Capital letters are used in the following ways:
- With the first word of a sentence, of a line of traditional poetry, and of direct speech
It was the coldest March they’d had in years.
I wander through each chartered street,
Near where the chartered Thames does flow,
And mark in every face I meet
Marks of weakness, marks of woe.
(London, William Blake, 1794)
“What is over there,” Marie asked, “but the bar?” Then she added, “Those guys over there by the pool table haven’t a hope of ever finding work around here.” (Note the capital T beginning Those guys . . .)
- For names of persons, languages, nationalities, and religions
(names of persons)
Peter, Paul and Mary was the name of an American folk trio popular in the 60s.
French and English are the two official languages of Canada.
Although Rohit is Indian and a Hindu, he can’t speak Hindi.
In Canada, the Roman Catholic Church adopted gender-neutral language for its literature several years ago.
- For titles of people but not positions
Prime Minister Trudeau was an astute statesman.
He had never imagined that he would become a prime minister.
Lord Beaverbrook was much criticized in his day.
- For points of the compass when referring to a specific region but not when referring to a direction
He loved the stark, clean beauty of the North.
When she was down South, she would often visit the old plantations that
were east of where she was living.
The Far East has captured many a writer’s imagination.
I’m just going north, anywhere north, for my vacation.
- For the names of days, months, national holidays, and religious celebrations
Sunday, January, Christmas, Yom Kippur, Ramadan Ash Wednesday, etc.
- For the names of historical periods and events
the Dark Ages, the Pliocene Epoch, the French Revolution, the Vietnam War, the Battle of Waterloo, etc.
- For names of specific organizations
the House of Commons, the Liberal Party, the Department of Trade and Industry, the United Nations, the Writers’ Guild, Boy Scouts, Knights of Columbus, etc.
- For religious terms, deities, and sacred texts
the Bible, Allah, Buddha, the Virgin Mary, Holy Communion, the Eucharist, the Koran, etc.
- For names of studies when they are derived from proper nouns or when they are titles of specific courses
He did well in Spanish but failed math and history.
I was never much interested in chemistry and am surprised that Chemistry 269 should be my favourite course.
- For personifications
“Shall I believe that insubstantial Death is amorous?” (Romeo and Juliet, 5. 3. 102-103)
It often seemed to Tasha that her Muse was as skittish and coquettish as a thoroughbred mare.
- For titles of books, newspapers, magazines, periodicals, plays, television programmes, films, works of art, music, and for names of ships, spacecraft and aircraft.
Sharon was determined to tour the shipping yard where the Titanic had been built.
The biggest selling print this year was Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss.
The apostrophe is used in the following ways:
To indicate possession
Note: People often can’t decide whether something is possessive or plural. If the word in question can be replaced by a possessive pronoun, then ’s is required—i.e., it is possessive. For example, should it be “the authors words” or “the author’s words”? It can be re-worded to “his words”, so author’s is required.
- use ’s with the possessive form of singular nouns
the girl’s dress
the woman’s eyes
the Smith’s address
the book’s binding
the moon’s glow
- use ’s with the possessive form of indefinite pronouns
no one’s shoes
- use ’s with plural nouns that do not end in s
the children’s room
the men’s wives
the women’s washroom
the sheep’s pasture
- use ’s with compound nouns
someone else’s fault
his brother-in-law’s apartment
my step-sister’s guitar
each other’s names
sisters-in-law’s birthdays (note that sisters is plural)
- use ’s with the last noun in nouns of joint possession:
Jill and Bob’s acreage is east of the city. (There is one acreage, and it belongs to
both Jill and Bob.)
Jill’s and Bob’s acreages are east of the city. (There
are two—or more—acreages, and they belong to Jill and Bob
Andy and Mark’s boats are moored at Lake Wabamum. (There
are several boats, and they belong to both Andy and Mark.)
Andy’s and Mark’s boats are moored at Lake Wabamum. (There
are two—or more—boats, and they belong to Andy and Mark
- use s’ with plural nouns ending in s
the girls’ dresses
the families’ concerns
the trees’ branches
the birds’ diet
the civil servants’ argument
To indicate the omission of a letter or letters, or a number
- use an apostrophe with contracted verb forms
||(I will/I shall)
||(he is/he has)
- use an apostrophe to indicate the omission of a letter, letters, or a word
||(of the clock)
- use an apostrophe to indicate the omission of a number
March 10, ’95
the summer of ’64
They discovered gold in ’36.
- use an apostrophe to indicate dialect speech (it indicates a letter/sound that is omitted)
“By gosh, I do ’njoy huntin’ and shootin’!” cried his lordship.
(By gosh, I do enjoy hunting and shooting” . . .)
“Ah ain’t goin’ t’ da pahdy wi’ Tom,” he drawled. (I’m not going to the party with Tom)
To conform to Modern Language Association (MLA) style
- use ’s with the plurals of letters but not with the plurals of numbers, abbreviations, or words used as words
Mind your p’s and q’s.
The committee must remember to dot its i’s before submitting
its proposal for approval by the Board.
He never closes his o’s, so they often look like u’s.
- no ’s
His 4s and 7s look the same.
Marianne is in her 40s.
In the 1920s, Europe was keeping a wary eye on events in Russia.
Abbreviations & Acronyms
- no ’s
Peter can boast a Ph.D, two M.A.s and three B.A.s.
The NCOs are meeting for drinks in the club tonight.
- no ’s
His essay is full of therefores, howevers, and moreovers, all of which are used incorrectly.
“And I don’t want any more of your ifs, ands, or buts,” said his mother.
The hyphen is used in the following ways:
- To form compound words that are recognized as compounds but have not become
accepted as single words
- To join words that are used as a single adjective before a noun My three-year-old daughter has a mind of her own.
He’s the new blue-eyed darling of Hollywood.
The nineteenth-century archeologist did not have the advantage of technology
that the modern-day archeologist has.
Students should keep an up-to-date dictionary at hand.
The new president promises a value-driven approach to his position.
- With affixes and words to avoid awkwardness and misreading I’m going to have the wheels of the car re-aligned.
This cup has a shell-like feel to it.
He finds that a swim at the end of the day re-energizes him.
Revenue Canada re-assessed our 1994 tax return and reckoned that we owed
- With the prefixes self-, all-, ex-, well-,
and with the suffix -elect Lack of self-esteem is the cause of all our ills
according to this article.
Omniscient means all-seeing and omnipotent means all-powerful.
Her ex-husband has remarried.
He and his new wife are well-suited.
The president-elect is expected to purge the administration of incompetent
and corrupt managers.
- To form compound numbers (21-99) and to indicate fractions
Twenty-one used to be the age of passage.
Two-thirds of the audience raised their hands when asked whether they would
like to organize a local chapter.
A one-and-a-half kilo bag of sugar cost me $1.50.
- Between syllables to indicate that the word is continued on the next line
Because these metals are rare and useful, they are ex-
A prime minister can request but not demand a dis-
solution of Parliament.
The university should plan and budget for, and be com-
mitted to, a three-semester run of the course.
Note: Single syllable words cannot be hyphenated in this way, nor can a syllable be split mid-syllable.
Lasers have not been able to take scientists into the re-
alm of hard x-rays.
In Angola, the government and the insurgents si-
gned a peace agreement.
I enjoyed The Piano; there was one scene I found memo-
For handwritten manuscripts, indicate italics by underlining.
Only manuscripts that are printed use italic script.
Italics are used in the following ways:
- To emphasize a word or phrase
We want government of the people, by the people, and for the people.
I have only one rule: never, under any circumstances,
presume to give me your advice.
What he says he’s going to do and what he actually does are two entirely different things.
- For titles of books, newspapers, magazines, periodicals, plays, television
programmes, films, works of art, music, and for names of ships, spacecraft
For Christmas, my brother gave me a year’s
subscription to The New Yorker.
Surely the Concorde was the most elegantly designed of all aircraft.
Laura had never cared for Humphrey Bogart so hadn’t seen Casablanca.
- For letters and numbers as words in themselves
Like most Japanese, he can’t distinguish between
the sounds l and r.
I’m sure it’s age that’s causing me to suddenly confuse 6s and 9s.
The researchers listened to tape-recordings to measure the frequency with
which s (as in he likes/she likes)
was used by different social classes. (Trudgill, 44)
- For setting off words used as words (quotation marks can also be used in
Nothing pleased Arnold so much as using old English
words such as barm, dank, and faffing.
To help EFL students with pronunciation, the teacher did a minimal-pairs
exercise with words like it-eat, bit-beat, lick-leak,
and so on.
Awful has completely changed in usage and meaning in the last hundred
years, as has the word terrific.
- For foreign words and phrases that have not become naturalized in English,
and also for the Latin scientific names of plants and animals
He’d already had several deja vu experiences
since arriving in Milan.
Small bindweed (convolvulus arvensis) can often be discovered growing
in abandoned parking lots.
Slit jeans and holey black tights are de rigueur for the high school
Abbreviations and Acronyms
Many abbreviations are becoming increasingly acceptable
in every kind of writing. The extent to which a writer uses abbreviations depends
on the field and audience for which he or she is writing.
Students writing expository prose for an English course are advised to check
with their instructor/marker as to which abbreviations he or she accepts.
The following abbreviations are generally permitted in formal writing:
|—and so forth (Latin et
—for example (Latin exempli gratia)
—that is (Latin id est)
—bachelor of arts degree
—master of arts degree
—doctor of philosophy degree
—Union of Soviet Socialist Republics
—the United States of America
—before noon (Latin ante meridiem)
—after noon (Latin post meridiem)
—miles per hour
Acronyms are permitted for the names of agencies, organizations, corporations,
and people normally referred to by their initials. The first reference should
make it clear what the acronym stands for: for example, “The YWCA (Young
Women’s Christian Association) has put in a new fitness centre.”
||YWCA, UN, IRA
||IBM, CBC, BBC
||JFK, FDR, JR
Whether a writer uses words or figures in his or her writing depends on the
conventions of the field for which the writer is writing. Students are advised
to observe writings from different fields, to check in style manuals published
for those fields, and to remain consistent with whatever conventions they
choose. Needless to say, students writing a paper for an English course will
use more words than figures than will a student writing a paper for a science
The following conventions are guidelines for students writing expository
- For numbers less than one hundred and for numbers requiring no more than two words
Despite the million he had tucked away, Mullins wouldn’t
part with a dime, let alone the thousand his daughter needed to get into
Research shows that babies of women who smoke more than twenty cigarettes
a day during pregnancy weigh, on average, six ounces less than the babies
of women who do not smoke.
In those days, having six children was considered normal.
- For numbers used at the beginning of a sentence
Eighty-five dollars was a lot for a horse in those
Two hundred and sixteen airmen dropped to their deaths that night.
Seven and four are considered lucky numbers in many cultures.
- For dates and addresses
|July 1, 1867
10 March, 196
1485 - 1509
4 B.C. - 30 A.D.
|87 Orchard Drive
R. R. 3, T6K 4W6
P.O. Box 1000
Apt. 106, 9105 - 106 St.
- For exact measurements
Act, scene, and line numbers: Coriolanus, 1.6. 32-39
Decimals: .01 6.4 17.012
Exact amounts of money: $2.48 $197.80 $6.07
Identification numbers: Channel
13 Highway 2 SIN 249-216-293
Mixed numbers and fractions: 1¾ 32½ 5¼
Numbers followed by symbols or abbreviations: 10
cu. ft. 20 sq. yds. 740 Hz
Percentages: 50% 26% 94%
Scores, statistics, ratios, etc.: Odds
of 10-1 score of 3-2 ratio of 1:33
Times: 8:40 2.20 but six o’clock
Volume, chapter, and page numbers: Volume
2 Chapter 4 page 160
Contracted Verb Forms
Contracted verb forms are the norm in spoken and informal written English.
However, in academic writing, contracted forms should be avoided. It is never
wrong to use full verb forms in formal, expository prose.
If the government had taken heed of earlier research,
the fish-stocks would not have become so depleted. (formal)
If the government’d taken heed of earlier research, the fish-stocks wouldn’t’ve
become so depleted. (informal)
The communitarian movement is not a political party like the Green Party; it
is an informal association of like-minded people. (formal)
The communitarian movement’s not a political party like the Green Party;
it’s an informal association of like-minded people. (informal)
The coordinator will be submitting a report which will provide details of her
role in the project. (formal)
The coordinator’ll be submitting a report which’ll provide details
of her role in the project. (informal)
Errors with Contracted Verbs
Beware of phonetic spelling. We are very used to hearing, but many of us
are not so used to seeing, contracted verb forms.
They would have left the party had their car
They would’ve left the party had their car started. (informal)
They would of left the party had their car started. (incorrect)
Without the tutor, Sheila would not have passed the course. (formal)
Without the tutor, Sheila wouldn’t’ve passed the course. (informal)
Without the tutor, Sheila wouldn’t of passed the course. (incorrect)
If I had known you were coming, I would have prepared something. (formal)
If I’d known you were coming, I’d’ve prepared something. (informal)
If I’d of known you were coming, I’d’of prepared something. (incorrect)
You should not have lied. (formal)
You shouldn’t’ve lied. (informal)
You shouldn’t of lied. (incorrect)