Quotation marks

In English, there are two main styles of quotation marks (which are also called inverted commas and quotes). American writers routinely use double quotation marks, "which are pictured to the left and look like the marks around this clause." Writers in the U.K., Australia, etc. may use either single or double quotation marks, with the former typical of academic publications especially and the latter commonly found in online media. The single quotes 'look like the marks around this phrase.' Uses … [Read more...]

Luxuriant vs. luxurious

Luxurious means (1) marked by luxury or (2) characteristic of luxury. Luxuriant means (1) characterized by rich or profuse growth, (2) producing abundance, or (3) excessively florid or elaborate. So luxurious often has to do with monetary wealth, while luxuriant describes types of abundance that do not necessarily relate to monetary wealth. Examples Luxurious A cashier from the West Midlands who stole £1.7m from her employers, funding a luxurious lifestyle, has been ordered to repay some of … [Read more...]

Alligator vs. crocodile

Alligators are part of the crocodile order, so while all alligators are crocodiles, only some crocodiles are alligators. There are many types of crocodiles all over the world (and the order goes back 84 million years to the Cretaceous Period), but there are only two types of alligators---the American alligator of the U.S. south, and the Chinese alligator, which lives only along the Yangtze River. In addition to alligators, the crocodile order includes gharials, caimans, and several species … [Read more...]

Question mark

In English, a question mark is used at the end of a question to which an answer is expected or implied. Question marks within sentences Question marks typically go at the ends of sentences. In rare cases, though, one may be used in the middle of a sentence---for example: What do you say, Mr. Ladislaw?--shall we turn in and have a glass? Indirect questions When indirectly referring to questions, use no question mark---for example: He asked us if we had any tips to get his girls involved … [Read more...]

Oral vs. verbal

Here's the traditional distinction: Verbal applies to things that are put into words, whether written or spoken, while oral pertains to the mouth, to medications taken by mouth, and to things that are spoken. English authorities have traditionally urged against using verbal in reference to spoken things---for example, verbal/oral communications, verbal/oral reports, and verbal/oral warnings---but verbal is increasingly used in these phrases, perhaps in part due to oral's prurient … [Read more...]

Period (full stop or full point)

In modern English, the period (or full stop, as it's known in British English, and sometimes full point) has two main purposes: 1.  A period ends a sentence that is not a question or an exclamation. The period at the end of this sentence is an example. 2.  Periods follow abbreviations and contractions---although this is becoming less common, especially in the use of acronyms and initialisms. In British and Australian English, it is standard practice to use periods when abbreviating … [Read more...]

Parentheses (round brackets)

Parentheses (singular: parenthesis) or, outside the U.S., round brackets, set off material that is useful to the reader but less crucial to the meaning of a sentence than information that would be set off by em dashes or commas. Parenthetical words, phrases, and clauses are usually remarks from the writer, informative side-notes, introduced abbreviations, definitions, translations, examples, cross-references to other things within a text, or citations. The rule of thumb for whether to use … [Read more...]


A hyphen is one-half the size of an en dash (--) and one-third the size of an em dash(---). Hyphens are used to provide clarity and have three main uses. 1.  Hyphens are used primarily to make compound words, especially phrasal adjectives preceding the nouns they modify---for example: Thou fair-haired angel of the evening ... [William Blake] Talking in a sing-song drone ... [Entertainment Weekly] ... a starch-filled potluck of goodness. [Two Vegan Boys] An adjective phrase beginning … [Read more...]

Exclamation point

In English, the exclamation point (or exclamation mark) has only a few uses. Most often, an exclamation point follows a sentence, phrase, or word to express surprise or provide emphasis---for example: Facebook Dislike Button Is a Fake---And I Dislike That! [PC World headline] The rapper-actor was cleared of all charges and declared, "That's what I'm talking about!" [Gothamist] If things aren't going the way you want, speak up! [] An exclamation point can be placed in square … [Read more...]

En dash (En rule)

An en dash or en rule (--) is wider than a hyphen (-) and narrower than an em dash (--).  The en dash is neglected by many writers except as a substitute for an em dash, and even then it is increasingly replaced with a hyphen to mark a pause or parenthesis, especially online and, less commonly, in print journalism. Among British and Australasian publishers, it is preferred to the em dash, although style guides differ. The en dash has several common uses. 1.  En dashes stand in for … [Read more...]

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