Chapter 8: Punctuation and Grammar
Commonly Confused Word Pairs
Accept: to agree to
Except: an exception to
Affect: to influence
Effect: result (n) or to cause something to happen (v)
Altar: used in a church
Alter: to change
Bazaar: a fair or marketplace
Canvas: a kind of cloth
Canvass: a noun or verb denoting a survey
Censor: to prohibit or restrict
Censure: to condemn
Complement: noun or verb denoting completeness or the process of supplementing something
Compliment: praise (n), to praise (v)
Continual: steady repetition
Dyeing: changing color
Emigrate (from): leaving a country
Immigrate (to): coming to a country
Farther: physical distance
Further: an extension of time or of degree
Grizzly: grayish, or the shortened name of a type of bear
Hangar: for planes
Hanger: for clothes
Insure: to guarantee against risk (only “insure” is now used in American English in the commercial sense of guarding property against risk)
Ensure: to make certain
Assure: to make certain, to set the mind at rest (only “assure” should be used for a person in this sense)
It’s: it is, it has
Its: possessive pronoun (Please note that the possessive “its” has no apostrophe.)
Principal: noun and adjective denoting someone of rank or authority
Principle: noun meaning fundamental truth, law, etc.
Reign: the period a ruler is on the throne
Rein: leather strap for a horse
Stationary: to stand still
Stationery: writing paper
Their: possessive pronoun
There: a place
They’re: contraction of “they are”
Then: a time
Than: a comparison
Your: possessive pronoun
You’re: contraction of “you are”
Do capitalize the following:
- the first word in a complete sentence or book or article title
- following a colon, the first word that begins a complete sentence
- all words in titles of books and articles, except articles and prepositions: Pride and Prejudice, From Here to Eternity (Exception: In reference lists, only the first word, the first word after a colon or a dash, and proper nouns in titles are capitalized.)
- proper nouns (names), brand names, and trade names
- names of university departments when referring to a specific department in a specific university: the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Work
- names of academic courses, when referring to a specific course: Philosophy 101, Algebra 3
- the “I” in Internet
- “W” in Web site
- the “A” in association, when referring to a specific association: the National Association of Social Workers, the Council on Social Work Education
- the “C” in chapter, when using the full name of the association or organization a specific chapter of an organization or association by its proper name: the Utah Chapter, the NASW New Jersey Chapter
- abbreviations of degrees: MSW, PhD (omit periods)
- the first letter of a complete sentence following a colon
- job titles or offices when they precede a name: President Bush, Vice President Johnson, Sen. Kennedy.
Do not capitalize the following:
- academic degrees that are spelled out: bachelor’s degree, master’s degree
- nonspecific academic courses or subjects: child psychology, elementary education
- when writing about a time, letters to denote morning or afternoon: 1:30 p.m., 8:00 a.m., 10 a.m. (Use lower case letters or small caps, and note there is no space between the letters.)
- the first letter of an incomplete sentence following a colon
- job titles or offices, when they follow a name: Barak Obama, president; Joe Biden, vice president
- job titles and offices when used in place of a name: the president, the vice president
- the “c” in chapter, when not speaking of a specific, previously identified chapter of an organization or association: There was a chapter meeting at 7 p.m. last night.
- nouns followed by numbers when they denote common parts of books or tables: I looked in chapter 4 and found that row 12 of the table contained the information I needed.
In general, spell out numbers one through nine and use figures for numbers 10 and above. However, always use numbers with million, billion, percent, and section and page numbers.
Examples: three years, 10 years old, nine-year-old child, age 17, two weeks,
one hour, 3 million, 11 billion, 1 percent, section 5, part 2, chapter 3, pp. 8–15
Use numbers when referring to specific points on a scale:
Rank subjects from 1 = never to 5 = always, but a seven-point scale, a 10-point scale
Use numbers when referring to centuries or decades. There should not be an apostrophe between the numbers and the “s” when referring to a decade:
during the 1960s (not “1960’s” or “during the sixties”)
Use numbers to designate parts of books, experiments, and so forth.
Examples: chapter 4, page 6, day 1, subject 3
Spell out ordinals up to, but not including, 10:
fifth grade, but grade 5
third week, but week 3
Spell out and hyphenate fractions less than one. Use figures with quantities that comprise whole numbers and fractions.
Examples: two-thirds consensus, one-half, but 4½
Spell out numbers that begin a sentence (or, better yet, rework the sentence).
Original: Forty-five students responded.
Better: A total of 45 students responded.
With number ranges, use “to” in text and headings; use an en dash (short dash) in tables and in the reference list:
The mortality rate of babies weighing 1,000 to 1,500 grams dropped from 50 percent in the late 1960s to 20 percent in the mid-1980s.
Mixing categories within a sentence is acceptable:
Three boys, ages four, five, and 11 years, and 14 teachers participated in the study.
Spell out ages if referring to them generally:
Most of the respondents were in their forties.
Insert commas as appropriate in figures of 1,000 or more.
Avoid roman numerals, except with Type I or Type II errors and Axes I through IV of the DSM-IV.
Pronouns and Use of the First Person
Use pronouns, which replace nouns, carefully so that their antecedents (preceding nouns) are clear. The following pronouns are frequently used without a clear antecedent: “it,” “they,” “we,” “this,” and “these.” These words should nearly always be accompanied or replaced by a specific noun.
There are several types of pronouns, including nominative, objective, and reflexive. The following list helps clarify which pronouns fall under which category:
|Nominative||Objective||Possessive (before nouns)||Possessive (after nouns)||Reflexive|
To decide which pronoun to use, ignore any other noun or pronoun in the sentence and then choose the correct pronoun, keeping the same form when you add the other nouns and pronouns.
Nominative pronouns are subjects of a verb—that is, the person or thing “doing” something:
She and her mother went to the museum.
Objective pronouns are objects of a verb or preposition, the person to whom (or thing to which) something “was done”:
My mother asked me to go to the museum.
Reflexive pronouns must reflect back to the subject of the verb, referring to the same person or thing “doing” the action:
I enjoyed myself at the museum with my mother.
Who and whom follow the same basic rules as other pronouns. “Who” is always the subject of a verb, whereas “whom” is always the object. To help decipher this sometimes sticky situation, try substituting he/him for who/whom in a sentence. The masculine forms sound much like who/whom, but they are often easier to choose between. If him would be the correct choice in a sentence, choose whom. If he is the solution, use who.
Example: Who/Whom may I say is calling? (Translates to “Should I say who/whom is calling?”)
Substitute he/him: Should I say him is calling? Should I say he is calling? (He is the correct choice, so in the original sentence you would want to use “Who”: “Who may I say is calling?”)
Remember the following points:
- Pronouns must agree in gender and number with their antecedents. Use neutral pronouns (it, that, which) to refer to animals and things.
Incorrect: Social workers that are members of several teams might wish to compare the computations for each team.
Correct: Social workers who are members of several teams might wish to compare the computations for each team.
Incorrect: Each client must decide for themselves.
Correct: Each client must decide for himself or herself.
Even better: Clients must decide for themselves.
Incorrect: The dog who caught that Frisbee is athletic.
Correct: The dog that caught that Frisbee is athletic.
Incorrect: The association, who released the data first, was well respected.
Correct: The association, which released the data first, was well respected.
- Take care that the same pronoun does not refer to two different antecedents.
Original: The reform movement is a successful outcome of the legislation. Opponents, however, continue to criticize it.
Better: The reform movement is a successful outcome of the legislation. Opponents of the legislation, however, continue to criticize it [the legislation].
Or use: The reform movement is a successful outcome of the legislation. Opponents of the movement, however, continue to criticize it (the movement).
- When deciding to use I or me in a sentence, remember this rule: Use the pronouns you would choose if the sentence was broken into two separate phrases.
Incorrect: She and me had a 3 p.m. meeting.
Correct: She and I had a 3 p.m. meeting. (She had a 3 p.m. meeting. I had a 3 p.m. meeting.)
Incorrect: There has been some tension between she and me.
Correct: There has been some tension between her and me. (“between her,” and “between me” are correct. You would never say “. . . between she” or “. . . between I.”)
- When discussing people, do not resort to contrived forms of expressing gender, like he/she or s/he. Instead, you may want to use he or she, reversing it and equal number of times to she or he throughout the document.
Incorrect: When a social worker first meets a client, he/she needs to . . .
Correct: When a social worker first meets a client, she or he needs to . . .
- Better yet, take the time to rework the document using the plural form as often as possible. Pluralizing words eliminates the problems associated with expressing gender.
Best form: When social workers first meet their clients, they need to . . .
For years, the convention had been that scholarly works require the use of the third, not the first person. NASW Press considers the use of the first person appropriate for scholarly work depending on the context and the way in which it is used. Language that has been forced into the third person to conform to a rigid house style comes across as pompous and contrived.
Furthermore, the use of the third person often results in the excessive use of the passive voice, which takes the life out of an article. It is important, however, that the focus be on the information the article imparts rather than the author. Excessive use of “we feel,” “I think,” “I did,” and so on emphasizes the author, not the information, whereas language such as “we studied” or “in the study we found” simply imparts information.
Original: It was found that attendance in the group was improved by providing
Better: We found that providing child care improved attendance in the group.
The first person should not be used globally. For example, it is not accurate to say “we” when the author means the entire social work profession.
Original: We seek to treat both the individual and the environment.
Better: Social workers seek to treat both the individual and the environment.
It is difficult to set an absolute rule for the use of the first person. Although it is always preferable to say who did what instead of putting an action in the abstract, use of the first person will be less frequent in a quantitative research report. On the other hand, an ethnographic report, which requires that the researcher–author be personally connected to the research, demands the use of the first person. In addition, in editorials and columns that argue a point of view, authors have greater latitude in using the first person.
For more information, consult the publications and Web sites listed under “Resources” in the “Revision and Editing” section.
Please note that only one space should appear after any form of punctuation, including periods. Please do not place two spaces between sentences.
Commas are used to set less critical information aside from more important phrases within sentences. As a rule of thumb, if there would be a very brief pause before the phrase when reading the sentence out loud, the writer should use commas to separate it. If there would be a longer pause, or if the aside would be very obvious when reading out loud, use parentheses.
Commas are used to separate information to help readers understand it more easily.
Incorrect: The building rose high above the sidewalk where people rushed on their way to work.
Correct: The building rose high above the sidewalk, where people rushed on their way to work.
Incorrect: We cruised around the islands and made a side trip to Orlando last June.
Correct: We cruised around the islands, and made a side trip to Orlando, last June.
Better: Last June, we cruised around the islands and made a side trip to Orlando.
Serial commas should be used in lists of three words or more. NASW complies with APA style, which dictates that a comma should also appear before “and”:
I packed my sweater, jeans, socks, and boots in an overnight bag.
Commas instead of parentheses often separate information that only slightly breaks the flow of a sentence. If an aside seriously interferes with the sentence, parentheses should be used.
Less correct: She gratefully dropped her briefcase (filled with files and books) on the nearest chair.
Correct: She gratefully dropped her briefcase, filled with files and books, on the nearest chair.
Less correct: The nearest Metro station, Washington, DC’s clean, safe, public transportation system, is only four blocks from the hotel.
Correct: The nearest Metro station (Washington, DC’s clean, safe public transportation system) is only four blocks from the hotel.
When writing dates, use commas to separate two or more numbers or parenthetic information (parenthetic information, which qualifies other words, is easy to spot by reading a sentence out loud; if there is normally a pause before the word[s] in question, it should be separated by commas or parentheses). If listing only the month and year in a phrase, do not use a comma.
Incorrect: January 1 2000. NASW Press does not use the European style of dating, which puts the day before the month and year (for example, 1 January 2005).
Correct: January 1, 2000
Incorrect: April to May 2003 or April to May, 2003.
Correct: April to May 2003.
Incorrect: Monday June 9, 2003.
Correct: Monday, June 9, 2003.
Incorrect: The meeting is set for September, 2004. The April, 1997 conference was a success.
Correct: The meeting is set for September 2004. The April 1997 conference was a success.
Please note: May 21st, 2003 is not an acceptable form. The date should read, May 21, 2003.
When using two or more adjectives that are equal in importance (if the commas could be replaced with the word “and,” they are equal), use a comma to separate them. Do not use a comma to separate the last adjective from the noun, however.
Incorrect: She interacted with the child in a quiet comforting manner.
Correct: She interacted with the child in a quiet, comforting manner.
Incorrect: He sliced several fresh sweet aromatic tomatoes for the salad.
Correct: He sliced several fresh, sweet, aromatic tomatoes for the salad.
Incorrect: The car has a quiet, comfortable, ride.
Correct: The car has a quiet, comfortable ride.
Use commas when writing numbers greater than 999.
Use commas when stating ages (without the phrase “years old”) within a sentence:
Jane Smith, 36, who grew up in Baltimore, moved to San Diego last year.
Use commas with direct quotes, to introduce them or with attributions.
Incorrect: The veterinarian said “I have never treated such a well behaved dog.”
Correct: The veterinarian said, “I have never treated such a well behaved dog.”
Incorrect: “My breakfast was delicious” she said “especially the waffles.”
Correct: “My breakfast was delicious,” she said, “especially the waffles.”
Incorrect: “The diet industry has grown from less than $10 billion to almost $60 billion” according to the report.
Correct: “The diet industry has grown from less than $10 billion to almost $60 billion,” according to the report.
Use apostrophes when you want to show possession with singular nouns:
the association’s conference room
NASW Press follows University of Chicago style and places an apostrophe and s to form plurals of words that end in s:
Do not use apostrophes when writing about days of the week, creating plural nouns, or creating the plural of a number or date.
Incorrect: Monday’s at noon
Correct: Mondays at noon
Incorrect: in the 1970’s
Correct: in the 1970s
Incorrect: a variety of cheese’s
Correct: a variety of cheeses
Its versus it’s: The apostrophe in “it’s” is showing a contraction. In other words, “it’s” really means “it is.” To form a possessive noun using “it,” you should write “its,” with no apostrophe.
Incorrect: I went to the park for lunch because its a beautiful day.
Correct: I went to the park for lunch because it’s a beautiful day.
Incorrect: Each hotel has it’s own unique view of the ocean.
Correct: Each hotel has its own unique view of the ocean.
Periods are placed at the end of complete sentences, including imperative sentences (orders), rhetorical questions, and indirect questions. They should never appear at the end of incomplete sentences.
Incorrect: The orange one. (incomplete sentence)
Correct: Put the platter on the table. (imperative)
He asked what was in the picnic basket. (indirect question)
Why didn’t you say so? (rhetorical question—not requiring an answer).
In a list of bulleted or numbered points, place periods at the end of complete sentences only. For consistency, if there is a mix of complete and incomplete sentences, place periods at the end of any items on the list.
Incorrect: the older children. (incomplete sentence—do not use a period)
Correct: the older children
Incorrect: We work together to achieve our mutual goals
Correct: We work together to achieve our mutual goals.
Note: It is not appropriate to end an article with a bulleted list, as readers may be left with a feeling that the article is incomplete. Also, many bulleted lists do not include punctuation (if they are incomplete sentences), which could result in an article ending with no punctuation mark whatsoever. It is important to end articles with a summary paragraph or appropriate quote.
Never place a period at the end of a Web address (URL) or at the end of an e-mail address, unless they occur at the end of a sentence. Do not put a period at the end of a URL in a reference.
Incorrect: Retrieved January 5, 2005, from www.social workers.org.
Correct: Retrieved January 5, 2005 from www.socialworkers.org
Incorrect: Stephen Gorin, PhD, MSW, is professor, Plymouth State University, Plymouth, NH 03624; e-mail: email@example.com
Correct: Stephen Gorin, PhD, MSW, is professor, Plymouth State University, Plymouth, NH 03624; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
When using a quotation, always place the period inside the quotation marks.
Incorrect: She said, “I had a wonderful weekend”.
Correct: She said, “I had a wonderful weekend.”
Use periods with initials preceding last names, but not when referring to someone by initials alone:
J. F. Kennedy
According to APA style, periods should not be used when referring to academic degrees or acronyms. Acronyms must be spelled out in full when first referred to, with the acronym in parentheses. After that, you may use the acronym by itself.
Degrees: Mary O’Neil, PhD, MSW
Acronyms: Members of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) were surveyed about their preferences. . . . [and then, later in the same document]: According to the survey of NASW members, most preferred . . .
Colons are used to introduce lists, illustrative quotations, or to emphasize points. They let readers know that what follows is related to the preceding phrase. Colons are more powerful separators than commas, less powerful than semicolons, and more formal than dashes.
The first letter of a complete sentence following a colon is always capitalized. If a colon is followed by an incomplete sentence, that phrase begins with a lower case letter.
Incorrect: There are at least two ways to core an apple: With a knife, or with an apple corer.
Correct: There are at least two ways to core an apple: with a knife, or with an apple corer.
Incorrect: When baking an apple pie, remember one thing: the apples will cook down, so it is important to heap plenty of them in the unbaked pie shell.
Correct: When baking an apple pie, remember one thing: The apples will cook down, so it is important to heap plenty of them in the unbaked pie shell.
Colons should not separate verbs from their objects.
Incorrect: Social workers are adept at working with: the aging, victims of trauma and disasters, and families in crisis. (separates verb from its object)
Correct: Social workers are adept at working with the aging, victims of trauma and disasters, and families in crisis.
Colons always go outside quotation marks, unless they are part of the quotation.
Correct: She recalled a line from a poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay: “My candle burns at both ends . . .”
Correct: The street was crowded: Rush hour had begun.
Colons are also used in salutations in letters, within titles of books and articles, and in standard memos:
To: John Smith
From: Joan Kelly
Re: March Payroll
Dear Mr. Smith:
Social Work Speaks: National Association of Social Workers Policy Statements
Semicolons show a greater separation of thought than a comma or colon.
Semicolons are used to separate complete, or independent, phrases, usually where “and,” “but,” or “for” would normally be used.
Example: A breeze had sprung up overnight; the sea sparkled, capped with foam.
Instead of: A breeze had sprung up overnight, and the sea sparkled, capped with foam.
(Both are correct—this is really a matter of stylistic preference.)
Semicolons also are used to separate lists of lengthy phrases or phrases in which other elements must be separated by commas. This helps avoid confusion. They are more formal than dashes or hyphens.
Incorrect: The student body was diverse, with children as young as six years old and, in some cases, younger, children from varying ethnic backgrounds, including Eastern European, African American, Asian, and Hispanic, and an almost equal number of male and female students. (confusing)
Correct: The student body was diverse, with children as young as six years old and, in some cases, younger; children from varying ethnic backgrounds, including Eastern European, African American, Asian, and Hispanic; and an almost equal number of male and female students. (less confusing)
Semicolons are often used when incomplete sentences appear in a bulleted list, rather than ending the phrases with no punctuation at all. NASW does not use semicolons at the end of items in bulleted list.
These barriers include the following:
- lack of information and guidance;
- medical child care needs that are associated with chronic illnesses;
- the high cost of child care for chronically ill children; and
- the lack of specialized child care.
These barriers include the following:
- lack of information and guidance
- medical child care needs that are associated with chronic illnesses
- the high cost of child care for chronically ill children
- the lack of specialized child care.
Use hyphens to join or clarify words to eliminate ambiguity.
Incorrect: Maria and Jim recovered their sofa. (This sentence makes the reader wonder when they “lost” their sofa.)
Correct: Maria and Jim re-covered their sofa.
Use hyphens with compound modifiers (two or more words expressing a single concept) modifying a noun. Do not, however, use hyphens with the word “very” or with any word ending in “-ly.” Also, do not hyphenate modifiers that follow the noun they modify; the exceptions are part-time and full-time, which are always hyphenated.
Incorrect: That was a very-relaxing cruise.
Correct: That was a very relaxing cruise.
Incorrect: The mother held a part time job and was a full time student.
Correct: The mother held a part-time job and was a full-time student.
Hyphens are used with numbers that end in “y” when they are spelled out:
Hyphens are also used when spelling out fractions:
one-fourth of all students
two-thirds of all social workers
Use hyphens to avoid duplicated vowels or tripled consonants in compound words:
Long dashes are also known as “em dashes,” and may usually be created (in a Microsoft Word document) by typing two hyphens together. They are used instead of parentheses to set off a remark or aside that is pertinent to the sentence. For publication purposes, there is no space between an em dash and the words next to it.
Example: I asked my children if they would like a dog—a small breed, like a spaniel—when we move into our new house.
Always use quotation marks when directly quoting a source. If a quotation is lengthy (40 or more words), however, do not use quotation marks. The block of quoted material should be “set in” by ½-inch margins on either side.
Do not use quotation marks when paraphrasing a quote.
Commas, periods, question marks, and exclamation points always go inside the quotation marks, along with any other punctuation that is part of the quotation.
When a phrase is already enclosed by quotation marks, use single quotation marks to denote a quotation within a quotation:
“Last night I read ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ to my children for the 100th time this weekend.”
“It’s polite to say, ‘Excuse me,’ when you step on someone’s toes,” the teacher explained.
Note: Formally, “quotation” is a noun, meaning the phrase(s) you are incorporating into your writing. “Quote” is a verb, meaning the action of quoting. Observe this distinction, even though, informally, many people use the word “quote” for both (saying, for example, they “got a good ‘quote’ for the story”).
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