Sunday, September 18, 2016

What is a Sentence, Dammit?

Here are some lines from graduate student essays:

1.  When he laughed at my question, at first I was surprised, in all four years of my university career, a professor had never been anything but helpful when I asked for help.

2.  You sound angry, what's up do you have some deadline to meet and your computer is not working

3.  So you're saying you can do this movement better than me, is that it?

Image result for an independent clause
Read the sentences aloud.  Find the places where one thought ends and another begins.


1.  When he laughed at my question, at first I was surprised.  In all four years of my university career, a professor had never been anything but helpful when I asked for help.
2.  You sound angry.  What's up?  Do you have some deadline to meet and your computer is not working?
3.  So you're saying you can do this movement better than me?  Is that it?

Sunday, November 15, 2015

The Star-Spangled Banner and the Self-Flagellating Monk

What do the two items in the title have in common?

They both have hyphens.  That's probably all unless the self-flagellating monk was saluting the flag while whipping himself.

The rule is this:

When two or more words are put together to form an adjective and placed in front of a noun, connect them with a hyphen.

  • an exercise to build teams is a team-building exercise
  • the reporter with mild manners is a mild-mannered reporter

Hyphens are adventurous.  They show up quite correctly all over the place.  Having your Canadian Oxford Paperback Dictionary handy will help you navigate the hyphenscape.  There are more rules.

  • Words beginning with "self" have a hyphen:  self-flagellation, self-esteem, self-pity.
  • Most words beginning with "non" are followed by a hyphen, but not all (nonsense, nonentity, noncommital, nonconformist, and others.)
  • To be sure whether a word takes a hyphen or not, look it up.  If your non-word is not in the dictionary, use the hyphen.
Many, many words are in the dictionary.  Don't guess.


Insert hyphens

  1. The Model Driven Architecture approach defines system functionality using a platform (PIM) which uses an appropriate domain specific language (DSL).  (Sentence from Wikipedia)
  2. I like the hands on experience of this two year, co op program.
  3. An ego boosting experience raised my self esteem.
  4. Toronto is a desirable location for many eager to wed, same sex pairs.
  5. The prof is a consultant on human computer interaction, software visualization, multimedia, and computer supported, cooperative work.  His thinking is non linear.
  6. He’s an inconsiderate, rage filled, passive aggressive human being.
  7. His outside of the box way of thinking has always fascinated me.
  8. We were going to meet face to face.
  9. After our first face to face meeting, we felt okay meeting via Skype.


  1. Model-Driven, domain-specific
  2. hands-on, two-year, co-op
  3. ego-boosting, self-esteem
  4. eager-to-wed, same-sex
  5. human-computer, computer-supported, non-linear
  6. rage-filled, passive-aggressive
  7. outside-of-the-box
  8. no hyphens
  9. face-to-face

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Reading Your Essays, Frustration Arose

My student began his essay with this:  "Nearing the end of summer vacation, it was the time when exchange students bid farewell to their colleagues."

The sentence gave me a pause.  It seemed awkward.  I suggested that he change it to, "It was nearing the end of summer vacation, a time when exchange students bid farewell to their colleagues."

Image result for lucy you got some splainin to doIn the next paragraph, I found, "Starting out as lab partners, our pair-up had resulted in winning several competitions."  Several paragraphs down, "Glancing at his startled face, humiliation and rage built up in me."

I knew there was a problem!  This student, and oh so many others, need to know the "participial phrase rule."  To quote Strunk and White,  

Rule #11) A participial phrase at the beginning of a sentence must refer to the grammatical subject.

Who started as lab partners?  The author should say "we" - not "our pair-up."
Who glanced at his startled face?  The author should follow the comma with "I."

Suggested Changes:
  • Starting out as lab partners, we had gone on to win several major competitions.
  • Glancing at his startled face, I felt my humiliation and rage build up."

Here's a great blog called "Grammar Tip of the Daywith more examples.

Rewrite the title of this blog.

Reading your essays, I felt frustrated.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Undangling Your Prepositions

Image result for university library sign

A student stops a professor on the university campus.
Student:  Hey, professor, where’s the library at?
Professor:  Never, never, never end a sentence with a preposition.
Student:  OK.  Where’s the library at, asshole?

The professor in the joke is wrong.
The problem is not the "at" ending the sentence.  "At" is simply unnecessary.  "Where's the library?" is sufficient.

Sometimes keeping a dangling preposition at the end of a sentence is better than removing it.  For example:  "This is the kind of thing up with which I will not put" is just silly.

  • This blog is about when getting rid of the dangle is recommended.

The dangling preposition is a problem in my students' essays - especially if there are a lot of them.  One essay had all these sentences:

  • Listening to others is a skill I would like to improve on.
  • Dealing with indirect people is another important communication skill I would like to become more proficient in.
  • Speaking confidently in public settings is something I would like to become better at.
  • I wrote down a few key points that I wanted to touch on.
  • My husband is someone I would like to be closer to.

Looking at the sentences above, you can see that each preposition has an object:

  • improve on listening
  • proficient in dealing with indirect people
  • better at speaking confidently
  • touch on a few points
  • closer to my husband

Some grammarists say the object should always follow the preposition that introduces it.

I suspect "always" is too restrictive, but writers should always be aware that the preposition at the end of a clause creates -- an unfinished, dangly, wordy feel to the sentences, especially when there are several in one essay.  

Grammatically speaking, the prepositions should be followed by a noun rather than preceded by one.  For succinct writing, I generally look at my dangling prepositions and see if I can use a different word or change the sentence structure.
Look at all the tiresome unnecessary words you can eliminate:

  • I would like to improve on my listening skills.  (-3)
  • I would like to become more proficient in dealing with indirect people.  (-5)
As for ending a question with a preposition:

I prefer the wording of the questions above to the unreadable "To whom should I give this?"  or "From where did this come?"  What do you think?

  1. Where are you going?
  2. Who wants this?
  3. Seems fine as it is.
  4. Seems fine.
  5. Who is going with you?
  6. Which container is it in? Still dangling but seems fine.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Do I Indent My Paragraphs?

There are two ways to indicate a new paragraph:

  • indent the first line of the paragraph by one-half inch
  • do not indent, but leave extra space between paragraphs

Conveniently, we can set our word-processing programs to leave extra space after the hard return which tells the program that you are starting a new paragraph.

The current rule is to either indent or leave the space, but do not do both.

There is a popular style of writing blogs, business memos, letters, and reports called "Full Block."  In this style, paragraphs are not indented.  As you can see, I consistently leave a space between paragraphs rather than indent.  Increasingly, everything we write is left- margin justified. There is always a blank space between paragraphs.

I have been, perhaps unnecessarily, encouraging my students to indent paragraphs for non-business writing.  Most essay writing that they do for me is informal story-telling as they reflect on communication events in their lives.  Indenting, rather that leaving the blank space sometimes means they can fit the whole story onto one page, but there is no particular other reason to indent.  I imagine I am being anachronistic in preferring indentation for non-business writing.  It tends to make the writing look more like the narrative story that it is and less like the business report/school assignment that it also is.

But the official non-rule is that the indentation sends the same message as the space between paragraphs.  We must indicate a shift in perspective by starting a new paragraph.  To fit a page, indent your paragraphs; otherwise, suit yourself and be consistent.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Ode to the Colon

The full colon is a much abused couple of dots.  It is often omitted or misplaced.  I just ran across this sentence in my student's essay:

"I was picking through a rack of clothing, flipping through mindlessly, when I saw it.  The shirt."

I let that slide, but in my punctuating heart I would have preferred

"I was picking through a rack of clothing, flipping through mindlessly, when I saw it:  the shirt."

Colon Rule #1

Colons introduce lists, even a list of one.
Colons follow nouns, not verbs.  I tend to follow colons with two spaces, semicolons with one space.  If you follow periods with two spaces, do the same with colons.

Which of these sentences are wrong?

  1. Things that make my life meaningful are:  love, food, and music.
  2. My life is made meaningful by these things:  love, food, and music.
  3. Our topic might include: the impact of violent video games on computer science students, the best violent video games, and the gaming subculture.
  4. Our group members are:  Adam, Jane, Shaun, and Matt.
  5. The thieves stole the following items a printer, a DVD player, and a laptop.
  6. My boss insisted on three rules of behaviour be polite, control your temper, and ask questions when you don’t understand.
  7. Some of my qualities are:  charm, intelligence, and ambition.
  8. The officer seized the following items, 12 bullets, 13 knives, 20 semi-automatic weapons, and one virtual light sabre.
Colon Rule #2

Colons also introduce direct quotations; however, in most informal writing, a comma is preferred.

Insert colons, quotation marks, and hyphens in the sentences below:
  1. The CBC website today says A court in China has sentenced an online gamer to death for the real world murder of a fellow player after a confrontation over a virtual weapon.
  2. The article also says that the victim was stabbed with a real weapon for selling a virtual sabre.  It is unclear whether the sabre was sold for real or virtual money.
  3. The website at has the following This cross divisional, tri campus project was launched in November 2004 with a two and a half year grant from the Provost's Academic Initiatives Fund (AIF).
Colon Rule #3

Colons are used to indicate time.  The robbery took place at 11:30 a.m.  Take note that a.m. and p.m. are written in lower case with periods.

When using military time (the 2400 clock), the use of the colon seems to depend on the author.  The Toronto airport and Via Rail use the colon.  Police, hospitals, and emergency services often do not use the colon; however, scientists and engineers tend to use it.  Here are some correct sentences:

  1. The GTAA website says my flight will arrive at 16:20.
  2. The ambulance arrived at 0022.  
  3. I was dispatched at 2320 to 1285 Main St. East.

Ode to the Colon
by Elizabeth Zetlin

O double pinhead

dagger of colonization

never direct

always explaining

leading us to expect
you’ve got the answer.

You dribble along
a tangle of intestine
ending up at:
yes: the rectum,
that final excretion
of all your verbiage
all your promises all your excuses
about being too busy,
not having enough time,
you’ll get to it tomorrow.

You lead us on and on
with your examples,
series of comments, lists
of things you have to do.
Why don’t you just relax,
tip sideways
like the eyes of crows:
come to an end.

 from The Thing with Feathers, BuschekBooks, 2004, p. 68.

Quiz 1:  Only #2 is correct.
Quiz 2:  
  1. The CBC website today says, "A court in China has sentenced an online gamer to death for the real-world murder of a fellow player after a confrontation over a virtual weapon."
  2. The article also says that the victim was stabbed with a real weapon for selling a virtual sabre.  It is unclear whether the sabre was sold for real or virtual money.
  3. The website at has the following: "This cross-divisional, tri-campus project was launched in November, 2004, with a two-and-a-half year grant from the Provost's Academic Initiatives Fund (AIF).

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Semicolon is Everywhere

Image result for semicolon tattooSuddenly, the semicolon is a very popular tattoo.  It is a sign that "the sentence is not over yet" for people struggling with mood disorders and mental illness.

"A semicolon is used when an author could've chosen to end their sentence, but chose not to. The author is you and the sentence is your life." 

Consequently, it seems in questionable taste to now discuss proper use of the semicolon; yet, I just noticed several places in my student's essay where a semicolon would make it easier to read.

In the sentence above, you see a semicolon before "yet."  I would normally put a comma before "yet" since "yet" is a conjunction joining two complete sentences as we discussed here.  I chose a semicolon because there are already commas in the sentence, and the punctuation before a conjunction joining two sentences carries a particular heft. 

QUIZ:  Here are the sentences from WW's essay.  How should they be punctuated?
  • 1.  Unfortunately, our chosen topic did prove to be difficult to research and our presentation was scattered, vague, and far too broad.
  • 2.  I dont want to become more persuasive because I think that all my ideas are great, but in this instance and others like it, I failed to convince my group not to make a poor decision.
My student did manage to put a semicolon in his essay - in the wrong place.  He wrote
  • 3.  I find that I can often miss what the other person is saying; not on an emotional or subtext level but I often find it difficult to simply pay attention

The semicolon is a confusing punctuation mark.  It is most commonly used to join two short complete sentences when it seems like a good idea.  It indicates more than a comma, but less than a period.  In the examples above, a semicolon helps a reader navigate a sentence with that already has several commas.  There are other uses, including now as a symbol of hope and support for people with mental illnesses

1.  Put the semicolon after "research."
2.  Put the semicolon after "great."
3.  Change the semicolon to a comma and put the semicolon before "but."  It's not a great sentence, but we are just here now to edit semicolons.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Using Numbers in Your Writing

The following rules come from the NASA Style Guide.  I find this style guide to have great tips.  I generally agree with everything they say, for now.  Memorize some of this.  There will be a test below in due course.


***Whole numbers from one through nine:

Write these out, including ordinals like "fourth" and "seventh."

***Numbers starting at 10:

Use numerals unless it's a large round number and it seems appropriate to write it out, as in "one in ten thousand."

In numbers of four or more digits, use commas between groups of three digits, counting from the right:
  • 32,987
  • 1,512
  • 2,734,456

Measurements (distance, weight, mass, clock time, force, volume, etc.):

Use numerals (35 kilometers, 10 grams, etc.). "Clock time" means units of hours or smaller. Use numerals for hours and smaller.  Use words for days, months, and years under 10.

Examples: 4 minutes, 3 hours, two days, seven months, nine years.

Actual years:
Use numerals (e.g., 1995, 2004) In the case of years, no commas are used.

Page numbers

Use numerals (e.g., pp. 972-1003). In the case of page numbers, no commas are used.

Consistency within a sentence:

If you have several numbers relating to the same thing in the same sentence and at least one of them is big enough to be written in numerals, then all of them will be in numerals. Example: "There are 8 students in the philosophy department, 13 in the classics department, and 117 in the romance languages department."

At the beginning of a sentence or title:

Write out any number that begins a sentence or title. Example: "One hundred twenty-eight students visited Kennedy Space Center."

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Comma Coma #8: Conjunctivitis

Conjunctions (and, but, as, or nor, yet) join things.

Sometimes conjunctions join two complete sentences.  Each sentence has a subject and a verb.  Here are two of my student's sentences:
  • "I'd like to be better at communicating clearly with my family."
  • "I am the only person in my family who has ever been to graduate school."
Where should Batman add commas?
If you wish to join these two sentences, put a comma before the conjunction:  "I'd like to be better at communicating clearly with my family, as I am the only person in my family who has ever been to graduate school."

Another student wrote
  • I don't think my nervousness is something I can easily control.
  • I just wish I could find a way to stop thinking about it and be confident in what I am saying.
Join the sentences with "but" and you have this:  "I don't think my nervousness is something I can easily control, but I wish I could find a way to stop thinking about it and be confident in what I am saying."  Add a comma before the conjunction when joining two complete sentences.

Notice there is no comma between "and" and "be confident."  If the author had added "I wish I could" after "and" then there would be two complete sentences joined by a conjunction and the comma after "and" would be required:  ". . . but I wish I could find a way to stop thinking about it, and I wish I could be confident in what I am saying." 

Where should Batman have added commas?

Add a comma before each "and."

Capital Confusion #3: Don't Be a Spambot


Learn correct capitalization or you will be mistaken for a spammer.

This email arrived recently:

How many errors do you see?


Subject:  Urgent Request From Apple Team.
Some-information on your account appears to be missing or incorrect

Please confirm your information so that you can continue to enjoy all the benefits of your Apple-ID.
Otherwise, your apple ID Will be Blocked
Here's The link to all the legal details

Click Here To Verify Now

Once The Security Check Finished Your Account Will be more SAFER.
Thank you for being an Ap-ple-custo. 


Errors?  Too many to count.  
Capital letter errors?  Too many to count.

Subject:  Urgent Request From Apple Team.
Some-information on your account appears to be missing or incorrect 

Please confirm your information so that you can continue to enjoy all the benefits of your Apple-ID.
Otherwise, your apple ID Will be Blocked
Here's The link to all the legal details 

Click Here To Verify Now 

Once The Security Check Finished Your Account Will be more SAFER. 
Thank you for being an Ap-ple-custo. 

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Time to Canadianize Your Writing

Welcome to Canada.  Welcome to my class.

You have likely been in many other classes up to now.  The classes that involved writing in English had teachers who taught you the preferred English style for the country you were in.

Canada has its own writing idiosyncrasies.  We like our letter zed.  We like it in many places where other countries like a soft, sibilant "s."  Not us.  We want to IZE everything.

Look in the dictionary.  The word "realise" is not there.  Don't apologise for not checking.  Apologize!  I will never sympathise with you for your pain.  But I might sympathize.

In Canada, you will have to prioritize, accessorize, empathize, and finalize.  Here are some exceptions:

  • advertise
  • apprise
  • compromise
  • devise
  • enterprise
  • exercise
  • surprise.

You can look here for an explanation of this.  As the linked article says, English spelling is "untidy."  I'd say downright messy.  Buy and use the POCD if you intend to write Canadian English better (dammit).

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Comma Coma #7: When You Have an Introductory Word, Phrase, or Clause, Insert a Comma.

A sentence has a primary subject and a verb:

Image result for commasStephen Harper (subject) is (verb) our former prime minister.

There might be other parts of the sentence with subject-like words and verb-like words, but you need to be able to identify your primary subject and verb.

We often put introductory material in front of the primary subject and verb.  It might be 

  • a single word:

Finally, Stephen Harper is our former prime minister.

  • a phrase:

In my dreams, Stephen Harper is our former prime minister.

  • or a subordinate clause (nouns and verbs that do not form a stand-alone sentence):

Whenever I think about Canada's future, Stephen Harper is our former prime minister.

Separate the primary subject and verb from the introductory material with a comma, especially if the intro is long.

QUIZ:  Insert the missing commas:

  1. If I were showing my work at a gallery in another city it would appear to my dealer that he was losing potential income rather than capitalizing on an opportunity.
  2. When she would eventually talk to me I would be very surprised and ultimately upset.
  3. Having not seen any warnings signs I would feel defensive and respond as if I was under attack

Answers 1.  after "city"; 2.  after "me"; 3.  after "signs"

Friday, September 25, 2015

Parallel Structure ~ Blurred Lines

Towards the end of the last century, one of my college students wrote, "I work with men, women, and truck drivers."

I suggested he change it to "mechanics, accountants, and truck drivers" or "men, women, and intersex people."  

What Is Good Parallel Structure?
Parallel structure involves writing so that the connecting or balancing parts of a sentence have the same grammatical structure.

Examples of Incorrect Parallel Structure:  
  1. At that time, I was young, very eager to search for opportunities and did not have much confidence in myself. 
  2. When she arrived late at my dinner in a halter and started handing out her new CD, I judged her as selfish for being late, not wearing appropriate clothing, and promoting herself to one and all.”
  3. I did not explain alternate solutions such as contacting the ombudsman or visit a counsellor.
  4. My coworker will often speak to me about the issues she encounters at work and when she is frustrated by our manager's ambiguous instructions.
  1. The three items should be adjectives or adjectival phrases and should follow from "I was":  "I was young, eager, and lacking confidence."
  2. I judged her as selfish for being late, inappropriately dressed, and attention-seeking.
  3. Visit, of course, should be visiting.
  4. Both items following "about" should be noun phrases:  1) the issues she encounters at work and 2) her frustration at our manager's ambiguous instructions.

How Can I Spot Faulty Parallelism?

Reading aloud will help.  Also look at any place where you have a list.  If I have called you out on a parallel structure error, read over these examples of parallel structure.  You will become informed, discerning, and perceptive.  Moreover, you will learn to write better, dammit.

Very Insecure, Pretty Significant, Quite Irrational

It seems that the Harris Academy in Upper Norwood has banned some words.  Good for them.  I'd like to ban some words as well.  Here's some sentences I recently read in my students' essays:
  • "I strongly believe the trip would be a pretty significant waste of money."
  • "Basically, I find her reasons to be quite irrational."
  • "I felt very insecure about my knowledge in that area."
Read the sentences again without the Italicized words.
Do you lose any meaning when you lose those words?

If a word doesn't add meaning, you know what to do, especially if you want to write better (dammit).

Monday, September 14, 2015


Last year, some students were rushed preparing their Getting to Yes presentation.  It seems that one team member ended up doing all the last-minute work.  No one proofread her slides.  They did not practice together.

She was describing the different possible results of a negotiation.  Her slide looked like this:

Results of Negotiation





I imagine when the results are loose-loose, everything is still open to discussion. Nothing is binding.  Unfortunately, the consequences of having a disorganized team are clearly LOSE - LOSE.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Parts of Speech

Dear Students

Before you read any further, make sure you understand the vocabulary of this blog.  Please review the parts of speech.  Here is why:

Let's imagine that you want to write "I just received my Ontario Driver's Licence." and then suddenly feel some doubt.  Is it "license" or "licence."  You could open your wallet and look at your licence, but instead you open your beloved Canadian Oxford Paperback Dictionary and look it up.  One is the noun spelling and one is the verb spelling.  Clearly, you will have to know the difference between a noun and a verb.

In my comments on your work, I might say
  • remove extra, unnecessary adjectives
  • find and fix the wrong verb
  • clarify the pronoun reference
  • add "ly" to your adverbs
  • put a comma before your conjunctions when there are more than three items in a list
  • insert a definite article  
If you do not understand the parts of speech, you won't understand my editing vocabulary and you will have difficulty with the suggested corrections.  If you are a little rusty on parts of speech, look on the universal prosthetic memory (Google) and find a website with a parts-of-speech review test.  Not only will you and I be on the same page, but you'll quickly learn to write better (dammit).

Monday, July 6, 2015

Comma Coma #6: Roughing It in the Bush

In a previous blog, I wrote about the problem of using too many commas.

Here's a sentence on the back cover of an edition of Roughing It in the Bush (Virago, 1986):
Her absorbing book, reissued in its full version and with an introduction by Margaret Atwood, whose first volume of poetry, The Journals of Susanna Moodie, is testimony to the enduring spirit of a remarkable woman, has been out of print in Britain since 1852.
 What a wonderful example of horrible punctuation.  The author has created a 44-word sentence chopped up by five commas. Margaret Atwood would be horrified.

I thought perhaps the back cover sentence was an homage to Susanna Moodie's writing style, but Moodie's sentences are as crisp and clear as an autumn afternoon.  Let me qualify that somewhat:  an autumn afternoon in 1832.  But still - 

I suggest dividing the offending sentence into at least two sentences:

1.  Her [Moodie's] absorbing book has been out of print in Britain since 1852.
2.  The new version includes an introduction by Margaret Atwood whose first volume of poetry, The Journals of Susanna Moodie, is testimony to the enduring spirit of a remarkable woman.

Count the words in your sentences or count your commas.  Either action will help you if you want to write better (dammit).

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

What is Graduate Level Writing?

If you are in graduate school, then you should be functioning at a graduate level. An article from the Royal Roads University website attempts to define graduate-level reading, thinking, and writing for their program.

Since my writing topics tend to be self-reflective, rather than scholarly, the article goes beyond my immediate purposes. However, there is one thing I know for sure:  If you dictate an assignment into a mobile phone, convert it to text, and send it to me unedited (as one of my students once did), then it is probably not graduate-level writing.

Here are some style ideas for graduate-level writing in my classes:
  1. You edit and proofread before submitting a work.
  2. You are familiar with all punctuation marks and know how to use them without overusing them.
  3. You understand the semi-colon, but use it sparingly.
  4. You limit the words in your sentences to around 25, but will vary sentence length for readability.
  5. You understand what a paragraph is.  You end a paragraph when your thoughts take a new direction.  You will have two or more paragraphs per page.
  6. You use pronouns correctly.  (English pronouns like "in," "on," and "of" can be quite difficult for language learners.  Keep a list of the pronoun expressions that you use.)
  7. You look up words that you cannot spell.  For my classes, you use the Canadian Oxford Dictionary.  If I indicate a spelling error, you do not change the word to one you can spell.  You look up the word and add it to your “Words I Can’t Spell” list.
  8. You think about your reader's level and area of expertise.
  9. You know how to introduce and punctuate quotations.
  10. You get rid of extra unnecessary redundant words, such as two of the words in this sentence.
Content is reflective and self-reflective.  If content is inspiring, creative, original, and funny a lot of style errors will be forgiven.  You will still have to correct them, but only so your content will be more inspiring. 

You understand that the more you perfect the style, the more you perfect the content.

Thursday, February 5, 2015


I just read this sentence in my graduate student's essay:

"I was selected to work on a project for the open source software Moodle, the best Learning Management Software according to most of the reviews."

It might be the best LMS, but when you write it out, it is called learning management software.  

It is confusing to writers that so many upper-case abbreviations become lower case when written out.  The upper-case abbreviations are called "initialisms," an unpalatable word that I would never say out loud.

If UI is always capitalized, why is user interface lower case?

If HCI is always capitalized, why is human-computer interaction lower case?

If CEO is always capitalized, why is chief executive officer lower case?  

Most initialisms, like CD and ATM, are pronounced letter by letter.  Perhaps the capital letters make that pronunciation more likely:  

"cee-ee-oh" rather than "ceeyo"
"eh-tee-em" rather than "atem" 

Occasionally, the acronym is both capitalized and pronounced as a single word.  One example is WYSIWYG.  However, should you write that acronym out you would write it in lower case:  what you see is what you get.

Bottom line:  Use lower case when writing out a common acronym, unless words are normally capitalized.

Bottom-Bottom line:  Chief executive officer, when written out, is lower case.  All jobs are lower case unless they appear in a signature file at the bottom of a letter, like this:

Stephen Harper
Former Canadian Prime Minister

In a sentence one would write, "Stephen Harper is the former Canadian prime minister."

There are many more opportunities for capital confusion.  Stay tuned, if you want to write better (dammit).

Which is right?
  1. CD          compact disc or Compact Disc
  2. GDP        gross domestic product or Gross Domestic Product 
  3. BIOS      basic input/output system or Basic Input/Output System
  4. USSR      union of soviet socialist republics or Union of Soviet Socialist Republics

There are more errors in the student's sentence above.  Rewrite the sentence correctly.

Fix capitalization in this sentence:  While working as a Graphic Designer, I was asked by our Creative Director to give some feedback to Joe, the company's Brand Manager.


Quiz 1
1-2-3, lower case.
4 - upper case. 

Quiz 2
I was selected to work on a project for the open-source software, Moodle, the best learning management software according to most of the reviews.

Quiz 3
Delete all capitals on job titles.