Handbook

Sentences


S-1 Complete Sentences

In casual situations, we often use a kind of shorthand, because we know our audience will fill in the gaps. When we say to a dinner guest, "Coffee?" he knows we mean, "Would you like some coffee?" When we email a friend, "7:00 at Starbucks?" our friend will understand that we are asking, "Should we meet at 7:00 at Starbucks?" In more formal writing or speaking situations, though, our audience may not share the same context, so to be sure we're understood we usually need to present our ideas in complete sentences. This section reviews the parts of a sentence.

S-1a Elements of a Sentence

Subjects and predicates

A sentence contains a subject and a predicate. The subject, usually a NOUN or PRONOUN, names the topic of the sentence; the predicate, which always includes a VERB, says what the subject is or does. In the following examples, the subjects are blue and the predicates are tan.

  • Birds fly.
  • Birds are feathered vertebrates.

The subject and the predicate each may contain only one word. Usually, however, they both contain more than one word.

  • Birds of many kinds fly south in the fall.

A sentence may contain more than one subject or verb. In the following examples, the subjects are blue and the verbs are green.

  • Birds and butterflies fly south in the fall.
  • Birds fly south in the fall and return north in the spring.

At times, the subject comes after the verb.

  • Here comes the sun.
Expressing subjects explicitly

English requires an explicit subject in every CLAUSE, even if all of the clauses in a sentence are about the same subject.

NOT: Although the dinner cost too much, impressed my guests.
BUT: Although the dinner cost too much, it impressed my guests.

The second clause needs the subject it, which refers back to dinner.

The only exception is commands, in which the subject is understood to be you.

  • Eat smaller portions at each meal.

Sentences beginning with there or it. In some cases where the verb precedes the subject, the  EXPLETIVE there or it is needed before the verb.

NOT: Is no place like home.
BUT: There is no place like home.
NOT: Is both instructive and rewarding to work with young children.
BUT: It is both instructive and rewarding to work with young children.

You can also rephrase the sentence to avoid using the expletive.

OR: Working with young children is both instructive and rewarding.

If English is not your first language, be aware that English does not emphasize a subject by repeating it in the same clause.

NOT: My friend Jing Jing she changed her name to Jane.
BUT: My friend Jing Jing changed her name to Jane.
NOT: The European students who were visiting on a school trip they were detained at the airport for three hours.
BUT: The European students who were visiting on a school trip were detained at the airport for three hours.
Clauses

A clause is a group of words containing a subject and predicate. An independent clause can function alone as a sentence: Birds fly. A subordinate clause begins with a SUBORDINATING WORD such as as, because, or which and thus cannot stand alone as a sentence: because birds fly. In the example, the independent clause is blue and the subordinate clause is green.

  • My yard is now quiet because most of the birds flew south.
Phrases

A phrase is a word group that lacks a subject, a verb, or both and therefore cannot stand alone as a sentence. Some common ones include prepositional, appositive, participial, gerund, and infinitive phrases.

A prepositional phrase starts with a PREPOSITION such as at, from, of, or in and usually ends with a noun: at school, from home, in bed.

  • The last week of her life I spent at home.

    —Valerie Steiker, "Our Mother's Face"

An appositive phrase follows and gives further information about a noun or pronoun. Appositives function as nouns.

  • I knew I was in the right house because my daddy's only real possessions, a velvet-covered board pinned with medals, sat inside a glass cabinet on a table.

    —Rick Bragg, "All Over But the Shoutin'"

A participial phrase contains the present or past participle of a verb plus any OBJECT, MODIFIERS, and  COMPLEMENTS.

  • Charting a riskier course for teen drama, creator Kevin Williamson has steered the series into delicate issues such as verbally abusive parents, manic depression, and, most recently, homosexuality.

    —Ben Leever, "In Defense of Dawson's Creek: Teen Heroes Inspire Youths Seeking Answers"

  • A study from Princeton issued at the same time as the Duke study showed that women in the sciences reported less satisfaction in their jobs and less of a sense of belonging than their male counterparts.

    —Anna Quindlen, "Still Needing the F Word"

A gerund phrase includes the -ing form of a verb plus any objects, modifiers, and complements.

  • For roller coasters, being the star of summer amusement park rides certainly has its ups and downs.

    —Cathi Eastman and Becky Burrell, "The Science of Screams: Laws of Physics Instill Thrills in Roller Coasters"

An infinitive phrase includes an infinitive (to plus the base form of a verb: to read, to write) and any objects, modifiers, and complements.

  • To commit more troops seemed crazy when we couldn't win the war.
  • The point of ribbon decals is to show support for the troops.



S-2 Sentence Fragments

Sentence fragments show up often in advertising: "Got milk?" "Good to the last drop." "Not bad for something that tastes good too." We use them in informal speech and text messages as well. But some readers consider fragments too informal, and in many academic writing situations it's best to avoid them altogether. This section helps you identify and edit out fragments.

S-2a Identifying Fragments

A sentence fragment is a group of words that is capitalized and punctuated as a sentence but is not a sentence. A sentence needs at least one independent clause, which contains a SUBJECT and VERB and does not start with a subordinating word.

NO SUBJECT: The catcher batted fifth. Fouled out, ending the inning.

Who fouled out?

NO VERB: The first two batters walked. Manny Ramirez again.

What did Ramirez do again?

SUBORDINATE CLAUSE: Although the Yankees loaded the bases.

There is a subject (Yankees) and a verb (loaded), but although makes this a subordinate clause. What happened after the Yankees loaded the bases?

SOME SUBORDINATING WORDS

after

before

although

if

as

since

as if

so that

because

that

though

whether

unless

while

until

who

when

which

where

why

Writers often use sentence fragments for emphasis or to be informal.

FOR EMPHASIS

Throughout my elementary and middle school years, I was a strong student, always on the honor roll. I never had a GPA below 3.0. I was smart, and I knew it. That is, until I got the results of the proficiency test.

—Shannon Nichols, "'Proficiency'"

TO BE INFORMAL

The SAT writing test predicts how successful a student will be in college. Since when?

S-2b Editing Fragments

Since some readers regard fragments as errors, it's generally better to write complete sentences. Here are four ways to make fragments into sentences: (1) remove the subordinating word, (2) add a subject, (3) add a verb, or (4) attach the fragment to a nearby sentence.

Remove the subordinating word
NOT: I'm thinking about moving to a large city. Because I dislike the lack of privacy in my country town of three thousand.
BUT: I'm thinking about moving to a large city. I dislike the lack of privacy in my country town of three thousand.
Add a subject
NOT: The catcher batted fifth. Fouled out, ending the inning.
BUT: The catcher batted fifth. He fouled out, ending the inning.
Add a verb
NOT: The first two batters walked. Manny Ramirez again.
BUT: The first two batters walked. Manny Ramirez walked again.

Sometimes a fragment contains a verb form, such as a present or past participle, that cannot function as the main verb of a sentence. In these cases, you can either substitute an appropriate verb form or add a  HELPING VERB.

NOT: As the game progressed, the fans' excitement diminished. The pitcher's arm weakening, and the fielders making a number of errors.
BUT: As the game progressed, the fans' excitement diminished. The pitcher's arm weakened, and the fielders made a number of errors.
NOT: The media influence the election process. Political commercials appearing on television more frequently than in years past.
BUT: The media influence the election process. Political commercials are appearing on television more frequently than in years past.
Attach the fragment to a nearby sentence

NOT: Some candidates spread nasty stories. About their opponents.
BUT: Some candidates spread nasty stories about their opponents.
NOT: These negative stories can deal with many topics. Such as marital infidelity, sources of campaign funds, and drug use.
BUT: These negative stories can deal with many topics, such as marital infidelity, sources of campaign funds, and drug use.
NOT: Put off by negative campaigning. Some people decide not to vote at all.
BUT: Put off by negative campaigning, some people decide not to vote at all.



S-3 Comma Splices and Fused Sentences

When you join two independent clauses using only a comma, you've created a comma splice: "He dropped the bucket, the paint spilled on his feet." Without the comma—"He dropped the bucket the paint spilled on his feet"—it's a fused sentence. You'll sometimes see comma splices and fused sentences in ads or literary works, but they're generally regarded as errors in academic writing. This section shows how to recognize comma splices and fused sentences and edit them out of your writing.

S-3a Identifying Comma Splices and Fused Sentences

A comma splice occurs when an INDEPENDENT CLAUSE follows another independent clause with only a comma between them.

COMMA SPLICE

T. S. Eliot is known for his poetry, he also wrote several plays.

A fused sentence occurs when one independent clause follows another with no punctuation in between.

FUSED SENTENCE

The school board debated the issue for three days they were unable to reach an agreement.

S-3b Editing Comma Splices and Fused Sentences

There are several ways to edit comma splices or fused sentences: (1) make the clauses into two sentences, (2) add a comma and a COORDINATING CONJUNCTION, (3) add a semicolon, or (4) recast one clause as a  SUBORDINATE CLAUSE.

Make the clauses two sentences

NOT: T. S. Eliot is known for his poetry, he also wrote several plays.
BUT: T. S. Eliot is known for his poetry. He also wrote several plays.

Add a comma and a coordinating conjuction

NOT: The school board debated the issue for three days they were unable to reach an agreement.
BUT: The school board debated the issue for three days, but they were unable to reach an agreement.
Add a semicolon

If the relationship between the two clauses is clear without a coordinating conjunction, you can simply join them with a semicolon.

NOT: Psychologists study individuals' behavior, sociologists focus on group-level dynamics.
BUT: Psychologists study individuals' behavior; sociologists focus on group-level dynamics.

When clauses are linked by a TRANSITION such as therefore or as a result, the transition needs to be preceded by a semicolon and followed by a comma.

NOT: The hill towns experienced heavy spring and summer rain, therefore, the fall foliage fell far short of expectations.
BUT: The hill towns experienced heavy spring and summer rain; therefore, the fall foliage fell far short of expectations.

Recast one clause as a subordinate clause

Add a SUBORDINATING WORD to clarify the relationship between the two clauses.

NOT: Initial critical responses to The Waste Land were mixed, the poem has been extensively anthologized, read, and written about.
BUT: Although initial critical responses to The Waste Land were mixed, the poem has been extensively anthologized, read, and written about.



S-4 Verbs

Verbs are the engines of sentences, giving energy, action, and life to writing. "I Googled it" is much more vivid than "I found it on the Internet"—and the difference is the verb. Sometimes a verb can obscure meaning, however, as when a politician avoids taking responsibility by saying, "Mistakes were made." Our choice of verbs shapes our writing in important ways, and this section reviews ways of using verbs appropriately and effectively.

S-4a Verb Tenses

To express time, English verbs have three simple tenses—present, past, and future. In addition, each of these verb tenses has perfect and progressive forms that indicate more complex time frames. The present perfect, for example, indicates an action that began in the past but is continuing into the present. The lists that follow show each of these tenses for the regular verb talk and the irregular verb write.

Simple tenses

PRESENT

PAST

FUTURE

I talk

I talked

I will talk

I write

I wrote

I will write

Use the simple present to indicate actions that take place in the present or that occur habitually. Use the simple past to indicate actions that were completed in the past. Use the simple future to indicate actions that will take place in the future.

  • Every few years the Republicans propose a tax cut.

    —David Brooks, "The Triumph of Hope over Self-Interest"

  • One day my mother came home from Coffee Dan's with an awful story.

    —Mike Rose, "Potato Chips and Stars"

  • Prohibiting English will do for the language what Prohibition did for liquor.

    —Dennis Baron, "Don't Make English Official—Ban It Instead"

Use the present tense to express scientific or general facts even when the rest of the sentence is in the past tense.

NOT: Agatston showed that South Beach dieters lost about ten pounds in the first two weeks.
BUT: Agatston showed that South Beach dieters lose about ten pounds in the first two weeks.

In general, use the present tense to write about literature.

  • Macbeth evokes the theme of vision when he says to the Ghost, "Thou hast no speculation in those eyes / Which thou dost glare with" (3.3.96–97).
  • As in many fantasy novels and fairy tales, the central character is on a quest; however, the narrative of Harry's quest unfolds more like a classic mystery.

    —Philip Nel, "Fantasy, Mystery, and Ambiguity"

In APA STYLE, use the past tense or the present perfect to report results and the present tense to give your own insights into or conclusions about the results.

  • The bulk of the data collected in this study validated the research of Neal Miller; the subjects appeared to undergo operant conditioning of their smooth muscles in order to relax their frontalis muscles and increase their skin temperatures. Subjects 3 and 6 each failed to do this in one session; subject 7 failed to do this several times. This finding is difficult to explain precisely.

    —Sarah Thomas, "The Effect of Biofeedback Training on Muscle Tension and Skin Temperature"

Perfect tenses

PRESENT PERFECT

PAST PERFECT

FUTURE PERFECT

I have talked

I had talked

I will have talked

I have written

I had written

I will have written

Use the present perfect to indicate actions that took place at no specific time in the past or that began in the past and continue into the present.

  • As a middle-class black I have often felt myself contriving to be "black."

    Shelby Steele, "On Being Black and Middle Class"

Use the past perfect for an action that was completed before another action began.

NOT: By the time I was born, the Vietnam War already ended.
BUT: By the time I was born, the Vietnam War had already ended.

The war ended before the writer was born.

Use the future perfect to indicate actions that will be completed at a specific time in the future.

  • By this time next year, you will have graduated.
Progressive tenses

PRESENT PROGRESSIVE

PAST PROGRESSIVE

FUTURE PROGRESSIVE

I am talking

I was talking

I will be talking

I am writing

I was writing

I will be writing

PRESENT PERFECT
PROGRESSIVE

PAST PERFECT
PROGRESSIVE

FUTURE PERFECT
PROGRESSIVE

I have been talking

I had been talking

I will have been talking

I have been writing

I had been writing

I will have been writing

Use progressive tenses to indicate continuing action.

  • Congress is considering, and may soon pass, legislation making English the official language of the United States.

    —Dennis Baron, "Don't Make English Official—Ban It Instead"

  • The night after Halloween, we were watching TV when the doorbell rang.

    —David Sedaris, "Us and Them"

  • As they do every year on the Friday before exams, the Kenyon Kokosingers will be singing next Friday evening in Rosse Hall.
  • Willie joined the Grace Church Boy Choir when he was ten, and he has been singing ever since.

S-4b Verb Forms

There are four forms of a verb: the base form, the past, the past participle, and the present participle. Samples of each appear in the lists below. All of the various tenses are generated with these four forms.

The past tense and past participle of all regular verbs is formed by adding -ed or -d to the base form (talked, lived). Irregular verbs are not as predictable; see the list of some common ones below. The present participle consists of the base form plus -ing (talking, living).

BASE FORM: On Thursdays, we visit a museum.

PAST TENSE: Last week, we visited the Museum of Modern Art.

PAST PARTICIPLE: I have also visited the Metropolitan Museum, but I've not yet been to the Cloisters.

PRESENT PARTICIPLE: We will be visiting the Cooper-Hewitt Museum tomorrow to see the cutlery exhibit.

Some common irregular verbs

BASE FORM

PAST TENSE

PAST PARTICIPLE

PRESENT PARTICIPLE

be

was/were

been

being

choose

chose

chosen

choosing

do

did

done

doing

eat

ate

eaten

eating

fall

fell

fallen

falling

give

gave

given

giving

go

went

gone

going

hang (suspend)

hung

hung

hanging

know

knew

known

knowing

lay

laid

laid

laying

lie (recline)

lay

lain

lying

make

made

made

making

prove

proved

proved, proven

proving

rise

rose

risen

rising

set

set

set

setting

sit

sat

sat

sitting

teach

taught

taught

teaching

write

wrote

written

writing

Some writers get confused about when to use the past tense and when to use a past participle. One simple rule is to use the past tense if there is no helping verb and to use a past participle if there is a helping verb.

NOT: For vacation last spring, my family gone to Turkey.
BUT: For vacation last spring, my family went to Turkey.
NOT: After two weeks in Istanbul, we had ate a lot of Turkish delight.
BUT: After two weeks in Istanbul, we had eaten a lot of Turkish delight.
Helping verbs

Do, have, be, and MODALS such as can and may all function as helping verbs in order to express certain  VERB TENSES and moods. Do, have, and be change form to indicate tenses; modals do not. The appropriate forms of main verbs and helping verbs are discussed in this section.

FORMS OF DO: do, does, did
FORMS OF HAVE: have, has, had
FORMS OF BE: be, am, is, are, was, were, been
MODALS: can, could, may, might, must, shall, should, will, would, ought to

Do, does, or did requires the base form of the main verb.

  • That professor did take class participation into account when calculating grades.
  • Sometimes even the smartest students do not like to answer questions out loud in class.

Have, has, or had requires the past participle of the main verb.

  • I have written to my senator to express my views on global warming.
  • When all of the visitors had gone, the security guards locked the building for the night.

Forms of be are used with a present participle to express a continuing action or with a past participle to express the passive voice.

CONTINUING ACTION

  • The university is considering a change in its policy on cell phone use.
  • I was studying my notes from last week as I walked to class.

PASSIVE VOICE

  • Six classes per semester is considered a heavy course load.
  • Ancient Greek was studied by many university students in the early twentieth century, but it is not a popular major today.

Modals are used with the base form of the main verb.

  • After each class, small groups of students will meet for focused discussion.
  • Each student should participate in every group session.
Gerunds and infinitives

A gerund is a verb form ending in -ing that functions as a noun: hopping, skipping, jumping.

  • Although many people like driving, some prefer walking.

An infinitive is to plus the base form of a verb: to hop, to skip, to jump.

  • Although many people like to drive, some prefer to walk.

In general, use infinitives to express intentions or desires, and use gerunds to express plain facts.

  • I planned to learn Spanish, Japanese, and Arabic.
  • I also really wanted to know Russian.
  • Unfortunately, I ended up studying only Spanish and Arabic—and speaking only Spanish.
NOT: Just in time for Thanksgiving, the painters finished to put up the wallpaper.
BUT: Just in time for Thanksgiving, the painters finished putting up the wallpaper.

With several verbs—forget, remember, stop, and a few others—the choice of an infinitive or gerund changes the meaning.

  • I stopped to eat lunch.

In other words, I paused to eat lunch.

  • I stopped eating lunch.

In other words, I no longer ate lunch.

Always use a gerund after a PREPOSITION.

NOT: The water is too cold for to swim.
BUT: The water is too cold for swimming.

S-4c Active and Passive Voice

Verbs can be active or passive. When a verb is in the active voice, the subject performs the action (she caught the ball). When a verb is in the passive voice, the subject receives the action (the ball was thrown to her).

ACTIVE

The wealthiest 1 percent of the American population holds 38 percent of the total national wealth.

—Gregory Mantsios, "Class in America—2003"

PASSIVE

By the 1970s, Leslie had developed a distinctive figural style in which subjects are shown in frontal, confrontational poses, at close range.

—David S. Rubin, "It's the Same Old Song"

Active verbs tend to be more direct and easier to understand, but the passive voice can be useful when you specifically want to emphasize the recipient of the action.

  • In a sense, little girls are urged to please adults with a kind of coquettishness, while boys are enjoined to behave like monkeys toward each other.

    —Paul Theroux, "Being a Man"

The passive voice is also appropriate in scientific writing when you wish to emphasize the research itself, not the researchers.

  • The treatment order was random for each subject, and it was reversed for his or her second treatment.

    —Sarah Thomas, "The Effect of Biofeedback Training on Muscle Tension and Skin Temperature"

S-4d Mood

Mood indicates a writer's attitude about a statement. There are three moods in English: indicative, imperative, and subjunctive. The indicative is used to state facts or opinions and to ask questions.

  • Thanks to its many volunteers, Habitat for Humanity has built twelve houses in the region this year.
  • What other volunteer opportunities does Habitat offer?

The imperative is used to give commands or directions.

  • Sit up straight and do your work.

The subjunctive is used to express wishes or requests or to indicate hypothetical or unlikely conditions. It is used most often in conditional sentences, ones that often include a clause beginning with if. The verb used in the if clause depends on the likelihood that the information in the clause is true.

Facts

When there's no doubt that the information in the if clause is true, use the same tense in both clauses. Use the present tense in both clauses to express a scientific fact.

  • If an earthquake strikes that region, forecasters expect a tsunami.
  • One hundred years ago, if a hurricane hit, residents had very little warning.
Predictions

When the information in the if clause is probably true, use the present tense in the if clause and a modal such as will or might + the base form of the verb in the other clause.

  • If you faithfully follow the South Beach Diet for two weeks, you will lose about ten pounds.
Speculations

When the information in the if clause is not likely to be true, use the past form in the if clause and would (or could or might) + the base form of the verb in the other clause. The past form of be in the subjunctive is always were.

  • If doctors discovered a cure for cancer tomorrow, they could save millions of lives.
  • If Martin Luther King Jr. were alive today, he would acknowledge progress in race relations in this country, but he would also ask significant questions.

When the if clause is about an event in the past that never happened, use the past perfect in the if clause and would have (or could or might have) + a past participle in the other clause.

  • If the police officer had separated the witnesses, their evidence would have been admissible in court.



S-5 Subject-Verb Agreement

Subjects and verbs should agree: if the subject is in the third-person singular, the verb should be in the third-person singular—"Dinner is on the table." Yet sometimes it's not that clear, as when we say that "macaroni and cheese are available in most grocery stores" but that "macaroni and cheese is our family's favorite comfort food." This section focuses on subject-verb agreement.

S-5a Agreement in Number and Person

SUBJECTS and VERBS should agree with each other in number (singular or plural) and person (first, second, or third). In the examples below, the subjects are blue and the verbs are green.

SINGULAR

A 1922 ad for Resinol soap urges women to "make that dream come true" by using Resinol.

PLURAL

Boys are the catch of the day in the Listerine ad.

—Doug Lantry, "'Stay Sweet As You Are'"

S-5b Subjects and Verbs Separated by Other Words

A verb should agree with its subject, not with another word that falls in between.

  • In the backyard, the leaves of the apple tree rattle across the lawn.

    —Gary Soto, "The Guardian Angel"

  • The price of soybeans fluctuates according to demand.

S-5c Compound Subjects

Two or more subjects joined by and are generally plural.

  • Obviously, safety and security are important issues in American life.

    —Andie McDonie, "Airport Security"

However, if the parts of the subject form a single unit, they take a singular verb.

NOT: Forty acres and a mule are what General William T. Sherman promised each freed slave.
BUT: Forty acres and a mule is what General William T. Sherman promised each freed slave.

If the subjects are joined by or or nor, the verb should agree with the closer subject.

NOT: Either you or she are mistaken.
BUT: Either you or she is mistaken.
NOT: Neither the teacher nor his students was able to solve the equation.
BUT: Neither the teacher nor his students were able to solve the equation.

S-5d Subjects That Follow the Verb

English verbs usually follow their subjects. Be sure the verb agrees with the subject even when the subject follows the verb, such as when the sentence begins with there is or there are.

  • Gone, however, is the contrived backdrop of singularly happy, two-parent families living in upper-middle-class America.

    —Ben Leever, "In Defense of Dawson's Creek"

  • There are several possible explanations for increases in student borrowing.

    —Tracey King and Ellynne Bannon, "The Burden of Borrowing"

  • There were too many unresolved problems for the project to begin.

S-5e Collective Nouns

Collective nouns such as group, team, audience, or family can take singular or plural verbs, depending on whether the noun refers to the group as a single unit or to the multiple members that make up the group.

  • The choir sings The Messiah every Christmas.
  • Gregor's family keep reassuring themselves that things will be just fine again.

    —Scott Russell Sanders, "Under the Influence"

    The individual members of the family reassure one another.

S-5f Everyone and Other Indefinite Pronouns

Most INDEFINITE PRONOUNS, such as anyone, anything, each, either, everybody, everything, neither, no one, one, someone, and something, take a singular verb.

NOT: Each of the candidates agree with the president.
BUT: Each of the candidates agrees with the president.
  • But ... no one is selling the content that gets shared on P2P services.

    —Lawrence Lessig, "Some Like It Hot"

Both, few, many, others, and several are always plural.

  • Already, few know how to read a serious book.

    —Paul West, "Borrowed Time"

All, any, enough, more, most, none, and some are singular when they refer to a singular noun, but they are plural whenever they refer to a plural noun.

NOT: Don't assume that all of the members of a family votes the same way.
BUT: Don't assume that all of the members of a family vote the same way.
NOT: None of the music we heard last night come from the baroque period.
BUT: None of the music we heard last night comes from the baroque period.

S-5g Who, That, or Which

The RELATIVE PRONOUNS who, that, and which take a singular verb when they come after a singular noun and a plural verb when they come after a plural noun. In the examples, the nouns are blue and the verbs are green.

  • I find it refreshing to have work that rewards initiative and effort.

    —Lars Eighner, "On Dumpster Diving"

  • We fell in with some other hippie-groupie types who were obsessed with Hendrix, the Doors, Janis Joplin, and Zeppelin as well as the Stones.

    —Susan Jane Gilman, "Mick Jagger Wants Me"

One of the is always followed by a plural noun, and the verb should be plural.

NOT: Jaime is one of the speakers who asks provocative questions.
BUT: Jaime is one of the speakers who ask provocative questions.

Several speakers ask provocative questions. Jaime is one. Who refers to speakers, so the verb is plural.

The only one, however, takes a singular verb.

NOT: Jaime is the only one of the speakers who ask provocative questions.
BUT: Jaime is the only one of the speakers who asks provocative questions.

Only one speaker asks provocative questions: Jaime. Who thus refers to one, so the verb is singular.




S-6 Pronouns

We use pronouns to take the place of nouns so we don't have to write or say the same word or name over and over. Imagine how repetitive our writing would be without pronouns: Little Miss Muffet sat on Little Miss Muffet's tuffet eating Little Miss Muffet's curds and whey. Luckily, we have pronouns, and this section demonstrates how to use them clearly.

S-6a Pronoun-Antecedent Agreement

A pronoun must agree with its antecedent in gender and in number.

IN GENDER: Grandma took her pie out of the oven.
IN NUMBER: My grandparents spent weekends at their cabin on Bear Lake.
Indefinite pronouns

INDEFINITE PRONOUNS such as anyone, each, either, everyone, neither, no one, someone, and something take a singular pronoun.

NOT: Everyone in the class did their best.
BUT: Everyone in the class did his or her best.

If you find his or her awkward, you can rewrite the sentence.

OR: All of the students in the class did their best.
Collective nouns

Collective nouns such as audience, committee, or team take a singular pronoun when they refer to the group as a whole and a plural pronoun when they refer to members of the group as individuals.

NOT: The winning team drew their inspiration from the manager.
BUT: The winning team drew its inspiration from the manager.
NOT: The winning team threw its gloves in the air.
BUT: The winning team threw their gloves in the air.

He, his, and other masculine pronouns

To avoid sexist language, use he, him, his, or himself only when you know that the antecedent is male.

NOT: Before meeting a new doctor, many people worry about not liking him.
BUT: Before meeting a new doctor, many people worry about not liking him or her.

S-6b Pronoun Reference

A pronoun needs to have a clear antecedent, a specific word to which the pronoun points. Here the pronouns she and that refer to their respective antecedents, grandmother and engine.

  • My grandmother spent a lot of time reading to me. She mostly read the standards, like The Little Engine That Could, over and over and over again.

    —Richard Bullock, "How I Learned about the Power of Writing"

Ambiguous reference

A pronoun is ambiguous if it could refer to more than one antecedent.

NOT: After I plugged the printer into the computer, it sputtered and died.
BUT: After I plugged the printer into the computer, the printer sputtered and died.

What sputtered and died—the computer or the printer? The edit makes the reference clear.

Implied reference

If a pronoun does not refer clearly to a specific word, rewrite the sentence to omit the pronoun or insert an antecedent.

Unclear reference of this, that, and which. These three pronouns must refer to specific antecedents.

NOT: Ultimately, the Justice Department did not insist on the breakup of Microsoft, which set the tone for a liberal merger policy in the following years.
BUT: Ultimately, the Justice Department did not insist on the breakup of Microsoft, an oversight that set the tone for a liberal merger policy in the following years.

Indefinite use of they, it, and you. They and it should be used only to refer to people or things that have been specifically mentioned. You should be used only to address your reader.

NOT: In many European countries, they don't allow civilians to carry handguns.
BUT: Many European countries don't allow civilians to carry handguns.
NOT: On the weather station, it said that storms would hit Key West today.
BUT: The weather station said that storms would hit Key West today.
NOT: Many doctors argue that age should not be an impediment to physical exercise if you have always been active.
BUT: Many doctors argue that age should not be an impediment to physical exercise for people who have always been active.

S-6c Pronoun Case

The pronouns in the list below change case according to how they function in a sentence. There are three cases: subjective, objective, and possessive. Pronouns functioning as subjects or subject complements are in the subjective case; those functioning as objects are in the objective case; those functioning as possessives are in the possessive case.

SUBJECTIVE: We lived in a rented house three blocks from the school.
OBJECTIVE: I went to my room and shut the door behind me.
POSSESSIVE: All my life chocolate has made me ill.

—David Sedaris, "Us and Them"

SUBJECTIVE

OBJECTIVE

POSSESSIVE

I

me

my / mine

we

us

our / ours

you

you

your / yours

he / she / it

him / her / it

his / her / hers / its

they

them

their / theirs

who / whoever

whom / whomever

whose

In subject complements

Use the subjective case for pronouns that follow LINKING VERBS such as be, seem, become, and feel.

NOT: In fact, Li was not the one who broke the code; it was me.
BUT: In fact, Li was not the one who broke the code; it was I.

If It was I sounds awkward, revise the sentence further: I did it.

In compound structures

When a pronoun is part of a compound subject, it should be in the subjective case. When it's part of a compound object, it should be in the objective case.

NOT: On our vacations, my grandfather and me went fishing together.
BUT: On our vacations, my grandfather and I went fishing together.
NOT: There were never any secrets between he and I.
BUT: There were never any secrets between him and me.
After than or as

Often comparisons with than or as leave some words out. When such comparisons include pronouns, your intended meaning determines the case of the pronoun.

  • You trust John more than me.

This sentence means You trust John more than you trust me.

  • You trust John more than I.

This sentence means You trust John more than I trust him.

Before gerunds

Pronouns that come before a gerund are usually in the possessive case.

NOT: Savion's fans loved him tap dancing to classical music.
BUT: Savion's fans loved his tap dancing to classical music.
With who and whom

Use who (and whoever) where you would use he or she, and use whom (and whomever) where you would use him or her. It can be confusing when one of these words begins a question. To figure out which case to use, try answering the question using she or her. If she works, use who; if her works, use whom.

NOT: Who do the critics admire most?
BUT: Whom do the critics admire most?

They admire her, so change who to whom.

NOT: Whom will begin the discussion on this thorny topic?
BUT: Who will begin the discussion on this thorny topic?

She will begin the discussion, so change whom to who.



S-7 Parallelism

Been there, done that. Eat, drink, and be merry. For better or for worse. Out of sight, out of mind. All of these common sayings are parallel in structure, putting parallel words in the same grammatical form. Parallel structure emphasizes the connection between the elements and can make your writing rhythmic and easy to read. This section offers guidelines for maintaining parallelism in your writing.

S-7a In a Series or List

Use the same grammatical form for all items in a series or list—all nouns, all gerunds, all prepositional phrases, and so on.

NOT: After fifty years of running, biking, swimming, weight lifting, and on the squash court to stay in shape, Aunt Dorothy was unhappy to learn she had a knee problem requiring arthroscopic surgery.
BUT: After fifty years of running, biking, swimming, weight lifting, and playing squash to stay in shape, Aunt Dorothy was unhappy to learn she had a knee problem requiring arthroscopic surgery.
  • The seven deadly sins—avarice, sloth, envy, lust, gluttony, pride, and wrath—were all committed Sunday during the twice-annual bake sale at St. Mary's of the Immaculate Conception Church.

    The Onion

S-7b With Paired Ideas

One way to emphasize the connection between two ideas is to put them in identical grammatical forms. When you connect ideas with and, but, or another coordinating conjunction, make the ideas parallel in structure, and when you link ideas with either . . . or or another correlative conjunction, use the same grammatical structure after each part.

NOT: Many rural residents are voting on conservation issues and agree to pay higher property taxes in order to keep community land undeveloped.
BUT: Many rural residents are voting on conservation issues and agreeing to pay higher property taxes in order to keep community land undeveloped.
NOT: General Electric paid millions of dollars to dredge the river and for removing carcinogens from backyards.
BUT: General Electric paid millions of dollars to dredge the river and to remove carcinogens from backyards.
NOT: Sweet potatoes are highly nutritious, providing both dietary fiber and as a good source of vitamins A and C.
BUT: Sweet potatoes are highly nutritious, providing both dietary fiber and vitamins A and C.
NOT: Information on local cleanup efforts can be obtained not only from the town government but also by going to the public library.
BUT: Information on local cleanup efforts can be obtained not only from the town government but also at the public library.

S-7c On PowerPoint Slides

PowerPoint and other presentation slides present most information in lists. Entries on these lists should be in parallel grammatical form.

NOT: During the 1946 presidential race, Truman
• Conducted a whistle-stop campaign
• Made hundreds of speeches
• Energetic speaker
• Connected personally with voters
BUT: During the 1946 presidential race, Truman
• Conducted a whistle-stop campaign
• Made hundreds of speeches
• Spoke energetically
• Connected personally with voters

S-7d On a Résumé

Entries on a résumé should be grammatically and typographically parallel. Each entry in the example below has the date on the left; the job title in bold followed by the company on the first line; the city and state on the second line; and the duties performed on the remaining lines, each starting with a verb.

2008-present
INTERN, Benedetto, Gartland, and Co.
New York, NY
Assist in analyzing data for key accounts.
Design PowerPoint slides and presentations.
2007, summer
SALES REPRESENTATIVE, Vector Marketing Corporation
New York, NY
Sold high-quality cutlery, developing my own client base.
2006, summer
TUTOR, Grace Church Opportunity Project
New York, NY
Tutored low-income children in math and reading.

S-7e In Headings

When you add headings to a piece of writing, put them in parallel forms—all nouns, all prepositional phrases, and so on. Consider, for example, the following three headings in the chapter on developing a research plan.

Establishing a Schedule

Getting Started

Considering the Rhetorical Situation

S-7f With All the Necessary Words

Be sure to include all the words necessary to make your meaning clear and your grammar parallel.

NOT: Voting gained urgency in cities, suburbs, and on farms.
BUT: Voting gained urgency in cities, in suburbs, and on farms.
NOT: She loved her son more than her husband.
BUT: She loved her son more than she loved her husband.

The original sentence was ambiguous; it could also mean that she loved her son more than her husband did.

Parallelism


S-8 Coordination and Subordination

When we combine two or more ideas in one sentence, we can use coordination to emphasize each idea equally or subordination to give more emphasis to one of the ideas. Assume, for example, that you're writing about your Aunt Irene. Aunt Irene made great strawberry jam. She did not win a blue ribbon at the Iowa State Fair.

COORDINATION: Aunt Irene made great strawberry jam, but she did not win the blue ribbon at the Iowa State Fair.
SUBORDINATION: Though Aunt Irene made great strawberry jam, she did not win the blue ribbon at the Iowa State Fair.

S-8a Linking Equal Ideas

To link ideas that you consider equal in importance, use a coordinating conjunction, a pair of correlative conjunctions, or a semicolon.

COORDINATING CONJUNCTIONS

and

or

so

yet

but

nor

for

  • The line in front of Preservation Hall was very long, but a good tenor sax player was wandering up and down the street, so I took my place at the end of the line.

    —Fred Setterberg, "The Usual Story"

  • I did not live in a neighborhood with other Latinos, and the public school I attended attracted very few.

    —Tanya Barrientos, "Se Habla Español"

Be careful not to overuse and. Try to use the coordinating conjunction that best expresses your meaning.

NOT: Mosquitoes survived the high-tech zapping devices, and bites were a small price for otherwise pleasant evenings in the country.
BUT: Mosquitoes survived the high-tech zapping devices, but bites were a small price for otherwise pleasant evenings in the country.

CORRELATIVE CONJUNCTIONS

either . . . or

neither . . . nor

not only . . . but also

just as . . . so

  • Not only are the majority of students turning to student loans, but debt levels are also escalating.

    —Tracey King and Ellynne Bannon, "The Burden of Borrowing"

If you use a semicolon, you might use a TRANSITION such as therefore or however to make the relationship between the ideas especially clear.

  • Second, reading and spelling require much more than just phonics; spelling strategies and word-analysis skills are equally important.

    —Debra Johnson, "Balanced Reading Instruction: A Review of the Literature"

  • As in many fantasy novels and fairy tales, the central character is on a quest; however, the narrative of Harry's quest unfolds more like a classic mystery.

    —Philip Nel, "Fantasy, Mystery, and Ambiguity"

S-8b Emphasizing One Idea over Others

To emphasize one idea over others, put the most important one in an INDEPENDENT CLAUSE and the less important ones in SUBORDINATE CLAUSES or PHRASES.

  • Because storytelling lies at the heart of Pueblo culture, it is absurd to attempt to fix the stories in time.

    —Leslie Marmon Silko, "Language and Literature from a Pueblo Perspective"

  • Even ignoring the extreme poles of the economic spectrum, we find enormous class differences in the life-styles among the haves, the have-nots, and the have-littles.

    —Gregory Mantsios, "Class in America—2003"




S-9 Shifts

You're watching the news when your brother grabs the remote and changes the channel to a cartoon. The road you're driving on suddenly changes from asphalt to gravel. These shifts are jarring and sometimes disorienting. Similarly, shifts in writing—from one tense to another, for example—can confuse your readers. This section explains how to keep your writing consistent in verb tense and point of view.

S-9a Shifts in Tense

Only when you want to emphasize that actions took place at different times should you shift VERB TENSE.

  • My plane will arrive in Albuquerque two hours after it leaves Portland.

Otherwise, keep tenses consistent.

NOT: As the concert ended, several people are already on their way up the aisle, causing a distraction.
BUT: As the concert ended, several people were already on their way up the aisle, causing a distraction.

In writing about literary works, use the present tense. Be careful not to shift to the past.

NOT: The two fugitives start down the river together, Huck fleeing his abusive father and Jim running away from his owner. As they traveled, they met with many colorful characters, including the Duke and King, two actors and con artists who involve Huck and Jim in their schemes.
BUT: The two fugitives start down the river together, Huck fleeing his abusive father and Jim running away from his owner. As they travel, they meet with many colorful characters, including the Duke and King, two actors and con artists who involve Huck and Jim in their schemes.

S-9b Shifts in Point of View

Do not shift between first person (I, we), second person (you), and third person (he, she, it, they, one)—or between singular and plural subjects.

NOT: When one has a cold, you should stay home rather than risk exposing others.
BUT: When you have a cold, you should stay home rather than risk exposing others.

Unnecessary shifts between singular and plural subjects can confuse readers.

NOT: Because of late frosts, oranges have risen dramatically in price. But since the orange is such a staple, they continue to sell.
BUT: Because of late frosts, oranges have risen dramatically in price. But since oranges are such a staple, they continue to sell.




Back to Top

Words


W-1 Appropriate Words

Cool. Sweet. Excellent. These three words can mean the same thing, but each has a different level of formality. We usually use informal language when we're talking with friends, and we use slang and abbreviations when we send text messages, but we choose words that are more formal for most of our academic and professional writing. Just as we wouldn't wear an old T-shirt to most job interviews, we wouldn't write in a college essay that Beloved is "an awesome book." This section offers you help in choosing words that are appropriate for different audiences and purposes.

W-1a Formal and Informal Words

Whether you use formal or informal language depends on your PURPOSE and AUDIENCE.

FORMAL

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

—Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address

INFORMAL

Our family, like most, had its ups and downs.

—Judy Davis, "Ours Was a Dad"

Abraham Lincoln delivered the first, more formal sentence in 1863 to 20,000 people, including officials and celebrities. The second, less formal sentence was spoken in 2004 by a woman to a small gathering of family and friends at her father's funeral.

Colloquial language (What's up? No clue) and slang (A-list, S'up?) are not appropriate for formal speech and may be too informal for most academic and professional writing.

NOT: A lot of drivers are hot about the new hybrid cars because they're so fuel efficient.
BUT: Many drivers are excited about the new hybrid cars because they are so fuel efficient.
NOT: At 1:00, we scarfed down our lunches and then went straight back to the grind.
BUT: At 1:00, we ate our lunches and then went straight back to work.

W-1b Pretentious Language

Long or complicated words might seem to lend authority to your writing, but often they make it sound pretentious and stuffy. Use such words sparingly and only when they best capture your meaning and suit your RHETORICAL SITUATION.

NOT: Subsequent to adopting the new system, managers averred that their staff worked synergistically in a way that exceeded parameters.
BUT: After adopting the new system, managers claimed that their staff worked together better than expected.

W-1c Jargon

Jargon is a specialized vocabulary used in a profession, trade, or field and should be used only when you know your audience will understand what you are saying. The following paragraph might be easily understandable to a computer enthusiast, but most readers would not be familiar with terms like HDMI, DVI, and 1080p.

  • As far as quality is concerned, HDMI is the easiest and most convenient way to go about high-def. Why? Because you get audio and sound in a single, USB-like cable, instead of a nest of component cables or the soundless garden hose of DVI. Also, unless you're trying to run 1080p over 100 feet or somesuch, stay away from premium brands. Any on-spec cheapie HDMI cable will be perfect for standard living room setups.

    —Rob Beschizza, "Which Is Better, HDMI or Component?"

When you are writing for an audience of nonspecialists, resist the temptation to use overly technical language.

NOT: The mini-sternotomy from the lower end of the sternum to the second intercostal space resulted in satisfactory cosmesis.
BUT: The small incision from the lower end of the breastbone to the second space between her ribs preserves her appearance.

W-1d Clichés

Steer clear of clichés, expressions that are so familiar as to have become trite (white as snow, the grass is always greener).

NOT: The company needs a recruiter who thinks outside the box.
BUT: The company needs a recruiter who thinks unconventionally.
NOT: After canoeing all day, we all slept like logs.
BUT: After canoeing all day, we all slept soundly.
NOT: Nita is a team player, so we hope she will be assigned to the project.
BUT: Nita collaborates well, so we hope she will be assigned to the project.



W-2 Precise Words

Venus edges past Jankovic. Roger Federer overpowers Andy Roddick. In each case, the writer could have simply used the word defeats.But at least to tennis fans, these newspaper headlines are a bit more precise and informative as a result of the words chosen. This section offers guidelines for editing your own writing to make it as precise as it needs to be.

W-2a Be and do

Try not to rely too much on be or do. Check your writing to see if you can replace forms of these words with more precise verbs.

NOT: David Sedaris's essay "Us and Them" is about his love/hate relationship with his family.
BUT: David Sedaris's essay "Us and Them" focuses on his love/hate relationship with his family.
NOT: Some doctors believe that doing crossword puzzles can delay the onset of senility and even Alzheimer's disease.
BUT: Some doctors believe that solving crossword puzzles can delay the onset of senility and even Alzheimer's disease.

Sometimes using a form of be or do is unavoidable, such as when you are describing someone or something.

  • Barnes is a legend among southern California Met lovers—an icon, a beacon, and a font of useful knowledge and freely offered opinions.

    —Bob Merlis, "Foster Cars"

W-2b Balancing General and Specific Words

Abstract words refer to general qualities or ideas (truth, beauty), whereas concrete words refer to specific things we can perceive with our senses (books, lipstick). You'll often need to use words that are general or abstract, but remember that specific, concrete words can make your writing more precise and more vivid—and can make the abstract easier to understand.

  • In Joan Didion's work, there has always been a fascination with what she once called "the unspeakable peril of the everyday"—the coyotes by the interstate, the snakes in the playpen, the fires and Santa Ana winds of California.

    —Michiko Kakutani, "The End of Life As She Knew It"

    The concrete coyotes, snakes, fires, and winds help explain the abstract peril of the everyday.

W-2c Prepositions

Prepositions are words like at, in, and on that express relationships between words. Do you live in a city, on an island, or at the beach? In each case, you need to use a certain preposition. You'll often need to check a dictionary to decide which preposition to use. Here are some guidelines for using in, on, and at to indicate place and time.

Prepositions of place

IN
a container, room, or area: in the mailbox, in my office, in the woods
a geographic location: in San Diego, in the Midwest
a printed work: in the newspaper, in chapter 3

ON
a surface: on the floor, on the grass
a street: on Ninth Street, on Western Avenue
an electronic medium: on DVD, on the radio
public transportation: on the bus, on an airplane

AT
a specific address or business: at 33 Parkwood Street, at McDonald's
a public building or unnamed business: at the courthouse, at the bakery
a general place: at home, at work

Prepositions of time

IN
a defined time period: in an hour, in three years
a month, season, or year: in June, in the fall, in 2007
a part of the day: in the morning, in the evening

ON
a day of the week: on Friday
an exact date: on September 12
a holiday: on Thanksgiving, on Veteran's Day

AT
a specific time: at 4:30 p.m., at sunset, at lunchtime, at night

W-2d Figurative Language

Figures of speech such as SIMILES and METAPHORS are words used imaginatively rather than literally that can help readers understand an abstract point by comparing it to something they are familiar with or can easily imagine.

SIMILE His body is in almost constant motion—rolling those cigarettes, rubbing an elbow, reaching for a glass—but the rhythm is tranquil and fluid, like a cat licking its paw.

—Sean Smith, "Johnny Depp: Unlikely Superstar"

METAPHOR And so, before the professor had even finished his little story, I had become a furnace of rage.

—Shelby Steele, "On Being Black and Middle Class"




W-3 Commonly Confused Words

When you're tired, do you lay down or lie down? After dinner, do you eat desert or dessert? This section's purpose is to alert you to everyday words that can trip you up and to help you understand the differences between certain words people tend to confuse.

accept, except Accept means "to receive willingly": accept an award. Except as a preposition means "excluding": all Western languages except English.

adapt, adopt Adapt means "to adjust": adapt the recipe to be dairy free. Adopt means "to take as one's own": adopt a pet from a shelter.

advice, advise Advice means "recommendation": a lawyer's advice. Advise means "to give advice": We advise you to learn your rights.

affect, effect Affect as a verb means "to produce a change in": Stress can affect people's physical health. Effect as a noun means "result": cause and effect.

all right, alright All right is the preferred spelling.

allusion, illusion Allusion means "indirect reference": an allusion to Alice in Wonderland. Illusion means "false appearance": an optical illusion.

a lot Always two words, a lot means "a large number or amount" or "to a great extent": a lot of voters; he misses her a lot. The phrase is too informal for most academic writing.

among, between Use among for three or more items: among the fifty states. Use between for two items: between you and me.

amount, number Use amount for items you can measure but not count: a large amount of water. Use number for things you can count: a number of books.

as, as if, like Like introduces a noun or noun phrase: It feels like silk. To begin a subordinate clause, use as or as if: Do as I say, not as I do; It seemed as if he had not prepared at all for the briefing.

bad, badly Use bad as an adjective following a linking verb: I feel bad. Use badly as an adverb following an action verb: I play piano badly.

capital, capitol A capital is a city where the government of a state, province, or country is located: Kingston was the first state capital of New York. A capitol is a government building: the dome of the capitol.

cite, sight, site Cite means to quote: Cite your sources. Sight is the act of seeing or something that is seen: an appalling sight. A site is a place: the site of a famous battle.

compose, comprise The parts compose the whole: Fifty states compose the Union. The whole comprises the parts: The Union comprises fifty states.

could of In writing, use could have (could've).

council, counsel Council refers to a body of people: the council's vote. Counsel means "advice" or "to advise": her wise counsel; she counseled victims of domestic abuse.

criteria, criterion Criteria is the plural of criterion and takes a plural verb: certain criteria have been established.

data Data, the plural of datum, technically should take a plural verb (The data arrive from many sources), but some writers treat it as singular (The data is persuasive).

desert, dessert Desert as a noun means "arid region": Mojave Desert. As a verb it means "to abandon": he deserted his post. Dessert is a sweet served toward the end of a meal.

disinterested, uninterested Disinterested means "fair; unbiased": disinterested jury. Uninterested means "bored" or "indifferent": uninterested in election results.

emigrate (from), immigrate (to) Emigrate means "to leave one's country": emigrate from Slovakia. Immigrate means "to move to another country": immigrate to Canada.

etc. The abbreviation etc. is short for the Latin et cetera, "and other things." Avoid using etc. in your writing, substituting and so on if necessary.

everyday, every day Everyday is an adjective meaning "ordinary": After the holidays, we go back to our everyday routine. Every day means "on a daily basis": Eat five or more servings of fruits and vegetables every day.

fewer, less Use fewer when you refer to things that can be counted: fewer calories. Use less when you refer to an amount of something that cannot be counted: less fat.

good, well Good is an adjective indicating emotional health, appearance, or general quality: She looks good in that color; a good book. Well is used as an adjective indicating physical health after a linking verb: She looks well despite her recent surgery. Well as an adverb follows an action verb: He speaks Spanish well.

hopefully In academic writing, avoid hopefully to mean "it is hoped that"; use it only to mean "with hope": to make a wish hopefully.

imply, infer Imply means "to suggest": What do you mean to imply? Infer means "to conclude": We infer that you did not enjoy the trip.

its, it's Its is a possessive pronoun: The movie is rated PG-13 because of its language. It's is a contraction of "it is" or "it has": It's an exciting action film.

lay, lie Lay, meaning "to put" or "to place," always takes a direct object: She lays the blanket down. Lie, meaning "to recline" or "to be positioned," never takes a direct object: She lies on the blanket.

lead, led The verb lead (rhymes with heed) is the present tense and base form: I will lead the way. Led is the past tense and past participle of lead: Yesterday I led the way. The noun lead (rhymes with head) is a type of metal: Use copper pipes instead of lead.

literally Use literally only when you want to stress that you don't mean figuratively: While sitting in the grass, he realized that he literally had ants in his pants.

loose, lose Loose means "not fastened securely" or "not fitting tightly": a pair of loose pants. Lose means "to misplace" or "to not win": lose an earring; lose the race.

man, mankind Use people, human, or humankind instead.

may of, might of, must of In writing, use may have, might have, or must have (may've, might've, must've).

media Media, a plural noun, takes a plural verb: The media report another shooting. The singular form is medium: Television is a popular medium for advertising.

percent, percentage Use percent after a number: eighty percent. Use percentage after an adjective or article: an impressive percentage, the percentage was impressive.

principal, principle As a noun, principal means "a chief official" or "a sum of money": in the principal's office; raising the principal for a down payment. As an adjective, it means "most important": the principal cause of death. Principle means "a rule by which one lives" or "a basic truth or doctrine": Lying is against her principles; the principles of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

raise, rise Meaning "to grow" or "to cause to move upward," raise always takes a direct object: He raised his hand. Meaning "to get up," rise never takes a direct object: The sun rises at dawn.

the reason ... is because Use because or the reason ... is (that), but not both: The reason for the price increase was a poor growing season or Prices increased because of a poor growing season.

reason why Instead of this redundant phrase, use the reason or the reason that: Psychologists debate the reasons that some people develop depression and others do not.

respectfully, respectively Respectfully means "full of respect": Speak to your elders respectfully. Respectively means "in the order given": George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush were the forty-first president and the forty-third president, respectively.

sensual, sensuous Sensual suggests sexuality: a sensual caress. Sensuous involves pleasing the senses through art, music, and nature: the violin's sensuous solo.

set, sit Set, meaning "to put" or "to place," takes a direct object: Please set the table. Sit, meaning "to take a seat," does not take a direct object: She sits on the bench.

should of In writing, use should have (should've).

stationary, stationery Stationary means "staying put": a stationary lab table. Stationery means "paper to write on": the college's official stationery.

than, then Than is a conjunction used for comparing: She is taller than her mother. Then is an adverb used to indicate a sequence: Finish your work and then reward yourself.

that, which Use that to add information that is essential for identifying something: The horses that live on this island are endangered. Use which to give additional but nonessential information: Abaco Barb horses, which live on an island in the Bahamas, are endangered.

their, there, they're Their signifies possession: their canoe. There tells where: Put it there. They're is the contraction of they are: They're too busy to come.

to, too, two To is either a preposition that tells direction (Give it to me) or part of an infinitive (To err is human). Too means "also" or "excessively": The younger children wanted to help, too; too wonderful for words. Two is a number: tea for two.

unique Because unique suggests that an item or person is the only one of its kind, avoid using comparative or superlative adjectives (more, most, less, least), intensifiers (such as very), or hedges (such as somewhat) to modify it.

weather, whether Weather refers to atmospheric conditions: dreary weather. Whether refers to a choice between options: whether to stay home or go out.

who's,whose Who's is a contraction for who is or who has: Who's the most experienced candidate for the job? Whose asks or tells who owns something: Whose keys are these? Jenna, whose keys were lying on the table, had left.

would of In writing, use would have (would've).

your, you're Your signifies possession: your diploma. You're is a contraction for you are: You're welcome.




W-4 Unnecessary Words

At this point in time. Really unique. In a manner of speaking. Each of these phrases includes words that are unnecessary or says something that could be said more concisely. This section shows you how to edit your own writing to make every word count.

W-4a Quite, Very, and Other Empty Words

Intensifiers such as quite and very are used to strengthen what we say. Hedges such as apparently, possibly, and tend are a way to qualify what we say. It's fine to use words of this kind when they are necessary. Sometimes, however, they are not. You shouldn't say something is "very unique," because things either are unique or they're not; there's no need to add the intensifier. And why say someone is "really smart" when you could say that he or she is "brilliant"?

NOT: Accepted by five Ivy League schools, Jackson seems to be facing an apparently very difficult decision.
BUT: Accepted by five Ivy League schools, Jackson is facing a difficult decision.

W-4b There is, It is

The EXPLETIVES there is and it is are useful ways to introduce and emphasize an idea, but often they add unnecessary words and can be replaced with stronger, more precise verbs.

NOT: It is necessary for Americans today to learn to speak more than one language.
BUT: Americans today must learn to speak more than one language.
NOT: There are four large moons and more than 30 small ones that orbit Jupiter.
BUT: Four large moons and more than 30 small ones orbit Jupiter.

In certain contexts, there is and it is can be the best choices. Imagine the ending of The Wizard of Oz if Dorothy were to say No place is like home instead of the more emphatic (and sentimental) There's no place like home.

W-4c Wordy Phrases

Many common phrases use several words when a single word will do. Editing out such wordy phrases will make your writing more concise and easier to read.

WORDY

CONCISE

as far as ... is concerned

concerning

at the time that

when

at this point in time

now

in spite of the fact that

although, though

in the event that

if

in view of the fact that

because, since

NOT: Due to the fact that Professor Lee retired, the animal sciences department now lacks a neurology specialist.
BUT: Because Professor Lee retired, the animal sciences department now lacks a neurology specialist.

W-4d Redundancies

Eliminate words and phrases that are unnecessary for your meaning.

NOT: Painting the house purple in color will make it stand out from the many white houses in town.
BUT: Painting the house purple will make it stand out from the many white houses in town.
NOT: Dashing quickly into the street to retrieve the ball, the young girl was almost hit by a car.
BUT: Dashing into the street to retrieve the ball, the young girl was almost hit by a car.
NOT: How much wood is sufficient enough for the fire to burn all night?
BUT: How much wood is enough for the fire to burn all night?



W-5 Adjectives and Adverbs

Adjectives and adverbs are words that describe other words, adding important information and detail. When Dave Barry writes that the Beatles "were the coolest thing you had ever seen" and that "they were smart; they were funny; they didn't take themselves seriously," the adjectives and adverbs (italicized here) make clear why he "wanted desperately to be a Beatle." This section will help you use adjectives and adverbs in your own writing.

W-5a When to Use Adjectives and Adverbs

Adjectives tell which, what kind, or how many and are used to modify nouns and pronouns.

  • Parallel rows of ancient oak trees lined the narrow driveway.
  • Years of testing will be needed to prove whether geneticists' theories are correct.
  • If you are craving something sweet, have a piece of fruit rather than a candy bar.

Adverbs tell where, when, how, why, under what conditions, how often, or to what degree and are used to modify verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs. Although many adverbs end in -ly (tentatively, immediately), many do not (now, so, soon, then, very).

  • Emergency room personnel must respond quickly when an ambulance arrives.
  • Environmentalists are increasingly worried about Americans' consumption of fossil fuels.
  • If the senator had known that the news cameras were on, she would not have responded so angrily.

Well and good. Use well as an adjective to describe physical health; use good to describe emotional health or appearance.

NOT: Some herbs can keep you feeling good when everyone else has the flu.
BUT: Some herbs can keep you feeling well when everyone else has the flu.
  • Staying healthy can make you feel good about yourself.

Good should not be used as an adverb; use well.

NOT: Because both Williams sisters play tennis so good, they frequently compete against each other in major tournaments.
BUT: Because both Williams sisters play tennis so well, they frequently compete against each other in major tournaments.

Bad and badly. Use the adjective bad after a LINKING VERB to describe an emotional state or feeling. In such cases, the adjective describes the subject.

  • Arguing with your parents can make you feel bad.

Bad describes the subject, you.

Use the adverb badly to describe an ACTION VERB.

  • Arguing with your parents late at night can make you sleep badly.

Badly describes the action verb, sleep.

W-5b Comparatives and Superlatives

Most adjectives and adverbs have three forms: the positive, the comparative, and the superlative. The comparative is used to compare two things, and the superlative is used to compare three or more things.

COMPARATIVE: Who's the better quarterback, Peyton Manning or his brother Eli?
SUPERLATIVE: Many Colts fans consider Peyton to be the greatest quarterback ever.

The comparative and superlative of most adjectives are formed by adding the endings -er and -est: slow, slower, slowest. Longer adjectives and most adverbs use more and most (or less and least): helpful, more helpful, most helpful.

W-5c Modifier Placement

Place adjectives, adverbs, and other MODIFIERS close to the words they describe.

NOT: The doctor explained advances in cancer treatment to the families of patients at the seminar.
BUT: The doctor at the seminar explained advances in cancer treatment to the families of patients.

The doctor, not the families of patients, is at the seminar.

NOT: The doctors assured the patient that they intended to make only two small incisions, before the anesthesiologist arrived.
BUT: Before the anesthesiologist arrived, the doctors assured the patient that they intended to make only two small incisions.

The original sentence suggests that the incisions will be made without anesthesia, surely not the case.

To avoid ambiguity, position limiting modifiers such as almost, even, just, merely, and only next to the word or phrase they modify—and be careful that your meaning is clear. See how the placement of only results in two completely different meanings.

NOT: A triple-threat athlete, Martha only played soccer in college.
BUT: A triple-threat athlete, Martha played soccer only in college.
OR: A triple-threat athlete, Martha played only soccer in college.
Dangling modifiers

Modifiers are said to be dangling when they do not clearly modify any particular word in the sentence. You can fix a dangling modifier by adding the subject that the modifier is intended to describe to the main clause or by adding a subject to the modifier itself.

NOT: Speaking simply and respectfully, many people felt comforted by the doctor's presentation.
BUT: Speaking simply and respectfully, the doctor comforted many people with his presentation.

The doctor was speaking, not the other people.

NOT: While running to catch the bus, the shoulder strap on my fake Balenciaga bag broke.
BUT: While I was running to catch the bus, the shoulder strap on my fake Balenciaga bag broke.



W-6 Articles

A, an, and the are articles, which tell whether something is indefinite or definite. Use a or an with nouns whose specific identity is not known to your audience—for example, when you haven't mentioned them before: I'm reading a great book. Use the with nouns whose specific identity is known to your audience—for instance, a noun that describes something specific, as in the book on the table, or something that you've mentioned before, as in Francesca finally finished writing her book. The book will be published next year.

W-6a When to Use a or an

Use a or an with singular count nouns whose identity is not known to your audience. Count nouns refer to things that can be counted: one book, two books. Use a before a consonant sound: a tangerine; use an before a vowel sound: an orange.

  • Do you want to see a movie this afternoon?
  • Yesterday we went to see a fascinating documentary about World War II.
  • There was an article about the film in last Saturday's newspaper.
  • I'd like to watch an amusing movie today rather than a serious one.

Do not use a or an before a noncount noun. Noncount nouns refer to abstractions or masses that can be quantified only with certain modifiers or units: too much information, two cups of coffee.

  • These students could use some encouragement from their teacher.
  • The last thing Portland needs this week is more rain.

W-6b When to Use the

Use the before nouns whose identity is clear to your audience and before superlatives.

  • Our teacher warned us that the poem she had assigned had multiple levels of meaning.
  • The Secretary-General of the United Nations will speak later this morning about the military crackdown in Myanmar.
  • Some of the fastest runners in the country compete at the Penn Relays.

Do not use the with most singular proper nouns (Judge Judy, Lake Titicaca), but do use it with most plural proper nouns (the Adirondack Mountains, the Philippines).

Do use the before singular proper nouns in the following categories.

LARGER BODIES OF WATER: the Arctic Ocean, the Mississippi River
GOVERNMENT BODIES: the United States Congress, the Canadian Parliament
HISTORICAL PERIODS: the Renaissance, the Roman Empire, the Tang Dynasty
LANDMARKS: the Empire State Building, the Taj Mahal
REGIONS: the East Coast, the Middle East, the Mojave Desert
RELIGIOUS ENTITIES, TEXTS, AND LEADERS: the Roman Catholic Church, the Koran, the Dalai Lama




W-7 Words That Build Common Ground

A secretary objects to being called one of "the girls." The head of the English department finds the title "chairman" offensive. Why? The secretary is male, the department head is a woman, and those terms don't include them. We can build common ground—or not—by the words we choose, by including others or leaving them out. This section offers tips for using language that is positive and inclusive and that will build common ground with those we wish to reach.

W-7a Avoiding Stereotypes

Stereotypes are generalizations about groups of people and as such can offend because they presume that all members of a group are the same. The writer Geeta Kothari explains how she reacts to a seemingly neutral assumption about Indians: "Indians eat lentils. I understand this as an absolute, a decree from an unidentifiable authority that watches and judges me."

We're all familiar with stereotypes based on sex or race, but stereotypes exist about other characteristics: age, body type, education, income, occupation, physical ability, political affiliation, region, religion, sexual orientation, and more. Be careful not to make any broad generalizations about any group—even neutral or positive ones (that Asian students work hard, for example, or that Republicans are patriotic).

Also, be careful not to call attention to a person's group affiliation if that information is not relevant.

NOT: The gay physical therapist who worked the morning shift knew when to let patients rest and when to push them.
BUT: The physical therapist who worked the morning shift knew when to let patients rest and when to push them.

W-7b Using Preferred Terms

When you are writing about a group of people, try to use terms that members of that group use themselves. This advice is sometimes easier said than done, because language changes—and words that were commonly used ten years ago may not be in wide use today. Americans of African ancestry, for example, were referred to many years ago as "colored" or "Negro" and then as "black"; today the preferred terminology is "African American."

When you are referring to ethnicities, it's usually best to be as specific as possible. Instead of saying someone is Latin or Hispanic, for instance, it's better to say he or she is Puerto Rican or Dominican or Cuban, as appropriate. The same is true of religions; it's better to specify a religion when you can (Sunni Muslims, Episcopalians, Orthodox Jews). And while "Native American" was once widely used, some people now prefer references to particular tribes (Dakota, Chippewa).

W-7c Editing Out Sexist Language

Sexist language is language that stereotypes or ignores women or men—or that gratuitously calls attention to someone's gender. Try to eliminate such language from your writing.

Default he

Writers once used he, him, and other masculine pronouns as a default to refer to people whose sex is unknown. Today such usage is not widely accepted— and is no way to build common ground. Here are some alternatives.

Use both masculine and feminine pronouns joined by or. (Note, however, that using this option repeatedly may become awkward.)

NOT: Before anyone can leave the country, he must have a passport or other documentation.
BUT: Before anyone can leave the country, he or she must have a passport or other documentation.

Replace a singular noun or pronoun with a plural noun.

OR: Before travelers can leave the country, they must have a passport or other documentation.

Eliminate the pronoun altogether.

OR: Before leaving the country, a traveler must have a passport or other documentation.

You should also avoid nouns that include man when you're referring to people who may be either men or women.

INSTEAD OF

USE

man, mankind

humankind, humanity, humans

salesman

salesperson

fireman

firefighter

congressman

representative, member of congress

male nurse

nurse

female truck driver

truck driver





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Punctuation / Mechanics


P-1 Commas

Commas matter. Consider, for instance, the title of the best-selling book Eats, Shoots & Leaves. The cover of this book shows two pandas, one with a gun in its paw. Is the book about a panda that dines and then fires a gun and exits? In fact, it's a book about punctuation, and the confusion raised by its title shows how commas affect meaning. This section shows you when and where to use commas in your own writing.

P-1a To Join Independent Clauses with and, but, and Other Coordinating Conjunctions

Put a comma before the coordinating conjunctions and, but, for, nor, or, so, and yet when they connect two  INDEPENDENT CLAUSES. The comma signals that one idea is ending and another is beginning.

  • I do not love Shakespeare, but I still have those books.

    —Rick Bragg, "All Over But the Shoutin' "

  • Most people think the avocado is a vegetable, yet it is actually a fruit.
  • They awarded the blue ribbon to Susanna, and Sarah got the red ribbon.

    Without the comma, readers might first think that both girls got the blue ribbon.

Although some writers omit the comma, especially with short independent clauses, you'll never be wrong to include it.

  • I was smart, and I knew it.

    —Shannon Nichols, "'Proficiency'"

You do not need a comma between the verbs when a single subject performs two actions—but you need commas when a third verb is added.

  • I enrolled in a three-month submersion program in Mexico and emerged able to speak like a sixth-grader with a C average.

    —Tanya Barrientos, "Se Habla Español"

  • Augustine wrote extensively about his mother, but mentioned his father only briefly.
  • Kim had bought the sod, delivered it, and rolled it out before we got home.

P-1b To Set Off Introductory Words

Use a comma after an introductory word, PHRASE, or CLAUSE to mark the end of the introduction and the start of the main part of the sentence.

  • Consequently, our celebration of Howard Stern, Don Imus, and other heroes of "shock radio" might be evidence of a certain loss of moral focus.

    —Stephen L. Carter, "Just Be Nice"

  • On the other hand, opponents of official English remind us that without legislation we have managed to get over ninety-seven percent of the residents of this country to speak the national language.

    —Dennis Baron, "Don't Make English Official—Ban It Instead"

  • Even ignoring the extreme poles of the economic spectrum, we find enormous class differences in the life-styles among the haves, the have-nots, and the have-littles.

    —Gregory Mantsios, "Class in America—2003"

  • When Miss Emily Grierson died, our whole town went to her funeral.

    —William Faulkner, "A Rose for Emily"

Some writers don't use a comma after a short introductory word, phrase, or clause, but it's never wrong to include one.

P-1c To Separate Items in a Series

Use a comma to separate the items in a series.

  • I spend a great deal of time thinking about the power of language—the way it can evoke an emotion, a visual image, a complex idea, or a simple truth.

    —Amy Tan, "Mother Tongue"

Though some writers leave out the comma between the final two items in a series, this omission can confuse readers. It's never wrong to include the final comma.

  • Nadia held a large platter of sandwiches—egg salad, peanut butter, ham, and cheese.
Without the last comma, it's not clear whether there are three or four kinds of sandwiches on the platter.

P-1d To Set Off Nonrestrictive Elements

A nonrestrictive element is one that isn't needed to understand the sentence; it should be set off with commas. A restrictive element is one that is needed to understand the sentence and therefore should not be set off with commas.

NONRESTRICTIVE
The inspiration for strawberry shortcake can be traced to American Indians, who prepared a sweetened bread from strawberries and cornmeal.

Martha Stewart Living

The detail about the Indians' preparation of sweetened bread adds information, but it is not essential to the meaning of the sentence and thus is set off with a comma.

RESTRICTIVE
Navajo is the Athabaskan language that is spoken in the Southwest by the Navajo people.

The detail about where Navajo is spoken is essential: Navajo is not the only Athabaskan language; it is the Athabaskan language that is spoken in the Southwest.

Restrictive and nonrestrictive elements can be clauses, phrases, or single words.

CLAUSES

  • He always drove Chryslers, which are made in America.
  • He always drove cars that were made in America.

PHRASES

  • I fumble in the dark, trying to open the mosquito netting around my bed.

    —Chanrithy Him, "When Broken Glass Floats"

  • I see my mother clutching my baby sister.

    —Chanrithy Him, "When Broken Glass Floats"

WORDS

  • At 8:59, Flight 175 passenger Brian David Sweeney tried to call his wife, Julie.

    —The 9/11 Commission, "The Hijacking of United 175"

  • At 9:00, Lee Hanson received a second call from his son Peter.

    —The 9/11 Commission, "The Hijacking of United 175"

Sweeney had only one wife, so her name provides extra but nonessential information. Hanson presumably had more than one son, so it is essential to specify which son called.

P-1e To Set Off Parenthetical Information

Information that interrupts the flow of a sentence needs to be set off with commas.

  • Bob's conduct, most of us will immediately respond, was gravely wrong.

    —Peter Singer, "The Singer Solution to World Poverty"

  • With as little as two servings of vegetables a day, it seems to me, you can improve your eating habits.

P-1f To Set Off Transitional Expressions

TRANSITIONS such as thus, nevertheless, for example, and in fact help connect sentences or parts of sentences. They are usually set off with commas. When a transition connects two independent clauses, it is preceded by either a period or a semicolon and is followed by a comma.

  • [S]torytelling always includes the audience, the listeners. In fact, a great deal of the story is believed to be inside the listener; the storyteller's role is to draw the story out of the listeners.

    —Leslie Marmon Silko, "Language and Literature from a Pueblo Indian Perspective"

  • There are few among the poor who speak of themselves as lower class; instead, they refer to their race, ethnic group, or geographic location.

    —Gregory Mantsios, "Class in America—2003"

P-1g To Set Off Direct Quotations

Use commas to set off quoted words from the speaker or the source.

  • Pa shouts back, "I just want to know where the gunfire is coming from."

    —Chanrithy Him, "When Broken Glass Floats"

  • "My children," my mother answered in a clear, curt tone, "will be at the top of their classes in two weeks."

    —Tanya Barrientos, "Se Habla Español"

  • "Death and life are in the power of the tongue," says the proverb.

P-1h To Set Off Direct Address, Yes or No, Interjections, and Tag Questions

DIRECT ADDRESS: "Yes, Virginia, there really is a Santa Claus."
YES OR NO: No, you cannot replace the battery on your iPhone. Apple has to do it for you.
INTERJECTION: Oh, a Prius. How long did you have to wait to get it?
TAG QUESTION: That wasn't so hard, was it?

P-1i With Addresses, Place Names, and Dates

  • Send contributions to Human Rights Campaign, 1640 Rhode Island Ave., Washington, DC 20036.
  • Athens, Georgia, has been famous since the 1970s for its thriving music scene.
  • On July 2, 1937, the aviator Amelia Earhart disappeared over the Pacific Ocean while trying to make the first round-the-world flight at the equator.

Omit the commas, however, if you invert the date (On 2 July 1937) or if you give only the month and year (In July 1937).

P-1j Checking for Unnecessary Commas

Commas have so many uses that it's easy to add them when they are not needed. Here are some situations when you should not use a comma.

Between subject and verb
NOT: What the organizers of the 1969 Woodstock concert did not anticipate, was the turnout.
BUT: What the organizers of the 1969 Woodstock concert did not anticipate was the turnout.
NOT: The event's promoters, turned down John Lennon's offer to play with his Plastic Ono Band.
BUT: The event's promoters turned down John Lennon's offer to play with his Plastic Ono Band.
Between verb and object
NOT: Pollsters wondered, how they had so poorly predicted the winner of the 1948 presidential election.
BUT: Pollsters wondered how they had so poorly predicted the winner of the 1948 presidential election.
NOT: Virtually every prediction indicated, that Thomas Dewey would defeat Harry Truman.
BUT: Virtually every prediction indicated that Thomas Dewey would defeat Harry Truman.
After a coordinating conjunction
NOT: The College Board reported a decline in SAT scores and, attributed the decline to changes in "student test-taking patterns."
BUT: The College Board reported a decline in SAT scores and attributed the decline to changes in "student test-taking patterns."
NOT: The SAT was created to provide an objective measure of academic potential, but, studies in the 1980s found racial and socioeconomic biases in some test questions.
BUT: The SAT was created to provide an objective measure of academic potential, but studies in the 1980s found racial and socioeconomic biases in some test questions.
After like or such as
NOT: Many American-born authors, such as, Henry James, Ezra Pound, and F. Scott Fitzgerald, lived as expatriates in Europe.
BUT: Many American-born authors, such as Henry James, Ezra Pound, and F. Scott Fitzgerald, lived as expatriates in Europe.
With a question mark or an exclamation point

NOT: Why would any nation have a monarch in an era of democracy?, you might ask yourself.
BUT: Why would any nation have a monarch in an era of democracy? you might ask yourself.
NOT: "O, be some other name!," exclaims Juliet.
BUT: "O, be some other name!" exclaims Juliet.



P-2 Semicolons

Semicolons offer one way to connect two closely related thoughts. Look, for example, at Martha Stewart's advice about how to tell if fruit is ripe: "A perfectly ripened fruit exudes a subtle but sweet fragrance from the stem end, appears plump, and has deeply colored skin; avoid those that have wrinkles, bruises, or tan spots." Stewart could have used a period, but the semicolon shows the connection between what to look for and what to avoid when buying peaches or plums.

P-2a Between Independent Clauses

Closely related independent clauses are most often joined with a comma plus and or another coordinating conjunction. If the two clauses are closely related and don't need a conjunction to signal the relationship, they may be linked with a semicolon.

  • The silence deepened; the room chilled.

    —Wayson Choy, "The Ten Thousand Things"

  • The life had not flowed out of her; it had been seized.

    —Valerie Steiker, "Our Mother's Face"

    Note that a period would work in either of the examples above, but the semicolon suggests a stronger connection between the two independent clauses.

Another option is to use a semicolon with a TRANSITION that clarifies the relationship between the two independent clauses. Put a comma after the transition.

  • There are few among the poor who speak of themselves as lower class; instead, they refer to their race, ethnic group, or geographic location.

    —Gregory Mantsios, "Class in America—2003"

P-2b In a Series with Commas

Use semicolons to separate items in a series when one or more of the items contain commas.

  • There are images of a few students: Erwin Petschaur, a muscular German boy with a strong accent; Dave Sanchez, who was good at math; and Sheila Wilkes, everyone's curly-haired heartthrob.

    —Mike Rose, "Potato Chips and Stars"

P-2c Checking for Mistakes with Semicolons

Use a comma, not a semicolon, to set off an introductory clause.

NOT: When the sun finally sets; everyone gathers at the lake to watch the fireworks.
BUT: When the sun finally sets, everyone gathers at the lake to watch the fireworks.

Use a colon, not a semicolon, to introduce a list.

NOT: Every American high school student should know that the U.S. Constitution contains three sections; preamble, articles, and amendments.
BUT: Every American high school student should know that the U.S. Constitution contains three sections: preamble, articles, and amendments.



P-3 End Punctuation

She married him. She married him? She married him! In each of these three sentences, the words are the same, but the end punctuation completely changes the meaning, from a simple statement to a bemused question to an emphatic exclamation. This section will help you use periods, question marks, and exclamation points in your writing.

P-3a Periods

Use a period to end a sentence that makes a statement.

  • Rose Emily Meraglio came to the United States from southern Italy as a little girl in the early 1920s and settled with her family in Altoona, Pennsylvania.

    —Mike Rose, "The Working Life of a Waitress"

An indirect question, which reports something someone else has asked, ends with a period, not a question mark.

NOT: Presidential candidates are often asked how they will provide affordable health care to all Americans?
BUT: Presidential candidates are often asked how they will provide affordable health care to all Americans.

When a sentence ends with an abbreviation that has its own period, do not add another period.

NOT: She signed all her letters Eileen Kinch, Ph.D..
BUT: She signed all her letters Eileen Kinch, Ph.D.

P-3b Question Marks

Use a question mark to end a direct question.

  • Did I think that because I was a minority student jobs would just come looking for me? What was I thinking?

    —Richard Rodriguez, "None of This Is Fair"

Use a period rather than a question mark to end an indirect question.

NOT: Aunt Vivian often asked what Jesus would do?
BUT: Aunt Vivian often asked what Jesus would do.

P-3c Exclamation Points

Use an exclamation point to express strong emotion or add emphasis to a statement or command. Exclamation points should be used sparingly, however, or they may undercut your credibility.

  • "Keith," we shrieked as the car drove away, "Keith, we love you!"

    —Susan Jane Gilman, "Mick Jagger Wants Me"

When the words themselves are emotional, an exclamation point is often unnecessary and a period is sufficient.

  • It was so close, so low, so huge and fast, so intent on its target that I swear to you, I swear to you, I felt the vengeance and rage emanating from the plane.

    —Debra Fontaine, "Witnessing"




P-4 Quotation Marks

"YMCA" "Two thumbs up!" "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn." These are just some of the ways that quotation marks are used—to punctuate a song title, to cite praise for a movie, to set off dialogue. In college writing, you will use quotation marks frequently to acknowledge when you are you are using words you've taken from others. This section will show you how to use quotation marks correctly and appropriately.

P-4a Direct Quotations

Use quotation marks to enclose words spoken or written by others.

  • "Nothing against Tom, but Johnny may be the bigger star now," says director John Waters.

    —Sean Smith, "Johnny Depp: Unlikely Superstar"

  • Newt Gringrich and Jesse Jackson have both pounded nails and raised funds for Habitat for Humanity. This is what Millard Fuller calls the "theology of the hammer."

    —Diana George, "Changing the Face of Poverty"

When you introduce or follow a quotation with words like he said or she claimed, you need a comma between the verb and the quoted material.

  • When my mother reported that Mr. Tomkey did not believe in television, my father said, "Well, good for him. I don't know that I believe in it either."

    "That's exactly how I feel," my mother said, and then my parents watched the news, and whatever came on after the news.

    —David Sedaris, "Us and Them"

You do not need any punctuation between that and a quotation.

NOT: We were assigned to write one essay agreeing or disagreeing with George Orwell's statement that, "the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts."
BUT: We were assigned to write one essay agreeing or disagreeing with George Orwell's statement that "the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts."

In dialogue, insert a new pair of quotation marks to signal each change of speaker.

  • At the school's office the registrar frowned when we arrived.

    "You people. Your children are always behind, and you have the nerve to bring them in late?"

    "My children," my mother answered in a clear, curt tone, "will be at the top of their classes in two weeks."

    —Tanya Barrientos, "Se Habla Español"

P-4b Long Quotations

Long quotations should be set off without quotation marks as BLOCK QUOTATIONS. If you are following
MLA STYLE, set off five or more typed lines of prose (or four or more lines of poetry) as a block, indented ten spaces (or one inch) from the left margin.

Biographer David McCullough describes Truman's railroad campaign as follows:

No president in history had ever gone so far in quest of support from the people, or with less cause for the effort, to judge by informed opinion. . . . As a test of his skills and judgment as a professional politician, not to say his stamina and disposition at age sixty-four, it would be like no other experience in his long, often difficult career, as he himself understood perfectly. (655)

If you are following APA STYLE, format a quotation of forty words or more block style, indented five spaces (or one-half inch) from the left.

In an article in The Nation, Maggie Cutler questions the common assumption that media violence causes some children's violent behavior:

Do temperamentally violent kids seek out shows that express feelings they already have, or are they in it for the adrenaline boost? Do the sort of parents who let kids pig out on gore tend to do more than their share of other hurtful things that encourage violent behavior?

P-4c Titles of Short Works

Use quotation marks to enclose the titles of articles, chapters, essays, short stories, poems, songs, and episodes of television series. Titles of books, films, newspapers, and other longer works should be in italics rather than enclosed in quotation marks.

  • In "Unfriendly Skies Are No Match for El Al," Vivienne Walt, a writer for USA Today, describes her experience flying with this airline.

    —Andie McDonie, "Airport Security"

    Note that the title of the newspaper is italicized, whereas the newspaper article title takes quotation marks.

  • With every page of Edgar Allan Poe's story "The Tell-Tale Heart," my own heart beat faster.
  • Rita Dove's poem "Dawn Revisited" contains vivid images that appeal to the senses of sight, sound, smell, and taste.

P-4d Single Quotation Marks

When you quote a passage that already contains quotation marks, whether they enclose a quotation or a title, change the inner ones to single quotation marks.

  • Debra Johnson notes that according to Marilyn J. Adams, "effective reading instruction is based on 'direct instruction in phonics, focusing on the orthographic regularities of English.' ''
  • Certain essays and stories are so good (or so popular) that they are included in almost every anthology. The 2004 edition of The Norton Reader notes, for example, "Some essays—Martin Luther King Jr.'s 'Letter from Birmingham Jail' and Jonathan Swift's 'A Modest Proposal,' for example—are constant favorites."

P-4e With Other Punctuation

The following examples show how to use other punctuation marks inside or outside quotation marks.

Commas and periods

Put commas and periods inside closing quotation marks.

  • "On the newsstand, the cover is acting as a poster, an ad for what's inside," she said. "The loyal reader is looking for what makes the magazine exceptional."

    —Katharine Q. Seelye, "Lucid Numbers on Glossy Pages!"

When there is parenthetical DOCUMENTATION after an end quotation mark, the period goes after the parentheses.

  • Dewey himself said, "When you're leading, don't talk" (qtd. in McCullough 672).

    —Dylan Borchers, "Against the Odds"

Semicolons and colons

Put semicolons and colons outside closing quotation marks.

  • No elder stands behind our young to say, "Folks have fought and died for your right to pierce your face, so do it right"; no community exists that can model for a young person the responsible use of the "right"; for the right, even if called self-expression, comes from no source other than desire.

    —Stephen L. Carter, "Just Be Nice"

  • According to James Garbarino, author of Lost Boys: Why Our Sons Turn Violent and How We Can Save Them, it makes no sense to talk about violent media as a direct cause of youth violence. Rather, he says, "it depends": Media violence is a risk factor that, working in concert with others, can exacerbate bad behavior.

    —Maggie Cutler, "Whodunit—The Media?"

Question marks and exclamation points

Put question marks and exclamation points inside closing quotation marks if they are part of the quotation but outside if they apply to the whole sentence.

  • Then she began to talk more loudly. "What he want, I come to New York tell him front of his boss, you cheating me?"

    —Amy Tan, "Mother Tongue"

  • How many people know the words to "Louie, Louie"?

P-4f Checking for Mistakes with Quotation Marks

Avoid using quotation marks to indicate slang, or irony, or to emphasize a word. Remove the quotation marks or substitute a better word.

Slang
NOT: Appearing "hip" is important to many parents in New York.
BUT: Appearing hip is important to many parents in New York.
Irony
NOT: He was more interested in "facilitating" than in doing work himself.
BUT: He was more interested in delegating than in doing work himself.
Emphasis
NOT: The woman explained that she is "only" a masseuse, not the owner of the health club.
BUT: The woman explained that she is only a masseuse, not the owner of the health club.

Do not enclose indirect quotations in quotation marks.

NOT: Even before winning her fourth Wimbledon singles title, Venus Williams said that "she expected to play well."
BUT: Even before winning her fourth Wimbledon singles title, Venus Williams said that she expected to play well.



McDonald's: "I'm lovin' it" proclaims a recent advertisement, demonstrating two common uses of the apostrophe: to show ownership (McDonald's) and to mark missing letters (I'm, lovin'). This section offers guidelines on these and other common uses for apostrophes.

P-5a Possessives

Use an apostrophe to make a word possessive: Daniel Craig's eye, someone else's problem, the children's playground.

Singular nouns. To form the possessive of most singular nouns, add an apostrophe and -s.

  • Some bloggers are getting press credentials for this summer's Republican Convention.

    —Lev Grossman, "Meet Joe Blog"

  • The magical thinking of denial became Ms. Didion's companion.

    —Michiko Kakutani, "The End of Life As She Knew It"

  • Bill Gates's philanthropic efforts focus on health care and education.

If adding -'s makes a word hard to pronounce, use only an apostrophe.

  • Euripides' plays are more realistic than those of Aeschylus and Sophocles.

Plural nouns. To form the possessive of a plural noun not ending in -s, add an apostrophe and -s. For plural nouns that end in -s, add only an apostrophe.

  • Are women's minds different from men's minds?

    —Evelyn Fox Keller, "Women in Science"

  • In the wake of his parents' recent divorce, he didn't turn to drugs or alcohol but instead fell back on his friends and is now directing a movie he wrote.

    —Ben Leever, "In Defense of Dawson's Creek"

  • Did you hear that Laurence Strauss is getting married? The reception will be at the Strausses' home.

Something, everyone, and other indefinite pronouns. To form the possessive of an indefinite pronoun, add an apostrophe and -s. Indefinite pronouns do not refer to specific persons or things: anyone, everything, nobody, and so on.

  • Clarabelle was everyone's favorite clown.

Joint possession. To show that two or more individuals possess something together, use the possessive form for the last noun only.

  • Carlson and Ventura's book is an introduction to Latino writers for English-speaking adolescents.

To show individual possession, make each noun possessive.

  • The winners of the screenwriter's and director's Oscars were easy to predict.

Compound nouns. To show possession for a compound noun, make the last word possessive.

  • The surgeon general's report persuaded many Americans to stop smoking.

P-5b Contractions

An apostrophe in a contraction indicates where letters have been omitted.

  • "Let's do it, Susie," she said. "We're really going to do it."

    —Susan Jane Gilman, "Mick Jagger Wants Me"

Let's is a contraction of let us; we're is a contraction of we are.

P-5c Plurals

Most writers add an apostrophe and -s to pluralize numbers, letters, and words discussed as words, but usage is changing and some writers now leave out the apostrophe. Either way is acceptable, as long as you are consistent. Notice that you need to italicize the number, letter, or word but not the plural ending.

  • The resolution passed when there were more aye's than nay's.
  • The winning hand had three 7's.
  • The admissions officers at Brown spoke enthusiastically about their no-grades option—and then told us we needed mostly A's to get in.

Most writers omit the apostrophe when pluralizing decades.

  • During the 1950s, the civil rights movement and environmentalism began to develop in the United States.

To make an abbreviation plural, add only an -s.

  • How many computers and TVs does the average American family have in its home?
  • The United States has been seeking comprehensive free trade agreements (FTAs) with the Middle Eastern nations most firmly on the path to reform.

    —The 9/11 Commission, "Prevent the Continued Growth of Islamist Terrorism"

P-5d Checking for Mistakes with Apostrophes

Do not use an apostrophe in the following situations.

With plural nouns that are not possessive
NOT: Both cellist's played encores.
BUT: Both cellists played encores.
With his, hers, ours, yours, and theirs
NOT: Look at all the lettuce. Our's is organic. Is your's?
BUT: Look at all the lettuce. Ours is organic. Is yours?
With the possessive its
NOT: It's an unusual building; it's style has been described as postmodern, but it fits beautifully with the gothic buildings on our campus.
BUT: It's an unusual building; its style has been described as postmodern, but it fits beautifully with the gothic buildings on our campus.

It's is a contraction meaning it is; its is the possessive form of it.




P-6 Other Punctuation Marks

Some carpenters can do their jobs using only a hammer and a saw, but most rely on additional tools. The same is true of writers: you can get along with just a few punctuation marks, but having some others in your toolbox—colons, dashes, parentheses, brackets, ellipses, and slashes—can help you say what you want to say in your writing and can help readers follow what you write. This section can help you use these other punctuation marks effectively.

P-6a Colons

Colons are used to direct readers' attention to words that follow the colon—an explanation or elaboration, a list, a quotation, and so on.

  • What I remember best, strangely enough, are the two things I couldn't understand and over the years grew to hate: grammar lessons and mathematics.

    —Mike Rose, "Potato Chips and Stars"

  • I sized him up as fast as possible: tight black velvet pants pulled over his boots, black jacket, a red-green-yellow scarf slashed around his neck.

    —Susan Jane Gilman, "Mick Jagger Wants Me"

  • She also voices some common concerns: "The product should be safe, it should be easily accessible, and it should be low-priced."

    —Dara Mayers, "Our Bodies, Our Lives"

  • Fifteen years after the release of the Carnegie report, College Board surveys reveal data are no different: test scores still correlate strongly with family income.

    —Gregory Mantsios, "Class in America—2003"

Colons are also used after the salutation in a business letter, in ratios, between titles and subtitles, between city and publisher in bibliographies, and between chapter and verse in biblical references.

  • Dear President Michaels:
  • For best results, add water to the powder in a 3:1 ratio.
  • The Last Campaign: How Harry Truman Won the 1948 Election
  • New York: Norton, 2008.
  • "Death and life are in the power of the tongue" (Proverbs 18:21).

P-6b Dashes

You can create a dash by typing two hyphens (- -) with no spaces before or after or by selecting the em dash from the symbol menu of your word processor.

Use dashes to set off material you want to emphasize. Unlike colons, dashes can appear not only after an independent clause but also at other points in a sentence. To set off material at the end of a sentence, use one dash; to set off material in the middle of the sentence, place a dash before and after the words you want to emphasize.

  • After that, the roller coaster rises and falls, slowing down and speeding upall on its own.

    —Cathi Eastman and Becky Burrell, "The Science of Screams"

  • It did not occur to mepossibly because I am an Americanthat there could be people anywhere who had never seen a Negro.

    —James Baldwin, "Stranger in the Village"

Dashes are often used to signal a shift in tone or thought.

  • Was it Dorothy Parker who said, "The best way to keep children home is to make the home atmosphere pleasantand let the air out of the tires"?

Keep in mind that dashes are most effective if they are used only when material needs particular emphasis. Too many dashes can interfere with the flow and clarity of your writing.

P-6c Parentheses

Use parentheses to enclose supplemental details and digressions.

  • When I was a child, attending grade school in Washington, D.C., we took classroom time to study manners. Not only the magic words "please" and "thank you" but more complicated etiquette questions, like how to answer the telephone ("Carter residence, Stephen speaking") and how to set the table (we were quizzed on whether knife blades point in or out).

    —Stephen L. Carter, "Just Be Nice"

  • In their apartments they have the material possessions that indicate success (a VCR, a color television), even if it means that they do without necessities and plunge into debt to buy these items.

    —Diana George, "Changing the Face of Poverty"

  • Before participating in the trials, Seeta and Ratna (not their real names) knew nothing about H.I.V.

    —Dara Mayers, "Our Bodies, Our Lives"

P-6d Brackets

Put brackets around words that you insert or change in a QUOTATION.

  • As Senator Reid explained, "She [Nancy Pelosi] realizes that you cannot make everyone happy."

If you are quoting a source that contains an error, put the Latin word sic in brackets after the error to indicate that the mistake is in the original source.

  • Warehouse has been around for 30 years and has 263 stores, suggesting a large fan base. The chain sums up its appeal thus: "styley [sic], confident, sexy, glamorous, edgy, clean and individual, with it's [sic] finger on the fashion pulse."

    —Anne Ashworth, "Chain Reaction: Warehouse"

P-6e Ellipses

Ellipses are three spaced dots that indicate an omission or a pause. Use ellipses to show that you have omitted words within a QUOTATION. If you omit a complete sentence or more in the middle of a quoted passage, put a period before the three dots.

  • The Lux ad's visual content . . . supports its verbal message. Several demure views of Irene Dunne emphasize her "pearly-smooth skin," the top one framed by a large heart shape. In all the photos, Dunne wears a feathery, feminine collar, giving her a birdlike appearance: she is a bird of paradise or an ornament. At the bottom of the ad, we see a happy Dunne being cuddled and admired by a man.
  • The Lux ad's visual content, like Resinol's, supports its verbal message. Several demure views of Irene Dunne emphasize her "pearly-smooth skin," the top one framed by a large heart shape. . . . At the bottom of the ad, we see a happy Dunne being cuddled and admired by a man.

    —Doug Lantry, "'Stay Sweet As You Are': An Analysis of Change and Continuity in Advertising Aimed at Women"

P-6f Slashes

In quoting two or three lines of poetry, use slashes to show where one line ends and the next begins. Put a space before and after each slash.

  • In the opening lines of the poem, he warns the reader to "Lift not the painted veil which those who live / Call Life" (1–2).

    —Stephanie Huff, "Metaphor and Society in Shelley's 'Sonnet'"

When you quote more than three lines of poetry, set them up as a BLOCK QUOTATION, MLA STYLE.

The chorus warns Oedipus,

We look at this man's words and yours, my king,
and we find both have spoken them in anger.
We need no angry words but only thought
how we may best hit the God's meaning for us. (446–449)




P-7 Hyphens

If your mother gives you much needed advice, has she given you a great deal of advice that you needed, or advice that you needed badly? What about a psychiatry experiment that used thirty five year old subjects: were there 35 subjects who were a year old? 30 subjects who were 5 years old? Or an unspecified number of 35-year-old subjects? In each case, hyphens could clear up the confusion. This section provides tips for when to use hyphens and when to omit them.

P-7a Compound Words

Compound words can be two words (ground zero), hyphenated (self-esteem), or one word (outsource). Check a dictionary, and if a compound word is not there, assume that it is two words.

Compound adjectives

A compound adjective is made up of two or more words. Most compound adjectives take a hyphen before a noun.

  • a well-known trombonist
  • a foul-smelling river

Do not use a hyphen to connect an -ly adverb and an adjective.

  • a carefully executed plan

A compound adjective after a noun is usually easy to read without a hyphen; insert a hyphen only if the compound is unclear without it.

  • The river has become foul smelling in recent years.
Prefixes and suffixes

A hyphen usually isn't needed after a prefix or before a suffix (preschool, antislavery, counterattack, catlike, citywide). However, hyphens are necessary in the following situations.

WITH GREAT-, SELF-, -ELECT: great-aunt, self-hate, president-elect

WITH CAPITAL LETTERS: anti-American, post-Soviet literature

WITH NUMBERS: post-9/11, the mid-1960s

TO AVOID DOUBLE AND TRIPLE LETTERS: anti-intellectualism, ball-like

TO CLARIFY MEANING: re-creation (a second creation) but recreation (play)

Numbers

Simple fractions and spelled-out numbers from 21 to 99 take hyphens.

  • three-quarters of their income
  • thirty-five-year-old subjects

P-7b At the End of a Line

Use a hyphen to divide a multisyllabic word that does not fit on one line. (A one-syllable word is never hyphenated.) Divide words between syllables as given in a dictionary, after a prefix, or before a suffix. Divide compound words between the parts of the compound if possible. Do not leave only one letter at the end or the beginning of a line.

op-er-a-tion

knot-ty

main-stream

Dividing Internet addresses

MLA STYLE suggests that you divide an Internet address only after a slash, with no hyphen (readers might think the hyphen is part of the address).




P-8 Capitalization

Capital letters are an important signal, either that a new sentence is beginning or that a specific person, place, or brand is being discussed. Capitalize Carol and it's clear that you're referring to a person; write carol, and readers will know you're writing about a song sung at Christmas. This section offers guidelines to help you know what to capitalize and when.

P-8a Proper Nouns and Common Nouns

Proper nouns begin with a capital letter, whereas common nouns begin with a lowercase letter.

PROPER NOUNS

COMMON NOUNS

Sanjay Gupta

a doctor

Senator Biden

a U.S. senator

Uncle Daniel

my uncle

France

a republic

Mississippi River

a river

the West Coast

a coast

Christianity

a religion

Allah

a god

the Torah

a sacred text

Central Intelligence Agency

an agency

U.S. Congress

the U.S. government

Ohio University

a university

Composition 101

a writing course

World War II

a war

July

summer

the Middle Ages

the fourteenth century

Kleenex

tissues

Adjectives derived from proper nouns, especially the names of people and places, are usually capitalized: Shakespearean, Swedish, Chicagoan. There are exceptions to this rule, however, such as french fries, roman numeral, and congressional. Consult your dictionary if you are unsure whether an adjective should be capitalized.

Many dictionaries capitalize the terms Internet, Net, and World Wide Web, but you'll see variations such as Website and website. Whether you capitalize or not, be consistent throughout a paper.

P-8b Titles before a Person's Name

A professional title is capitalized when it appears before a person's name but not when it appears after a proper noun or alone.

Senator Dianne Feinstein

Dianne Feinstein, the California senator

P-8c The First Word of a Sentence

Capitalize the first word of each sentence of your own and each quoted sentence, with one exception: when that introduces the quotation, you need not capitalize the first word.

  • Writing about the English language, George Orwell noted, "It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish."
  • Writing about the English language, George Orwell noted that "it becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish."
Interrupted quotations

Capitalize the second part of an interrupted quotation only if it begins a new sentence.

  • "It was just as nice," she sobbed, "as I hoped and dreamed it would be."

    —Joan Didion, "Marrying Absurd"

  • "On the newsstand, the cover is acting as a poster, an ad for what's inside," she said. "The loyal reader is looking for what makes the magazine exceptional."

    —Katharine Q. Seelye, "Lurid Numbers on Glossy Pages!"

P-8d Titles and Subtitles

Capitalize the first and last words and all other important words of a title and subtitle. Do not capitalize less important words such as ARTICLES, coordinating conjunctions, and PREPOSITIONS.

"Give Peace a Chance"

Vanity Fair

Naked Economics: Undressing the Dismal Science




P-9 Italics

Italic type tells us to read words a certain way. Think of the difference between fresh air and Fresh Air, or between time and Time. In each case, the italicized version tells us it's a specific radio show or magazine. This section provides guidelines on using italics in your writing.

P-9a Titles of Long Works

Titles and subtitles of long works should appear in italics (or underlined). A notable exception is sacred writing such as the Koran or the Old Testament.

BOOKS: The Norton Field Guide to Writing, War and Peace

PERIODICALS: Newsweek, Teen Vogue, College English

NEWSPAPERS: Los Angeles Times

PLAYS: Medea, Six Degrees of Separation

LONG POEMS: The Odyssey, Paradise Lost

FILMS AND VIDEOS: Good Night and Good Luck, Warplane

MUSICAL WORKS OR ALBUMS: The Four Seasons, Rubber Soul

RADIO AND TV SERIES: Fresh Air, Survivor

PAINTINGS, SCULPTURES: the Mona Lisa, Michelangelo's David

DANCES BY A CHOREOGRAPHER: Mark Morris's Gloria

SOFTWARE: Microsoft Visual Studio 6.0

SHIPS, SPACESHIPS: Queen Mary, Challenger

A short work, such as a short story, an article, an episode of a series, or a song, takes quotation marks.

P-9b Words as Words

Italicize a word you are discussing as a word. The same practice applies to numbers as numbers, letters as letters, and symbols as symbols.

  • In those 236 words, you will hear the word dedicate five times.

    —William Safire, "A Spirit Reborn"

  • Most American dictionaries call for one t in the word benefited.
  • All computer codes consist of some combination of 0's and 1's.

Some writers use quotation marks rather than italics to signal words discussed as words.

  • He asks me for my name and I supply it, rolling the double "r" in "Barrientos" like a pro.

    —Tanya Barrientos, "Se Habla Español"

P-9c Non-English Words

Use italics for an unfamiliar word or phrase in a language other than English. Do not italicize proper nouns.

  • Verstehen, a concept often associated with Max Weber, is the sociologist's attempt to understand human actions from the actor's point of view.

If the word or phrase has become part of everyday English or has an entry in English-language dictionaries, it does not need italics.

  • An ad hoc committee should be formed to assess the university's use of fossil fuels and ways to incorporate alternative energy sources.
  • The plot of Jane Eyre follows the conventions of a bildungsroman, or a coming-of-age story.

P-9d For Emphasis

You can use italics occasionally to lend emphasis to a word or phrase, but do not overuse them.

  • It is, perhaps, as much what Shakespeare did not write as what he did that seems to indicate something seriously wrong with his marriage.

    —Stephen Greenblatt, "Shakespeare on Marriage"

  • Despite a physical beauty that had ... hordes of teenage girls (and a few boys) dreaming of touching his hair just once, Depp escaped from the Hollywood star machine.

    —Sean Smith, "Johnny Depp"




P-10 Abbreviations

MTV. USA. OC. DNA. fwiw. D.I.Y. These are some common abbreviations, shortcuts to longer words and phrases. This section will help you use abbreviations appropriately in academic writing.

You can use common abbreviations such as DNA, NAFTA, and HIV in academic writing if you are sure your readers will recognize them. If your readers might not be familiar with an abbreviation, include the full name the first time with the abbreviation in parentheses immediately after. Throughout the rest of the paper, you can use the abbreviations alone.

  • In a recent press release, officials from the international organization Médicins Sans Frontières (MSF) stressed the need for more effective tuberculosis drugs.

P-10a With Names

Most titles are abbreviated when they're used before or after a name.

Mr. Ed Stanford

Ed Stanford, Jr.

Dr. Ralph Lopez

Ralph Lopez, MD

Prof. Susan Miller

Susan Miller, PhD

Do not abbreviate job titles that are not attached to a name.

NOT: The RN who worked with trauma victims specialized in cardiac care.
BUT: The nurse who worked with trauma victims specialized in cardiac care.

P-10b With Numbers

The following abbreviations can be used when attached to a number.

632 BC ("before Christ")
344 BCE ("before the common era")
AD 800 ("anno Domini")
800 CE ("common era")
10:30 AM (or a.m.)
7:00 PM (or p.m.)

Notice that BC, BCE, and CE follow the date, AD precedes the date. Remember that the above abbreviations cannot be used without a date or time.

NOT: By early p.m., all prospective subjects for the experiment had checked in.
BUT: By early afternoon, all prospective subjects for the experiment had checked in.

P-10c In Notes and Documentation

Abbreviations such as etc., i.e., and et al. are not acceptable in the body of a paper but are acceptable in footnotes or endnotes, in-text documentation, and bibliographies.




P-11 Numbers

Numbers may be written with numerals or words: 97 percent or ninety-seven percent. This section presents general rules for when to use numerals and when to spell numbers out.

Spell out numbers and fractions that you can write in one or two words (thirteen, thirty-seven, thirty thousand, two-thirds). Any number at the beginning of a sentence should be spelled out as well.

NOT: Yohji Yamamoto designed 75 pieces for his first Paris collection.
BUT: Yohji Yamamoto designed seventy-five pieces for his first Paris collection.
NOT: Exceeding expectations, the number of journalists there approached 10,000.
BUT: Exceeding expectations, the number of journalists there approached ten thousand.
NOT: 110 pieces for a collection struck the fashion editors as excessive.
BUT: A collection of 110 pieces struck the fashion editors as excessive.

Use numerals if you cannot express a number in one or two words.

NOT: He designed one hundred ten pieces for his first Paris collection.
BUT: He designed 110 pieces for his first Paris collection.
NOT: Among the attendees were thirty-five hundred American design students.
BUT: Among the attendees were 3,500 American design students.

For very large numbers that include a fraction or decimal, use a combination of numerals and words.

  • One of the larger retailers had sold more than 4.5 million of its basic T-shirts the previous year.

In addition, always use numerals in the following situations.

ADDRESSES: 500 Broadway, 107 175th Street

DATES: December 26, 2012; 632 BCE; the 1990s

DECIMALS AND FRACTIONS: 59.5, 59½

PARTS OF WRITTEN WORKS: volume 2; chapter 5; page 82; act 3, scene 3

PERCENTAGES: 66 percent (or 66%)

RATIOS: 16:1 or 16 to 1

STATISTICS: a median age of 32



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