Garbl's Writing Center
cache, cachet Sometimes misused or confused nouns. A cache (pronounced "cash") is "a hidden supply of weapons, valuables and other things"; "a secret place for hiding things"; and "memory for computer data." A cachet (pronounced "ca-shay") is "a quality that people admire," "an official seal," and "a commemorative mark."
CAD An acronym for computer-aided design. Spell out on first reference.
calendar Commonly misspelled.
call letters Use all caps when referring to TV and radio stations and networks. Use hyphens to separate the type of station or network from the basic call letters: KMTT-FM, KIRO-AM, KING-TV, CBS-TV. Don't italize call letters or put them in quotation marks. Use these formats for other types of stations that mix numbers and letters: WXY12, N3OPQ. See channel, citizens band, station.
callous, callus Sometimes confused. Callous is an adjective meaning "hardened and uncaring of others' suffering." Callus is a noun for "an area of hard, thick skin."
calvary, cavalry Often confused. Capitalized, Calvary is "the place where Jesus was crucified." Lowercased, calvary is "an outdoor depiction of the crucifixion" and "an experience involving intense suffering." Cavalry is a noun for "military troops on horseback or in armored vehicles."
camaraderie Commonly misspelled. Don't confuse with spelling of comrade.
cancel, canceled, canceling, cancellation Commonly misspelled.
can, could Use can to express certainty or willingness in being able to do something. Use could when there's less certainty or when doing something depends on something else. See can, may below; may, might; will, would.
can, may Commonly confused. Use can when writing about capability, physical or mental ability, or the power to do something. Use may when writing about authorization or permission and sometimes possibility: They can finish the report by November. May we have an extra month to finish the report? You may lead the horse to water, but you can't make it drink. May is almost always the correct word to use in a question. See can, could above; may, might.
cannon, canon Often confused. A cannon is a "a large, mounted piece of artillery; a big gun." A canon is "a law of a church," "an accepted rule or principle of behavior," and "a set of literary works."
cannot One word.
canvas, canvass Sometimes confused or misspelled. A canvas is "a heavy, closely woven, coarse cloth used for tents, sails, bags, oil paintings and other things." To canvass is "to examine or discuss something (like votes) in detail," "to go through an area asking people for votes or opinions," and "to sell something house to house."
capacity See ability, capability, capacity.
capital, capitol Often confused or misspelled. Capital is a city, the seat of government. Do not capitalize: Salem is the capital of Oregon. Capital city is redundant. Capital also refers to money. Capitol is the building in which the U.S. Congress or the state Legislature meets. Capitalize U.S. Capitol and the Capitol when writing about the building in Washington, D.C., and do the same when writing about state capitols: The California Capitol is in Sacramento. Capitol building is redundant. See Capitol Hill.
capitalization Rule No. 1: Use capital letters to begin proper nouns, sentences, headings, some abbreviations and acronyms, and the important words in composition titles. Proper nouns are the particular names of people, places and things. Rule No. 2: Do not capitalize the first letter of a word (or words in a phrase) simply to highlight it or because you or someone else think it's an important word. Excessive, arbitrary capitalization distracts the reader and hinders reading.
Check this or another style manual for capitalization of a particular word or type of word. If not listed there, check your dictionary. And if still in doubt, lowercase.
Except for acronyms and some abbreviations, avoid capitalizing all the letters in a word, sentence, heading, headline or phrase--including brand names, logos and trademarks. For emphasis, try other typographical uses instead, such as boldfacing, italics,color,type sizeand different butcomplementary typefaces. Also see headlines, headings; underlining.
Capitalization of abbreviations and acronyms varies. For guidance, see abbreviations and acronyms, entries in this style guide for specific words and terms, and your dictionary. Although the abbreviation or acronym is capitalized for some common or generic nouns and terms, lowercase the spelled-out form; for example, see environmental impact statement.
Capitalize the first word of every sentence, heading and headline, including quoted statements and direct questions. Even if a person, business or organization begins its name with a lowercase letter, capitalize the first letter of the name at the beginning of sentences, headings and headlines: Gary de Shazo won the design award. De Shazo expressed appreciation for the support of his colleagues. Also see composition titles.
Capitalize proper nouns that specifically name a person, place or thing, unless a person, business or organization requests a lowercase first letter. If a name begins with a lowercase letter, capitalize the first letter of the name at the beginning of sentences and headlines.
Capitalize common nouns such as party, river and street when they are an integral part of the full name for a person, place or thing: Ballinger Street, Rheinard River, Queens County, Democratic Party, Puget Sound. Lowercase those common nouns when they stand alone in later references: the party, the river, the county, the street, the sound.
Lowercase common noun elements of names in all plural uses: Democratic and Republican parties, Ackley and Messer streets, 154th and 156th avenues southeast. But don't lowercase the common nouns when the form is not plural: Your sister can catch a bus on First or Third Avenue.
Capitalize the proper names of nationalities, peoples, races, tribes and so on: African American, American Indians, Arab, Asian, Jewish, Latino, Muckleshoot, Tulalip, Puyallup. Lowercase black, white, red and so on. See race.
Organizations should adopt specific capitalization guidelines for their governing boards, facilities, job titles and descriptions, organizational structure, and programs, projects and plans. It's efficient to develop styles consistent with a standard, readily available, published reference source. For recommended capitalization guidelines, check individual items in this style manual or see the items below: committees, facilities, job titles and descriptions, organizational structure, and programs, projects and plans.
carat, caret, carrot, karat Often confused or misspelled. A carat is "a unit for measuring the weight of jewels," while a karat is "the unit for measuring the purity of gold." A caret is "a mark [like this > symbol but pointing up] used in editing and proofreading to show where something is to be inserted." A carrot is "a long, thick, orange vegetable."
cardiopulmonary resuscitation See CPR.
careen, career Sometimes confused verbs. To careen is "to lean or tilt sideways, especially a ship in high winds or on a beach for cleaning and repairs" and "to sway or lurch from side to side." To career is "to move at full speed ahead, to rush wildly."
carpool One word. It may be used as a noun, verb or adjective: Her neighbors formed a carpool to save gas and money. They carpooled to work to save gas and money. She requested some carpool information. See high-occupancy, vanpool.
car wash Two words.
cast The past tense of this verb is also cast, not casted.
catalog, catalogue Both are correct, but catalog is commonly preferred.
catch-22 Sometimes misused. A catch-22 is not any simple catch, or any tricky situation with a hidden complication. From the excellent antiwar novel of the same name by Joseph Heller, a catch-22 is an absurd or paradoxical situation in which the desired outcome is impossible because of built-in illogical rules: The experienced editor couldn't get promoted to supervisor because he didn't have any experience as a supervisor.
catchup, catsup See ketchup.
category Overstated. Simplify. Try replacing with group.
cavalry See calvary, cavalry.
CB See citizens band.
CBD See central business district.
CD-ROM Acronym for compact disc read-only memory. The acronym is acceptable on first use. CD-ROM disc is redundant.
cease, seize Sometimes misused. To cease is "to bring something to an end." To seize is to "take hold of something or someone suddenly and forcibly," "capture a place or assume control using force," "confiscate," or "take initiative eagerly." The saying is seize the day, not cease the day. Also, cease is overstated and formal. Simplify. Try stop, end or finish instead.
ceiling Sometimes misused. Before using this word, look up. You're looking at the ceiling. As the upper limit on something, ceiling is also a useful metaphor for maximum or limit: a ceiling on taxi rates. You can raise a ceiling, lower it or even remove it. But you could mangle a ceiling if you try increasing it, decreasing it or waiving it. See target.
cellphone, cellular phone, cellular telephone Cellphone (one word) is acceptable on first reference. Also, smartphone is one word.
Celsius Use this term instead of centigrade for the temperature scale that is part of the metric system. Spell out and capitalize on first reference. The abbreviation C (capitalized, no period) may be used on second reference with a numeral: The temperature dropped to 5 C Monday night. See Fahrenheit, temperatures.
cement, concrete Often confused. Cement is dry, powdery ingredient of concrete. Concrete--a mixture of cement, water and sand or gravel--is used to form pavement, blocks, walls, driveways, sidewalks and so on.
cemetery Commonly misspelled. Memory aid: Almost every other letter is an e.
center around Illogical and redundant. Substitute on, in or at for around, or use revolve around. Avoid center upon.
center stage Cliche. Omit, or try prominent, center of attention or focus of interest instead.
cents Spell out and lowercase cents using figures for amounts less than a dollar. Use the $ sign and decimal system for larger amounts: 33 cents, $2.04, $3.47. Do not use zeros if there are no cents: $8, not $8.00. Avoid using the cent symbol: Â¢. But if you must use it, be careful not to use the redundant .33Â¢ or $.33Â¢. See dollars.
CEO Abbreviation for chief executive officer. Acceptable on first use before a name or standing alone, if spelled out somewhere in a document. Spell out less familiar chief operating officer and chief financial officer.
chair, chairman, chairperson, chairwoman Use chair as the title for the heads of councils and committees, unless the person in the position prefers chairman, chairwoman or chairperson. Capitalize as a formal title before a name. Do not capitalize as a casual, temporary position.
chaise longue Sometimes misspelled (and mispronounced). It's French for "long chair," with a back support and seat long enough to support outstretched legs. Don't spell it chaise lounge (And don't pronounce it "chase lounge." Say "shayz long.")
changeable Commonly misspelled
changeover One word, no hyphen.
chapter Capitalize when used with a number to name a section of a book or legal code: Chapter 11. Lowercase when standing alone.
character Commonly misspelled.
charts, tables Charts and tables are useful in reports to present information concisely. Abbreviations not typically used in text are acceptable in charts and graphs because of limited space. But abbreviations must still be clear to the reader and consistently used. Also, charts and graphs should have titles. Capitalize the first letter of proper nouns and key words in the titles and headings of charts and tables. Type styles and formats used in charts should be consistent throughout a publication. When using several charts or tables, assign numbers. When mentioning a chart or table in the text, capitalize the word chart or table and use the numeral: As Table 6 shows, traffic congestion has gotten worse since they built the football stadium.
chat room Two words.
chauvinism Sometimes misused or confused. It used to mean only "excessive, unreasoning, or blind devotion to one's country, a fanatical patriotism." But it's now commonly applied to excessive pride in a person's group, race or sex, especially males. If you must use this derogatory word, be clear about whom or what you're describing.
check in (v.), check-in (n. and adj.)
check out (v.), checkout (n. and adj.)
check up (v.), checkup (n.)
Chicano See Hispanic, Latino.
chief Capitalize as an official job title before a name: Facility Maintenance Chief Suzanne Zentin. Lowercase when used alone or after a name between commas: She called Leif Elliott, customer services chief, about the complaint. See titles.
chief executive officer See CEO.
child care, child-care Hyphenate as an adjective: He uses a child-care agency in downtown Olympia. Don't hyphenate as a noun: He searched everywhere for the best child care.
childish, childlike Sometimes confused or misused adjectives for describing behavior typical of children. Use childish to describe unfavorable qualities like immature and silly. Use childlike to describe favorable qualities like sweet, innocent and trusting.
children Usually, use first names on second reference for children 15 or younger. For older children, the last name is usually suitable. Although it may not assure mature behavior, treat people 18 and older as adults; use their last names on second reference.
children's The apostrophe always goes before the s when showing the possessive: the Children's Home Society. Don't use childrens' (with the apostrophe after the s); children is already plural.
Chinook, chinook salmon Capitalize Chinook for the Native American people of the Columbia River valley and the spoken tribal language. Lowercase chinook salmon (unless it's the first word in a sentence or in a title). See fish.
choice between, choose between When between follows choice or choose, use and, not or, between the choices: The students had a choice between taking a midterm exam and finishing another homework assignment. We had to choose between a helicopter ride and a catamaran ride.
chord, cord Often misused nouns. A chord is "a combination of three or more musical notes played at the same time." A cord is "a piece of wire covered with plastic for carrying electricity," "a measure of wood cut for fuel," "a ribbed cloth," "a piece of thick string or thin rope," and "a part of the anatomy resembling a cord": vocal cords.
Christmas See holidays.
cities and towns Capitalize the names of cities and towns in all uses. Capitalize city as part of a proper name: New York City, Kansas City.
Lowercase city when used as an adjective or noun: the city budget, mayor of the city. Capitalize city when mentioning the proper name of a governmental unit: He worked for the City of Kennewick. But lowercase city--or omit the redundant city of--when naming cities in other uses: They visited the city of Edmonds. They visited Edmonds.
Lowercase general descriptions such as north Seattle. Capitalize widely recognized names for the sections of a city: Laurelhurst, Magnolia, West Seattle, Rainier Beach and the University District.
citizen A citizen is a person who has the full civil rights of a nation through birth or naturalization. Cities and states in the United States do not grant citizenship. Use resident to include noncitizens as inhabitants of states, cities and communities. See public.
city council Capitalize when part of a proper name: The Langley City Council scheduled a meeting. Also capitalize if the name of the city is clear: The City Council passed a motion. Lowercase in other uses: the council, the Langley and Coupeville city councils.
citywide One word.
class See collective nouns.
claim Avoid using as a verb to mean "said" unless asserting something as a fact or belief that could be open to question. Otherwise, use said.
clean bill of health Cliche. Try good report, good condition, doing well, fine, healthy or strong instead.
clean up (v.), cleanup (n. and adj.) The cleanup lasted three months. It took three months to clean up the river. Also, think about dropping up from clean up.
cliche William Safire, Fumblerules, 1990: "Last but not least, avoid cliches like the plague." And if you must use a cliche, don't put quotation marks around it.
climate change The preferred term for the effects of greenhouse gases on Earth because it includes extreme weather, storms and changes in rainfall patterns, ocean acidification, and sea level. Though commonly used, global warming is less scientifically accurate.
The vast majority of peer-reviewed studies, science organizations, and climate scientists have determined that Earth is warming, mostly because of rising levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Most of the increase in temperature comes from human sources, including the burning of coal, oil and natural gas; deforestation; and livestock raising.
Use climate change deniers to describe people who don't accept climate science or dispute that the world is warming from human forces. Weaker, alternative terms are climate change doubters and people who reject mainstream climate science. Avoid use of climate change skeptics; scientists in many fields may consider themselves skeptics as a matter of practice.
climatic, climactic Occasionally confused adjectives. Use climatic when describing the climate or changes in the weather. Use climactic when describing a climax, key dramatic moment or highest point.
climb down, climb up Climb up is usually redundant, and climb down seems illogical. So use climb alone to mean "going up" and climb down as an acceptable idiom for "going down." Both terms are preferable to the formal ascend and descend.
close proximity Redundant and wordy. Simplify. Use near or close to instead. Also, closeness and nearness are both preferred to the formal proximity.
clothes Sometimes misspelled as the soundalike close. Memory aid: Clothes are made of cloth, which wears a th.
co- Hyphenate when forming nouns, adjectives or verbs that show occupation or status: co-host, co-pilot, co-signer, co-worker. Omit the hyphen in other combinations, including coordinate, coordination, cooperate, cooperation, cooperative. See prefixes.
coast Lowercase when writing about the physical shoreline: Atlantic coast, Pacific coast. High winds battered the Atlantic coast. Capitalize when writing about regions of the United States lying along such shorelines: The Atlantic Coast states all supported the Democratic candidate. The Pacific Coast states all had sunny weather.
Do not capitalize when writing about smaller regions: She loves the Oregon coast in November.
coed Don't use the outdated, sexist coed (or co-ed) as a noun to refer to a female student. Coed and coeducational are fine as adjectives to note that both sexes are involved.
coliform bacteria Bacteria common to the intestinal tract of people, other mammals and soil. Always lowercase.
collaborate, corroborate Occasionally confused verbs. To collaborate means "to work together for a special purpose" and "to cooperate with an enemy." To corroborate means "to confirm one statement by referring to another statement."
collectible This spelling more often preferred than collectable. Both spellings carry the same meaning.
collective nouns Collective nouns name a group or collection of people, places, things, ideas, actions or qualities, including board, class, committee, crowd, family, group, herd, jury, panel, public, orchestra, staff, team. Nouns that show a unit take singular verbs and pronouns: The board is electing its committee chairs. The crowd is eager to march. To stress individuals in a group, use members of: Staff members answered questions. Some members of the panel left before lunch. See it.
Some nouns are both singular and plural in meaning, including corps, chassis, deer, fat, fish, grease, moose, oil, public, sediment, sheep, soil, water and waste. The use of a singular or plural verb in a particular sentence conveys the meaning. Because these words are already plural, avoid adding s or es to make them plural: Scientists studied sediment from Charger Bay. The geologist took samples of soil from the site. When mentioning various types or species, however, plural spellings may be used: Scientists studied Fox Lake and Lake Roosevelt sediments. The site contained both glacial and sandy soils.
Follow the rules of subject-verb agreement when using the proper names of athletic teams and musical bands or groups: The Seattle Mariners are on the road. The Seattle Storm is an event sponsor. The Beatles were wonderful at the old Seattle Center Coliseum and so were the Rolling Stones. The Who is still terrific.
college names See university names.
collide, collision Two objects must be moving before they can collide. An accident involving a moving car and a stationary telephone pole is not a collision, for example; it's a crash. See accident; near miss, near-miss.
colon (:) The colon has three main uses, all of which involve pointing the reader toward the words that follow the colon. The colon always follows a whole sentence in these uses. Don't combine a dash and a colon.
The most frequent use is to introduce a list, often after expressions such as the following or as follows: Loretta Schwieterman appointed three people to the committee: David Allen, Greg Edwards and Jean Rheinhard. The Parks Department has scheduled open houses in the following communities: Valley View, April 5; Gantry, May 6; and Sierra Hills, Aug. 7.
Don't use a colon immediately after a verb. Incorrect: Loretta Schwieterman appointed: David Allen, Greg Edwards and Jean Rheinhard to the committee. Correct: Loretta Schwieterman appointed David Allen, Greg Edwards and Jean Rheinhard to the committee. For more information on creating lists, see lists, semicolon.
Second, the colon can be used to stress the word, words or sentence that follows it: He had only one thing on his mind: flowers. The news was good: No one would be laid off. When used this way, the colon replaces such words as that is, namely and for example. Capitalize the first word after a colon if it is a proper noun or the start of a whole sentence.
Third, use a colon to introduce a quotation longer than one sentence within a paragraph and to end a paragraph that introduces a quotation in the next paragraph. Use a comma, however, to introduce a quotation of one sentence that stays within a paragraph. See attribution, comma below, quotations, quotation marks.
color Usually redundant and wordy when naming a color. Simplify. Try dropping in color, colored and the color from phrases like blue in color, red colored, the color green.
combine together Redundant and wordy. Simplify. Drop together.
coming Often misspelled. It has one letter m, not two.
comma (,) Use commas accurately and consistently. In other words, follow the rules and don't insert them simply because you hope the reader will pause. Excessive use of commas in a single sentence may signal that it's too long and complicated. The following guidelines treat frequent questions about eight essential uses of the comma.
First, in a series of three or more terms with a single conjunction, use a comma after each term: She opened the closet, grabbed a coat, and picked up an umbrella. In a complex series of phrases, the serial comma before the final conjunction aids readability. In a simple series, the comma is optional before the conjunction: The van is economical, roomy and dependable. Unless your editor disagrees, using the serial comma is never wrong. Also, put a comma before the final conjunction in a series if an integral element of the series needs a conjunction: He likes folk, rock, and rhythm and blues. Don't put a comma before the first item in a series or after the and in a series. See lists, semicolon.
Second, use a comma to join two independent clauses with a conjunction. An independent clause is a group of words that could stand on its own as a complete sentence; it begins with its own subject. The most common conjunctions are but, and, for, nor, or, so and yet: The council's Water Resources Committee will go over the resolution Jan. 12, and the full council is scheduled to act Feb. 11. Don't create run-on sentences by combining two or more independent clauses with only commas. Either insert conjunctions after the commas or break the clauses into separate sentences. See sentence length.
Third, use a comma to separate an introductory phrase or clause from the rest of the sentence: After graduating from college, he joined AmeriCorps. It may be omitted after short introductory phrases (less than three words) if no ambiguity would result: On Thursday the Kennewick City Council will decide the issue. But using the introductory comma is never wrong. When in doubt, use the comma, especially when it separates two capitalized words.
Fourth, enclose parenthetic expressions between commas. Parenthetic expressions are word groups that are not essential to the meaning of a sentence. If a parenthetic expression is removed, the sentence would still make sense: The social services manager, who toured the Snoqualmie Valley last week, will make her recommendations today. They took one of their sons, Leif, to the concert. His wife, Donna, is a middle school teacher. As shown in the examples, commas always go both before and after a parenthetic expression within a sentence. If you'd prefer to stress a parenthetic phrase, put it between dashes; you can play down such a phrase by placing it between parentheses. Also see this, that, who whom.
Also use commas to set off a person's hometown when it follows the name: Rachel Solomon, Danbury, opened a new restaurant. If using a person's age, set it off by commas: Tom O'Rourke, 69, opened a new restaurant.
Do not use commas to set off an essential word or phrase from the rest of a sentence. Essential words and phrases are important to the meaning of a sentence: They took their daughter Jennifer to school. Their son Nils works at Ticketmaster. (They have more than one daughter and more than one son.)
Fifth, use commas to set off words and phrases such as however, meanwhile, in fact, in addition, moreover, nevertheless, as a result, thus, therefore, for example, finally and in other words. Usually, place a comma after such expressions when they begin a sentence, and place commas before and after the expressions when they are within a sentence. See however, in fact, in addition to, moreover, nevertheless.
Sixth, use commas to separate a series of adjectives equal in rank. If the adjectives could be rearranged without changing the meaning of a sentence or if the word and could replace the commas without changing the sense, the adjectives are equal: A sleek, new car. A thick, black cloud. See hyphen.
Use no comma when the last adjective before a noun outranks its predecessors because it is an integral element of a noun phrase: a silver articulated bus.
Seventh, use a comma to set off a direct one-sentence quotation within a paragraph: Theodore Roosevelt said, "It's not the critic who counts." Use a comma before the second quotation mark in a quotation followed by attribution: "No comment," said Jerry Carson. See attribution, punctuation, quotations, quotation marks.
And eighth, use a comma to separate the parts of numbers, dates and addresses. Use a comma for figures higher than 999: More than 5,000 people attended the event.
Use commas to set off the year in complete dates: The department released its report Nov. 16, 2002, for public review. But don't separate the month from the year when not using a date. They held their first retreat in January 1994.See dates.
Use commas to set off cities from names of states or nations: She went to Vancouver, Wash., to tour the bridge retrofit program. He traveled to Paris, France, on vacation.
commence See begin, commence, start.
commitment Commonly misspelled. Remember the root word, commit, with two m's and one t.
committee Commonly misspelled. Capitalize if part of the proper name: the Langley City Council's Human Services Committee. Lowercase when used alone: The committee passed the motion. See capitalization, collective nouns, subcommittee.
common, mutual They have a subtle difference in meaning. Use common to describe something shared by two or more people or things: a common goal, common interests. Use mutual to describe a feeling or action that's exchanged or reciprocal between two or more people or things: mutual respect, mutual efforts. See mutual.
community action grant Lowercase. Avoid abbreviating CAG.
compact disc CD is acceptable on later references.
company names When using a company (or product) name, you have no obligation to help a company market itself (or its products). For most proper names, capitalize the first letter of each word, or capitalize a different letter if preferred by a company: eBay. But capitalize the first letter if it begins a sentence. Do not use all capital letters unless the letters are individually pronounced: IBM and BMW but Subway and Ikea (not SUBWAY and IKEA). Don't use exclamation points, asterisks and plus signs that some companies use in logos and marketing materials for their company (and product) names: Yahoo, not Yahoo!; Toys R Us, not Toys "R" Us. Unless it's part of a company's formal name, replace the ampersand (&) with and.
Abbreviate company, corporation, incorporated and limited when using them after the name of a corporate entity: the Boeing Co., American Broadcasting Cos., Chevron Corp. Don't use a comma before Inc. or Ltd. even if it's included in the formal name. Do not abbreviate those words in business correspondence. In business correspondence, spell out those words when part of the proper name: the Boeing Company. See firm, incorporated.
If company, companies or corporation appears alone in second reference, spell out and lowercase the word: The company showed a loss in the third quarter.
The forms for possessives: the Boeing Co.'s profits, American Broadcasting Cos.' profits, Chevron Corps.' profits.
comparable Commonly misspelled.
compare and contrast Probably one of your first school lessons in writing redundantly involved essays to compare and contrast things. To compare things is to discover and describe their similarities and differences. You don't also have to contrast them.
compared with, compared to Often confused. The more common phrase, compared with means "to examine the similarities or differences of two or more things": He averaged 23 points a game in 2001 compared with 17 points a game last year. The speaker compared Congress with the British Parliament. The less common compared to means "to liken two or more things, say they are similar or show a resemblance": The backhoe operator compared her work to climbing Mount Everest. He compared life to a battle. Memory tip: Compared to is metaphorical while compared with is statistical.
compass directions See directions and regions.
compatible Commonly misspelled. Remember the relationship is not able, it's ible.
compensate Unless you're paid by the syllable or letter, simplify and use pay, if that's what you mean.
complacent, complaisant Sometimes confused adjectives. Use complacent to describe someone who's satisfied and content with his or her accomplishments. Use complaisant to describe someone who's willing and eager to please.
complement, compliment Often misused or confused. Complement is a noun or verb for "something that fills up or completes": The company has a complement of 250 drivers, 75 mechanics and 10 office workers. The two ideas complement each other well. A hat may complement a suit, but you would compliment the wearer on her or his hat. A related term: full complement.
Compliment is a noun or verb for "praise or a flattering remark" and "something free": The supervisor complimented the staff for a job well done. The supervisor's compliment boosted morale.
complete (v.) Overstated and formal. Simplify. Try replacing with end or finish unless you're writing about filling in missing or defective parts. Or try replacing with fill in or fill out.
completely This adverb is often completely redundant. Simplify. Don't use completely before full and words like dedicated, destroy, devoted, eliminate, perfect, silent, superfluous, unanimous and unique--and redundant.
comply with Try replacing with simpler follow, keep to, meet or obey.
component Overstated. Simplify. Change to part or ingredient.
compose, comprise, include Compose is not synonymous with comprise. Compose means to create or put together: The division is composed of six sections. Compose takes of, but comprise never does.
Comprise means to contain, consist of or embrace. The whole comprises the parts. Use it in the active voice and name all the parts that make up the whole after the verb: The division comprises six sections. The zoo comprises mammals, reptiles and birds. Don't use comprised of. Think about using simpler consist(s) of or contain(s).
Use include when what follows is only part of the whole: city government includes the Parks and Human Services departments. See constitute.
composition titles Capitalize the first letter of main words in titles of books, long poems, long musical compositions, magazines, movies, newsletters, newspapers, plays and works of art such as paintings and sculpture. Italicize the names of such works, or underline them if italic type is not available.
Use a colon between a book's title and its subtitle: Woe is I: The Grammarphobe's Guide to Better English in Plain English.
Capitalize the first letter of main words and enclose in quotation marks the titles of dissertations, essays, lectures, short musical compositions, short poems, short stories, songs, speeches, radio and television programs, articles in periodicals and chapters of books. If the title is part of a sentence, commas and periods go inside the closing quotation mark. Other punctuation, such as the question mark and the exclamation point, goes inside the quotation mark if it's part of the title; if it applies to the entire sentence, it goes outside the quotation mark.
Capitalize--but don't italicize, underline or enclose in quotation marks--the names of brochures, bulletins, forms, reports, software, websites, and catalogs of reference material, such as almanacs, directories, dictionaries, encyclopedias, gazetteers and handbooks.
When capitalizing hyphenated words in a title, choose a style and follow it consistently. Simplest is to capitalize only the first word unless later words are proper nouns or adjectives: Unique benefits for part-time violinists, All-American flag-waving techniques. Second is to capitalize all words except articles, short prepositions and short conjunctions: Over-the-Counter Acid Reducers for Sale Here, A Matter-of-Fact Approach to Guitar Tuning, A New Park-and-Ride Lot for Commuters. Optional exceptions to the second style are to lowercase the word after a prefix unless it is a proper noun or adjective and to lowercase the second word in a spelled out number: Anti-intellectual Conduct, Twenty-first Century Values.
compound words Compound words are formed differently for different parts of speech. When forming a compound, such as start up or start-up, first determine the part of speech you want, such as a noun, adjective or verb. Then check your dictionary and style manual for the correct spelling. If not listed in either source, follow these guidelines (also see hyphen, initial-based terms):
conceal Overstated and formal. Simplify. Try replacing with hide.
concept Overstated. Simplify. Change to idea or design.
concerning Overstated and formal. Try replacing with about.
concise (adj.), concisely (adv.), conciseness (n.) Means "brief and to the point, short and clear." To be concise, write only what you must to make your point, removing all unnecessary words and details. Succinct writing is clear and precise using the fewest words possible. Pithy writing is compact but also meaningful and witty. Terse writing is concise and polished but potentially curt in its brevity. Laconic writing is brief but also rude or ambiguous, mysterious and uncommunicative.
Writing that is not concise may be wordy (more words than necessary) and verbose (obscure and tedious), rambling (aimless) and diffuse (loose and weak), long-winded (tiresome) and prolix (trivial and boring), redundant (repetitious), or all of the above. See defuse, diffuse; plain English, plain language; redundancy; verbiage. Also see Garbl's Concise Writing Guide; Garbl's Plain English Writing Guide; Garbl's Fat-Free Writing Links; Garbl's Plain Language Resources.
concluded See attribution.
confidant, confident Sometimes confused. You tell secrets or intimate details to a trusted friend or confidant. If you're self-assured or certain about something, you're confident.
confute See refute.
congress Capitalize U.S. Congress and Congress when writing about the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. Lowercase when used as a synonym for convention or in second reference to a group that uses the word as part of its formal name. Lowercase congressional unless it's part of a proper name.
congressional districts See districts.
congressman, congresswoman Use only when writing about members of the U.S. House of Representatives.
connote, denote Sometimes confused. Connote, like connotation, suggests or implies a feeling or secondary meaning besides the actual meaning of a word. Denote refers to the explicit or literal meaning of a word. See denote.
connoisseur Commonly misspelled. Double the consonants inside the word; two n's and two s's.
conscience, conscious Commonly misspelled or confused. Conscience is a noun for "a person's feelings about doing something that is morally right or wrong." Conscious is an adjective meaning "awake and aware or intended and planned."
consensus Commonly misspelled. Its first letter is the only c. Means "general agreement or opinion of all or most of the people concerned." It does not necessarily mean unanimous agreement. Avoid using the redundant consensus of opinion and general consensus. Simply use consensus or agreement. Broad consensus is acceptable.
conservation, conservative Subtle difference in emphasis, unfortunately. Conservation is an action that protects, preserves and restores works of arts, natural things like forests and wild animals, and other resources like water, gas and electricity. Conservative describes a preference for preserving established traditions or institutions and resisting or opposing any change in them--to keep doing things the traditional way despite changes in modern society. Also, lowercase conservative as a political philosophy. See liberal, progressive.
consolidate Try replacing with simpler combine, merge or join.
constitution Capitalize references to the U.S. Constitution, with or without the U.S. modifier: Congress is considering an amendment to the Constitution. If you're writing about the constitution of other countries or states, capitalize constitution only if the name of the country or state comes before it: the Norwegian Constitution, the country's constitution, the Oklahoma Constitution, the state constitution. Lowercase constitution in other uses: the chapter constitution. Also lowercase constitutional unless it's part of a proper name.
construct Try replacing with simpler build or erect.
consul, council, counsel Sometimes confused nouns. A consul is "an appointed government representative for aiding citizens and businesses in a foreign country." A council is "a group of people elected to represent residents of a town, city or county" and "a group of people who make decisions for an organization." Usually used as a verb meaning "to advise," a counsel is "a lawyer or group of lawyers who give legal advice and represent clients in court.
Also, council is a singular noun that should take singular verbs; the articles a or the should usually come before council. Counsel can be either singular or plural, followed by the appropriate verb form. The articles a and the are not usually needed before counsel.
Correct uses: We received the legal opinion from counsel. Counsel has suggested we go to trial on Tuesday. The company brought this matter before the council. The council advised the representatives of its position. Incorrect uses: The company brought this matter before council. Council advised the representative of their position. We go before council at noon.
contact Preferred verb meaning get in touch with or communicate with--through email, fax, telephone and postal mail. But if you mean call, write, see or similar actions, use the specific verb.
contemptible, contemptuous Sometimes confused adjectives. Use contemptible to describe something or someone that deserves contempt, scorn or lack of respect; that's despicable, worthless or disgraceful. Use contemptuous to describe a person's feelings or expressions of contempt, scorn and disdain.
content, contents These words have a subtle difference in meaning. Use content to write about the topic or subject of a book, letter, article, advertisement, speech, commercial or other written or spoken material--or to mention a single item that something contains, if necessary: Beans have a high protein content (or better: Beans have a lot of protein). Use contents to list the ingredients or items in a recipe, room, book and so on.
contiguous to Commonly misused and pompous. Does not mean "close to" or "near" but "touching and sharing a boundary." Think about using next to or bordering instead.
continual, continuous Often misused or confused. Continual means "repeatedly, often recurring or intermittent, with breaks in between": She has to repair the car continually. Periodically or intermittently are useful, clear synonyms for continually to describe something that starts and stops. Continuous means "uninterrupted, in an unbroken stream": Sales have been growing continuously for the past five years.
continue to remain Redundant and wordy. Simplify. Use remain or continue, not both, or try be still or stay.
continued Don't abbreviate. Continued, Continued on Page X, Continued from Page X, and even To be Continued are clear, concise statements. But if you must abbreviate continued for some questionable reason, use contd., without an apostrophe. Other abbreviations for continued also are abbreviations for other words.
contractions Used occasionally, contractions can speed reading and assure accuracy. They can soften the tone of your writing by making it more personal and conversational. In most writing, consider using common contractions like aren't, can't, don't, doesn't, he'll, I'll, it's, she'll, shouldn't, that's, they'll, they're, they've, you'll, you're, wasn't and won't. Avoid excessive use of contractions with dual meanings, like I'd and he'd, because they can mean both I had and I would, he had and he would. Other awkward or uncommon contractions to avoid in writing: it'd, I've got, should've, who're, would've and you'd. See could of, may of, might of, must of, should of, would of; Myths and Superstitions of Writing.
contradict See refute below.
contribute, contribute to Overstated. Simplify. Try give for contribute and add to for contribute to.
control, controlled, controlling
controversial See noncontroversial.
convention Lowercase unless it's part of a formal name.
conversate Not a word. Replace with converse. Better still, simplify. Replace with speak, talk or even chat.
convince, persuade Often confused. Convince involves thought, trying to affect a person's point of view. Persuade involves action, trying to get a person to do something. Convince usually goes with of or that: He convinced his boss of his value to the company. She convinced her colleague that she was right. Persuade usually goes with to: The students persuaded their teacher to extend the deadline.
cooperate Think about replacing with simpler help.
copy edit, copy editing, copy editor Two words each.
copyright Sometimes misspelled as copywrite. Use the verb and noun to describe a legal right to produce, publish and sell a book, play, song, photograph, print and so on. It's not only about writing. The adjective is copyrighted.
cord See chord, cord.
corp., corporation See company names.
Corps of Engineers On first reference, use U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Corps of Engineers is acceptable on later references.
corroborate See collaborate, corroborate.
cost-effective Jargon, cliche. Think about substituting with economical or efficient.
could See can, could.
could (not) care less If you care somewhat about something, drop the not. But if you don't care at all, keep it.
could of, may of, might of, must of, should of, would of Frequent misspellings of could have or could've, may have, might have or might've, must have, should have or should've, and would have or would've. Also, avoid using those awkward contractions in writing. See contractions.
council, counsel See consul, council, counsel.
council districts See districts.
councilmember Use the non-gender word councilmember instead of councilman or councilwoman. Capitalize only when used as a formal title before a person's name: Ellensburg City Councilmember Steven Fujita attended the meeting. Lowercase when it stands alone: The councilmember spoke at the meeting. See capitalization.
county Capitalize when part of a proper name: Clark County. Capitalize the full name of county governmental units: Clark County Personnel Department.
Always lowercase county when standing alone as a noun or used as an adjective: Population is increasing in the county. The county budget is scheduled for adoption. Lowercase plural combinations: Benton and Franklin counties. See capitalization, districts, governmental bodies.
Capitalize as part of a formal title before a name: County Executive Mary Gustafson. Lowercase when it is not part of the formal title: county Utilities Director Arnold Beck.
county council Capitalize the full name on all references: Benton County Council. Also capitalize County Council if the reference to a particular county is clear. Lowercase council when used alone: The council will meet next Thursday. Capitalize chair when used as a formal title before the name of a person in a council or committee position: Benton County Council Chair Isaac Washington. Capitalize councilmember when used as a formal title before a person's name: Benton County Councilmember Joyce Klein. Lowercase chair and councilmember when they stand alone or after a name: Kathleen Williams, a councilmember, said .... See chairman, chairperson, chairwoman; county above.
countywide One word.
couple of Follow the noun couple with the preposition of in most writing: He left a couple of style manuals in the lounge. Dropping the of and using couple as an adjective is still considered casual and slang.
course of See in the course of.
course names and numbers Capitalize the subject when used with a numeral: Geometry 2, U.S. History 101. Lowercase subjects that aren't proper names when used without a numeral: algebra, geography, Spanish.
court decisions Use numerals and a hyphen: The Supreme Court ruled 3-6, a 3-6 decision. But use the word to in direct quotations: "The court ruled 3 to 6."
court names Capitalize the full proper names of courts. Also capitalize the name if the county name, city name, state name or U.S. is dropped: Clark County Superior Court, Superior Court; Cannon Beach Municipal Court, Municipal Court; state Supreme Court, Supreme Court, U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, Court of Appeals. Lowercase court when standing alone. See judge.
CPR Acceptable (capitalized) in all references to cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
create, creative, creativity, creation The verb, adjective and nouns for a powerful human behavior, trait, process and act. To create is "to cause something or someone to exist" and "to produce or invent something using imagination and artistic skill." Creative describes someone who "produces or uses new and effective ideas" and "is good at using the imagination." Creativity is "the ability to use the imagination to develop, produce or use new and original ideas and things." Creation is "the act or process of inventing, producing or making something" and "something that has been invented or produced using the imagination, such as a work of art or piece of clothing." See Garbl's Creativity Resources Online.
credible, credulous Sometimes confused adjectives. Credible means "believable because evidence and logic support it." Credulous means "tending to believe too readily, gullible."
crisis, crises Sometimes misspelled, misused and overused. Crisis is singular and takes singular verbs. Crises (not crisises) is plural and takes plural verbs. A crisis is "a significant coming together of events -- a turning point -- in which the impending outcome will make a decisive or abrupt change." Avoid referring to -- and responding to -- every difficult situation as a crisis, be it an identity crisis, midlife crisis, environmental crisis, financial crisis, economic crisis or the suppposed "bankrupty" of the successful 70-year-old U.S. Social Security system nearly 40 years from now.
criteria, criterion Often confused. As the plural form of criterion, criteria is a plural noun that takes plural verbs and pronouns: The criteria are listed on the board; we will use them to test the product. Don't use the criteria is. Criterion is a singular noun that takes singular verbs and pronouns: One criterion is ease of maintenance; it is first priority for mechanics.
criticize Commonly misspelled.
criticize, critique Criticize and its various forms are becoming more negative in meaning, suggesting disapproval. Consider using critique as a neutral verb for judging both the good and bad qualities of something or someone. Its other tenses are critiqued and critiqueing, not critiqed and critiqing.
cross-dresser Include hyphen. Use this term instead of transvestite to describe someone who sometimes dresses in clothing associated with the opposite sex. Cross-dressing does not necessarily indicate that someone is gay or transgender. See gay, lesbian; transgender.
crosstown One word.
crowd See collective nouns.
cul-de-sac Always hyphenate and lowercase. Cul-de-sacs is preferred plural form.
currant, current Sometimes confused nouns. A currant is "a small round red or black berry." A current is "a flow of water or air in one direction" and "a flow of electricity through a wire."
customary Think about replacing with simpler usual if no meaning is lost.
cut and cover Hyphenate when used as an adjectival phrase: Using the cut-and-cover method was less expensive than tunneling.
cut back (v.), cutback (n. and adj.) He cut back spending. The cutback will require increased efficiency. Also, think about simplifying the verb form by dropping back.
cut off (v.), cutoff (n. and adj.) The other car cut off the truck. The cutoff date for permits is the last Friday of the month.
cutting edge, on the Cliche. Think about replacing with advanced, innovative, new, original or unconventional.
cynic, skeptic A cynic is a disbeliever. A skeptic is a doubter. Skeptics may be good journalists; cynics never are.
Maintained by Gary B. Larson of Seattle, Washington, email@example.com.
Updated April 20, 2016.