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:

For questions or suggestions, contact Steve Hartsoe (

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.


Dr., M.D., other titles
These titles are capitalized and abbreviated before a name. Note: For stories not meant for media or Duke MarComms websites, Duke can deviate  from AP style for titles referring to medical doctors and those who hold doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) degrees.
On first mention you can use M.D. or Ph.D. (use last name only on subsequent references to the person):

Anthony Fauci, M.D.,  told Congress …

Fauci later clarified his comments ….

Angela King, M.D., and Natalie Lopez. M.D., attended …

Josh Jenkins, Ph.D., published his first book …

Jenkins graduated from Duke in 1993.

For media and MarComms:
Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy told Congress …

Josh Jenkins published his first book in 2007. He holds a doctorate in anthropology from Duke University.

Abbreviate the following (whether for MarComms/media or a Duke article) only before a full name:

Gov. Roy Cooper
Lt. Gov. Bruce Lee
Rep. David Price (D-NC)
Sen. Tom Tillis (R-NC)
Sens. Mitt Romney and Charles Schumer …
and all military titles (Gen., Adm., Col., Maj., Capt., Pvt., Pfc., etc.)
Gen. George Patton said …
Patton served from …

Professor is never abbreviated and only capitalized if part of a title:
Joe Smith, the Eugene Jones Professor of Chemistry …

Speaking to students, chemistry professor Jane Doe …

United States and United Nations:

Spell out on first reference, then abbreviate U.S. and U.N. as nouns on second and subsequent references. Abbreviate always when used as adjectives.

The United States contribution to the U.N Climate Fund is larger than that of any other nation.

The U.S. ambassador said she will not protest the meeting at the United Nations. But a U.N. spokeswoman said …

Also, it’s OK to leave out periods in abbreviations in headlines and on social media:

Duke Study Finds US Losing Global Status

academic degrees bachelor of arts (B.A.) (a bachelor’s degree)
bachelor of divinity (B.D.) bachelor of laws (LL.B)
bachelor of science (B.S.)
doctor of law (J.D.)
doctor of laws (L.L.D.)
doctor of medicine (M.D.) doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.)
master of arts (M.A.) (a master’s degree)
master of public policy (M.P.P.)
master of science (M.S.)
academic departments

Academic departments are lowercase (the music department, the physics department) except when the subject in question is a proper noun (the English department, the German department).

Department names used in an official sense are uppercase (e.g., Duke’s Department of Chemistry, the Duke University Department of Music). The same is true for institutes, centers, schools, etc.

Also, note some schools use ampersands as part of their title:
Duke Department of Psychology & Neuroscience
Duke Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences
(Not: department of psychology and neuroscience)

Other options:
The psychology department
A professor of psychology and neuroscience
A professor of psychiatry and behavioral science

academic titles

Capitalize titles before a name.
Duke University President Vincent E. Price

Trinity College Dean Gary Bennett

Lowercase after a name or when used alone:

Vincent E. Price, president of Duke University

Gary Bennett, dean of Trinity College

Exceptions are names of chaired professorships:

Alice Mary Baldwin Professor of History William H. Chafe 

William H. Chafe, Alice Mary Baldwin Professor of History

Avoid endowed titles for media:

Instead of William H. Chafe, Alice Mary Baldwin Professor of History
Make it:
Duke history professor William Chafe …

Professor is never abbreviated and only capitalized if part of a endowed title:
Joe Smith, the Eugene Jones Professor of Chemistry, …

Speaking to students, chemistry professor Jane Doe …

For faculty with long/multiple titles and/or long/multiple affiliations, separate additional titles:

Political science professor Michael Munger, said …

Munger, also a professor of economics and public policy, will lead xxx

Doctor, M.D., Ph.D. — See Abbreviations section at top.

affect, effect

Affect, the noun, describes an emotion, and is used mainly in psychology. AP style says to avoid using “affect” as a noun.

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 female graduates combined. Alumnae are female graduates.
The same endings apply for emeritus, meaning a retired faculty member.

AP: If a gender-neutral term is desired, alum or alums is acceptable. (For more, see Duke’s Inclusive Language Guidelines.)

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.


Avoid unnecessary capitals.


Proper nouns: James B. Duke

Proper names: Duke University, the Eno River, the South, Western states, the Bull City, the Triangle

On second references, follow:

Duke Margolis Center for Health Policy

(2nd reference): Scholars at the center xxxx; or Scholars at the Margolis Center published …

Titles (see Academic Titles, above, and Titles, below)

University, by itself, 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 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.

However, team names, band names, etc. 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  

MarComms style is to avoid Oxford commas.
Use a comma after each item in a series except before the conjunction (unless the last item includes a conjunction.)

Students eat lunch at the Cambridge Inn, the Alpine Atrium and the Perk.

compose, comprise  

In the passive voice, means to be made up of:Duke University is composed of nine schools.

Best used only in the active voice, and means to contain or include.Duke University comprises 10 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.) Note: AP dropped hyphenations for compound proper nouns and adjectives. Some examples:

African American (no longer hyphenated)

Italian American (no longer hyphenated)


coal mining






French Canadian

full moon



headache, toothache

key of G-minor

key of B-flat

key of G-major
Latin American



near miss


notebook, textbook

one-half, one-eighth




quasi corporation


vice chairman

vice president

vice provost

dean’s list  

Always lowercase

He made the dean’s list three straight semesters.

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.

It should not be used in adverbial phrases to mean because of.

Incorrect: Due to snow, classes were canceled.Use: Because of snow, classes were canceled.

Duke’s units, official names  

Trinity College of Arts & Sciences

Divinity School

Duke University Health System (lowercase “health system” if on its own)
Duke Health is an umbrella term that refers to all of the component entities — Duke University Health System, Duke University School of Medicine, Duke University School of Nursing, etc.

Duke University Health System refers ONLY to the clinical entities — Duke University Hospital, Duke Raleigh Hospital, outpatient clinics and facilities, and physician practices.

The Fuqua School of Business

Graduate School

Nicholas School of the Environment

Pratt School of Engineering (or Duke Engineering)

Sanford School of Public Policy

Duke University School of Law or Duke 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
  Foreign words and phrases found in a standard English dictionary are not italicized:

dolce vita
fait accompli
mea culpa

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 Monday-Friday.

Employees who work evenings are part time.

fundraising, fundraiser  

One word in all cases.

Duke Forward 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.

Instead of:
A student gets good grades when he or she studies hard.

Students get good grades when they study hard.

historic, history  

When the h in these words is pronounced, the indefinite article should be a:

a historic moment
a history professor


This adverb means in a hopeful manner.

The students waited hopefully for tickets.

It should not be used to mean it is hoped.

Instead of:
Hopefully, tickets would be available.
They hoped tickets would be available.

hurricanes   All hurricanes take an indefinite pronoun. Hurricane Fran hit Durham in 1996. It (not she) caused extensive flooding.

Compound modifiers before nouns are hyphenated.

The trustees approved a long-term strategic plan.

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 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.

Instead of:
The team’s losing record impacted attendance.
The team’s losing record affected attendance.

imply, infer   Speakers and writers imply, listeners and readers infer.

Duke’s six university-wide institutes serve as crucial incubators of innovations in research, pedagogy and civic engagement. More information is at

Duke Institute for Brain Sciences
John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute
Duke Global Health Institute
Kenan Institute for Ethics
Nicholas Institute for Energy, Environment & Sustainability
Social Science Research Institute

internet, web, etc.   The following capitalizations, spellings and hyphenations are recommended:
Duke Daily
Duke Today
e-reader (Kindle, Nook)
geotagging, geolocation
Google, Googling, Googled
iPad, iPhone, iPod 
to text, text message, texted, texting
X, (formerly Twitter) (n.), tweet (v., for now)
Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP on second reference)
web, website
wiki, Wikipedia
YouTube (also, Duke’s channel on YouTube)
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. The majority of Iranians are Shiite Muslims, others are Sunni Muslims.

Iraq is an Arab nation. The principal language is Iraqi, a dialect of Arabic. Most Iraqis are Shiite Muslims, others are 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.


Spell out whole numbers below 10, use figures for 10 and above.

The department has 15 faculty and two administrative assistants.

She has a son, John, 7.
She has a 7-year-old son, John.

The photograph is 6 inches by 9 inches.
The sophomore is 6 feet 5. He is a 6-foot-5 sophomore.

AP says use % with no space after the figure, but spelling out “percent” is fine if preferred:
Only 4% of undergraduates do not return for their sophomore year. 

The Blue Devils won 84 percent of their home games. (add a space between the figure and percent).

The class starts at 9 a.m. (Not: 9:00 a.m. or 9 A.M.)
Try to avoid starting a sentence with a figure:
Seventy students enrolled in the class.

There are 70 students enrolled in the class.


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.


Singular nouns add an apostrophe and an s.

The team’s record.

The driver’s license.

appearance’ sake, conscience’ sake, goodness’ sake

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
the hostess’ soirée, but the hostess’s party

Plural nouns add an apostrophe:

the students’ grades


Plural words used descriptively.
The Blue Devils coach

a writers guide

Names ending in s, add an apostrophe:

Charles’ dog

Jesus’ mother

Moses’ law

Achilles’ heel

Euripedes’ plays

For names ending in z and x, add an apostrophe and an s:

Berlioz’s opera

Marx’s writings

Xerox’s profits

prefixes   Most nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs formed with the following prefixes are closed (e.g., anteroom, neoclassical):
  ante (antediluvian)
anti (antihero)
bi (bisexual)
bio (biodiversity)
co (coauthor, cooperate)
counter (counteroffensive)
extra (extracurricular)
infra (infrastructure)
inter (intercollegiate)
intra (intrasquad)
macro (macroeconomics)
meta (metadata)
micro (micromanage)
mid (midcentury)(but: mid-Atlantic)
mini (minibus)
multi (multistory)
neo (neoclassical)
non (nonviolent, nonprofit)
over (overvalued)
post (postdoctoral)
pre (prearranged)
pro (proconsul) (but: pro-choice,
pro-life, pro-American)
proto (prototype)
pseudo (pseudoscience)
re (reunite, reexamine)
semi (semiannual, semiconductor)
socio (socioeconomic)
sub (substandard)
super (superego, superimpose)
supra (supraorbital)
trans (transoceanic)
ultra (ultraconservative)
un (unenthusiastic)
under (underfunded)

Use this form:

$5 million to $10 million, not $5-10 million

5,000 to 10,000, not 5-10,000

religions     Anglicanism (Anglican)
Baptist Church (Baptist)
Buddhism (Buddhist)
Catholicism (Catholic)
Church of Christ, Scientist (Christian Scientist)
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-
day Saints (Mormon)
Religious Society of Friends (Quaker)
Hinduism (Hindu)
Islam (Muslim)
Judaism (Jew)
Eastern Orthodox churches (Greek Orthodox Church, Russian Orthodox Church)
Protestantism (Protestant)
Religious Society of Friends (Quaker)
Roman Catholicism (Roman Catholic)
Seventh-day Adventist Church
Shiism (Shiite)
Shintoism (Shintoist)
Sunnism (Sunni)
Taoism (Taoist)
United Methodist Church (Methodist)
religious holidays     Please use the following spellings:
Ash Wednesday
Christmas (and Christmastime)
Good Friday
Holy Week
Rosh Hashana
Yom Kippur

Abbreviate place names and the names of saints:

St. Paul, Minn.; St. John’s Newfoundland; St. Christopher

Saint John, New Brunswick;
Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan

schools and years  

For external use:

“Jones, a 1965 graduate of the Trinity College of Arts & Sciences at Duke …

For internal use, preferably only when needed to identify several individuals by degree on first reference, it’s OK to use degree abbreviations and graduation year, set off by commas:

Jane Smith, B.A.’22, spent four years …
Will Clark, LL.D.’15, represented …
Brock Purdy, ‘T15, is getting married.

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  

AP style in recent years changed guidelines for state names — do not abbreviate except in lists and political party affiliation:

She’s from Raleigh, North Carolina.

The winners are from:
Nashville, Tenn.
Santa Clara, Calif.
Durham, N.C.

The following states are never abbreviated:

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, North Carolina, and graduated from Duke in 1955.

State abbreviations 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 University, which James B. Duke founded, is in Durham, N.C.

time element  

In external news releases, use the day of the week, not “today,” even if the event takes place the day the release is sent out:

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”


The Bible, the Koran, the Torah,

Reference books, directories, dictionaries, encyclopedias, etc.

Encyclopedia Britannica

American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language

Books, newspapers, journals, etc.

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.)

USA Today

The News & Observer

The New York Times



U.S. News (with a space) was formerly U.S.News & World Report (no space). Its website is


The following words are trademarks:

Ace Bandage



Scotch Tape

Seeing-Eye dog





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.,

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.