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Grammar and Punctuation


The active voice is usually more direct than passive voice. If the subject performs the action, the verb is in active voice.

  • The tornado destroyed the home.

If the subject is acted upon, the verb is in the passive voice.

  • The home was destroyed by the tornado.

When given a choice, use active voice.


 Do not use in place of “and.”

  • College of Arts and Sciences, Center for Religion and Public Discourse.

The exceptions are if it is part of a company or institution’s legal name.

  • Procter & Gamble, AT&T.

Ampersand (instead of AND) should only be used graphically on all KCTCS materials NOT on news releases, correspondence, etc.


 Make abbreviations plural by adding “s.”

  • MBAs, R.N.s, B.A.s

No apostrophe is needed for decades.

  • 1990s, 1980s

For a singular noun ending in “s,” form the possessive by adding "’s. ”

  • Columbus’s highlights
  • Department of Physics’s new building


When using full sentences or paragraphs as list items, ensure the grammar is correct as for any sentence and list each normally.

  • This is the first sentence of my list.
  • This bullet has two sentences. Again, just make sure to use proper grammar with your list items. 
  • This is just a third sentence to make the list look better.

When using single words and phrases as bulleted items, always capitalize the first letter and use no punctuation.

  • President of Operations
  • Management Consultant
  • Director of Marketing and Communications


Use the serial comma to separate words in a list. Note: a comma is not needed before “and,” “or,” or “nor” in a list of three or more items.

  • Red, white and blue flags

If items in the series contain commas themselves, use semicolons between all items.

  • The letters she wrote are dated August 7, 1918; May 12, 1935; and January 4, 1965.

When following a person’s name, qualifiers such as Ph.D. and M.D. are preceded by a comma. A second comma follows the qualifier in running text.

  • Ross Dalbey, Ph.D.
  • The opening remarks by Ross Dalbey, Ph.D., set the tone for the conference.

However, qualifiers such as Jr., Sr., and III are not set off by commas.

  • Martin Luther King Jr.
  • Charles Smith III

Set off the year when using dates with commas on both sides if a day of the month precedes it.

  • January 29, 1996, is the deadline.
  • January 1996 is the deadline.

Set off a parenthetical (nonrestrictive) expression with commas on both sides. Note that states following cities are parenthetical and require commas before and after.

  • The study, it was believed, had been falsified.
  • The members of the class, generally speaking, were happy to be there.
  • They visited Springfield, Ohio, on their last trip.

Commas appear after, not before, an expression in parentheses (like this), and they always go inside quotation marks, except when a quotation mark indicates inches.

Note: In newspaper writing, incidentally, you will seldom find a serial comma, but that is not necessarily a sign it should be omitted in academic prose.


Avoid excessive use of contractions.


A participle, particularly at the beginning of a sentence, must have a noun or pronoun it can belong to or modify. The participle should be immediately followed by the noun it modifies.

  • Driving along the road, the house came into view.

The phrase driving along the road does not modify house. Recast:

  • The house came into view as we drove along the road.


Use an ellipsis (three dots, . . .) to indicate the omission of one or more words in condensing quotes and other textual material. Space before and after the ellipsis and between periods within the ellipsis. If the ellipsis occurs inside a sentence, it consists of three dots; if it occurs at the end of a sentence, follow the ellipsis with a period—a total of four dots.


Use a hyphen to avoid ambiguity and in the following situations:

COMPOUND MODIFIERS: In general, when two or more words modify a noun, use hyphens.

  • a three-year-old child, a well-known physician.

DO NOT hyphenate when compounds include "very" or adverbs ending in "-ly."

  • a very delicate procedure, an expertly performed operation.

Most compound modifiers are NOT hyphenated when they appear after a noun. The exception to this is modifiers that follow forms of the verb "to be."

  • The program, well known for its success, is part of the School of Education. The program is world-renowned.

However, compounds with the prefix "well" are usually NOT hyphenated when they follow forms of "to be."

COMPOUND WORDS: Avoid hyphenating compound words whenever possible, unless hyphens are necessary to avoid confusing the reader or to avoid an awkward junction.

  • coworker, freelance, inpatient, statewide, nonresident, noncredit, posttraumatic BUT co-opt, anti-utopian. Check a current dictionary for specific words.

Certain compounds should be spelled as two words when used as adverbs or nouns (full time, part time, fund raising, off campus) but hyphenated when used as adjectives.

  • She has a part-time job in order to attend school full time.
  • On-campus housing is limited, and many students live off campus.

Use a hyphen when the base word begins with a capital letter.

  • non-American.

Use a hyphen when referring to first-professional degrees or levels of residency.

  • first-professional degree, second-year resident.

BREAKS: If a word already contains a hyphen, do not break it at the end of a line.

  • self-knowledge NOT self-knowl-edge.

Do not allow a single letter of a word to stand alone at the beginning or end of a line. NOT E-gyptian, NOT a-lone.


Italicize the title of books, plays, films, long poems, long musical compositions, works of visual art, magazines, newspapers, pamphlets, and radio and television programs.

  • Titles of books: The Great Gatsby, The Color Purple
  • Newspapers: the New York Times, the Boston Globe


 For singular nouns ending in s, use s’s to make it possessive.

  • Columbus’s


Use quotation marks around the titles of short works, newspaper and magazine articles, poems, short stories, songs, episodes of television and radio programs, and chapter or subdivisions of books.


In general, use the semicolon to indicate a greater separation of thought and information than a comma can convey, but less than the separation that a period implies. Use semicolons to separate elements of a series when the items in the series are long or when individual segments contain material that also must be set off by commas.

  • He is survived by a son, John Smith, of Chicago; three daughters, Jane Smith, of Wichita, Kan., Mary Smith, of Denver, and Susan Smith, of Boston; and a sister, Martha, of Omaha, Neb.


An expression in which there is a word or phrase, esp. an adverb or adverbial phrase, between to and its accompanying verb form in an infinitive, as in to readily understand. The construction should be avoided unless the adverb bears the emphasis in the phrase.

  • To boldly go; they expect to more than double their income.


In handwritten or typed papers, underlining represents italics, a slant typeface used in printed material.

Do not underline the Bible or the titles of books in the Bible (Genesis, not Genesis); the titles of legal documents (the Constitution, not the Constitution); or the titles of your own papers.

Underline the names of spacecraft, aircraft, ships and trains.

  • The success of the Soviet’s Sputnik galvanized the U.S. space program.

Underline foreign works used in an English sentence.

  • I decided to establish my own modus operandi.

See Italics