Garbl's Writing Center
baby boomer Two words, no hyphen, lowercase. The post-World War II population surge, or baby boom, ran from 1946 to 1964. The terms, though not the people they refer to, are approaching triteness.
back Sometimes used redundantly after verbs like refer, repay, return and revert: He referred back to the events on Tuesday. Drop back.
backfill One word.
backslash See virgule.
back-to-school clothing Hyphenate.
back up (v.), backup (n. and adj.)
backward Not backwards.
bad, badly Often confused. Use bad as an adjective to describe a noun: The truck looked bad after the accident. The driver felt bad about what happened. Use badly as an adverb to modify a verb--to describe an action: The equipment ran badly until the mechanic repaired the control board. Bad is usually the correct choice with verbs like feel, smell, taste and look. If you write feel badly, you're saying someone's sense of touch isn't working right. See good, well.
baleful, baneful Sometimes confused adjectives with overlapping meanings. Use baleful to describe something that is threatening or ominous. Use baneful to describe something that is destructive.
baloney, bologna Sometimes confused or misspelled. Baloney is foolish or exaggerated talk. Bologna is sausage or lunch meat.
B&B See bed-and-breakfast.
band names See collective nouns.
barbecue Preferred spelling. Not barbeque, bar-b-cue, bar-b-que or bar-B-Q.
barrel, barreled, barreling
based on, based upon Wordy. Simplify. Consider deleting or change to by, for, from, because of, after, in, on, through or with. Or use based on, not based upon--and not based around either. Also, avoid phrases like based on my personal opinion or based on the fact that. Instead, use phrases like I contend and I believe, if necessary, or terms like because, considering, for, given, in that and since.
basically Overused and often unnecessary. Simplify. Delete or try mainly, most, mostly, chiefly or largely. And if you must use it, spell it right. Basicly is not a word.
basis Wordy, pompous jargon in phrases like on the basis of, on a day-to-day basis and on a regular basis. Simplify. Replace on the basis of with because of, by or for. Also, use daily, regularly, part-time and similar adverbs instead of on a day-to-day basis, on a regular basis, on a part-time basis and so on.
bay A clear, simple word. An embayment is a bay with two more syllables and six more letters; use embayment only when you're paid, graded or judged superficially on the number of letters you use in a document
bazaar, bizarre Sometimes confused. A bazaar is "an event where people sell things to raise money for a good cause, or a marketplace of shops and street vendors selling various things." A bazaar -- and many other things -- could be bizarre, which means "unusual, odd, weird and strange."
B.C. See British Columbia.
be advised that Wordy, formal, negative phrase. Simplify. Delete or change to note that or please note that.
because The "rule" against beginning sentences with because is a myth. Use because to introduce dependent clauses; that is, the clause beginning with because could be dropped from the sentence, and a complete sentence would remain. See and, but; Myths and Superstitions of Writing.
A comma is not always needed before because. Negative wording, however, often need the comma to clarify which part of the sentence because modifies, as in these examples: He didn't go to the workshop, because it conflicted with his work schedule. He didn't go to the workshop because he had to; he went to it because it met his needs. In the first example, you can drop the clause, and the sentence is still true. In the second example, the sentence's meaning depends on the clause. See due to.
because, since Both words can be used to mean "for the reason that." Because is the stronger conjunction for pointing out a direct cause-effect relationship: They went to the concert because they had been given tickets. Since is milder in suggesting a cause-effect relationship: Since I love folk music, I went to the concert. When readers might confuse since with its meaning "from the time that," use because. See Myths and Superstitions of Writing.
beck and call, beckon The idiom beck and call means "at the services of" or "ready to obey the wishes of." Sometimes misspelled as beckon call. To beckon means "to summon or signal using a silent gesture, like a wave" and "to lure or attract."
bed-and-breakfast Include hyphens. B&B is OK on second reference.
bedrock One word.
begin, commence, start Begin and start have subtle differences in meaning. Usually preferred, begin means merely a setting into motion of some action, process or course: They planned to begin holding retreats in January. She began her evaluation. Start is more precise. Use it to write about physical movement or leaving a point of departure: They started a journey. The boulder started a landslide. Also use start when writing about making a machine work or making something begin to exist: He started the car. She started her own beadwork business. Avoid using the stilted, formal commence to mean the same thing as begin.
beg the question Often misused or confused. Use this cliche only when you're questioning the logic of another statement--that it assumes as true the very point someone is trying to prove. This statement, for example, begs the question: We had to attack first to prevent him from attacking us. Don't use beg the question to suggest that someone is evading an issue or raising another question. But reduce confusion by avoiding the phrase. Instead, explain why you question the logic--or suggest that something raises the question that ... or prompts a question.
behalf See on behalf of, in behalf of.
behavior, behaviors Behaviors is pompous and unnecessary. Simplify. A behavior is the particular way a person or animal does something. Behavior is also all the things that a person, animal, machine or substance does.
being that, being as, being as how Awkward and wordy. Try using simpler because, since, given or in that instead.
belie, betray, reveal Sometimes confused verbs. Belie means "to give a false idea about something; to mislead, disguise or misrepresent" and "to contradict or prove something false." Betray means "to be disloyal by disclosing something" and "to unintentionally reveal something." Reveal means "to disclose something or make known something that was hidden or secret."
belief, believe Commonly misspelled or confused. Belief is a noun. Believe is a verb.
bemuse See amuse, bemuse.
benefit, benefited, benefiting Commonly misspelled. Don't double the t when adding ed and ing.
benthic, benthos Excellent examples of jargon. Benthic organisms, or benthos, rest on or live in the bottom sediment of a water body. Call them bottom-dwelling organisms.
beside, besides Beside means "next to, at the side of or alongside": She placed her guitar beside mine. Besides means "in addition to or also": He noticed three guitars besides mine in the studio. Don't use besides to name an alternative. Instead, use other than or instead of: The thief must have been looking for a guitar other than mine. Not: The thief must have been looking for a guitar besides mine. See in addition to.
best-seller Include the hyphen.
betray See belie, betray, reveal.
between ... and, from ... to Don't mix these phrases like this: daily wages between $118 to $176 or from 1993 and 1996. It's either between $118 and $176 or from $118 to $176 and from 1993 to 1996 or between 1993 and 1996. Also, avoid replacing the to with a hyphen or em dash in from ... to phrases: He was chair from 1994-98. Instead: He was chair from 1994 to 1998. The hyphen or em dash substitute is OK in adjectival uses: his 1994-98 stint as chair, her Jan. 10-15 trip to Europe. See dash.
between you and I, between you and me Between you and me is both preferred and correct. Why? Because between is a preposition, and grammar rules say objective pronouns, not nominative pronouns, must follow prepositions--or be the object of the preposition. Me is an objective pronoun, and I is a nominative pronoun. See I, me; pronouns.
biannual, biennial Biannual means "twice a year"; so does semiannual. Biennial means "every two years." But to avoid confusing readers, use twice a year instead of biannual (and semiannual), and use every two years instead of biennial.
Bible, bible Capitalize as a proper noun when giving the name of the holy book used by the Protestant, Jewish and Catholic religions. Lowercase the common noun bible in other uses. Also lowercase biblical in all uses.
big in size Redundant and wordy. Simplify. Drop in size.
bills See law.
bimonthly Does not mean twice a month. Semimonthly means twice a month. To avoid reader confusion, use every two months or every other month instead of bimonthly (and twice a month instead of semimonthly).
biosolids The nutrient-rich organic material produced by treating wastewater solids. It can be beneficially recycled as a fertilizer and soil conditioner. Biosolids takes a plural verb.
biota Jargon meaning "the plants and animals living in a region." Simplify. Try calling them plants and animals.
bi-, semi- Often confused prefixes. Bi- usually means "two," while semi- means "half." But to reduce confusion among readers, consider alternative words or phrases that don't use these prefixes. For examples, see bimonthly above and biweekly below.
biweekly Does not mean twice a week. Semiweekly means twice a week. To avoid reader confusion, use every two weeks or every other week instead of biweekly (and twice a week instead of semiweekly).
bizarre See bazaar, bizarre.
black A person having origins in any of the black racial groups of Africa. African American (without a hyphen when used as a noun) may be preferred when writing about black Americans. When in doubt about how to refer to a person's race or cultural or ethnic identity, ask the person in question what is preferred. See African American, capitalization, race.
blatant, flagrant, fragrant Often misused or confused. Use blatant to describe something that's both very noticeable and offensive, especially if it's loud and noisy. It has a negative meaning and does not simply mean "obvious." Use flagrant to describe something even worse; it's shocking and breaks laws and trust. Also, blatantly obvious is redundant. Use either blatant or obvious, depending on the point you're making. And be careful not to confuse or mistype flagrant and fragrant. Use fragrant to describe something that smells nice.
blog Short for Web blog but acceptable in all uses. Lowercase as a common noun: The county blog is popular. Capitalize when part of a proper name: Eat Your Spinach Blog, Billy's Blog. Verbs are blog, blogged, blogging.
blue in color Redundant and wordy. Simplify. Drop in color.
board Capitalize only when an integral part of a proper name: Mukilteo School Board, the board decided.
board of directors, board of trustees Always lowercase.
boldface Boldfaced type is best used for two purposes: to highlight words and phrases within paragraphs and to strengthen headlines, headings and subheads for articles, chapters and sections within a document or Web page. Boldfaced type can add contrast or emphasis to a document--breaking up pages or columns of gray text and calling attention to key words, phrases and ideas.
But boldfacing everything or boldfacing too many words and phrases ends up doing just the opposite of what it's intended to do: Nothing gets special treatment. Too much boldfacing is also distracting and tiring to read.
bologna See baloney, bologna.
bona fide Formal two-word Latin phrase. Sometimes misspelled and misused. It means "in good faith, done honestly without fraud or deceit." Consider using simpler in good faith or genuine. Don't spell it as bonified.
boo-boo Hyphenate this informal word for a stupid or embarrassing mistake or blunder. Usually used by or with children, it's also a slight injury, like a bruise or scratch.
book titles See composition titles.
both, each Usually followed by a plural noun or phrase, both applies to two people or things considered together: She gave both girls a lecture. Use each to describe two or more things considered separately: She gave each girl $25. Consider dropping both as redundant: Both the Bellevue School Board and the Issaquah School Board decided. Both school boards decided. The school boards decided. Also, both agree is redundant; the word agree suggests two (or more) people or groups. Use they agree instead. Both is also redundant before alike, equal, share and together. See as well as, each.
both ... and When used together, both and and should link grammatically similar things. If a verb immediately follows both, a verb should immediately follow and. If both immediately comes before a noun, then so should and: The president is deaf to both facts and reason, or He is deaf both to facts and to reason. Incorrect: He is both deaf to facts and reason. This rule applies to other similar pairs, including either ... or and neither ... nor. See either ... or, neither nor; not only ... but also.
(the) bottom line Business jargon, cliche. Unless you're writing about an organization's profit or loss, try conclusion, outcome, result or upshot; or the crux, essence or main point.
boundary Sometimes misspelled.
Boy Scouts See Scouts.
bra Demi spelling of brassiere acceptable in all uses.
brackets ([ ]) Avoid using. Use commas, dashes or parentheses instead. In quotations, however, brackets may be used to show the words in brackets were added or changed by the editor to clarify the meaning. Avoid altering quotations. If a speaker's words are clear and concise, use the full quotation. If cumbersome language can be paraphrased accurately, use indirect wording: "We strongly disagree with the [Lincoln County] council's decision," she said. Square brackets also may be used occasionally to insert words into a statement that's already enclosed in parentheses. See quotation marks, [sic].
brand names When using them, capitalize the first letter in each word. Nothing requires you to follow odd capitalization in brand names. But use brand names only if essential to an article. Consider using a generic equivalent instead. See capitalization, service mark, trademark.
brand-new (adj.) Hyphenate. But consider simpler new.
brassiere See bra above.
breach, breech, breeches Often confused. A breach is "an act of breaking a law, custom, rule, contract, promise or agreement" and "an opening, gap or breakthrough in a wall, barrier, fort or line of defense, especially during an attack." A breech is the "buttocks or rump" and "the lower or back part of something, such as in a pulley block or gun barrel." A breech birth happens when a baby's buttocks or feet are delivered first. Breeches (not britches) are "pants or trousers that reach or touch the knees." The phrase "too big for his [or her] breeches" means someone is too forward or presumptuous for the status or position that person holds.
break in (v.), break-in (n. and adj.)
breakthrough See major breakthrough.
breath, breathe Often confused. Breath is a noun: Sarah took a breath of the fresh mountain air. Breathe is a verb: Zachary could hardly breathe in the smoggy city.
bridal, bridle Sometimes confused or misused. Use bridal as an adjective to describe weddings and marriage ceremonies. A bridle is something that restrains or controls things, such as the harness on a horse
bridge Capitalize when part of a formal name. Lowercase when used alone or with two or more names. Do not abbreviate: Hardy Bridge construction is under way. Improvement projects were scheduled for Hardy and Laurel Hill bridges. We'll cross the bridge when we get there.
bring, take Often confused. Their meaning is similar, but their points of view are different. Bring suggests motion toward the speaker or writer: We bring in the mail. If something is coming to your home or office or city, someone is bringing it. Take suggests motion away from the speaker or writer: We take out the recycling. If something is leaving your home or office or city, someone is taking it. Usually, the distinction is easy to make. But it might be best just to say what feels natural to you if you are offering dessert for a potluck dinner: You'll be bringing it to the potluck (its destination), but you'll be taking it with you from home (its origin). Either way, it'll probably be delicious!
britches See breach, breech, breeches.
British Columbia In the Pacific Northwest, it's OK to abbreviate as B.C. after the name of well-known cities in the province: They toured the Vancouver, B.C., park system. Elsewhere, spell out on first reference. See provinces.
broadcast The past tense also is broadcast, not broadcasted: The TV station broadcast from the shopping mall.
broccoli Commonly misspelled.
building Capitalize the proper names of buildings, including the word building, if it is an integral part of the proper name: The Belvidere Building is on Third Avenue. Lowercase building when used separately from the full name: The building is on Third Avenue. Do not abbreviate Building or building unless used in charts and tables. See capitalization.
bullets See lists.
Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Railway Use on first reference. BNSF or the railroad is acceptable on second reference.
burnout One word when used as a noun: She was suffering from burnout after a week of 12-hour workdays.
bus, buses The verb forms: bus, bused, busing for the transit vehicles. Save buss, busses, bussed and bussing for kissing your sweetie before he or she boards a bus.
business Commonly misspelled.
bus stop Two words.
busywork One word.
but See and, but.
but rather Wordy and redundant. Simplify. Change to but or try rather.
by itself Wordy. Simplify. Change to alone.
buy See bought, boughten.
by means of Wordy. Simplify. Shorten to by, using or with.
byproduct One word, not hyphenated.
by the way Wordy. Simplify. Consider deleting this phrase and the parenthetical or tangential information that follows it.
Maintained by Gary B. Larson of Seattle, Washington, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Updated April 13, 2013.