When to Italicize

It often confuses new writers as to when to italicize words and when not to. This is natural because there are no set rules for this and much depends on the writer’s own discretion. However, there are certain guidelines that tell you what needs to be italicized. Here they are:

1. Emphasis. When you want to put an emphasis, or want a word or phrase to stand out from the rest.  For example:

You mean to say you wrote this?

Do not write on the wall.

2. Words as separate words. When words in a sentence are used as separate words. For example:

Don’t forget to italicize the word hope.

Committee is a word that is often misspelled.

3. Letters as words. When letters of the alphabet are used as words in a sentence. For example:

Put an X on the spot that needs to be fixed.

Don’t forget to cross your t’s.

4. Reproduced sounds as words.  Sometimes sounds are reproduced to bring effect to the writing. For example:

Thud, the parcel fell on the ground.

Bzzzzzz … the bee buzzed.

5. Foreign words. Foreign words and phrases that are unfamiliar to most readers. For example:

The lawyer says it’s a prima facie case.

Namaste,” the Indian man folded his hands in greeting.

6. Titles. Titles of books, plays, magazines, newspapers, movies, television shows etc. (Holy Books like the Bible, Koran, and others are not italicized.) For example:

Seinfeld is a popular TV program.

He reads the New York Times every morning.

7. Names of vehicles. Names of spaceships, boats, trains etc. that are proper names. For example:

The Titanic sank after hitting an iceberg.

The Orient Express is a fast train.

Keep these points in mind and you will know when to italicize words. If you’re still in doubt, just use standard font.

I hope this has been of help to you. If not, what else would you like to know about italics?

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American English versus British English

There are some variations in American and British English spellings which sometimes confuse readers who are not aware of this fact. The British (and those of the Commonwealth countries) spell words as they have always been spelling them. The Americans, on the other hand, tend to spell words as they sound… often by omitting some letters. The most common difference –

1. Nouns that end in –or in American English, end in –our in British English. Examples:

American English British English
color colour
neighbor neighbour
favor favour

2. Nouns that end in –er in American English, end in –re in British English. Examples:

American English British English
meter metre
center centre
theater theatre

3. Nouns that end in –g in American English, end in –gue in British English. Examples:

American English British English
catalog catalogue
dialog dialogue
analog analogue

4. Some other examples of nouns:

American English British English
program programme
draft draught
check cheque
jewelry jewellery
tire tyre

5. Verbs that end in –ze in American English, end in –se in British English. Examples:

American English British English
criticize criticise
memorize memorise
organize organise

6. –ll versus –l: In American English, verbs that end in –l preceded by a vowel, form their past by keeping the l singular when the suffixes –ed or –ing are added; but in British English the l is doubled. Examples:

American English British English
traveled/traveling travelled/travelling
quarreled/quarreling quarrelled/quarrelling

But – in American English, the l is doubled when the last syllable of a word that ends in –l is stressed; whereas, in British English it is not. Examples:

American English British English
fulfill fulfil
enrollment enrolment
skillful skilful

7. Some other differences when suffixes are added:

American English British English
aging ageing
kidnaping kidnapping
argument arguement
judgment judgement

These are just some of the differences in American and British English spellings. There are others, but it’s not possible to give them all here in one post. (We have already written about the differences in spellings when forming the past of some verbs :– those ending in –ed or –t.)

There is another thing that must be mentioned here. As a result of modern trends in the pop scene, scientific and technical advances, as well as the fast growth and reach of the media, American spellings are fast gaining ground. Their influence can also be seen in British English which is now slowly adopting American spellings as standard. This is why you will often see American spellings in British English.

Both the American and British spellings are correct and any may be used, but consistency is important.

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What Does ‘Re:’ Stand For?

Today one of my students asked me what “re:” stood for in the subject lines of e-mails (and letters).   I thought I’d write the answer here, too, since many people take it to mean something else.

“Re:” is what is written in the subject line of e-mails (and in letters) to tell the receiver what the topic of the message is. For example: ‘Re: Your article’. Most people take this “re:” to stand for ‘reference’ or ‘regarding’. The reason for this could be that both these words start with the letters ‘re’, and what follows these letters is actually referring to the topic of the message. However, this is a misconception. What “re” actually stands for is the Latin word “res”. “Re” is the ablative form of the noun “res”, which means ‘thing’ or ‘affair’. Therefore, “re” means ‘about the thing’ or ‘about the affair’.

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Writing Effective Titles for the Web

Writing titles and headlines for the web is much different than writing them for print. When readers take a print newspaper or magazine in their hands, they know what they wants to read and know that they’ll find it there. But with the web, readers generally search for articles to read or to find information.  They go to search engines to search for what they want, or to websites that have been recommended to them. They scan and skim the sources looking at all the different headlines searching for what they want, and then click on the title that they think will contain their information.

So, what does this mean? This means that your title or headline should be such that it immediately catches the attention of the searcher. In order to prevent your title from going unnoticed, just follow these simple rules. They will make your content more visible on the web:

1. Keep your title short. The ideal length is between three to six words, and never more than ten.  This is because most search engines usually pick only a few sets of words.

2. Keep the most relevant words in the beginning. The most relevant words should also be the keywords of your content. But be careful – don’t overstuff the title with keywords, otherwise it will not only sound irritating but will also be ignored by the search engines.

3. Make your title the “summary” of your article. In other words, the title should clearly say what your article is about. This increases the possibility of the searcher clicking on your article.

4. Be sure to keep it honest. It is very important that your title is exactly what it says. Don’t let it be just something to attract readers. If your readers are attracted by the title but find something different in your article, they’ll never return. Your reputation as a writer will be affected. This is why honesty and truthfulness is of prime importance.

It’s really not very difficult keeping these points in mind. It only takes a little care and practice. Just remember this – your title is what defines the success of your article.

What do you think – does the title of this post have all the points given above?

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Quotes on Spelling

*  My spelling is Wobbly. It’s good spelling but it Wobbles, and the letters get in the wrong places.  ~  A. A. Milne

*  I don’t give a damn for a man that can only spell a word one way.  ~  Mark Twain

*  When our spelling is perfect, it’s invisible. But when it’s flawed, it prompts strong negative associations.  ~  Marilyn vos Savant

*  A synonym is a word you use when you can’t spell the word you first thought of.  ~  Burt Bacharach

*  Take care that you never spell a word wrong. Always before you write a word, consider how it is spelled, and, if you do not remember, turn to a dictionary. It produces great praise to a lady to spell well.  ~  Thomas Jefferson to his daughter

*  Correct spelling, indeed, is one of the arts that are far more esteemed by school ma’ams than by practical men, neck-deep in the heat and agony of the world.  ~  Henry Louis Mencken

*  … the English alphabet is pure insanity…, It can hardly spell any word in the language with any degree of certainty.  ~  Mark Twain

*  The English have no respect for their language, and will not teach their children to speak it. They spell it so abominably that no man can teach himself what it sounds like. It is impossible for an Englishman to open his mouth without making some other Englishman hate or despise him. German and Spanish are accessible to foreigners: English is not accessible even to Englishmen.  ~   George Bernard Shaw

And here’s a nice one on English spelling – attributed to Oscar Wilde

If GH can stand for P as in Hiccough
If OUGH stands for O as in Dough
If PHTH stands for T as in Phthisis
If EIGH stands for A as in Neighbor
If TTE stands for T as in Gazette
If EAU stands for O as in Plateau

The right way to spell POTATO should be: GHOUGHPHTHEIGHTTEEAU!

What do you have to say of the English spelling?

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The Correct Word – Learned or Learnt

I have often been asked this question: Which is the correct past tense of learnlearned or learnt? Well, the answer is simple. Both are correct. Yes, both learned and learnt may be used as the past of learn depending on which form of English you’re using. Learned is used in American English, and learnt in British English. But these days, due to the influence of American English, learned is also being written in Britain.  So, in short, both the forms are correct. The only thing to remember is – whichever form you use, be consistent. Don’t use both learned and learnt together.

There’s just one case where only learned is used – whether British or American English. This is when used as an adjective meaning “possessing or demonstrating profound knowledge”. For example, ‘a learned person’ or ‘a learned response’. In this case, learned is pronounced with two syllables – “learn” and “ed”, unlike learned as a verb where it’s just one syllable.

There are some other verbs that have both ‘ed’ (American) and ‘t’ (British) endings for past tense:

Spell – spelled, spelt

Leap – leaped, leapt

Burn – burned, burnt

Spill – spilled, spilt

Spoil – spoiled, spoilt

Dream – dreamed, dreamt

Kneel – kneeled, knelt

Can you think of any more?

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Important Latin Words and Terms

Yesterday we talked about the value of the study of Latin. Today we give below some of the many Latin words and terms that all writers should know. These words and terms are seen written all around the world in almost all languages in all academic fields. Therefore, it’s important that all writers know them. They needn’t be learnt by heart, but it is a good idea to get familiarized with them as they are often seen written in different contexts in various media.

Most commonly used Latin words and expressions:

Ad hoc: to this. Something created for a specific purpose. Like an ad hoc committee.

Ad valorem: to the value. Something related to the value of another thing. For example, an ad valorem tax.

Affidavit: a sworn written statement. A legal statement.

Alibi: elsewhere. If a person has an alibi, it means he can prove he was elsewhere.

Bona fide: good faith. This mainly refers to contracts. To respect the contract, one must act in good faith.

De facto: common in practice. Something which is not established by law but is common in practice.  Like a de facto official language.

In toto: completely. Refers to something that is taken in its entirety. For example, taking a project in toto.

Modus operandi: a way of doing things. Mainly used when referring to a person’s way of doing things. Like  a thief’s modus operandi; that is, the way he goes about stealing.

Per se: by itself. When something is taken per se, it is taken by itself, without considering the external factors.

Prima facie: by first instance. This is used mainly in legal cases. If a case is prima facie, it means there is enough evidence to go forward with the indictment.

Pro bono: for the public good. If, for example, a lawyer works on a case pro bono, he works for the public good. In other words, he works for free.

Sic: thus. Sic is usually placed within brackets in front of incorrect word or words indicating that the words are not the writer’s.

Terra firma: solid earth. Being on terra firma refers to be being on firm ground rather than on sea.

Vice versa: the other way around. For example, if you say “he likes her and vice versa”, it means that she too likes him.

Vox populi: voice of the people. Refers to the general public, or the voice of the common man.

Which other Latin word or term do you think should also have been included here?

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