University Communications

Punctuation and Grammar Rules


In general, use ampersands (&) only in charts, tables, or lists of companies, where the ampersand is part of the company’s official name (e.g., Johnson & Johnson).  For most cases, it is appropriate to use the word and in text.

The first word after a colon should be lowercase unless it begins a full sentence (e.g., Timmy bought three things: eggs, milk and sugar.  Timmy spoke loudly: “Can you help me make a cake?”).


  • In a Series
    • Use commas to separate elements in a series, but it is preferred that a comma not be placed before the conjunction in a simple series (e.g., The flag is red, white and blue.).
    • However, you may put a comma before the last element of the series if it requires a conjunction (e.g., I had orange juice, toast, and ham and eggs for breakfast.).
    • Also do put a comma before the last element in a complex series of phases (e.g., The main points to consider are whether the athletes are skillful enough to compete, whether they have the stamina to endure the training, and whether they have the proper mental attitude.).
Designating Hometowns

See “Addresses and Places, Addresses.”


If a sentence starts with iPad or iPod keep the “i” lowercase.

Introducing Quotations

  • Use a comma to introduce a complete one-sentence quotation within a paragraph (e.g., John said, “This style guide will help us produce publications.”).
  • However, use a colon to introduce quotations of more than one sentence (e.g., John said: “I would like to introduce John Smith.  He is a professor here at Saint Peter’s. If you’d like to speak with him, contact his assistant.”).
  • Use a comma instead of a period at the end of a quote that is followed by an attribution (e.g., “I would like to introduce John Smith,” the professor said.).

See “Academic Degrees, Personal Titles, and Class Years, Designations.


Hyphens should be used sparingly, and primarily are used when not using them causes confusion (e.g., Small-business owner is clearer than small business owner—is it the owner or the business that is small?).

  • A hyphen should be placed
    • before a capitalized word or numeral (e.g., sub-Saharan or pre-1950);
    • before a compound term (e.g., non-self-sustaining);
    • to separate two of the same letter or syllables that might be misread (e.g., re-elected);
    • to separate the repeated terms in a double prefix (e.g., sub-subentry);
    • when a prefix or combining form stands alone (e.g., over- and underused).
  • Hyphenate compound modifiers when they precede a noun, but usually not when they follow a noun (e.g., She has a part-time job, or She works part time.).
  • When “non” is combined with another word, a hyphen is not necessary (e.g., Mary works in the nonprofit sector, or Courses taken for enrichment are designated as noncredit.).
  • In words formed using co-, retain the hyphen when forming nouns, adjectives and verbs that indicate occupation or status (e.g.,co-author, co-owner, co-worker).  Use no hyphen in coed and coeducation.

Abbreviations and acronyms

An abbreviation is a shortened version of a word and is usually pronounced as the entire word.

  • E.g., Mr. for Mister, Fr. for Father, B.A. for bachelor of arts (See Academic Degrees, Personal Titles, and Class Years, Academic Degrees for more information.).
  • A period is used after an abbreviation.

An acronym is a word created from the first letter of a series of other words and is pronounced as one word (e.g., DOS for disk operating system, CORE for Congress for Racial Equality).

  • No periods are used with acronyms.
  • Acronyms exceeding five letters are written in upper and lower case (e.g., Unicef, Scuba, radar).

An initialism is created from the first letter of a series of other words, but each letter is spoken individually (e.g., PC for personal computer, NAACP for National Association for the Advancement of Colored People).

  • No periods are used with initialisms.

General Grammar Points
a before h
Use an “a” before a pronounced h (e.g., a historian, a horse).  Use “an” before an aspirated h (e.g., an hour, an honest person).


  • Feel refers to tactility (e.g., I feel the fabric.), not to be substituted for think or believe (e.g., I think that you are wrong, not, I feel that you are wrong.).
  • When referring to an emotion it is correct to use feel (e.g., I feel sad.).

foreign words
Generally, foreign words should be italicized (e.g., Magis).

his/her, he/she

Use nonsexist language.

  • When possible, rewrite sentences to avoid these pronoun combinations (e.g., The student must present his/her ID, could be reworded, The students must present their ID’s.).
  • If it’s not possible to reword the sentence, remember that he or she is preferable to he/she.

may vs. might

  • May is used to ask permission (e.g., May I go to the fair?).
  • Might is used to imply possibility (e.g., I might go to the fair.).


  • Restrictive clauses are introduced by that and are not separated from the rest of the sentence by commas (e.g., The director was pleased with the announcement in the media that reported on his department’s hiring efforts.).
  • Non-restrictive clauses are introduced by which and must be separated by commas from the rest of the sentence to indicate parenthesis.  If you are using which properly, a comma typically precedes it (e.g., The announcement about his department’s hiring efforts, which was reported in the media, pleased the director.).


  • In the nominative case, who is used in two ways:
    1. as the subject of a verb (e.g., Who washed the dishes today?); and
    2. as a predicate nominative after a linking verb (e.g., It was who?).
  • In the objective case, whom is used in two ways:
    1. as the object of a verb (e.g., Whom did you see?); and
    2. as the object of a preposition (e.g., For whom is this building named?).

Common spelling errors and preferred usage

adviser vs. advisor
Adviser is the preferred spelling.

Not afterwards.

all right
Not alright.

allude vs. refer
Allude means to speak of without mentioning.  Refer means to speak of directly.

allusion vs. illusion
An allusion is an indirect reference.  An illusion is a false impression of image.

canceled vs. cancelled
The single “l” form, canceled, is preferred.

children vs. kids
Children is preferred.

complement vs. compliment

  • A complement is something that supplements (e.g., The antique silver was a complement to the beautifully set table.).
  • compliment is a flattering praising remark or something that is free (e.g., She gave him a compliment on his handsome new jacket, or She received a complimentary smoothie with her meal.).

compose, comprise, constitute

  • Compose means to create or put together. It is commonly used in the active and passive voices (e.g., She composed a song, or the United States is composed of 50 states.).
  • Comprise means to contain or to include all. It is best used in the active voice, followed by direct object (e.g., The jury comprises seven women and five men, or the United States comprises 50 states.).
  • Constitute may be the best word if compose or comprise do not fit (e.g., Fifty states constitute the United States).

i.e. vs. e.g.

  • Use i.e. when you want to clarify a preceding statement. (id est = that is)
  • Use e.g. when you want to offer an example. (exempli gratia = for example)

lectern vs. podium
One stands behind a lectern and on a podium.

residence hall vs. dorm
See “Addresses and places, Around Campus.

entitled vs. titled

  • Entitled means a right to do or have something (e.g., She is entitled to a raise.).
  • Titled refers to the title of a book and is not interchangeable with entitled (e.g., George W. Traub is the author of a book titled A Jesuit Education Reader.).

ensure vs. insure

  • Ensure means to guarantee (e.g., Our precautions ensured our safety.).
  • Insure means to make references to insurance (e.g., Your home is insured.).

fewer vs. less
See “Numbers and Figures.”

fundraising, fundraiser
One word, no hyphen.

pupil vs. student

  • Use pupil for children in kindergarten through eighth grade.
  • Use pupil or student for grades 9 through 12.
  • Use student for college and beyond.

Never towards.