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hairbrained See harebrained below.

half of the The preposition of is not necessary in this usage: half the time. But half of the time is not wrong.

half-mast, half-staff On ships and at naval stations ashore, flags are flown at half-mast. At other government facilities and elsewhere ashore, flags are flown at half-staff.

handheld (n.), hand-held (adj.)

handicapped See disabled.

hangar, hanger Sometimes confused or misspelled. Airplanes go in hangars. That's the only use of hangar. Clothes and other things go on hangers.

hanged, hung Sometimes misused. Hung is the past tense of hang for most uses. Pictures, coats and sometimes juries are hung. When writing about capital punishment (but not accidents, murders or suicides), use hanged. When hanged by the government, a person is "put to death by tying a rope around the neck and suddenly suspending the body to snap the neck or strangle the person."

hanky-panky Two words, hyphenated.

harass, harassment Commonly misspelled. One r and two s's.

hardly Commonly misused. A negative meaning is built in to hardly. So drop the redundant 't from can't hardly and not from not hardly--or try using barely or scarcely. No not before those words either. Also, change without hardly to almost without. And consider using simpler cannot instead of can hardly. Also, see can't hardly.

hardy, hearty Sometimes confused. Use hardy to describe someone or something that's strong, healthy and able to handle difficult conditions. Use hearty to describe someone who's very cheerful and friendly or likes a lot of food. Some common, correct phrases with these words are hardy plants, hale and hearty (meaning "healthy and full of energy"), hearty appetite or meal, and hearty welcome. See healthful, healthy below.

harebrained Commonly misspelled. Not hairbrained.

has no Wordy. Simplify. Try replacing with lacks.

have an effect on Wordy. Simplify with a form of the word affect. See affect, effect.

he, him, his Lowercase these pronouns when writing about God, Jesus and other deities. Also see pronouns.

headlines, headings Preferred style for headlines is to capitalize only proper nouns and the first word. Think of headlines as sentences, with a subject and a verb. Document headings may be capitalized like composition titles: capitalizing proper nouns and key words. For consistency, choose either a headline style or a heading style.

Headings, subheads and headlines benefit readers of all documents, not just reports, brochures and newspaper articles. Use them in letters, memos and email messages to guide readers and highlight information. To improve readability, avoid capitalizing all the letters in more than one or two words in headlines and headings. For emphasis, other typographical uses may be more effective: a different typeface, italics, color, boldfacing, larger type.

For headlines, state or imply a complete sentence in the present tense. Avoid using passive voice. Omit most "helping" and "to be" verbs: Road improvements planned for Belvidere Avenue Southwest instead of Road improvements are planned for Belvidere Avenue Southwest. Cut articles (a, an, the): School district schedules open house on proposed curriculum changes instead of School district has scheduled an open house on the proposed curriculum changes. Infinitive is preferred to future tense: City Council to consider budget recommendation instead of The City Council will consider the budget recommendation. In headlines with more than one line, avoid separating verbs of more than one word, modifiers from the words they modify and prepositions from the phrases they introduce.

Figures may be used for numbers in headlines. If the meaning is clear, abbreviations may be used in headlines and headings. See abbreviations and acronyms, capitalization, numbers.

Punctuate headlines like sentences. Some exceptions: Commas may substitute for the word and. Use semicolons instead of periods to show sentence breaks within the headline. But put no period after the headline. Use single quotation marks instead of double quotation marks. In attribution, colons may substitute for said after the speaker's name (before a statement), and dashes may substitute for said before the speaker's name (after a statement). Don't hyphenate words in headlines and headings.

head-on (adj., adv.) Hyphenate.

headquarters May take a singular or a plural verb. Do not use headquarter as a verb.

health care (n.), health-care (adj.)

healthful, healthy Though the distinction between these adjectives is blurry, it's worth considering. Use healthful to describe something that promotes good physical or mental health: a healthful diet, a healthful environment. Use healthy to describe a person or animal in good health or to describe something in good mental or physical condition: a healthy family, a healthy outlook.

heart-rending Sometimes misspelled. Not heart-rendering.

hearty See hardy, hearty above.

height Sometimes misspelled as heighth. Unlike wide and width and deep and depth, high doesn't transform to heighth as a noun. Also, height, like weight, is an exception to the "i before e except after c" rule. See dimensions.

henceforth Overstated and formal. Simplify. Try from now on or from today.

he or she, he/she In avoiding the outdated use of the generic he, he or she is much preferred over he/she, as are his or hers over his/hers and him or her over him/her. Of course, the pronoun order can be reversed: she or he, hers or his, her or him. To avoid overuse of he or she and its other forms, use a plural construction: All participants must supply their own tools instead of Each participant must supply his or her own tools. See his, his/her entry below; pronouns.

her Do not use this pronoun to refer to nations or ships, except in quotations. Use it instead. Also see his, his/her; pronouns; sex, sexism.

hereafter, herein, heretofore, herewith Formal and legalistic. Simplify. Replace hereafter with from now on, in the future or later; herein with here, here is (are), in here, in this place, in this matter or included; herewith with along with this, with this (letter) or enclosed is (are); heretofore with earlier, until now or before this.

heroin, heroine Sometimes confused. Heroin is "a highly addictive narcotic drug derived from morphine." A heroine is "a woman of outstanding courage," "a woman admired for her achievements," and "the main female character in a novel or play."

hesitant See reluctant, reticent.

hideout (n.) One word, no hyphen

hi-fi Hyphenated, lowercase.

high- Hyphenate compound adjectives using high- before a noun: high-class studio, high-definition TV, high-impact development, high-priority project. See other examples below, low-.

highfalutin Ridiculously pompous or pretentious, often expressed in high-flown unimportant or meaningless language. If you want to communicate well, banish highfalutin language (and behavior).

high-occupancy Buses, carpools and vanpools are high-occupancy vehicles. They can travel in high-occupancy-vehicle lanes.

high-occupancy-vehicle lane Spell out on first reference. HV lane is acceptable on second reference. Bus and carpool lane is also acceptable.

high-rise (n. and adj.) Two words, hyphenated: high-rise building.

high-tech, high tech As an adjective, use high-tech or high-technology. As a noun, use high tech or high technology. It's never hi-tech or hi tech.

highway designations For highways identified by number, spell out and capitalize on first reference: Highway 99, U.S. Route 2, Interstate 5, State Route 520. On second reference, interstates and state routes may be abbreviated. Capitalize and use a hyphen: I-405, I-5, SR-520. Don't abbreviate Highway.

hillside One word.

hippie, hippy Although followers of the counterculture in the '60s and '70s are now middle-aged, they probably prefer hippie to hippy. Save hippy for writing about someone with big hips, whatever the chosen lifestyle.

his, her, his/her Avoid using the singular pronouns his or her in generic references. Also avoid the awkward construction his/her. Instead, rewrite the sentence. Changing singular pronouns to plural pronouns often works well. Change: A chef should taste his/her creations before serving them. To: Chefs should taste their creations before serving them. See he or she, he/she entry above; pronouns.

Hispanic, Latino Both terms refer to a person of Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Central and South American or other Spanish culture or origin. Some people and style guides prefer Hispanic. On the U.S. West Coast, many people prefer Latino. In the U.S. Northeast and Southwest, more people use Hispanic. Still others use the two terms interchangeably or prefer a term noting national origin, such as Puerto Rican, Cuban or Mexican American. People of Brazilian and Portuguese origin are not Hispanic. Unless requested, avoid using Chicano to refer specifically to Mexican Americans. Don't use Spanish-speaking as a synonym for Hispanic, Latino or Chicano. 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 capitalization, race.

historic, historical, history Use historic for places, things and events of great significance, that stand out in history. Any occurrence in the past is a historical event. Avoid using historic to describe events that have little or questionable historical importance. Past history is redundant. Also, because the consonant h is typically sounded in these words, the article a comes before them, not an. See a, an.

hit-and-run (n. and adj.) The accident was a hit-and-run. The truck was struck by a hit-and-run driver.

HIV It's the abbreviation for human immunodeficiency virus, so HIV virus is redundant. Referring to it as the AIDS virus is correct. See AIDS.

hoard, horde Often confused. Use hoard as a verb to mean "collecting things and hiding them." Use hoard as a noun to mention "a group of things that's hidden for safekeeping." Use the noun horde when writing about "a large crowd often moving in an uncontrolled way."

hoi polloi, hoity-toity Sometimes confused or misused. Use the hoi polloi to refer to "the common people," though it's considered patronizing and contemptuous. People who are hoity-toity -- arrogant and condescending -- are likely to refer to the hoi polloi.

holidays and holy days Capitalize all holidays and holy days: Chinese [or Lunar] New Year, Christmas, Columbus Day, Easter, Groundhog Day, Halloween, Hanukkah, Independence Day, Labor Day, Memorial Day, Thanksgiving, Year of the [Rat], etc. Punctuate these holidays as shown: New Year's Day, New Year's Eve, Martin Luther King Jr. Day (no comma before Jr.), St. Patrick's Day, Washington's Birthday, Presidents Day (no apostrophe), Valentine's Day, Veterans Day (no apostrophe).

Because various religions use differing rituals in December and January (and throughout the year), it's often useful to refer to the holiday season, a holiday party or a similar phrase. Christmas, for example, is a Christian celebration not recognized by all religious beliefs. Government agencies cannot promote religious practice. See religious affiliation.

hold a meeting Wordy. Replace with meet or describe a particular action. Change: The committee will hold a meeting Nov. 16. To: The committee will meet Nov. 16, or The committee will consider the proposal Nov. 16.

holocaust, the Holocaust Lowercase when writing about any event with vast or total destruction of things and people, especially by fire. Capitalize when writing about the methodical Nazi killing of more than 6 million European Jews before and during World War II.

home, house Not interchangeable, or as the saying goes: "A house is not a home." House is more precise when referring to a building in which people live, while home is more precise when referring to households or places of residence--which can include apartments, trailers, condominiums and bridge underpasses.

home in, hone Sometimes misspelled or confused. To home in is "to focus on a target, goal, or destination or be guided toward it." To hone is "to improve a skill" or "to sharpen something."

home page Two words. It's the "front" page or main page of a website; it's not synonymous with Web page or website. See Internet, intranet, online, World Wide Web.

homosexual See gay, lesbian; sex, sexism.

hone See home in, hone above.

hoodie Short for hooded sweatshirt; acceptable to wear, without fear, in any neighborhood.

hopefully Ignore the rapidly dwindling number of style gurus who think it is incorrect to modify the meaning of an entire sentence by beginning it with the adverb hopefully. As other style experts note, adverbs such as apparently, fortunately and obviously are already used correctly to modify entire sentences. And hopefully can be used that way too! Thus, go ahead and use hopefully to mean "it is hoped, let us hope, we hope" or "I hope" when describing feelings toward the entire sentence: Hopefully, the war will end quickly with few civilian casualties.

Hopefully may also be used to mean "hopeful or with hope or in a hopeful manner" when describing how the subject of a sentence feels: Hopefully, the dog sat by the dinner table. (The dog is hopeful.) Hopefully, Carlos emailed his request for a vacation. (Carlos is hopeful.)

horde See horde.

hors d'oeuvre Commonly misspelled. Plural spelling in English: hors d'oeuvres.

horsepower Spell out on first reference. It may be abbreviated hp on later references and in tables.

host, hosted Acceptable as a verb but consider using synonyms like organize, hold, give and entertain.

hotline One word.

house See home, house.

HOV lanes See high-occupancy-vehicle lanes.

how come For most serious writing, use why instead of casual how come.

however When using however to mean "nevertheless" at the beginning a sentence, always follow it with a comma: However, an alternative solution might be better. Using but instead is simpler and correct, but no comma is necessary after but. Also consider pausing early in the sentence and inserting however between commas: The buses, however, carried more people than they did last year. See and, but; comma.

When using however to mean "in whatever way" or "to whatever extent", do not follow it with a comma at the beginning of a sentence: However most people think, he'll probably do what his advisers suggest. See nevertheless.

HTML Acronym for hypertext markup language. Spell out on first reference. Lowercase html and htm in Web addresses. See World Wide Web.

HTTP Acronym for hypertext transfer protocol. Lowercase in Web addresses. See World Wide Web.

hung See hanged, hung.

hurdle, hurtle Sometimes confused verbs. To hurdle is "to overcome a difficulty or obstacle" and "to jump over a barrier." To hurtle is "to move or travel at very high speed."

husband, wife Regardless of sexual orientation, husband or wife is acceptable in all references to individuals in any legally recognized marriage. Or use spouse or partner if requested by individuals in the marriage.

hygiene Commonly misspelled.

hyphen (-) Hyphens are joiners. They link words. Use a hyphen to avoid ambiguity or to form a single idea from two or more words: His boss recovered her health. Her son re-covered the torn seat. He is a small-business man. She is a foreign-car dealer. Unclear: He is a small businessman. She is a foreign car dealer. Also see guidelines at composition titles, compound words, initial-based terms, race.

Don't hyphenate most compound nouns--two or more words that work together as a noun: Agent training is running late. But consult this style manual or your dictionary for preferred or commonly excepted terms: president-elect, sister-in-law, good-for-nothing.

Compound adjectives, compound modifiers:

  • To avoid ambiguity, use hyphens to link words in compound adjectives (compound modifiers) before nouns. The words in compound adjectives work together to describe the noun. If you can insert and between the modifying words before a noun and make sense of the new construction, you do not have a compound adjective: And would make sense in a sunny, warm day; sunny, warm is not a compound modifier. But and would not work in a well-rounded employee; well-rounded is a compound modifier. Another test: If your sentence would make sense if you reversed the order of the modifying words or even removed one of them, don't connect the words with a hyphen.
  • Here are other examples of two or more consecutive words that make sense only when linked with a hyphen as a single idea modifying a noun that follows: better-qualified woman, credit-card application, first-class stamp, 5-ton truck, high-frequency sounds, know-it-all attitude, little-known man, long-range plan, minimum-height requirement, minimum-height requirement, pilot-testing schedule, short-term solution, special-interest money, 250-square-mile area, two-zone system, used-record store, a well-prepared plan.
  • Leave out hyphens in compound modifiers only when no reader confusion would result from their omission--or if the modifying words are commonly considered as a unit: post office box, high school classes, real-estate agent. Also, rewrite sentences to avoid stringing together a long, potentially confusing series of modifying adverbs and adjectives before nouns.
  • When a number and a noun form a compound modifier before a noun, use a singular noun in the phrase and hyphenate the phrase. Drop the hyphens and use plural nouns in other uses: The room measured 6 by 9 feet, but a 6-by-9-foot room. The building has 3,300 square feet of usable space, but a 3,300-square-foot building. The container held 10 gallons, but a 10-gallon container. The type size is 18 points, but 18-point type. Her shift lasted 10 hours, but a 10-hour shift. She was on vacation for three weeks, but a three-week vacation.
  • Hyphens are unnecessary after already, least, less, most and very and after all adverbs that end in ly: already named manager, an easily remembered rule, less expensive project, least liked alternative, most used service, randomly selected addresses, a very good time. See comma, very.
  • Don't hyphenate most compound modifiers if they occur after the noun being modified, even if hyphenating them before the noun: The proposal was well documented. The actor was little known. The older woman was better qualified. His boat is 42 feet long, but He has a 42-foot-long boat.
  • Here's the form for suspensive hyphenation: The students recommended a 15- to 20-minute break between third and fourth periods.

Hyphenate co- when forming nouns, adjectives or verbs that show occupation or status: co-chairman, co-pilot, co-worker. See prefixes and suffixes and separate entries for the most often used prefixes and suffixes.

A hyphen is not a dash. For example, this organization mail stop, KSC-NR-0505, has hyphens, not dashes. And this phone number has hyphens, no dashes: 206-456-7890. See dash for preferred punctuation between phrases and numbers, times, dates and other uses that show range, such as 1993-94, $23-42, the Seattle-Spokane train. Also see between ..., from ... to, ranges.

A hyphen may be used to divide a word at the end of a line, especially to remove large gaps at the end of an adjacent line. Here are some guidelines for hyphenation to aid readability and reduce reader confusion (see justification):

  • Divide words only between syllables, but don't add a hyphen to a word or phrase that already has a hyphen, such as decision-maker or re-election. Instead, break the word or phrase at the existing hyphen.
  • Avoid ending more than two consecutive lines with hyphens.
  • Don't hyphenate a word at the end of a line unless you can leave a syllable of at least three characters on both the first and second lines. Avoid dividing words with fewer than six letters.
  • Don't divide the last word in a line when the second part of the word would be the only "word" on the second line.
  • Don't hyphenate abbreviations, contractions and numbers. Also, don't hyphenate words in headlines and headings.
  • Avoid hyphenating proper nouns.
  • Don't hyphenate words that jump from one page to another page.
  • Avoid hyphenating words that jump from one column to another column or that jump over a graphic image or photo.

Also see numbers.

hypocrisy Commonly misspelled.

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Updated April 14, 2013.