More about Words



Capitalization Writing & Saying Numbers
Abbreviations & Acronyms Back to Exercises



Knowing when to use a, an, or the with abbreviations can be confusing.  Here is the rule: Use a when the word begins with a consonant sound, and use an when the word begins with a vowel sound. For example:

When to use periods:

Abbreviations of some Latin words  are used in formal written English. You will see them used in reference books, text books, research papers, scholarly journals and other type of materials that are usually written in the formal manner. It is a good idea to become familiar with these if you are learning Business English, or writing academic essays. Some sources say to use these abbreviation only in footnotes and bibliographies.  Other sources say not to use them at all. Since you will see them in many places, we have included some of the most common ones:


c or © copyright (©1949) loc. cit in the place cited; used the same way as ibid.
c. ca. about, around, circa; used with dates (She was born c.1900) ms. mss. manuscript, manuscripts
cf. compare; cf. Magna Carta means: compare this with the Magna Carta N.B. note well
ed. editor, edited, edition n. d. no date; used when the publication or copyright date of a source is not known
e.g. for example; He didn't care for meat, e.g., pork, beef, poultry. (Note the comma before and after e.g.) op. cit in the work cited; used the same as ibid. and loc. cit
et al. and others; also, elsewhere (When studying sociology, one is required to read the classic works: The Golden Bough, et al.)  q.v. which see, whom see; indicates that the reference is within the same source; encyclopedias may use this to direct you to other entries within that same encyclopedia.


following page, pages; (p. 3f. means page 3 and the following page.   pp. 3ff means page 3 and all of the following pages) sic always in italics or underlined and used in brackets [sic] after a direct quotation when there is an error in the quote, to show that the person making the quote made the error, not the person who copied it .
ibid. in the same place; used with a reference that is the same as one previously cited vide see
i.e. that is, or that is to say; note the comma before and after: The weather has been very bad, i.e., a dangerous hurricane. etc. et cetera (and other things) etc. is not used in formal writing, but is used quite often in informal writing. Use it when you have a lengthy list of items, and you don't want to write all of them. Be sure that the you give the reader some idea of what the unnamed items could be: The spring garden looked lovely with tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, etc., all in bloom. The reader can deduce that the etc. means other spring-blooming flowers.

Titles before Names

Mrs. mistress (The word mistress is never said. Pronounce Mrs. like missis.)
Mmes. plural of mistress (Used only as a salutation in some formal letters.)
Mr. Pronounced Mister
Messrs. plural of Mister (Used only as a salutation in some formal letters.)
Ms. not an abbreviation, but written with a period to match Mr. & Mrs. (Sounds like "mizz".)
Dr. Doctor (plural is Drs.)
Gen. General (Don't abbreviate military titles in formal writing. It is acceptable in informal writing.)
Prof. Professor (plural is Profs.)
Rep. Representative (governmental title)
Sen. Senator (governmental title)
St. Saint (St. can also be an abbreviation for Street)
Ste. Suite. (Also means Saint when used with some French names)

These are not really titles, but are used as such. Use these abbreviations only  in informal language.


Reverend ( always write "the Reverend + his/her last name.)

Hon. Honorable (always write "the Honorable + his/her last name.)

Titles after names

Academic degrees can be written with periods or without them, but don't use spaces within the abbreviation:  Ph.D. or PhD, M.F.A. or MFA

Jr. Junior
Sr. Senior
M.D./MD Medical Doctor
D.D.S./DDS Doctor of Dental Science
R.N./RN Registered Nurse
Ph.D./PhD Doctor of Philosophy
M.A./ MA Master of Arts
B.S./BS Bachelor of Science

Don't use a  title before and after a name at the same time .

Correct: Dr. George Walters or George Walters, PhD.

Incorrect: Dr. George Walters, PhD

Don't abbreviate a title without a name. 

Correct: I took my sister to the doctor yesterday.

Incorrect: I took my sister to the Dr. yesterday.


When not to abbreviate:


An acronym is usually formed by taking the first initials of a phrase or compound word and using those initials to form a word that stands for something. LASER (pronounced "LAYzer"), is an acronym for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. FBI (said as F--B--I) is not an acronym for the Federal Bureau of Investigation; it is an abbreviation. AIDS is an acronym; HIV is an abbreviation. URL is an abbreviation for Uniform Resource Locator (World Wide Web address), but if you pronounce it "earl", it becomes an acronym.

To find more acronyms and abbreviations, try this link:




• The first letter of the first word of a sentence 

 When Pete tells a joke, he makes all of us laugh.

• The pronoun " I " 

The last time I spoke to Annie, she was still helping CC unpack.

• Proper nouns 

(the names of specific people, places, organizations, and some things)

Lincoln Highway

Grand Canyon
Supreme Court

Dave Beckham

Cairo, Egypt
Suez Canal
Canadian  Royal Mounted Police

Yo-Yo Ma

• Family relationships (when used as proper names)

I like Aunt Clara because she has a parrot that swears.

BUT: I like my aunt because she has a parrot that swears.              

 I never knew Grandfather to get angry.

BUT: I never knew my grandfather to get angry. 

• The names of God, specific deities, religious figures, and holy books

the Virgin Mary
the Torah

St. Peter
the Pope

Exception: Do not capitalize the non-specific use of the word god. Example: 

• Titles preceding names, but not titles that follow names 

• Directions that are names

(North, South, East, and West when used as sections of the country, but not as compass directions)

• The days of the week, the months of the year, and holidays 









Exception: Seasons are capitalized when in a title, but not when used in a general sense unless it's the first word of a sentence.

The Spring Style Show will take place at the end of May. BUT: Some cities get snow in the winter.

• **All names of countries, nationalities, and specific languages 





•The first letter of the first word in a sentence that is a direct quote 

Hamlet said, "To be or not to be, that is the question."

• The major words in the titles of books, articles, and songs, but not short prepositions or the articles the, a or an, unless it's the first word of the title)

One of Marvin's favorite books is For Whom the Bell Tolls.

Love is a Many-Splendored Thing is one of her favorite songs.

The Grapes of Wrath

• Members of national, political, racial, social, civic, and athletic groups 

Manchester United Football Club









Friends of the Wilderness






**All nationalities must be capitalized!

• Periods and events (but not century numbers)

Victorian Era

World War I

World Cup

twenty-first century

• Brand names 

Dr. Pepper (soda)

Gateway (computers)

Pringles (potato chips)

Swisher Sweets (cigars)

• Words and abbreviations of specific names, but not names of things that were once specific names, but are now general terms. Words that became general terms are called EPONYMS. To find more eponyms on other websites, do a Google search. 

Rubenesque  of, relating to, or suggestive of the painter Rubens or his works; describes plump or rounded female figures which are considered  pleasing or attractive; a Rubenesque figure; said of full-figured women




gerrymander (Elbridge Gerry, American politician. A method of defining political boundaries)


boycott (Charles C. Boycott, Irish land agent.  To refuse to do business with someone, or to refuse to buy a certain product because of negative belief you have.)


braille (Louis Braille, French teacher, writer and musician invented a method by which the blind can write and read.)


quisling (Vidkun Abraham Quisling, Norwegian politician. It's a term that means a person who collaborated with the Nazis; a traitor.)


 Halley's comet



pasteurized (named after Louis Pasteur, who invented a non-chemical method of sterilizing milk)


sandwich (John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich,, English diplomat. He put meat between 2 slices of bread so he could eat and not have to leave the gambling table.)


guillotine (Joseph Ignace Guillotin, French physician. An instrument of execution.)



casanova (Giovanni Jacopo Casanova, Italian adventurer. Describes a man who likes the attentions of many ladies.)


marmalade (João Marmalado, Portuguese. A fruit spread used on bread.)

Writing & Saying Numbers

Most people spell out numbers that can be expressed in one or two words and use numerals for other numbers.  Others spell out figures ten (10) and under, and use numerals for 11 and higher.  If the number begins the sentence, it should be written as a word.  Examples:

Words Numerals
two gallons 2 gallons
seven hundred dollars $700
twenty-two years 22 years
forty pounds 40 pounds

Other Examples:

Days, months, and years

Times of day**

** Do not say o'clock and p.m./a.m. at the same time when saying what time it is; choose one or the other; say 8 o'clock at night, OR 8 p.m.


Military Time
Identification Numbers
Page and Division of Books and Plays
Decimals and Percentages
Large Round Numbers

Numbers referring to a person's age:

NOTE: It is a very common error for students of English to say 1 years old. One year is singular, not plural. Say a year old, or one year old.



NOTE: Practice reciting numbers.

** Say hundreds, or thousands, or millions when there's no number specified: Thousands of people died in the tsunami.

More Notes on Usage

                            Forty-seven percent of people return at least one Christmas gift. NOT 47% of people. . .

EXCEPTION: Use a combination of numbers and words in order to avoid confusion.

Correct: The farmer had thirty 2-year-old heifers. (or 30 two-year-old heifers)

Incorrect: The farmer had 30 2-year-old heifers. (The reader will be confused, and will probably read it as 302)




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