of the independent clause,
use the present perfect tense.
The college will probably close its doors next summer if enrollments
have not increased.
For any purpose, use the present tense or present perfect tense.
Most students will have taken sixty credits by the time they graduate. Most
students will have taken sixty credits by the time they have graduated.
Note: Unless logic dictates otherwise, when discussing a work of literature, use the present tense: "Robert Frost
describes the action of snow on the birch trees." "This line suggests the burden of the ice." "The use of the
present tense in Carver's stories creates a sense of immediacy."
Sequence of Tenses with Infinitives and
To show same-time action or action
later than the verb
Coach Espinoza is eager to
try out her new drills. [The eagerness is now; the trying out will happen later.]
She would have liked to see
more veterans returning. [The present infinitive to see is in the same time as the past would have liked.]
Perfect Infinitive (to have seen)
To show action earlier than the verb
The fans would like to have seen
some improvement this year. ["Would like" describes a present condition; "to have seen" describes something prior to that
They consider the team to
have been coached very well. [The perfect infinitive to have been coached indicates a time prior to the verb consider.]
Tense of Participle
Role of Participle
Present Participle (seeing)
To show action occurring at the same
time as that of the verb
Working on the fundamentals, the team slowly
began to improve. [The action expressed by began happened in the past, at the same time the working happened.]
Past Participle or Present Perfect Participle
To show action occurring earlier than
that of the verb
Prepared by last year's experience, the coach
knows not to expect too much. [The action expressed by knows is in the present; prepared expresses a
time prior to that time.]
Having experimented with several game plans, the coaching
staff devised a master strategy. [The present perfect participle having experimented indicates a time prior
to the past tense verb, devised.]
1.What is its color? It's green. It's been
a long, long time.
come first, out of alphabetical order, because they're the champs, surely the most often confused words in English! Remember,
it's means it is or it has! Use its to show possession.
2.I would accept your excuse, except the part
about losing the watch.
3.The number of students who wanted access
to the computer labs was in excess of two hundred.
4.The government would often adopt policies
that required people to adapt to a harsh regime.
5.I need your advice. Please advise me on this.
6.The teacher's aide more than once came to
the aid of her supervisor. [AIDS, the acronym for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, is spelled in all caps.]
7.Sometimes it seems more shocking to be amoral
than to be immoral.
8.When they got the assent of the weather bureau,
they allowed the enormous balloon to begin its ascent. [N.B. The word accent — what we hear in one's speech —
has no "s."]
9.Aural — see oral
10.Are you all ready already, or do we have to wait for
11.Allusion — see illusion
12.In mock debates, we used to alternate sides, taking alternative
13.Among — see between
to anticipate [prepare oneself for] things that one doesn't expect.
15.He told a funny anecdote about mixing up his soda with
the snake-bite antidote.
16.She felt bad about his behaving badly at the conference.
[Use the adjective form with linking verbs.]
17.She was afraid of him after seeing his bizarre behavior
at the county's annual bazaar.
18.Besides my unphotogenic aunt and uncle, there were fourteen
other people standing beside the train station.
19.He has divided the money between Carlos and his daughter.
He has divided the rest of his property among his three brothers.
20.The economy seemed to slide backwards thanks to the backward
government policies. ["Backward" can be either an adverb or an adjective; "backwards" can be only an adverb.]
21.I was so bored at the Board of Trustees meeting that
I fell asleep.
22.She brought with her all the Christmas gifts she had
23.He will break the car brake if he keeps pushing on it
24.Every breath counts, so breathe deeply now.
25.Bring — see take
26.You may begin this exercise whenever you can get around
to it. [In negative constructions, the word can can be used to express permission: You cannot go to the movies today.]
27.You cannot blame him for screaming, "Damn it, Bob! You
can not do that anymore!"
28.Capacity — see ability
29.Some people thought he was sweet and childlike in his
innocence, but I always thought he was boorish and childish.
30.I chose the red balloon. Now you choose a balloon of
31.His clothes were made of cloths of many different colors.
32.She complimented her sister on the way her scarf complemented
33.She didn't seem conscious of the fact that her husband
has no conscience.
34.I kept a weekly diary during those years that I worked
on the dairy farm.
35.Any cool dessert would taste great out here in the sandy
36.She thought her dog would die after it drank that bowl
of blue dye.
37.It was part of the government's economic strategy to
direct the military to purchase the most economical material available.
38.When it comes to abbreviations of Latin words or phrases
(e.g., etc., et al.), wise writers use them sparingly (i.e., primarily when documenting resources and then only parenthetically)
or not at all. [E.g. means for example, and it is usually better to use the English phrase, for example. I.e. means that is.
39.Emigrate — see immigrate
40.We would like to ensure good weather for our company
picnic, but our insurance company won't insure good weather with an inexpensive policy.
Using Numbers, Writing Lists
advice proffered here is meant primarily for standard academic prose. Business and technical writing sometimes goes by a different
set of standards, and writers of those kinds of text should consult a manual dedicated to those standards. (The APA Publication
Manual has an extensive section devoted to the use of numbers in technical papers. The Chicago Manual of Style
[chapter 13] addresses just about every issue that might come up in a technical or mathematical text.)
Write out numbers that require no more than two words, remembering that a hyphenated number between twenty-one
and ninety-nine counts as one word. Some writing manuals will suggest that whole numbers from zero through nine should
be written as words, and numbers from ten on up should be written as numerals, especially when the word modifies a noun as
in five students or two professors.
oUse numerals, however, when the number modifies a unit of measure,
time, proportion, etc.: 2 inches, 5-minute delay, 65 mph, 23 years old, page 23, 2 percent.
oUse numerals for decimals and fractions: 0.75, 3.45, 1/4 oz,
7/8 in. (Notice that abbreviations are always written in the singular form whether they would be expressed as plurals or not:
14 oz, 12 in. The period can be omitted from such abbreviated measurements unless confusion would result [after in., for example]).
oUse numerals for any number greater than nine: 237 lb, 32 players.
(But this may be determined by context and how exact the numbers are. In business and technical writing, yes, all such numbers
would be written as numerals; in other kinds of text, you might see something like six million victims, four thousand volunteers.
oApproximate figures — fractional or otherwise — may
be written out as words: one half the students, a quarter cup of sugar, a third of the time, four times as often.
oPlace a hyphen after a unit of measure when the unit modifies
a noun: 10-foot pole, 6-inch rule, 3-year-old horse. (The unit of measure in such expressions is, for some reason, always
oWhen many numbers are involved, use all numerals unless all the
numbers are whole numbers less than nine.
oWhen fractional or decimal expression are 1 or less, the word
they modify should be singular: 0.7 meter, 0.22 cubic foot, 0.78 kilometer. Precede decimal fractions with a value less than
one with a leading zero before the decimal point.
oPercentage expressions should be written out as words: Last semester,
78 percent of the first-year students passed English Composition. (as opposed to 78%)
oAvoid using ordinals when writing dates: February 14, not 14th.
2.There are twenty-six students in my wife's third-grade class.
3.Juan is over 183 centimeters tall.
4.Hartford has over ninety-three thousand citizens. (Some people would
argue that all such statistical information should be expressed in numerals; when rounded off, however, spelled-out words
5.Hartford has 97,500 citizens.
Consistency is important here!
·Juan is about 183 centimeters
tall, which means that he is just over 6 feet tall.
To avoid confusion by running numbers together, combine words and numerals when one number follows another. Generally, write
out the shorter number.
·My wife teaches 26 third-grade
·There were 10 four-foot boards
on the trucks.
·The lab has 24 seventeen-inch
·We need six 50-watt bulbs for
Avoid beginning a sentence with a number that is not written out.
·Seventy-two inches equals approximately
1.83 meters. An exception: you can begin a sentence with a date:
·1997 was a very good year for
Use figures instead of words for
·Dates and years: December
18, 1997. Avoid using
ordinals when writing dates: Her birthday is on April 4th.
·Decimals, percentages, and fractions:
235.485, 55%, 14 1/4
·Scores: The Bulls won the final
game by a score of 114 to 106.
·Addresses: 1032 Maple Avenue. Sometimes, though, an address is part of
a building's name, and then you'll want to spell it out: OneCorporatePlaza. Unless space is at a premium, write out numerical
street names (of one hundred or less): 1032 Fifth Avenue.
·Political and military units
(for numbers of one hundred or less): Seventh Precinct, Fourteenth Congressional District, Fifty-third Regiment, Third Batallion,
·Finances: Tickets cost $35.50
apiece. The city spent $1.1 million for snow removal last year. (Or use $1,100,000.) You can leave the comma out of figures
in the thousands: They spent $7500 on that car before junking it. Also, leave the comma out of addresses and year-dates: In
1998, they moved to NE 12887 53rd Avenue.
·Ranges: Between 18 and 25 bald
eagles have been counted near the Connecticut River this spring.
·Time: If you use the word o'clock, however,
for rounded off times, spell out the number in words: We left at . Use a.m. and p.m., not AM and PM.
Writing and reference manuals offer different advice for creating lists. It seems that as long
as you're consistent within your document, you can devise just about any means you want for creating your lists, whether you
want them as run-in lists (built into the flow of your text) or as vertical lists (indented and stacked up). Technical writing
may have its own requirements in this regard, and you should consult a technical writing manual for specific rules. Use parentheses
around the numbers (no periods after the number, though) when using a run-in list:
I have three items to discuss: (1) the first item; (2) the second item; and (3) the
semicolons to separate the items, whether they're expressed as fragments or full sentences.
For a vertical list (sometimes called a display list), you may choose to capitalize the
items or not, and you may choose to put a comma after each item or not. (If you use commas, put a period after the last item.)
We will now review the following three principles:
1.fairness in recruiting
Your choice to capitalize or not may depend on how elaborate your lists are and how many of them
you have in your text. If a vertical list contains complete sentences or lengthy and complex items, you may prefer to end
each element in the list with a semicolon, except for the last element, which you will end with a period.
Most coaches conform to three basic principles in recruiting new
1.Look for players first who can fill those positions you will
need the subsequent year;
2.Look for players who are "court smart" as opposed to being merely
3.Look for players who are academically eligible and who have an
academic purpose in going to college.
Although the elements in the list above begin with capital letters, that is not absolutely necessary.
Notice that there is no "and" at the end of the next-to-last element (although some reference manuals allow for or recommend
its use). Although we have used numbers for this list, bullets would work equally well if numbering seems inappropriate or
irrelevant. The list below is based on a format suggested by the New York Public Library's Writer's Guide to Style and
Most coaches conform to three basic principles in recruiting new players—
for players first who can fill those positions you will need the subsequent year
for players who are "court-smart" as opposed to being merely athletic
for players who are academically eligible and who have an academic purpose in going to college
Note that this format does not include a period even at the end of the last element. Most writers,
however, want to use some kind of punctuation in their listed items. When the introductory statement is a complete sentence,
you can end it with either a period or a colon. Use a colon if the sentence is clearly anticipatory of the list, especially
if it contains phrasing such as the following or as follows. A colon is also appropriate if the list that follows
will be numbered or will establish a priority order. If the introductory statement is not a complete statement, however, neither
a period nor a colon would be appropriate since that would interrupt the grammatical structure of the statement; use either
no punctuation or try the dash technique noted above.
Listing Names in Alphabetical Order
people's names in alphabetical order is done on a letter-by-letter basis, taking into consideration all the letters before
the comma that separates the last from the first name. Omit titles (such as Lady, Sir, Sister), degrees (M.D., Ph.D.),
etc., that precede or follow names. A suffix that is an essential part of the name — such as Jr., Sr.,
or a roman numeral — appears after the given name, preceded by a comma. (Ford, Henry J., III or Pepin, Theophilus, Jr.)
Ludwig van (The van or von in Dutch or German names, if not capitalized by family usage,appears after the first
name; if capitalized, it appears before the last name and determines the alphabetical order.) D'Annunzio, Gabriele Deere-Brown,
Juan (Ignore the hyphen.) Deere-Brown, Juan-Poivre Dante Alighieri (Some Italian names of the 15th century or before
are alphabetized by first name) D'Arcy, Pierre de Gaulle, Charles (With French names, the de goes before the
last name when the last name contains only one syllable. See de Maupassant, below.) Descartes, René Ford, Henry E.,
III Garcia Lorca, Federico (Use full surnames for Spanish names.) López y Quintana, María MacDonald, George Maupassant,
Guy de M'Cauley, Josephine McCullers, Carson Morris, Robert Morris, William Morrison, Toni O'Keeffe, Georgia (Ignore the apostrophe.) Pepin, R. E. Pepin, Theophilus, Jr. Pepino,
D. Rueda, Lope de (For Spanish names, de comes after the first name) Saint-Exupéry, Antoine de San Marco,
Josefina St. Denis, Ruth Von Braun, Werner (See Beethoven, above.)