Archive for the ‘Grammar & Punctuation’ Category


Should you use capitals for job titles?

July 23, 2019

Back in May 2019, I attended the biennial IPEd Conference for Australian and New Zealand editors. One of the things I took away was a snippet about capitalising job titles from Penny Modra’s plenary on Day 2 ( and how that can represent (consciously or subconsciously) hierarchies of greater and lesser jobs.

For example, if you cap Chief Executive Officer, Managing Director, or Senior Geologist, do you also cap Cleaner, Plumber, Sewage Truck Driver? If not, why not? Why should some job titles get capped and others not? What’s the implied social stratification here?

I’ve kept that in mind when working on the corporate reports I deal with, and today I queried an author who had used ‘truck operator’ when referring to a particular occupation, yet in the same sentence had used ‘Production Coordinator’ and ‘Site Supervisor’ when referring to other occupations in the same company.

My opinion: If you capitalise some job titles, then for consistency you need to cap them all, so a cleaner or truck operator needs to have the same recognition for their job as a production coordinator, otherwise you’re implying a hierarchy of ‘good’ or prestigious jobs over those that are less well-paid or recognised (less ‘worthy’). Either cap them all, or cap none of them (my preference). This may seem a trivial thing, but every time someone sees their job diminished by no caps when other positions are capped, it just further affirms (perhaps only subconsciously) that their job is less important. Yet if you took away all the sanitation workers, society would soon realise the importance of these jobs and the people who do them, and not give two hoots about any of the managing directors until the waste was sorted out.

Most style guides will have a section on when to capitalise occupational titles when referring to an individual (e.g. Doctor Sally Jones) or to a generic position (Sally Jones, a doctor). Just keep in mind that capitalising ‘Principal’ or ‘Doctor’ doesn’t make that job any more important than the uncapped ‘teacher’ or ‘nurse’—and ask yourself why you are giving some job titles more prominence than others.


Children suck

January 6, 2015

Or at least, that’s what this sign says. Spotted in my local medical surgery near the children’s play area.


I think they meant to tell parents to put any toys into the bin that their children have put into their mouths or that they have dirtied.

It might have been better to avoid ‘dirty’ and ‘suck’ (especially the unfortunately worded ‘children suck’) and instead used wording similar to this: ‘For used play area toys. Please put play area toys used by your children into this bin.’


Plural vs possessive – it’s not hard

November 24, 2014

<sigh> Another example of a professionally created sign that gets it wrong. PLURALS DON’T HAVE APOSTROPHES (in the main). It’s not hard.

There were at least three levels of human error here — the person who commissioned the sign and/or sent the copy to the signwriter, the signwriter, and the person who OK’d the finished sign as suitable for going up in the Albuquerque Airport. ATMs… not ATM’s.



Yep, punctuation matters

September 19, 2014

Seen in my Twitter feed yesterday — an announcement from the company hosting a conference that a session is underway:

punctuation_mattersUnfortunately, without quote marks or other identifying embellishments such as bold or italics, the message is not to get stuck in the localization Bermuda Triangle with Susie Winn! I’m sure she’s very nice, but I’m also sure that isn’t the message they intended.

Yes, punctuation matters. Why? Because it removes ambiguity and prevents misinterpretation.

See also:

[Link last checked September 2014]


Plurals don’t take apostrophes — it’s not that hard

August 21, 2014


I was wandering in a Target store the other day and spotted some egregious apostrophe errors in the paid-for-and-no-doubt-very-expensive signage. Here’s one:


They had no apostrophes in ‘Books’ or ‘Paperbacks’ (which is correct as they are plural forms), but somehow had thought it was necessary to add apostrophes to CDs and DVDs, which are also plurals. The error was bad enough, but the inconsistency was just as annoying.

Further along in the store they had ‘Womens’ and ‘Mens’ as well as ‘Women’s Clothing’. ‘Women’s Clothing’ is correct — the clothing belonging to or for the women, but ‘Womens’ and ‘Mens’ is NEVER correct — you can’t pluralize (if that’s a word!) a plural. The plural of ‘woman’ is ‘women’ and of ‘man’ is ‘men’, so you can only ever have ‘Women’s’ and ‘Men’s’ when they are adjectives (or perhaps implied adjectives as in ‘Women’s Clothing’); otherwise it has to be ‘Women’ or ‘Men’. Never ‘Womens’ or ‘Mens’.

Basic rules:

  • Plural form — add an -s or an -ies as appropriate; NO apostrophe
  • Possessive form — add an ‘s (or just an apostrophe in the case of words already ending in s)

Yes, there are some minor exceptions to these basic rules, but for most cases, these rules apply.


Apostrophe abuse

July 27, 2014

Seen at my local shopping centre…

There’s ONE apostrophe on this sticker — there should be three — and it’s not even in the right place! How can they get it SO wrong?


(And if you’re not sure where all the apostrophes all go, it should read: “This is not my boyfriend’s car… it’s my Dad’s”. Also, instead of abbreviating “boyfriend” to “b’friend” to save space it would have been better to abbreviate “is not’ to “isn’t”, but I guess they didn’t know where to put the apostrophe!)


Dealing with spans of numbers and symbols related to numbers

July 22, 2014

Based on a Writing Tip I wrote for my work colleagues…


Below is a scanned image of a page from the Australian Style Manual, detailing how to deal with spans of numbers and other numbering conventions (click on it to view it larger).


Some of the terms used on this page maybe unfamiliar to you, so here’s an explanation of those terms (plus some others), along with the Microsoft Word (for Windows) keyboard commands to insert them, where available.

Please note: Keyboard numerals and other keys with an asterisk (*) can ONLY be used on the numeric keypad, NOT the numbers across the top of the keyboard, and if there’s an Alt prefix, you must hold down the Alt key while pressing the numbers in sequence.


Term Looks like How to get it (menu) How to get it (keyboard) Notes
Hyphen, dash, subtraction (standard keys) (standard keys) Use a hyphen for separating hyphenated words, such as compound adjectives, e.g. five-year plan
En rule (also known as [aka] ‘en dash’), minus Insert > Symbol > More Symbols > Special Characters tab Alt+0150 * or Ctrl+- * or type two hyphens immediately after a word (no spaces) followed by the next word Slightly longer than a hyphen; use for spans of numerals or words, e.g. 100–150 m, north–south orientation
Em rule (aka ‘em dash’) Insert > Symbol > More Symbols > Special Characters tab Alt+0151 * or Ctrl+Alt+- *or type three hyphens immediately after a word (no spaces) followed by the next word Longer than an en dash; use instead of parentheses or commas for inserting extra information in a sentence; e.g. … The main vessels—the LMN and ABC—are considered…
Non-breaking space ° Insert > Symbol > More Symbols > Special Characters tab Ctrl+Shift+<spacebar> Can only be seen if show formatting is turned on; looks like a degree symbol, but does NOT print; forces a value and its unit of measure to stay together even when a line wrap might normally separate them. Always use between values and their units of measure; e.g. 50 km.
Multiplication sign × Insert > Symbol > More Symbols > Symbols tab: 3rd bottom row of (normal text) list Alt+0215 * You can use a lower or upper case ‘x’, but ‘x’ is not a true multiplication sign.
Division sign ÷ Insert > Symbol > More Symbols > Symbols tab: bottom row of (normal text) list Alt+0247 * You can use a / to indicate division, but / can be used for other purposes, so use the division sign instead.
Plus/minus sign ± Insert > Symbol > More Symbols > Symbols tab: 9th row of (normal text) list Alt+0177 * You can use +/- instead, though it’s not as neat as ±.
Superscript number m3 Home > Font > Superscript check box Ctrl+Shift+= Select the text to superscript, then apply the formatting. If you grab extra characters, either turn off the superscripting the same way, or press Ctrl+<spacebar> to return that text to its default.
Subscript number CO2 Home > Font > Subscript check box Ctrl+= As for superscripting (above)
Degree symbol ° Insert > Symbol > More Symbols > Symbols tab: 9th row of (normal text) list (Word 2007 and 2010 at least) Alt+0176 * Be careful you don’t choose the symbol on the 10th row of the symbol list—the correct degree symbol is on the 9th row next to the ± sign.
Greater than or equal to (see instructions below this table) (see instructions below this table) Don’t use >=.
Less than or equal to (see instructions below this table) (see instructions below this table) Don’t use <=.
Micron/mu µ Insert > Symbol > More Symbols > Symbols tab: 9th row of (normal text) list Alt+0181 * Don’t use ‘u’.

For mathematical symbols such as ‘greater than or equal to’ (≥), there’s a setting you can turn on in Word that will convert characters such as >= to the correct symbol (i.e. ≥). It’s not turned on by default—you have to turn it on.

  1. Click the File tab (top left of the Word window).
  2. Click Options (near the bottom of the list on the left).
  3. Select Proofing on the left.
  4. Click the AutoCorrect Options button (top right).
  5. Select the Math AutoCorrect tab.
  6. Check the box to Use Math AutoCorrect rules outside of math regions. If you scroll down the list you can see what will be automatically converted—the ones for the ‘greater than or equal to’ example above are at the very end of the list.
  7. Click OK twice to exit Word Options.

(Note: These Word Options settings don’t carry across to Outlook or other Office programs, but you can turn this Math AutoCorrect setting on in Outlook the same way using Outlook’s Editor Options.)