Garbl's Writing Center
Dad and Mom Capitalize when used as names: "Did you hear that Dad now insists we study two hours every school night?" But lowercase in other uses: The student's mom met with the teacher. "My mom asked my teacher about homework." This same rule applies when using Father or father and Mother or mother. See family names.
dangling modifiers Avoid modifiers that do not refer clearly and logically to some word in the sentence. Dangling: Holding the paper to the light above the table, it cast an image on the wall. Holding does not refer to the subject of the sentence, it. As written, the sentence suggests that it (the paper) was holding itself (as well as casting its image)--an extraordinary feat! To eliminate the dangling participle, the first words following that introductory phrase should be the name or description of the person (or thing) holding the pape: Holding the paper to the light above the table, Benjamin made it cast an image on the wall. The participle is no longer dangling; it's held in place by Benjamin--or, the subject of the sentence.
Another way to fix dangling participles is to put the original subject of the sentence in the introductory participle phrase, then refer to the object of the action as the replacement subject of the sentence. Thus: As Benjamin held the paper to the light above the table, it cast an image on the table. The pronoun it could still be confusing to some readers, however: Is it the paper or the light? If that's a problem, replace it with the paper. Here's another way to rewrite the sentence: As Benjamin held it to the light above the table, the paper cast an image on the wall. See this, that, these, those, it entry.
dash (--) Long dashes, called em dashes, have three main uses. In these uses, em dashes are usually less formal but more emphatic substitutes for other typical punctuation marks. To preserve the impact of dashes, avoid overusing them.
First, use an em dash to explain, justify or stress in the second part of a sentence something in the first part: Fans filled all the seats--the concert hall was packed! The new shopping mall will open Tuesday--if the air-conditioning works. The project was finished on time, within scope--and under budget. The manager was new to the agency--brand new.
Second, use a pair of em dashes to make an emphatic pause or abrupt, parenthetic change in thought within a sentence: The new auditorium--opening six months behind schedule--is getting praise from both critics and audiences. If you'd prefer to play down such a phrase, consider placing it between parentheses instead, or between commas.
Third, use a pair of em dashes to set off a phrase that has a series of words separated by commas: Leif Nelson described the qualities--intelligence, a sense of humor and compassion--he wants in a manager.
As shown in the examples above, do not put a space before or after an em dash (an exception to the rule followed by the Associated Press for newspaper use). Avoid using more than one pair of em dashes in a sentence.
A short dash, called en dash, may be used to mean up to and including when placed between numbers, times, dates and other uses that show range: 1993-96, $25-50, $432,000-$560,000 (but $25 million to $50 million), 55-65 years, 7:15-7:30 a.m. (but 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.), ages 15-20, pages 167-78. It also may be used to replace to and versus in capitalized names: the Chicago-New Orleans train, the Huskies-Cougars game. Do not put spaces before and after the en dash. See between ... and, from ... to, dates, ranges.
Note: A hyphen (-) is not a dash. Most current word processing and design software can create em dashes and en dashes. If not possible, use two hyphens to create an em dash, and substitute a hyphen for an en dash. In Microsoft Word, if you don't space after the second hyphen, the two hyphens become an em dash. See hyphen.
data Normally a plural noun, it takes plural verbs and pronouns when writing about individual items: The data have been analyzed thoroughly. Data may take singular verbs when the group or quantity is considered a unit: The data is accurate. Stick with the plural verb after data if you're not sure which one to use.
Also, use data to refer to evidence, measurements, records and statistics from which conclusions can be inferred, not as a simple synonym for facts, knowledge, reports or information. If suitable, consider using simpler information or facts.
database One word.
data processing (n. and adj.) Don't hyphenate the adjective.
date back to Wordy. Simply. Change to date to or date from.
dates Except for correspondence, abbreviate Jan., Feb., Aug., Sept., Oct., Nov., Dec when used with a specific date: We opened a second retreat center Feb. 11, 1994, after three months of planning. Spell out those months in correspondence. Spell out the names of months when using a month alone or with a year alone: We opened the first center in January 1994.. Also, avoid using virgules (or hyphens) with numerals to give dates, especially if your readers could confuse the order of the day and month: 2/11/94, 11-16-1993.
When not including a specific date, do not separate the month and year with a comma. Including the year is not always necessary in documents with a limited shelf life; however, noting the month and year of publication in an inconspicuous place may be useful. Do not follow numerals used with dates by nd, rd, st or th. See century, comma, days of the week, decades, months, time, years.
Here are examples of the preferred styles for punctuating times and dates (in correspondence, spell out the names of months):
day care, day-care Hyphenate as an adjective: His sister uses a day-care center in downtown Philadelphia. Don't hyphenate as a noun: She searched months for affordable day care.
daylight saving time Not savings. No hyphen. Always lowercase. FYI, daylight saving time starts at 2 a.m. on the second Sunday of March and ends at 2 a.m. on the first Sunday of November, except in areas that exempt themselves.
daytime One word.
dead end (n.), dead-end (adj. and v.) The street is a dead end. Comedian Stephen Wright lived on a one-way dead-end street. The street dead-ended at an empty lot.
decades Use numerals to show decades of history. Use an apostrophe to show numerals are left out. Show plural by adding the letter s (no apostrophe): the '50s, the 1990s, the mid-1930s. See century, millennium.
decease, deceased Formal, euphemisms. Consider using die, death or dead instead.
decimate Commonly misused. Remember that the Romans used this word centuries ago to mean killing only one in every 10 of their enemies. They didn't use it to mean killing all their enemies. To decimate now means "to destroy a large part of something or to kill many people." Don't use it to mean simply destroy or annihilate, demolish or wipe out, all of which imply doing away with something completely. And don't use decimate to mean something less significant, such as break, damage, defeat, hamper, kill or reduce. Use one of the stronger or weaker alternative words if that's what you mean. See demolish, destroy.
decision-maker (n.), decision-making (n., adj.)
deductible Commonly misspelled. You may be able to deduct expenses, but use ible when describing them.
deem Overstated, old-fashioned and formal. Simplify. Try consider, judge, think or treat as.
defamation See libel, slander.
defendant Commonly misspelled.
definite, definitive, definitely Commonly misspelled or misused. Definite means "certain, clear, exact, precise." Definitive means "conclusive, final." Definitely is overused and often redundant. Try dropping it or even using yes, if that's what you mean.
definitions See spelling.
defuse, diffuse Sometimes confused. Defuse means "to stop a bomb from exploding," "to make something harmless," and "to reduce tensions in a difficult situation." Diffuse means "to spread out or scatter widely" and "to be wordy or long-winded and unclear." See concise.
delegate, relegate Sometimes confused verbs. To delegate is a positive action, giving a task or authority to someone else. To relegate is a negative action, demoting someone or something and exiling or banishing someone.
delete Consider replacing with simpler remove, cut or drop.
delusion See allusion, delusion, illusion .
Democrat, Democratic Party Many members of the Democratic Party (not Democrat Party) believe in "priming the pump" to stimulate the economy by aiding workers directly, instead of stimulating corporate profits that might "trickle down" to workers. Lowercase democrat and democratic when not referring to the political party and members of the party. See party affiliation; political parties and philosophies.
demonstrate Overstated. Simplify. Use form of prove, show, describe or explain. But if you want to join with other people to protest or support something in public, go ahead and demonstrate. You have a right to be a demonstrator and take part in demonstrations!
deny See refute below.
depart Formal word. Consider using leave or go instead. But if you use depart, follow it with a preposition: She will depart from Portland International Airport. He will depart at noon.
dependent Commonly misspelled.
depth See dimensions.
descend See climb down, climb up.
desert, dessert Sometimes confused or misspelled. As a noun, a desert is a dry, barren, sandy, often hot region. A desert (often deserts) is also a deserved reward or punishment: She got his just deserts. As a verb, desert is to abandon or leave one's post without permission. Somewhat like this definition, a dessert is a tasty treat that comes at the end of a meal.
designate Consider replacing with simpler show or point out; choose, appoint, name or set.
desirable Commonly misspelled. Drop the e from desire when adding able.
desire Formal. Depending on what you mean, consider simpler, more direct long for, wish, want or crave.
desirous of Wordy. Simplify. Use a form of the verb want.
desist (from) Formal and overstated, unless you're referring to an action that is annoying, harmful, futile and so on. Simplify. Try stop.
despite, in spite of Interchangeable in meaning. But use simpler despite.
despite the fact that Wordy. Simplify. Change to although.
destroy See demolish.
detain Overstated and formal. Simplify. Try hold.
determine Overstated. Simplify. Try decide, settle, find out, figure out, work out, learn or fit.
deterrent Commonly misspelled.
detrimental Formal. Simplify. Try harmful.
device, devise Often confused or misspelled. A noun, device is "a tool for doing a special job--or a plan or scheme for carrying out a specific task." A verb, devise means "to plan or create a way of doing something."
devoid of Formal. Simplify. Try without or empty. Redundant: completely devoid, totally devoid.
diacritical mark See accent marks.
diagnose Doctors diagnose, or identify, diseases and illnesses, not people: He diagnosed Janelle's ailment as acid reflux, not He diagnosed Janelle as having acid reflux. Janelle's ailment was diagnosed as acid reflux, not Janelle was diagnosed with acid reflux.
diagonal mark (/) See virgule for punctuation mark.
dialogue Preferred spelling. Not dialog. Can be pompous, overstated jargon if you simply mean talk, discuss, chat, speak or exchange ideas. Simplify. Use one of those words instead. Avoid the cliche meaningful dialogue.
dictionaries See spelling.
dietitian Preferred spelling. Not dietician.
difference, differential Sometimes confused. Difference and differing are usually correct for describing the ways people or things are not alike. Save differential for writing about precise mathematical differences.
different from, different than Different from is almost always the correct choice--particularly before nouns and pronouns: My car is different from hers. Dogs are different from cats. Different than is usually wrong. But either phrase can be used before a clause (a group of words with both a subject and a verb): How different things appear in Houston than they appear in Boston. How different things appear in Houston from how they appear in Boston.
differ from, differ with When you mean two items are unlike, use differ from. One thing differs from another. When people disagree or are in conflict, they differ with one another. Stan insisted that his left eye differed from his right. His wife, however, differed with him.
dilemma Commonly misspelled and misused. A dilemma is a difficult choice between two unpleasant or unappealing alternatives, not just any difficulty, problem or predicament. Remember: You can't be caught in the horns of a dilemma with only one horn. See alternate, alternative.
dimensions Use numerals and spell out inches, feet andyards to show depth, height, length and width. Also use numerals and spell out the descriptive word for area, size, volume and other units of measurement: 5 acres, 7 gallons. Hyphenate when used as adjectives before a noun: The fish is 8 inches long. The 6-by-7-foot room. The company is planning a 14,600-square-foot building. The stream is 3 inches below normal. Use an apostrophe to show feet and quotation marks to show inches (5'8") in only very technical documents or charts. See distances, two-by-four.
directions and regions Lowercase north, south, northeast, northern and so on when they show compass direction. Capitalize the words when they name well-defined regions: He walked west toward the sunset. Too many people are moving to the Northwest. The commission included members from throughout Eastern Washington.
Lowercase directions when joined with a proper name unless used to name a politically divided nation: southern United States, northern Canada, North Korea.
Lowercase compass points when they describe a section of a state, county or city: eastern Oregon, north Kittitas County, south Los Angeles, southern Texas. But capitalize compass points when part of a proper name: South Carolina. Or when used to show widely known sections: Western Washington, Southern California, the Lower East Side of New York. When in doubt, lowercase, or be more precise in naming the geographic area.
disabled People with disabilities have the same rights as other people, including the right to privacy. Treat them as you would treat other people. If in doubt about mentioning a person's disability, ask him or her. A person who is blind, for example, may prefer to be called blind instead of partially sighted or visually impaired.
Avoid mentioning a disability when it is not pertinent. When necessary to mention a disability, put the person first, not the disability: The man who is blind. The child who is paralyzed. The woman with a mental illness. Also, instead of using broad terms like a person with a mental [or cognitive] disability or a person with a physical [or mobility] disability, consider using a useful phrase that describes the effect of the disability, if appropriate: She has a disability that makes it easy for her to become lost. Don't say the paraplegic, the schizophrenic, the arthritic, the brain-damaged person.
Disability and disabled are preferred to handicap, handicapped, impairment and impaired. Avoid impersonal phrasing such as the handicapped or the disabled. Instead, say people with disabilities, using person-first language. Avoid condescending euphemisms when writing about people with disabilities; for example, handicapable, physically challenged and special.
Avoid the use of disabled or crippled when mentioning inanimate objects such as a disabled truck. Try stalled truck or change the sentence structure: The truck with mechanical problems blocked the intersection for 30 minutes.
Treat people with disabilities with respect. Here are some reminders when writing about people with disabilities:
disagree (with) See refute.
disburse, disperse Sometimes confused. Disburse means "to pay out money." But simplify and try using pay or pay out instead. Disperse means "to break up and spread widely." The correct noun forms are disbursement and dispersal.
discreet, discrete Often confused. Discreet means "careful about saying, writing or doing things; trustworthy with secrets": At work, they were discreet about their relationship. Discrete means "separate, distinct, unattached, unrelated": He prefers discussing discrete issues, not general ideas.
disc, disk Use disc for compact discs, laser discs, videodiscs, disc jockeys and phonograph records. Use disk for computer terms like hard disk, disk drive and disk space. A floppy disk is a diskette.
discontinue Overstated unless referring to a usual or habitual activity or practice. Simplify. Try replacing with stop, end or give up.
diseases Don't capitalize the names of diseases--leukemia, pneumonia--but capitalize the name of a person identified with a disease: Parkinson's disease. Also lowercase the names of diseases derived from scientific (Latin) names for organisms; see taxonomy.
disinterested, uninterested Commonly confused. Disinterested means "impartial, objective and unbiased." Uninterested means "not interested": A disinterested person has no personal stake in the outcome of an event. An uninterested person doesn't care. See ambiguous, ambivalent, indifferent.
diskette A generic term for floppy disk. Not synonymous with disk.
disperse See disburse, disperse above.
disprove See refute.
disrespect Best used as a noun meaning "lack of respect or courtesy." Using it as a verb to mean "showing a lack of respect" may seem unusual or incorrect to some readers.
disseminate Overstated. Simplify. Replace with spread, give, send or send out.
distances Always use numerals: He biked 3 miles to work. She ran 15 miles every Saturday.
districts When mentioning congressional, council and legislative districts, capitalize district when joined with a number: the 7th Congressional District, the 34th Legislative District, the 3rd District, City Council District 9. Lowercase district when it stands alone. Don't spell out the numeral with districts. See legislative titles.
ditto marks Used in lists or tables to "repeat" the word, number or term above. Make them with quotation marks, but avoid using them because they can confuse readers.
dived, dove Both are correct as the past tense of dive, but dived is preferred as the most commonly used. Save dove for writing about the bird of peace and people who advocate peace.
doctor Readers often identify doctor and Dr. with physicians. Use Dr. on first reference as a formal title before the name of a person who holds a doctor of medicine degree. Drop the title before the name in later references. Dr. also may be used for people with other types of doctoral degrees if the context is clear, such as in an academic setting or reference to an academic specialty or position. See academic degrees, titles; titles.
dollars Always lowercase. Use figures and the $ sign in all except casual references or amounts without a figure: The CD cost only $7. Dollars stopped flowing into Rhode Island. Beware of accidentally using the word dollars and the dollar sign with the same amount: $783 dollars. The form for amounts less than $1 million: $3, $42, $803, $4,392, $538,502. For amounts of more than $1 million, use the $ and numbers up to two decimal places; do not link the numbers and the word with a hyphen: The project will cost about $3.75 million. It is worth exactly $8,304,336. He proposed a $530 million project. See cents, money, numbers.
For specific amounts of money, use a singular verb: The task force said $348,986 is needed. For vague sums of money, use a plural verb: Millions of dollars were wasted.
dominant, dominate Sometimes confused. Similar in meaning, both words are about "being strongest, most important or most noticeable" and "having power or control over other people and things." Use the adjective dominant to describe someone or something that's like that. And use the verb dominate to write about someone or something acting that way.
"don't ask, don't tell" The U.S. Congress finally repealed the outdated "don't ask, don't tell" policy in late 2010.
donut See doughnut.
DOS An acronym for disk operating system. Spell out (all caps, no periods).
dot-com (n., adj.) Hyphenate. No period or "dot."
double-breasted Hyphenate: a double-breasted suit.
double negative See negative.
doubt that, doubt whether, doubt if Sometimes confused. Use doubt that when expressing disbelief or skepticism or when making a negative statement (using no or not): He doubts that the Easter Bunny exists. I don't doubt that you mean what you say. There's no doubt that she will make the deadline. Use doubt whether when expressing indecision or uncertainty: She doubts whether he'll find his car keys. He doubted whether he could make the best choice. Choose one of those two phrases instead of the vague conditional doubt if.
doughnut Preferred spelling. Not donut.
Douglas fir See plants.
dove Doves are great, especially when they symbolize and advocate peace. But for the past tense of dive, see dived.
download One word.
down payment Two words.
downriver, downstream One word.
dragged See drug below.
dramatic, drastic Sometimes confused. Use dramatic to describe something sudden and noticeable, exciting and impressive, or filled with action and emotion. Use drastic to describe something extreme and sudden, especially if it's violent or severe: The dramatic change in the weather brought drastic results for people living in the floodplain.
drier, dryer Sometimes confused. You use an appliance called a dryer to dry things like clothes: a clothes dryer, a hair dryer. You use that appliance to make things less wet or drier: My hair is drier now.
-drive, drive Use two hyphens when describing a type of vehicle: two-wheel-drive cars, front-wheel-drive van, all-wheel-drive vehicles. But use one hyphen when using the term as a noun: Many drivers prefer four-wheel drive to two-wheel drive.
drive-in (n.) Hyphenate.
driver's license, driver's licenses Generic spelling. In Washington, the official name of this document is the the Washington State driver license and driver license (lowercase and no 's or s').
drive-thru (n. and adj.) Hyphenate.
drug Often misused or abused. As a noun, a drug is a legal medicine, an illegal substance, or a legal substance that's not a medicine (think caffeine and nicotine), the differences supposedly based on potential risks and benefits. As a verb, drug (and drugged and drugging) applies to only the use of drugs. Just say "no" to using drug as the past tense of drag. Use dragged instead.
dry dock (n.), dry-dock (v.)
dual, duel Sometimes confused or misspelled. Use dual to describe having two of something, two parts or two purposes. Use duel when you or someone wants to fight another person or group with swords, pistols, semiautomatic assault weapons, or weapons of mass destruction--or less violent debating or verbal skills.
due to Often used incorrectly to mean because of or through: She fell because of [not due to] the icy sidewalk. We canceled the show because of [not due to] poor ticket sales. Usage hint: If a sentence begins with due to, it's probably wrong, like this one: Due to poor ticket sales, the show was canceled. Correct: Because of poor ticket sales, the show was canceled.
Use due to only as an alternative to caused by or resulting from. Those phrases are usually preceded by a be verb such as is, are, was and were: Her fall was caused by the icy sidewalk. The show cancellation was due to poor ticket sales. See because, since.
due to the fact that Incorrect, overstated and wordy. Simplify. Try replacing with because
during the time, during the course of Wordy. Simplify. Use during, while or when instead. Also, if something happened as part of an activity, try using in, not during: He carried a protest sign in the march, not He carried a protest sign during the march. It's shorter, stronger and clearer.
DVD Acronym for digital video disk or digital versatile disk. Acronym is usually acceptable on first reference.
dying, dyeing Often confused. Dying is a form of the verb die. Dyeing is a form of the verb dye, to change colors.
Maintained by Gary B. Larson of Seattle, Washington, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Updated April 14, 2013.