Should We Use Italics or Underline?

17324138_sIn legal documents, it seems that italic type is used more frequently than underlining—likely because The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citations has changed the treatment of cases cited from underlining to italics as long as it meets court rule requirements. Well, that, and the fact that computers made the use of italics much easier. I think italics looks better than underlining, but that is personal preference. Here are some rules for italics and underlining.

  • Use italics for special emphasis:
    • When you are referring to a word by using “the term” or “the word,” that word should be in italics.
      • The word secretary originally meant the keeper of secrets.
    • Referring to letters as letters should be italicized or underlined if they are not capitalized. In this case, underlining may be preferable since the letter is so short that italics may not be readily apparent. Do not underline or italicize the pluralization of the letters, however.
      • He was looking for the value of x when y= 100.
      • He was looking for the value of x when y = 100. (This is also correct.)
      • She was reviewing the document to make sure she had dotted her i’s and crossed her t’s.
      • She was reviewing the document to make sure she had dotted her i’s and crossed her t’s.
    • Use all capital letters sparingly for emphasis. As you know, in email, all caps is considered screaming so it is not appropriate in business writing.
  • Use italics in formal definitions:
    • When you are defining a word in your writing, the word being defined is generally italicized.
      • A pilcrow is an alteration of a Middle English word and is a noun describing “a paragraph mark.”
    • An informal definition does not require special punctuation (but titles of TV series do).
      • I spent the weekend watching one episode after another, or binge-watching, Downton Abbey.
  • Use italics with foreign expressions:
    • Italicize foreign expressions that are not part of the English language.
      • We learned to say Buongiorno (or “good morning”) to the shopkeepers in Italy.
    • Once a foreign expression has become established as part of the English language, it is not italicized.
      • She ordered her pie à la mode.

We will continue this discussion next week with literary titles and artistic works and some basic guidelines.

Grammar Giggles – Old Fashion

I saw this sign at a local car wash and it reminded me of Guest Blogger Kerie Trindle Byrne’s article “Is Good Grammar Old-Fashion or Old-Fashioned?” The sign is advertising what seems to be a valid service except I’m pretty sure they are advertising a gentleman with a stool and a polishing cloth, which is an “old-fashioned” shoe shine.


Grammar Giggles – Albuquer . . . Wait, Where?

Driving down a main Phoenix street the other day and this caught my eye. Probably because a family member lives in Albuquerque so I actually use it more than usual and have to say it in my head by syllable to get it right, but obviously the sign painter for this local bus company didn’t pronounce the syllables correctly.

bus bus2

Academic Degrees, Professional Designations, and Periods

Since it’s the season of graduations, I thought it appropriate to talk about how to use academic degrees and professional designations.

Typically, abbreviations of academic degrees are written with periods after each element of the degree:

  • B.A.
  • Ph.D.
  • LL.B.
  • M.D.
  • R.N.

The term “MBA” is commonly written without periods when talking about an executive with certain training rather than the degree itself. The degree is still “M.B.A.” with the periods.

When using the degree as part of the name, do not use personal titles before the name and only use the degree when using a person’s full name:

  • Dr. John Powell, M.D. SHOULD BE John Powell, M.D.
  • Mr. John Smith, Ph.D. SHOULD BE John Smith, Ph.D.

However, other titles may precede the name when they do not convey the same meaning as the degree that follows the name:

  • Dean John Smith, Ph.D.

When two or more academic degrees follow a name, they should be listed in the order they were awarded and honorary degrees should follow earned degrees.

Professional designations are generally written without periods when used alone, but with periods when used with academic degrees:

  • Frank Brown, CPA
  • Frank Brown, B.S., M.B.A., C.P.A.
  • Kathy Sieckman, PP, PLS, ACP

List professional designations only where one’s professional qualifications are relevant to the topic under discussion. I take this to mean that when you have worked hard to earn professional certifications, they should be used whenever you are representing your profession.

Grammar Giggles – Email Matters

Make sure you check ALL parts of an email before you send it. And make sure your autosignature is correct! This was in an email I received from local counsel’s office–more than once. I finally told this person so we’ll see if it is changed in the next email or if I just offended them.


Personal Titles and Capitalization

There is some confusion over when to capitalize personal titles. Here are the “rules”:

  • Capitalize official titles of honor and respect when they precede a personal name
    • Personal Titles—Mr. John Jones
    • Executive Titles—President Hank Brown
    • Professional Titles—Professor Sue Allen
    • Civic Titles—Councilman Frank Thomas
    • Military Titles—Sergeant Sharon Smith
    • Religious Titles—Bishop Samuel Stone
  • Do not capitalize these titles when the personal name follows, set off by commas, as a description of the title
    • The professor, Sue Allen, teaches on Wednesdays and Thursdays.
    • The president, Hank Brown, is in meetings all day today.
  • Do not capitalize occupational titles when they precede a name.
    • The work of attorney John Jones is full of grammatical errors.

To determine whether it is an official title as opposed to an occupational title, decide if you can use the title with just the last name. You would not say “Lawyer Jones,” “Director of Marketing Smith,” etc. Do not use a title before a person’s name unless it is short and you would actually say the title when you address that person. For instance, you might say Professor Allen, but you would not say Professor of Literary Arts Allen. Instead, that sentence would start “Sue Allen, professor of literary arts, . . .”

  • When you have a title that would be capitalized, be careful not to confuse it with a more generic expression that would not be capitalized:
    • Judge John Jones
    • BUT NOT: Federal Judge John Jones or federal Judge John Jones
  • Generally, you would not capitalize titles of honor and respect when they follow a personal name or are in place of a personal name:
    • Hank Brown, president of XYZ Corporation, attended the meeting this morning.
    • The president of XYZ Corporation attended the meeting.
    • Jerry Hawkins, director of ABC Corporation, was the only dissenting vote of the board of directors.
    • The directors of ABC Corporation voted on the CEO’s pay increase.

However, when that title is for a high-ranking national, state, or international official and follows or replaces the personal name, it is capitalized:

  • Chuck Hagel, Secretary of Defense
  • Ambassador John Phillips

Modern usage is even changing parts of this rule. Some sources now recommend that these titles not be capitalized when they follow or replace a proper name of a high-ranking official as in “The queen will visit the prime minister of Australia during her visit there.” If you will use this style, remember to give both officials the same treatment so that “queen” and “prime minister” are both not capitalized. The same rule applies when using two high-ranking officials with their position and name, i.e. “Queen Elizabeth will meet with President Obama in Washington, D.C.” NOT “Queen Elizabeth will meet with the president.” Just use equal treatment.

  • Titles of organizational officials are generally not capitalized when they follow or replace the officer’s name EXCEPT in formal minutes, rules, and bylaws.
    • The director of membership is responsible for greeting new members.
    • The President called the meeting to order at 6:45 p.m. (In formal minutes.)
  • Do not capitalize job titles when they stand alone. In someintercompany memos and announcements, the title may be capitalized for special emphasis.
    • Please join us in congratulating John Jones, who was promoted to Paralegal Manager today. (Interoffice announcement.)
    • Please see the paralegal manager for your next assignment.
  • Do not capitalize titles when you are using it as a general term of classification
    • all of the senators
    • the kings

HOWEVER, because of the special position of the President of the United States, that title is always capitalized even when used as a general term of classification

  • all U.S. Presidents

In a letter’s inside address, writer’s signature block, envelope, and on business cards, the titles are ALWAYS capitalized whether they are before or after the proper name.

I hope this helps clear up some confusion in using personal titles correctly.

Grammar Giggles – Clearanced Priced

I rarely watch commercials–either I’m watching TV from a DVR or I am doing something else while commercials are on, but I caught this local bedding store ad yesterday during the news and had to use it here. I’ve heard of “Clearance Priced” but not “Clearanced Priced.” I’m sure they paid a lot of money for this advertisement to air multiple times, including on the local news program, so these kinds of errors are just plain embarrassing!

photo (46)

Are Entities Singular or Plural?

As we’ve learned before, a verb must always agree in number and person with the subject. See Singular Verb, Plural Subject, Both . . . and, It’s All About the Agreement. But what if the “person” is an entity? Do you then use a singular or plural verb?

Typically, if you are talking about the entity as a unit, you use singular verb:

  • The committee meets on the third Thursday of each month.
  • The firm has earned many accolades.

If the entity is a company, it is usually treated as a unit. Just be sure that you carry the treatment as singular or plural every time you are talking about that entity. For instance:

  • ABC Corporation has ended its lease term. It is now looking for new office space.
  • NOT: ABC Corporation has ended its lease term. They are now looking for new office space. This example is inconsistent in treatment. If you are going to treat ABC Corporation as a single entity, then it is looking for space.

If you are want to emphasize that the members of the entity are acting independently, then a plural verb is correct:

  • The committee left the meeting together.
  • The staff have successfully staggered their vacations.
  • The jury left their notes in the jury box.

To help figure it out, replace the entity with “it” and replace members of the entity with “they” to make sure you are using the right verb. Using the examples above, replace the entity with the word in parenthesis to see how it works:

  • The committee (it) meets on the third Thursday of each month.
  • The firm (it) has earned many accolades.
  • The committee (they) left the meeting together.
  • The staff (they) have successfully staggered their vacations.
  • The jury (they) left their notes in the jury box.

Hopefully that was useful to you. If it was, please share this post so others can be as smart as you are!