In general, Duke University follows The Associated Press Stylebook for stylistic issues pertaining to news releases and other information generated for news media and for news material distributed on the Web. When an issue is not covered in the stylebook, we rely on Webster’s New World Dictionary.
The discussion of grammar and usage is far from comprehensive, but some common errors have been highlighted. When in doubt, or when the example you’re seeking isn’t covered, we strongly recommend that you consult the guides mentioned above, as well as others, such as Strunk & White’s “The Elements of Style.”
In addition, Duke’s new Inclusive Language Guide offers guidance on language related to gender, ethnicity, race, religion, sexual orientation and more. (Note: As this is a living document subject to revision, it is being shared with members of the Duke community here via shibboleth sign-in).
For general grammar and usage questions, there are also a number of helpful online dictionaries and usage guides, among them:
Please note: Through the following examples, italics are used to highlight the word or phrase in question, and not to indicate that the word or phrase should be italicized.
|academic titles||Capitalize titles before a name.
Duke University President Vincent E. Price
Trinity College Dean Valerie Ashby
Lowercase after a name or when used alone.
Vincent E. Price, the president of Duke University
Valerie Ashby, dean of Trinity College
Exceptions are names of chaired professorships.
Alice Mary Baldwin Professor of History William H. Chafe and
William H. Chafe, Alice Mary Baldwin Professor of History
Professor is never abbreviated and only capitalized if part of a title, e.g. Joe Smith, the Eugene Jones Professor of Chemistry, …
Speaking to students, chemistry professor Jane Doe …
Doctor, M.D., Ph.D. — See entry here.
|affect, effect||Affect, the noun, describes an emotion, and is used mainly in psychology. AP style says to avoid using “affect” as a noun.
The patient showed little affect.
Affect, the verb, means to influence.
His illness affected his grades.
Effect, the noun, means result or outcome.
His illness had an effect on his grades.
Effect, the verb, means to bring about, to create.
The department chair effected big changes.
|alumnus, etc.||An alumnus is a male graduate, an alumna a female graduate. Alumni are both male graduates and male and female graduates combined. Alumnae are female graduates.
The same endings apply for emeritus, meaning a retired faculty member.
|American Indians||The AP Stylebook suggests that this usage is preferable to Native Americans, since the ancestors of American Indians migrated to North America from Asia.|
|among, between||Between introduces two items, among more than two.
The applicant had to decide among Duke, Harvard and Princeton.
The applicant had to choose between Duke and Princeton.
Pronouns following these prepositions are in the objective case.
The choice was between us and them.
|capitalization||Avoid unnecessary capitals.
proper nouns: James B. Duke
proper names: Duke University, the Eno River
popular names: the Bull City, the Triangle
titles (see Academic Titles, above, and Titles, below): “Dear Old Duke”
University, by itself, meaning Duke, is never capitalized.
President Price described the university’s master plan.
faculty is not capitalized unless it’s part of a proper name: Duke Faculty Commons; The faculty agenda includes ….
|carat, caret, karat||A carat is a measure of weight of precious stones. A caret is a proofreader’s symbol, indicating where words or letters are to be inserted. A karat is a measure of the portion of pure gold in an alloy.|
|collective nouns||Nouns and proper nouns denoting units (class, choir, committee, fraternity, orchestra, team, Duke, Microsoft) are singular and take singular verbs and pronouns.
The Arts & Sciences Council adjourned for the summer. It meets again in September.
The team is on a road trip. It plays tonight in Atlanta.
However, team names and band names take plural verbs and pronouns.
The Beatles remain the world’s most influential band.
The Blue Devils won last night. They dominated on defense.
|commas in a series||Use a comma after each item in a series except before the conjunction (unless the last item includes a conjunction.)
|compose, comprise||Compose, in the passive voice, means to be made up of.
Duke University is composed of nine schools.
Comprise, best used only in the active voice, means to contain or include.
Duke University comprises nine schools.
|compound nouns||When in doubt whether a noun is open (half note, half brother), closed (halfback, halftone), or hyphenated (half-moon, half-life), consult a dictionary. (Also see Prefixes, below.) Some examples:|
key of B minor
|key of B-flat
key of F-sharp
key of G major
|dean’s list||Always lowercase;
|disc, disk||computer disk or diskette
|disinterested, uninterested||Disinterested means impartial, uninterested means lacking in interest.|
|due to||Due is an adjective that follows the verb to be or modifies a particular noun.
The cancellation was due to snow.
Cancellations due to snow disrupted the semester.
It should not be used in adverbial phrases to mean because of.
Instead of: Due to snow, classes were canceled.
Use: Because of snow, classes were canceled.
|Duke’s units, official names||Arts & Sciences and Trinity College
Duke University Health System (lowercase “health system” if on its own)
The Fuqua School of Business
Nicholas School of the Environment
Pratt School of Engineering
Sanford School of Public Policy
School of Law
School of Medicine
School of Nursing
Undergraduate women who attended Duke between 1930 and 1972 were students in the Woman’s College, not the Women’s College.
See also: Schools and class years, below.
|Foreign words and phrases found in a standard English dictionary are not italicized:|
Nouns that in German would be capitalized are in English lowercase: doppelgänger or doppelganger, schadenfreude, weltschmerz.
|full time, part time||Hyphenate the adjective, not the noun.
Full-time employees work full time. Part-time employees work part time.
|fundraising, fundraiser||One word in all cases.
The Campaign for Duke was a fundraising effort. Fundraising is important to the university’s future.
|handicap, disability||Do not use handicap or handicapped to describe someone.
Instead refer to the person and their condition, using person-centered language such as a person with a disability
|he or she, his or her||Using he or she and his or her can be awkward. It is often simpler to make the noun plural.
|historic, history||When the h in these words is pronounced, the indefinite article should be a:
a historic moment
|hopefully||This adverb means in a hopeful manner.
The students waited hopefully for tickets.
It should not be used to mean it is hoped.
|hurricanes||All hurricanes take an indefinite pronoun.
Hurricane Fran hit Durham in 1996. It (not she) caused extensive flooding.
|hyphenation||Compound modifiers before nouns are hyphenated.
The trustees approved a long-term strategic plan.
Exceptions: Compounds with very and with adverbs ending in –ly.
A D is a very low grade.
A D is not an easily forgotten grade.
Compound modifiers after the verb to be are hyphenated.
The strategic plan is to be a long-term document.
|impact||Impact is a noun.
The team’s losing record had an impact on attendance.
Its use as a verb meaning affect or influence is common, but should be avoided.
|imply, infer||Speakers and writers imply, listeners and readers infer.|
|institutes||Duke’s six university-wide institutes serve as crucial incubators of innovations in research, pedagogy and civic engagement. More information is at https://sites.duke.edu/interdisciplinary
Duke Institute for Brain Sciences, John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute, Duke Global Health Institute, Kenan Institute for Ethics, Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, Social Science Research Institute
|Internet, Web, etc.||The following capitalizations, spellings and hyphenations are recommended:
|Iran, Iraq||Iran is not an Arab nation. Its people are Persian, Azerbaijani, Kurdish and other ethnic groups. The principal language is Farsi, an Indo-European language, also known as Persian, that is written with Arabic characters. Ninety percent of Iranians are Shiite Muslims, 10 percent Sunni Muslims.
Iraq is an Arab nation. The principal language is Iraqi, a dialect of Arabic. Sixty-five percent of Iraqis are Shiite Muslims, 30 percent Sunni Muslims.
The Kurds, Sunni Muslims who speak a dialect of Farsi, are a large minority in both countries.
|italics, quotation marks||In general, do not use italics or quotation marks for emphasis or to suggest irony or special usage:
Some students questioned whether the painting should be considered “art.”
In particular, do not use italics or quotation marks around clichés or figures of speech:
The tuition increase will have an impact on the university’s “bottom line.”
Nicknames are enclosed in quotation marks.
Harold “Spike” Yoh, former chairman of Duke’s Board of Trustees.
|Kmart, Wal-Mart, Hewlett-Packard, Packard Bell, etc.||When in doubt about the spelling and punctuation of company names, check with the press relations department at corporate headquarters. Even official websites may contain errors.|
|lay, lie||Lay (past tense: laid; past participle: laid; present participle: laying) is an action verb meaning to put or place; it takes a direct object.
The student lays down his pencil.
The student laid down his pencil.
He has laid down his pencil.
He is laying down his pencil.
Lie (past tense: lay; past participle: lain; present participle: lying) means to be or stay at rest horizontally. It cannot take an object.
The pencil lies on the desk.
The pencil lay on the desk.
The pencil has lain on the desk.
The pencil is lying on the desk.
|less, fewer||In general, less refers to things that can be measured, fewer to things that can be counted.
The student had less free time, even though he took fewer classes.
|like, as||Like is a preposition that requires an object.
She plays defense like a pro.
As is a conjunction that introduces a clause.
She plays defense as the coach taught her.
|local places||Research Triangle Park, then RTP in subsequent references.
the Triangle, and eight-county region in the Piedmont of North Carolina consisting of Chatham, Durham, Franklin, Harnett, Johnston, Orange, Person, Wake.
|months, seasons||Months are uppercase, seasons are lowercase. Abbreviate all months with a date except March, April, May, June, July.
May 15. July 4. Feb. 13. Dec. 25.
It was the summer of 1975. We worked hard all winter.
|Mohammed||Preferred over Muhammad, Mahomet or other spellings for the founder of Islam.|
|mount, mountains||Mount is spelled out, mountain is capitalized as part of a proper name.
Mount Mitchell is in the Black Mountains.
|mm, mph||Do not use periods; abbreviate in all uses.
The White Lecture Hall has 16mm and 35mm film projectors. (Note: No space is used.)
The campus speed limit is 25 mph.
|numbers||Spell out whole numbers below 10, use figures for 10 and above.
The department has 15 faculty and two administrative assistants.
Rewrite: There are 70 students enrolled in the class.
|only||Make sure that only modifies what you want it to modify.
He only studies on weekends means that on Saturday and Sunday he does nothing but study.
He studies only on weekends means that he doesn’t study Monday through Friday.
|possessives||Singular nouns add an apostrophe and an s.
the team’s record.
The AP Stylebook lists as exceptions singular nouns ending in s and followed by words beginning with s:
the witness’ story, but the witness’s recollection
Plural nouns add an apostrophe:
the students’ grades
Plural words used descriptively.
a writers guide
Names ending in s, add an apostrophe:
For names ending in z and x, add an apostrophe and an s:
|prefixes||most nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs formed with the following prefixes are closed (e.g., anteroom, neoclassical):|
co (coauthor, cooperate)
mid (midcentury)(but: mid-Atlantic)
non (nonviolent, nonprofit)
pro (proconsul) (but: pro-choice,
re (reunite, reexamine)
semi (semiannual, semiconductor)
super (superego, superimpose)
|ranges||Use this form:
$5 million to $10 million, not $5-10 million
5,000 to 10,000, not 5-10,000
Baptist Church (Baptist)
Church of Christ, Scientist (Christian Scientist)
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-
day Saints (Mormon)
Religious Society of Friends (Quaker)
Eastern Orthodox churches (Greek Orthodox Church, Russian Orthodox Church)
Religious Society of Friends (Quaker)
Roman Catholicism (Roman Catholic)
Seventh-day Adventist Church
United Methodist Church (Methodist)
|religious holidays||Please use the following spellings:
Christmas (and Christmastime)
|Saint||Abbreviate in place names and the names of saints:
St. Paul, Minn.; St. John’s Newfoundland; St. Christopher
|schools and years||For external use, say, “Jones, a 1965 graduate of the Trinity College of Arts & Sciences at Duke, …
For internal use, our style for the school and class year of alumni is: School initial ’YY (use an apostrophe, not a single open quotation mark)
(In 2024 and thereafter, we will have to distinguish between, for example, T’2024 and T’1924.)
Trinity College T’YY
|Scot, Scots, Scottish, Scotch||A Scot is a native of Scotland.
Scots are the people of Scotland.
Scottish modifies someone or something from Scotland.
Scotch is a type of whiskey. When the two words are used together they are spelled Scotch whisky.
|states, names of||The following states are never abbreviated in conjunction with the name of a city, town, village or military base:
|Put a comma between the city and state name, and another comma after the state name, unless it ends a sentence.
Reynolds Price was born in Macon, N.C., and graduated from Duke in 1955.
If the abbreviated state name ends the sentence, use only one period.
Sen. Richard Burr attended college in Winston-Salem, N.C.
The abbreviations of the remaining states are:
|that, which||That introduces clauses essential to the meaning of a sentence (and never set off by commas).
Duke is the university that James B. Duke founded.
Which introduces nonessential clauses (always set off by commas).
Duke, which was founded by James B. Duke, is located in Durham, N.C.
|time element||In external news releases, use the day of the week, not “today.”
President Vincent E. Price announced Wednesday …
|titles of books, movies, plays, etc.||Put quotation marks around the titles of books, movies, operas, plays, poems, songs, television programs and works of art. Capitalize the first and last words and all nouns, pronouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs and subordinating conjunctions (if, because, as, that, etc.). Lowercase definite and indefinite articles, coordinating conjunctions (and, but, or, for, nor) and prepositions.
“Let Us Now Praise Famous Men”
“It Happened One Night”
“The Marriage of Figaro”
“Death of a Salesman”
“Ode on a Grecian Urn”
“Just One of Those Things”
“Who Wants to Be a Millionaire”
“Adoration of the Magi”
The Bible, the Koran, the Torah,
Reference books, directories, dictionaries, encyclopedias, etc.
American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language
Books In Print
Names of newspapers, journals or magazines do not take quotation marks and are not italicized. (Note:“the” may or may not be part of a paper’s name. Check each publication to be sure. Websites are a good source.)
The News & Observer
The New York Times
New York Daily News
The New Yorker
U.S. News (with a space) was formerly U.S.News & World Report (no space). Its website is www.usnews.com.
|trademarks||The following words are trademarks:
Xerox (never used as a verb)
The following are generic:
pingpong (unless referring to the table tennis equipment made by Ping-Pong)
thermos (unless referring to the vacuum bottle made by Thermos)
(When in doubt, try typing the word into a search engine window. Trademarks often have websites, e.g., www.velcro.com.
|who, whom||Who refers to the subject of a sentence, clause or phrase.
The students who worked with tutors got high grades.
Whom refers to the object of a verb or preposition.
The students whom the tutors helped got high grades.