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a or an before h?
use an only if the h is silent: an hour, an heir, an honourable man, an honest woman; but a hero, a hotel, a historian (but don't change a direct quote if the speaker says, eg, "an historic")

(GCSE) not A-star


Abbas, Mahmoud
former Palestinian prime minister, popularly known as Abu Mazen

cap up, eg Rievaulx Abbey, Westminster Abbey

Do not use full points in abbreviations, or spaces between initials: BBC, US, mph, eg, 4am, lbw, No 10, PJ O'Rourke, WH Smith, etc

Spell out less well-known abbreviations on first mention; it is not necessary to spell out well-known ones, such as EU, UN, US, BBC, CIA, FBI, CD, Aids, Nasa

Use all caps only if the abbreviation is pronounced as the individual letters; otherwise spell the word out: the BBC, ICI, VAT, but Isa, Nato

Beware of overusing less well-known acronyms and abbreviations; they can look clunky and clutter up text, especially those explained in brackets but then only referred to once or twice again. It is usually simpler to use another word, or even to write out the name in full a second time

The rash of contractions such as aren't, can't, couldn't, hasn't, don't, I'm, it's, there's and what's has reached epidemic proportions (even the horrific "there've" has appeared in the paper). While they might make a piece more colloquial or easier to read, they can be an irritant and a distraction, and make a serious article sound frivolous. And they look pretty horrible, particularly when the system attempts to hyphenate them

Aborigines, Aboriginal
cap up when referring to native Australians

aborigines, aboriginal
lc when referring to indigenous populations





a cappella

Acas, the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service, at first mention; thereafter just Acas

Use accents on French, German, Spanish and Irish Gaelic words (but not anglicised French words such as cafe, apart from expos�)

formerly Andersen Consulting

has been known as contact since the 1989 Children Act

accommodate, accommodation


achilles heel, achilles tendon

not acknowledgement

use hectares, with acres in brackets, rounded up: eg the field measured 25 hectares (62 acres)
you multiply hectares by 2.47 to convert to acres, or acres by 0.4 to convert to hectares

take initial cap: Aids, Isa, Mori, Nato

uc when using full name, eg Criminal Justice Act 1998, Official Secrets Act; but lc on second reference, eg "the act", and when speaking in more general terms, eg "we need a radical freedom of information act"; bills remain lc until passed into law

always lc: acting prime minister, acting committee chair, etc

male and female; avoid actress except when in name of award (eg Oscar for best actress)
One 27-year-old actor contacted the Guardian to say "actress" has acquired a faintly pejorative tinge and she wants people to call her actor (except for her agent who should call her often)

AD goes before the date (AD64), BC goes after (300BC); both go after the century, eg second century AD, fourth century BC

not adaption

plural addendums not addenda

119 Farringdon Road, London EC1R 3ER

initial cap

the Bush administration, etc

TM; a brand of adrenaline

hormone that increases heart rate and blood pressure, extracted from animals or synthesized for medical uses

do not use hyphens after adverbs ending in -ly, eg a hotly disputed penalty, a constantly evolving newspaper, genetically modified food, etc; but hyphens are needed with short and common adverbs, eg ill-prepared report, hard-bitten hack

not advisor

member of the Scottish bar (not a barrister)

disputed region of Georgia

not airplane

exhortations in the style guide had no effect (noun) on the number of mistakes; the level of mistakes was not affected (verb) by exhortations in the style guide; we hope to effect (verb) a change in this

with or between, not to or for

people, Afghanis currency of Afghanistan

plural aficionados

not Afro-Caribbean

language, Afrikaner person


Tony Blair, 53, not aged 53; little Johnny, four; the woman was in her 20s (but twentysomething, fortysomething)

to make worse, not to annoy

despite the once popular terrace chant "A, G, A-G-R, A-G-R-O: Agro!"


ahead of
avoid: use before or in advance of

plural aides-de-camp

singular, aides-memoire plural

acquired immune deficiency syndrome, but normally no need to spell out

Don't use such terms as "Aids victims" or someone "suffering from Aids"

airbase, aircrew, airdrop, airlift, airmail

aircraft carrier

air raid, air strike

air vice-marshal

(note lc and hyphen) before an Arabic name means "the" so try to avoid writing "the al- ..." where possible

al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade

Alastair or Alistair?
Alastair Campbell
Alastair Cook (Essex and England cricketer)
Alastair Hetherington

Alistair Cooke
Alistair Darling
Alistair Maclean
Alistair McGowan

Aleister Crowley

Albright, Madeleine
former US secretary of state; Mrs Albright, not Ms, after first mention

Alcott, Louisa May
(1832-88) American author of Little Women


Alfons�n, Ra�l
former Argentinian president

Ali, Muhammad

being somewhere else; not synonymous with excuse

alice band
as worn by Alice in Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass (1871), and more recently David Beckham

etc, but to refer to "C-list celebrities" and its variations has become tedious. An edition of G2 referred to "D-list celebrities" and, less than hilariously, in a separate piece about the same reality TV show, "Z-list celebrities"

Arabic for "the God". Both words refer to the same concept, there is no major difference between God in the Old Testament and Allah in Islam. Therefore it makes sense to talk about "God" in an Islamic context and to use "Allah" in quotations or for literary effect

Allahu Akbar
"God is most great"
Islamic terms

all comers

Allende, Isabel
Chilean author, niece of Salvador

Allende, Salvador
Chilean president, overthrown and killed in 1973

lc, second world war allies, Gulf war allies, etc

all mouth and trousers
not "all mouth and no trousers", as has appeared in the paper

allot, allotted

all right
is right; "alright" is not all right

All Souls College
Oxford: no apostrophe

Almod�var, Pedro
Spanish film-maker




strictly, a choice between two courses of action; if there are more than two, option or choice may be preferred

plural alumni

Alzheimer's disease

AM (assembly member)
member of the Welsh assembly, eg Rhodri Morgan AM

lc, eg the British ambassador to Washington

American Civil Liberties Union
not American Civil Rights Union

American universities
take care: "University of X" is not the same as "X University"; most states have two large public universities, eg University of Kentucky and Kentucky State University, University of Illinois/Illinois State University, etc
do not call Johns Hopkins University "John Hopkins" or Stanford University "Stamford"
alphabetical list

America's Cup

Amhr�n na bhFiann
Irish national anthem

trade union formed by a merger between the AEEU and MSF

not amidst

not amuck

not amongst

among or between?
contrary to popular myth, between is not limited to two parties. It is appropriate when the relationship is essentially reciprocal: fighting between the many peoples of Yugoslavia, treaties between European countries. Among belongs to distributive relationships: shared among, etc

use in company names when the company does: Marks & Spencer, P&O;


plural analyses

precede descendants; we frequently manage to get them the wrong way round




TM; use answering machine or answerphone

antenna, antennae, antennas
antenna (insect), plural antennae
antenna (radio), plural antennas

take action in expectation of; not synonymous with expect





anti-semitic, anti-war
but antisocial

any more
two words

plural apexes

Pin the apostrophe on the word

Some plural nouns have no "s", eg children. These take an apostrophe and "s" in the possessive, eg children's games, gentlemen's outfitter, old folk's home

The possessive in words and names ending in s normally takes an apostrophe followed by a second s (Jones's, James's), but be guided by pronunciation and use the plural apostrophe where it helps: Mephistopheles' rather than Mephistopheles's

Use apostrophes in phrases such as in two days' time, 12 years' imprisonment and six weeks' holiday, where the time period (two days) modifies a noun (time), but not in nine months pregnant or three weeks old, where the time period is adverbial (modifying an adjective such as pregnant or old) - if in doubt, test with a singular such as one day's time, one month pregnant

And if anyone tries to tell you that apostrophes don't matter and we'd be better off without them, consider these four phrases, each of which means something completely different:
my sister's friend's investments,
my sisters' friends' investments,
my sisters' friend's investments,
my sister's friends' investments

appal, appalling

plural appendices

lc: cox's orange pippin, golden delicious, granny smith, etc

to estimate worth

to inform

plural aquariums

Both a noun and an adjective, and the preferred adjective when referring to Arab things in general, eg Arab history, Arab traditions. Arabic usually refers to the language and literature: "the Arabic press" means newspapers written in Arabic; while "the Arab press" would include newspapers produced by Arabs in other languages

There is no simple definition of an Arab. At an international level, the 22 members of the Arab League can safely be described as Arab countries: Algeria, Bahrain, Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, Yemen. At a human level, there are substantial groups within those countries - the Berbers of north Africa and the Kurds, for example - who do not regard themselves as Arabs

Arabic names
Though Arabic has only three vowels - a, i and u - it has several consonants which have no equivalent in the Roman alphabet. For instance, there are two kinds of s, d and t. There are also two kinds of glottal sound. This means there are at least 32 ways of writing the Libyan leader Muammar Gadafy's name in English, and a reasonable argument can be made for adopting almost any of them. With no standard approach to transliteration agreed by the western media, we must try to balance consistency, comprehensibility and familiarity - which often puts a strain on all three.

Typically, Arabs have at least three names. In some cases the first or second name may be the one that is most used, and this does not imply familiarity (Arabs often address foreigners politely as "Mr John" or "Dr David"). Saddam, for example, is used by western and Arab media alike because it is more unusual than Hussein. And often Arabs also have familiar names which have no connection with the names on their identity cards; a man might become known after the birth of his first son as "Abu Ahmad", the father of Ahmad (eg as the Palestinian leader Ahmed Qureia is commonly known as Abu Ala).

Where a particular spelling has become widely accepted through usage we should retain it. Where an individual with links to the west has clearly adopted a particular spelling of his or her own name, we should respect that. For breaking news and stories using names for which the Guardian has no established style, we take the lead given by Reuters wire copy.

Note also that names in some parts of the Arab world have become gallicised, while others have become anglicised, eg the leading Egyptian film director, Youssef Chahine, uses a French spelling instead of the English transliteration, Shaheen.

Some guidelines (for use particularly where there is no established transliteration):

Means "the". In names it is not capitalised, eg Ahmad al-Saqqaf, and can be dropped after the first mention (Mr Saqqaf). For placenames the Guardian drops it altogether. Sometimes it appears as as- or ash- or ad- or ul-: these should be ignored and can be safely rewritten as al-. But some Arabs, including Syrians and Egyptians, prefer to use el- in place of al-

Exceptions: by convention, Allah (al-Lah, literally "the God") is written as one word and capitalised; and in Saudi royal names, Al Saud is correct (in this case, "al" is actually "aal" and does not mean "the")

abdul, abu and bin

These are not self-contained names, but are connected to the name that follows:
abdul means "slave of ... " and so cannot correctly be used on its own. There are standard combinations, "slave of the merciful one", "slave of the generous one", etc, which all indicate that the person is a servant of God. In transliteration, "abd" (slave) is lower case, eg Ahmad abd al-Rahman al-Saqqaf, except when used at the start of a name
abu (father of) and bin (son of) are similar. When they appear in the middle of a name they should be lower case and are used in combination with the following part of the name: Faisal abu Ahmad al-Saqqaf, Faisal bin Ahmad al-Saqqaf

Despite the above, some people are actually known as "Abdul". This is more common among non-Arab Muslims. And some Arabs run "abd" or "abu" into the following word, eg the writer Abdelrahman Munif


Our style for the prophet's name and for most Muhammads living in Arab countries, though where someone's preferred spelling is known we respect it, eg Mohamed Al Fayed, Mohamed ElBaradei. The spelling Mohammed (or variants) is considered archaic by most British Muslims today, and disrespectful by many of them

Muhandis/Mohandes, Qadi
Be wary of names where the first word is Muhandis or Qadi: these are honorary titles, meaning engineer and judge respectively

Arafat, Yasser

the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, at first mention, thereafter Dr Williams or the archbishop (he is the Most Rev but not normally necessary to say so); the Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, on first mention, subsequently Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor or the archbishop

the Ven Paul Olive, Archdeacon of Farringdon, at first mention; then Mr Olive (unless he is a Dr), or the archdeacon

plural archipelagos

Ardoyne (Belfast)
not "the Ardoyne"

noun and adjective

unarguably one of the most overused words in the language

armed forces, armed services, the army
the British army, the navy, but Royal Navy, Royal Air Force (RAF is OK)

arms akimbo
hands on hips, elbows out; we have had "legs akimbo" in the paper (uncomfortable as well as ungrammatical)

do not use when you mean about, eg "around �1m" or "around 2,000 people"

arranged marriages
are a traditional and perfectly acceptable form of wedlock across southern Asia and within the Asian community in the UK; they should not be confused with forced marriages, which are arranged without the consent of one or both partners, and have been widely criticised


not artiste (except, possibly, in a historical context)

art movements
lc: art deco, art nouveau, cubism, dadaism, expressionism, gothic, impressionism, pop art, surrealism etc
but Bauhaus, Modern (in the sense of Modern British, to distinguish it from "modern art"), pre-Raphaelite, Romantic (to differentiate between a romantic painting and a Romantic painting)

Arts Council

antisocial behaviour order

ascendancy, ascendant

a day of voluntary fasting for Muslims: Shia Muslims also commemorate the martyrdom of Hussein, a grandson of the prophet. For their community, therefore, it is not a festival but a day of deep mourning

Asperger's syndrome


al-Assad, Bashar
Syrian politician

not astrologist

capital of Paraguay

asylum seeker
(no hyphen)
Someone seeking refugee status or humanitarian protection; there is no such thing as a "bogus" or "illegal" asylum seeker. Refugees are people who have fled their home countries in fear for their lives, and may have been granted asylum under the 1951 refugee convention or qualify for humanitarian protection or discretionary leave, or have been granted exceptional leave to remain in Britain. An asylum seeker can only become an illegal immigrant if he or she remains in Britain after having failed to respond to a removal notice

1500m but 5,000m (the former is the "fifteen hundred" not "one thousand five hundred" metres)

Atlantic Ocean
or just the Atlantic

no accent

Attlee, Clement
(1883-1967) Labour prime minister from 1945 to 1951, often misspelt as Atlee

attorney general
lc, no hyphen

used to make holes

predict or presage

Aum Shinrikyo
means Supreme Truth sect, but note that the "aum" means sect, so to talk about the "Aum sect" or "Aum cult" is tautologous

au pair

Oceania is preferable

Australian Labor party
not Labour

an incurable neurological disorder, to be used only when referring to the condition, not as a term of abuse, or in producing such witticisms as "mindless moral autism" (sic) and "Star Wars is a form of male autism", both of which have appeared in the paper

someone with autism, not someone with poor social skills

TM; teleprompter is a generic alternative


avant garde
no hyphen

average, mean and median
Although we loosely refer to the "average" in many contexts (eg pay), there are two useful averages worth distinguishing.
What is commonly known as the average is the mean: everyone's wages are added up and divided by the number of wage earners. The median is described as "the value below which 50% of employees fall" ie it is the wage earned by the middle person when everyone's wages are lined up from smallest to largest. (For even numbers there are two middle people, but you calculate the mean average of their two wages.)
The median is often a more useful guide than the mean, which can be distorted by figures at one extreme or the other

awards, prizes, medals
generally lc, eg Guardian first book award, Nobel peace prize, Fields medal (exceptions: the Academy Awards, Victoria Cross); note that categories are lc, eg "he took the best actor Oscar at the awards"

stands for "absent without leave" but, having been around since at least the 1920s, has established itself as a word in its own right

plural axes

Ayers Rock
now known as Uluru

noun, Azerbaijani adjective; note that there are ethnic Azeris living in, eg, Armenia

Aziz, Tariq
former deputy prime minister of Iraq

Aznar, Jos� Mar�a
former Spanish prime minister

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