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Spelling and Usage

For answers to other questions of style and spelling, consult the AP Stylebook or Webster’s New World Dictionary. If Webster’s offers an alternate spelling of a word, always check AP to see if there is a preference.

Use the article an in front of words that sound as if they begin with a vowel regardless of how they are spelled. You would say: It is an honor to be here today. (It sounds as if honor should be spelled AWN-or.) Or, if you already know this rule, you could say: This is a useless exercise. (Hear the “y” sound in “useless”?)

accommodate (two “c’s,” two “m’s”)

acknowledgment and judgment (no “e” after “g”)

adviser preferred to advisor

affect: to have an influence on; effect: to bring about. Ninety-nine times out of 100, if the word you use is a verb, spell it with an “a,” and if it is a noun, spell it with an “e.”

African-American is two hyphenated words. (She is an African-American student.)

afterward (no “s” at the end)

all ready (everyone is prepared: all are ready) and already (completed action)

Alumnus is the singular reference for a male graduate; alumna, the singular reference for a female graduate; alumni, the plural reference to a mixed group of male and female graduates or male graduates only; alumnae, the plural reference for female graduates only.

Use a.m. and p.m. and do not include o’clock. Designate noon or midnight, rather than 12 a.m. or 12 p.m.

Attorney is used only when referring to the representative of a client, otherwise lawyer.

Barbecue, not barbeque or BBQ or Bar-B-Q

between when referring to two things, among when referring to more than two

canceled, canceling, cancellation (AP’s preferences)

capital for the city, capitol for the building

catalog, not catalogue

cemetery (the vowels are “e’s”)

Hyphenate co- when the prefix is part of a word indicating occupation, as in co-worker, co-owner. Do not hyphenate when the letter “o” is doubled, as in cooperate and coordinate.

course work, not coursework

disabled, not handicapped

Doctorate is a noun and doctoral is an adjective.

embarrass (two “r’s” and two “s’s”)

email (not e-mail)

Fax is not a proper noun and should be used upper and lowercase as appropriate.

freshman (adj.): the freshman enrollment (never, the freshmen enrollment)

fundraising, fundraiser (one word in all cases)

grade point ratio, not grade-point ratio

harass (only one “r”)

health care

Do not precede Inc. with a comma. (J.C. Penney Co. Inc. announced . . .)

indiscreet (meaning imprudent); indiscrete (meaning separated into parts)

in regard to (never, in regards to) but, he sends his regards

international students, not foreign students

It’s is a contraction that means “it is” or “it has.” Its means “belonging to it.” Whenever you must choose one or another in a sentence, try inserting the phrase “it is” or “it has.” If one of those pairs makes sense, then use “it’s.”

kickoff (noun or adjective), kick off (verb)

lay (transitive, requires an object): I lay the book on the bed; past tense: I laid the book on the bed.

lie (intransitive): I lie in bed; past tense: I lay in bed.

livable (no “e” as in “live”)

less when describing an amount that cannot be counted, fewer when describing a number:

  • He was less agreeable to the plan than she was.
  • Fewer than 12 students attended the seminar

Lowcountry (for the Charleston area of the state) not Low Country

principal (meaning primary or major, as in the title of the high-ranking school official; also financial — the face value of a stock or bond)

principle (a fundamental law or doctrine)

résumé as shown here, not resume or resumé

theater unless the proper name is theatre

  • Theater students frequent the Brooks Theatre.

toward (no “s”)

URL (do not include the www. when using the address

website, not Web site

-wide, no hyphen (campuswide, Universitywide)

workforce, not work force

workplace, not work place

workstation, not work station


Passive voice: The dean appointed John Jones; not, John Jones was appointed.

The longer of two similar words: use (not utilize), competence (not competency).

Sexist language: Avoid using he or she where possible, and do not use he/she. Write, “The president and a representative...” not “The president and his/her representative ...” Other avoidance techniques include pluralizing he and she to they, or substituting a common noun.

The split infinitive:

  • He was told to quickly process the papers.
  • He was told to process the papers quickly. (preferred)

The dangling participle:

  • Straddling the Arizona-New Mexico border, the archaeologist found a string of ancient pueblo ruins. (Was the archaeologist straddling the border?)
  • The archaeologist found a string of ancient pueblo ruins straddling the Arizona-New Mexico border. (better)