Grammar, punctuation, and spelling
Abbreviations (including contractions, initialisms, and acronyms)
• Abbreviation - formed by omitting the end of a word or words (e.g. ante meridiem = am)
• Contraction - created by omitting the middle of a word or combining some sounds of a longer phrase (e.g. will not = won't, Mister = Mr)
• Acronym - formed from the initial letters of a group of words. The resulting acronym may be pronounceable as a word or a series of letters (British Broadcasting Corporation = BBC)
Don't assume your audience knows what a set of initials represents. If you must use an abbreviation, initialism, or acronym, write it out in full the first time, followed by the abbreviation in brackets, and then use the abbreviated form.
• The Regulator of Social Housing (RSH) regulates registered social housing providers. The RSH is an executive non-departmental public body sponsored by the Ministry of Housing, Communities, and Local Government.
Progress Housing Group house style is not to use full stops in any abbreviation, whether shortened words or groups of initials:
• Mr, Mrs, Mx, Dr, Rev, St (saint/street)
• etc, p (page), ext (extension), am, pm
• J De-Rose, GA Smith (no spaces between initials in people's names)
• e.g., i.e.
• Lytham St Annes
• St John's Court
• No. (number) must have a full stop; it does not require a space if a numeral follows it.
Progress Housing Group house style is not to use contraction unless a direct quotation. E.g., we have not we've and should have not should've.
Acronyms and initialism
If you pronounce an acronym as a word, use all capitals.
For initialisms, for example, RWP, these should always be in upper case.
When forming an acronym or initialism plural, the final 's' is lower case, and there is no apostrophe.
• FAQs, MPs
Please note you should use an apostrophe between the acronym or initialism and the final 's' to indicate possession of the acronym (e.g. NATFED's campaign).
Except when it is part of a trading name, don't use an ampersand as shorthand for 'and'.
• Marks & Spencer
A or an
Pronunciation is the key. Use 'an' before any word or abbreviation beginning with a vowel sound, including words beginning with a silent 'h' (as far as we know, there are only four of these: hour, honour, heir, honest, and their derivatives). You use 'a' with consonant sounds (e.g. unicorn, hat, hotel).
Use capital letters sparingly as they can make text difficult to read. Use initial capitals as sparingly as possible for headings, titles, page headings, and sub-headings:
• Review of the year
• Performance against objectives
Capitals and job titles
Use initial capitals for job titles only when referring to one specific person's title. Do not use capitals when referring to a group of people with the same job title (e.g. independent living coordinators, managers, housing officers):
• Jacqui De-Rose, Group Chief Executive
• Sarah Smith, Housing Officer
• Speak to a housing officer
• A benefits advisor will provide information
Capitals and team names
Use initial capitals for team names (e.g. Finance Team, Progress Futures Team, Income Collection Team).
Avoid using acronyms or initialisms (such as PCT or IT) when referring to internal teams or departments' names, even if the name has been written in full initially.
Capitals of bodies and entities
• internet, web, website, government, local authority, parliament, party, president – except when referring to a specific one (proper noun) (e.g. the British Government, the Scottish Parliament, the Labour Party, the President of the United States)
Capitals and compass points
Use capital letters for north, south, etc., when they are part of a recognised geographical or political division title, but lower case for more general geographic areas.
• the North West (of England), South East Asia
• southern England, the north of Scotland, west London
'The' with names of organisations
There is no need to capitalise 'the' with most organisations' names but follow the preferences of those that do so.
• the Telecare Services Association
• the Broadfield Residents' Association
Capitals and legislation
Use initial capital letters for all legislation.
• Housing Act 2004
• Crime and Security Act 2010
• General Data Protection Regulations
A collective/group noun (e.g. team, government, committee) takes a singular or a plural verb depending on whether it is considered a single unit or a group of individuals.
• The committee is divided, the jury has retired to consider its verdict
• The public are not in favour, and the audience is enjoying themselves
The important thing is to be consistent and not mix singular and plural. When referring to organisations, such as Progress Housing Group, and teams or departments in a business context, such as the Income Collection Team, always use a singular verb.
• Progress Housing Group is registered with the Regulator of Social Housing
• Progress Housing Group is contacting its tenants (not 'are' contacting its tenants)
• The Finance Team is in a training session
With 'none', 'a number of' and percentages, use a singular verb if the noun is a collective or group noun, but a plural verb if it is an ordinary plural.
• None of the customers have complained about the service
• A number of customers have complained about repairs
• 85% of the population lives within our operational area
• 73% of households have access to digital television
E.g. and i.e.
E.g. means 'for example' and introduces one or more examples of what comes before it.
• she likes motorsports, e.g. Formula One, Moto GP
I.e. means 'that is' or 'in other words' and introduces an amplification or explanation.
• a computer peripheral, i.e. a connected printer
Note that these can be written, e.g., and, i.e., according to preference. Whichever form you use, make sure you are consistent.
Fewer or less
Use 'fewer' when you can count something, e.g. The committee wants to have fewer meetings next year. If you cannot count it, use 'less', e.g. Voters call for less bureaucracy. The same rule applies for percentages: hence, you would be correct to say Less than 30% of the hospital survived the fire, and Fewer than 30% of the patients were rescued.
Do not use 'no less than' with numbers - say, e.g. he exceeded the speed limit on 12 occasions.
However, ages, heights, and weights take 'less', e.g. Tom Thumb was less than 3ft (91cm) tall; Police say the man is less than 30 years old; She weighs less than seven stone (44.5kg).
That or which
Generally: 'that' defines, and 'which' informs.
Tautologies (the saying of the same thing twice over in different words)
Try to avoid them. Common examples include:
Who or whom
The rule is that 'who' should be used to refer to the subject of a sentence and 'whom' should be used to refer to the object of a verb or preposition. Where the 'who' or 'whom' introduces a new clause, work out which pronoun would be correct if you were to create a separate sentence. If the answer is 'he', 'she' or 'they', then the clause should begin with who. If the answer is 'him', 'her' or 'them', then it should be whom - e.g. Mr Smith ignored Mr Clarke, whom he disliked is correct because he disliked 'him'. And Mr Smith ignored Mr Clarke, who he believed had been disloyal, is correct because he believed 'he' had been disloyal.
Who's or whose
The apostrophe is needed if the meaning is 'who is' or 'who has'. It represents the missing letters, e.g. Who's a pretty boy, then? and Who's left the cage open? (This is relevant only for direct quotes since our policy is not to use contractions). The apostrophe is inappropriate when you indicate possession - e.g., Whose parrot is this?
The apostrophe has two primary uses:
• to show possession - 'of', 'belonging to'
• to show where letters have been left out
Add 's (apostrophe and 's') to a singular word or name and plural that doesn't end in 's'.
• the Group's Strategic Plan
• Progress's long-term vision
• people's expectations, children's party
Add an apostrophe only (no 's') to a plural that ends in 's', and to a word or name ending in an unpronounced 's'.
• Tenants' handbook, customers' feedback
• Mrs Bridges' house
Don't use an apostrophe in possessive pronouns – hers, ours, yours, theirs.
• a friend of yours, theirs is
Use an apostrophe when referring to the length of time.
• one week's work placement, two years' secondment, three week's annual leave
Sometimes the names of organisations and places do not follow the rules.
• Citizens Advice Bureau, St Thomas' Road
Be careful where you put the apostrophe with plurals that do not end in 's' – women, people, children, etc.
• women’s refuge = refuge for women (NOT womens’ refuge = refuge for womens)
• people's opinions = opinions of people (NOT peoples' opinions = opinions of peoples)
Where letters have been left out
A common phrase with an apostrophe is:
• o'clock (originally 'of the clock')
Use contractions, such as the following, only in informal writing.
• don't (do not), we'll (we will), it's (it is, it has), you're (you are)
It's or its
It's is an abbreviation of 'it is' or 'it has'. Its isn't - it is a possessive meaning 'of it'.
• it's on the second floor (it's = it is)
• it's happened before (it's = it has)
• it is in the best interests of its customers (its = 'of it')
Who's is an abbreviation of 'who is'. Whose means 'of whom'.
• Jacqui De-Rose, who's the Group Chief Executive (who's = who is)
• John Smith, whose house is in Leyland (whose = of whom)
The greengrocer's apostrophe
It is so-called because it is often misused in plurals on signs (e.g. banana's, potato's). Do not use apostrophes in plurals, even in abbreviations and decades:
• bananas, potatoes, DVDs, GCSEs, MPs, the 1990s
However, it is acceptable to use an apostrophe for clarity in a few cases.
• dot the i's and cross the t's
• do's and don'ts (NB: not don't's)
Numbers or bullets
If, for example, someone has three objections to a pay deal, then use bullet points to summarise them and then explain in more detail. They are easier to read on-screen than dense paragraphs of text.
If the items in a bullet point list are complete sentences in themselves, then each should start with a capital letter and in general, end with no punctuation.
There is more than one way to cook potatoes.
• You can roast them in the oven
• You can mash them with milk and butter
• You can fry them in a pan
If the items are not complete sentences, they should start with a lower case letter and again omit punctuation at the end.
If you want to cook potatoes, you can
• roast them in the oven
• mash them with milk and butter
• fry them in a pan
Single-word lists of nouns should also start with a lower case letter.
Employees think they are getting a good deal in three areas:
If your action items need to occur in a specific order, use a numbered list rather than bullets and end each sentence with a full stop.
Here's how to bath your dog:
1. Place a shower cap on your dog's head.
2. Give him his rubber ducky to provide emotional security.
3. Gently bathe your dog. Avoid getting water in his big sad eyes.
You could also use a numbered list if your introductory text promises a certain number of items, like the three best reasons to bathe your dog.
The structure to use with bullet points
Don't mix and match sentence structures. Your points should be consistent in either sentences or fragments.
Make sure your bullet points' grammatical structure is parallel by starting each with the same part of speech. For instance, if you start one point with an adjective, start them all with an adjective.
Read each bullet point with the text that precedes it to make sure each one is parallel and makes sense as a sentence.
Round brackets (parentheses) are used to set off an interruption to a sentence, such as extra information or an aside.
• Marcel Proust (1871–1922) also died young
• Progress Housing Group is not (despite speculation in the press) planning to open its head office on Sundays
Square brackets [ ] are used for words added to a direct quotation to clarify what is being said or to keep the meaning when part of a quotation is left out.
• "It [Titanic] was the best moment of my career," said Kate Winslett.
• "Sam had a relatively ordinary upbringing ... [but] the influence of her eccentric great-aunt could not be underestimated."
Never put a comma before an opening bracket. If the sentence requires a comma (to separate two clauses), it goes after the closing bracket.
The comma divides a sentence into units of meaning, the equivalent of a short pause when speaking.
Use a comma to join two complete sentences with a word such as 'and', 'but', 'so', or 'while'.
• Many people pay for satellite or cable, but increasing numbers choose Netflix.
Use two commas to bracket off a 'weak interruption' in a sentence – something that can be removed without disturbing the sense of the sentence.
• Progress Housing Group, one of the biggest employers in Leyland, is moving to a new office.
Make sure that the bracketing commas are in the right places. In this example, many people would put the first comma after 'coat', but if you then remove the interruption between the commas, you can see that this is wrong.
• He put on his coat and, being cold, added a scarf as well.
When using commas to separate items in a list, you only need a comma before the final 'and' if the meaning would be unclear without it.
• The policies to be reviewed are Asset Management, Finance, and Governance.
• The policies to be reviewed are Asset Management, Health and Safety, and Finance.
Put a full stop at the end of a complete statement. Do not connect two statements with a comma.
Full stops are not required with initials in names (J Smith) or abbreviations, e.g.
avoid P.H.G./U.K./R.S.V.P. or J. Smith.
Note the exception: no.1 as an abbreviation for number 1.
The full stop appears inside the brackets only if they contain a complete sentence when used with brackets. Where the brackets fall within a sentence, the full stop goes outside the brackets.
• Our planned maintenance programme begins in April. (See page 6 for more information.)
• Our planned maintenance programme begins in April (page 6).
Hyphens are used to link words together. It is challenging to give clear-cut rules, but the main aim is to aid understanding and avoid ambiguity. Compare the following, for example:
• a little used car (a small car that isn't new), a little-used car (a car that isn't used much)
• twenty odd people (twenty people who are odd), twenty-odd people (around twenty people)
Use hyphens when a compound (two or more words in a phrase) is used attributively (like an adjective) before a noun.
• a one-bedroom apartment, a three-bedroom house
• the award-winning team at Foundations
• up-to-date information is available online
• we are a people-focused and forward-thinking organisation
Do not use a hyphen if the compound comes after a verb or if the first word of the compound is an adverb ending in 'ly'.
• the house has two bedrooms (but 'two-bedroom house')
• the information is not up to date (but 'up-to-date information')
Hyphens should combine an adverb and an adjective to describe a noun. In this situation, the adverb describes the adjective, and the adjective describes the noun.
• we are a people-focused organisation.
• we are a forward-thinking organisation.
A hyphen is not needed if the adverb and adjective come after the noun being described.
• We are people focused.
• We are forward thinking.
• As an organisation, we are people focused.
• As an organisation, we are forward thinking.
Sometimes a hyphen is used to link two words in a phrase, wherever they occur.
• the injury was work-related
• he was a happy-go-lucky character
Words should never be broken over two lines by a hyphen - drop the word down to the following line instead.
English has a vast number of prefixes. A hyphen typically follows some of them, but most are not (and the tendency not to use a hyphen is growing). If in doubt, check in a dictionary (though different dictionaries may give different versions!).
In general, use a hyphen.
• to avoid confusion with a similar word: re-sign (sign again), resign (quit)
• when the prefix 'co' means 'fellow': co-production, co-author
• to make a word easier to read: by-election, by-product, under-developed
• after 'ex', 'ill' and 'pro': ex-husband, ill-advised, pro-government
Many nouns that include a suffix such as 'up', 'off', 'on' or 'out' are hyphenated (or written as one word), but verbs should be written as separate words with no hyphen.
• follow-up, check-up, runner-up, sign-off, to kick-off
• to follow up, to sign up, to log on (as a verb), logon (noun or adjective), to knock out
Recommended use (or not) of hyphens.
• email, but e-commerce and e-learning
• offline, online
• no one
• the North West, but in north-west England
• 24-hour service
Quotation marks (speech marks, inverted commas)
Use double quotation marks for dialogue and quoted material. This is newspaper style; in books, it is reasonable to use single quotation marks.
Punctuation at the end of a sentence comes inside the quotation marks if the quote is a complete sentence, but not otherwise.
• "I'll be home later than I thought," said Matt, "so don't come till 8 o'clock."
• Joan called the Progress Lifeline service a ‘real life-saver’.
Use single quotation marks for a quote within a quote, for emphasis, or an unfamiliar or new word or phrase.
• "No," explained Sue. "What I said was 'Go if you want to.' It was her own choice."
• He was wearing lots of 'bling'.
For quotes of more than one paragraph, use opening quotes for all the paragraphs, but closing quotes only at the end of the last paragraph.
Always use your computer spell checker, but make sure it is checking for UK English, not US English.
Beware that spell checkers have limitations - they will highlight a word spelled incorrectly but not a word spelled correctly and misused.
Use -ise endings (English spelling) rather than -ize (American English):
centralise, emphasise, organise, realise, summarise
Be careful with words that can be spelt two ways:
licence (noun): TV licence, to license (verb): TV licensing
defence (English spelling), defense (American spelling)
practice (noun): practice makes perfect, to practise (verb): you have to practise every day