Garbl's Writing Center
I It's often OK to refer to yourself as I (and me) in your writing and speaking. It's called writing in first person. It can add credibility and personality, and it can eliminate passive, wordy sentences. But don't overdo it or write about yourself as though you're another person. If you've made it clear you're describing your feelings, beliefs and opinions, avoid overusing I feel, I believe and I think. Simply state your feeling, belief or thought without introducing it with those words. And when expressing your opinion or describing your actions or feelings, squelch the use of inane terms like this writer, the author, one, and we (when we is only you). The same guidance applies to using me. Also see active vs. passive verbs; I, me below; Myths and Superstitions of Writing; personally; we; you.
iced tea Iced tea is tea with ice in it. It's not tea made of ice. Add the d to ice and drop in a lemon and perhaps some sugar.
ID Abbreviation for identification. If the meaning is clear, OK to use in first reference. Capitalized, no periods.
ideate, ideation Silly non-words. Be creative in developing, describing and promoting your ideas. Don't weaken or confuse that creativity with horrible jargon.
idiosyncrasy Commonly misspelled. Not idiosyncracy.
i.e. See e.g., i.e.
if See was, were for correct use of were with if in describing hypothetical situations.
if and when Wordy, contradictory. Simplify. Use one or the other, not both. Use if to express uncertainty that something will happen and when to note that something will happen, the unknown being the time or date.
illegitimate A child of unmarried parents is not illegitimate; do no use that insensitive term. If reference to the child's status is essential, use an expression such as whose parents weren't married, whose mother was not married, or was born to an unmarried teenager.
illegal immigration Except in direct quotations essential to a document, use illegal to describe only an action, not a person: illegal immigration, not illegal immigrant. Illegal immigration is entering or residing in a country in violation of civil or criminal law. Use a version of these accurate descriptions to refer to a person: living in a country without legal permission; entering a country illegally.. As with any term implying illegal behavior, use those terms only when quoting a reliable, official source of information about a person's true status; don't quote just anyone who's tossing out claims of illegal behavior. Unless used in a direct quotation, don't use the dehumanizing terms: illegal alien, an illegal, illegals, or undocumented. Also see emigrate/emigrant, immigrant/immigrate.
illicit See elicit, illicit.
illusion See allusion, delusion, illusion.
I, me Often confused. The pronoun I (like he, she, we and they) is always the subject of sentences and clauses. And the pronoun me (like him, her, us and them) is always the object of verbs and prepositions. In other words, I is more likely to be at the front of a sentence or clause (typically before the verb). And me is more likely to be at the back of a sentence or clause (typically after the verb): I hugged her. He talked to me. She hugged him. We talked to them. They talked to us.
Also, please remember these correct uses when the sentence has a conjunction (such as and or or): He talked to Linda and me. Linda and I talked to him. The horse carried Debbie and me. Debbie and I rode the horse. Incorrect: He talked to Linda and I. Linda and me talked to him. The horse carried Debbie and I. Debbie and me rode the horse. To be polite, me or I usually follows the conjunction.
To test for correctness: Remove the other person's name and the conjunction from the sentence, leaving the pronoun; if it sounds incorrect, it probably is. For example, you wouldn't want to be heard saying, "He talked to I" or "Me talked to him" or "Me rode the horse." Also see between you and I, between you and me; I above; it's I, it's me; myself; than I, than me; was, were.
immanent, imminent See eminent, immanent, imminent.
impact Formal and vague. Do not use as a verb to mean "affect." Instead, consider using simpler affect or influence--or be more descriptive: The tax cut will affect [or reduce] human services. As a verb, impact means "to force tightly together, pack or wedge, or to hit with force." Reserve impacted for wisdom teeth: impacted tooth. See affect, effect; have an effect on.
As a noun, impact means "a forceful contact or collision." It also means "the force of impression or operation of one thing on another," but consider using simpler effect or influence instead: The uncertainties of the Bush economy had a negative effect [instead of impact] on consumer confidence.
Impactful is not a word. To replace that business jargon, use an adjective like influential, powerful, effective or memorable.
impeach Often confused and sometimes misused. To impeach means "to charge a public official with misconduct in office." It does not mean "to remove an official from office." When an official is impeached, he or she is formally accused of misconduct. The official must then go through a legal (and probably political) process that may lead to removal from office if found guilty of misconduct. Impeach also means "to challenge a person's motives or discredit a reputation."
implement Jargon. Don't overuse this word. Instead, try a form of the verbs begin, carry out, follow, fulfill, do, put in place, put into use, put into effect, start or set up, or the noun tool.
implicit See explicit, implicit.
imply, infer Often confused. Imply means "to show, hint at or suggest," not to express. Infer means "to conclude or deduce from evidence or facts." Writers or speakers imply in the words they use. A listener or reader infers something from the words: He implied in his speech. I inferred from her comment. Also, consider using simpler show, hint at or suggest instead of imply.
import, important, significant Sometimes confused. As synonyms, they refer to the state or quality of being influential or worthy of note or esteem. But important has a broader meaning. Import and significant are more precise, suggesting an importance because of a special meaning that may not be obvious. To reduce potential confusion with important and other definitions, use significant instead of import.
impostor Preferred spelling. Not imposter.
inadvertent Commonly misspelled. Also, consider using simpler unintentional, accidental or unplanned.
in behalf of See on behalf of, in behalf of.
inbox One word, no hyphen. Also, outbox.
incent, incentivize Incentive is a fine noun. Incent and incentivize are inane business jargon. Instead, use the verbs motivate, stimulate, encourage and inspire--or use provide incentives.
inception Formal. Simplify. Consider using start or beginning instead.
incidence, incidents Often confused or misspelled. Incidence is a formal word for "the number of times, the rate or the frequency that something happens." Incidents is the plural of incident, which is "a relatively minor event, happening or conflict."
include See compose, comprise, include.
including, like, such as Use including and such as when listing examples or when the items that follow are only part of the total; don't list everything or end the list with words such as and more, and others, etc.: He's a fan of British rock groups such as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. [He's a fan of British groups that include The Beatles and the Stones.] Use like when listing similar things or similarities: He's a fan of British rock groups like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. [Though he's a fan of groups that resemble The Beatles and the Stones, he might not be a fan of The Beatles and the Stones.] See as, like.
If the words that follow including, like and such as are essential to the meaning of a sentence, do not put commas before (or after) the phrase. But if the words that follow these terms are not essential, commas are appropriate. (Words are nonessential if they can be removed without changing the meaning of the sentence.) Also, if a nonessential like, such as or including phrase is short (just three or four words), it's OK to drop the comma. If you use a comma before a nonessential phrase, you also must end the phrase with a comma before continuing the sentence.
in color See color.
in conjunction with Wordy. Simplify. Try with or and.
in connection with Wordy and vague. Simplify. Try on, for or about.
incorporated Abbreviate and capitalize as Inc. when used as part of a corporate name. Inc. is usually not needed in company names, but when it is, don't set it off with commas: I.M. Riche Co. Inc. Spell out Incorporated in business correspondence.
incredible, incredulous Sometimes confused and misused adjectives. Use incredible to describe something that's "too unusual or improbable to be possible" or to describe something that's "unbelievable or hard to believe." Avoid using incredible to simply praise something. Use incredulous to describe a person as "unwilling or unable to believe something; skeptical."
indebtedness Overstated. Simplify. Change to debt(s).
index, indexes Not indices.
Indians See American Indian, Eskimo.
indicate Overstated, unless you mean "to give a signal, to point out, to point at." Otherwise, simplify and replace with show, say, tell or suggest.
indication Overstated. Simplify. Try sign, clue or hint.
indispensable Commonly misspelled. Ends in able, not ible.
individual retirement account IRA is acceptable after first spelling out the complete term (lowercase).
indoor (adj.), indoors (adv.) She plays indoor tennis. He went indoors.
in excess of Verbose. Simplify. Try more than or exceeding instead.
in fact Usually unnecessary unless you must confirm the accuracy of what you're writing. Use sparingly.
infant An infant is formal, a baby is not. Simplify. And stay young.
infer See imply, infer.
inflammable, inflammatory See flammable, inflammable, inflammatory, nonflammable.
inflict See afflict, inflict.
inform Formal. Simplify. Try tell or write instead.
in general Wordy and often unnecessary. Use sparingly.
in harm's way Pretentious, wordy euphemism. If a politician sends troops to war, those brave men and women are in danger, exposed, unprotected, vulnerable or unsafe, not in harm's way.
in, into, in to In shows place or position within: She was in the shoe store. Into shows motion or movement toward a location: She went into the shoe store. Use in to when in is an adverb that modifies a verb, adjective or other adverb: He turned himself in to the police. Beware this type of absurdity: He turned himself into the police (despite what a vigilante might want to do). Usage tip: If you can drop the in without losing the meaning, the term you want is in to: Bring the candidates [in] to me, then we'll all go [in] to the examination room.
initial-based terms Except for email, all initial-based terms separate the initial from the base word with either a space or a hyphen: A-frame, B-movie, C ration, D-day, e-book, e-business, G-string, H-bomb, I-beam, J-school, L-shaped, N-word, O-ring, T-shirt, U-boat, X-ray, Y chromosome. Capitalization varies. Check your dictionary or style manual for specific terms. See email, T-shirt, X-ray.
initial, initially Overstated. Simplify. Try first or at first.
initiate Overstated and formal. Simplify. Try introduce, arrange, begin, open, start, cause or set up. Save initiate for writing about taking the first step in an important matter.
in lieu of Pompous jargon. Simplify. Try for, rather than or instead of but not in view of or in place of.
in most cases, in most instances Wordy. Avoid. Think about replacing with often, mostly, usually or most of these.
innovate Commonly misspelled.
inoculate, inoculation Commonly misspelled. No double c and no double n.
in order to, in order for, in order that Wordy. Simplify by dropping in order. For in order that, also try for or so.
in other words Wordy. Simplify. Try namely or that is. Or consider rewriting the earlier statement in plain English so this phrase and the additional explanation are not needed. See plain English, plain language.
in place of Wordy. Simplify. Try for.
input, output, throughput Avoid these words. They may be used as nouns in certain technical fields, such as computer processing, electricity and economics. Depending on the context, information may be a good synonym for all three words. Instead of input, try ideas, advice, comments, thoughts, views, opinions, money, effort or power. Instead of output, try work, goods, product, byproduct or result. Instead of throughput, try material.
inquire Overstated and formal. Simplify. Try ask.
inquiry, enquiry Synonymous, but inquiry is more commonly used in at least the United States--and thus the preferred choice. Also consider using simpler question.
in reference to Wordy jargon. Simplify. Try about, for or on.
in regard to Wordy and formal. Try about, on or for.
inside of Wordy. Simplify. Drop of.
insofar as Wordy, formal and sometimes incorrect. Simplify. Try because if you mean "because" or so far as if you mean "to the extent that"; or change to in, of, on, for or about.
in spite of Wordy. Try replacing with simpler despite.
institute (v.) Overstated and formal. Simplify. Try using introduce, start, begin or set up.
insufficient Overstated. Simplify. Try not enough or inadequate.
in support of Wordy. Simplify. Change to for.
intelligence quotient See IQ.
intense, intensive These adjectives overlap in meaning but have subtle differences in use. Use intense to describe the strong, serious, energetic or passionate feelings and focus of a person or group: intense pleasure, intense pain, intense loyalty, intense actor. Inanimate objects, like the sun and heat, can also be intense. Use intensive to describe a strong, concentrated effort on an activity: intensive bombing, intensive training, intensive farming, intensive marketing, capital-intensive, labor-intensive.
interface Jargon. Acceptable as a computer term only when a more specific word is not available. Don't use as a verb. Try using a form of interact, meet, collaborate, work with or work together.
inter-, intra- The rules in prefixes apply, but usually, no hyphen. Some examples: interagency, inter-American, intercommunity, interracial, intramural.
in terms of Wordy. Simplify. Try as, by, in, of, for about, with, under or through, or omit by rewriting sentence: The job was appealing in terms of salary. The salary made the job appealing.
international Abbreviate as intl., but avoid using except in charts and maps with limited space. Ending period preferred. Do not include an unneeded, silly apostrophe: Int'l. Capitalize if it's an abbreviation of a proper noun. See abbreviations and acronyms; foreign, international.
International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Chauffeurs, Warehousemen and Helpers of America Teamsters union is acceptable in all references. Capitalize Teamsters and the Teamsters. See local of a union.
International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers The shortened form Professional and Technical Engineers union is acceptable in all references. See local of a union.
interpret, interpretate Interpret is a verb. Interpretate is a mistake. Use interpret. Interpretation is a noun based on interpret.
interstate See highway designations.
in that regard Wordy. Delete, or try about that.
in the amount of Wordy. Consider omitting, or try replacing with for. Change: She got a check in the amount of $300. To: She got a check for $300. If necessary, use amount of to refer to a general quantity: They had a large amount of work to do. See number.
in the context of Cliche. Try omitting, or use in or about.
in the course of Wordy. Simplify. Try during, while, in or at. Incorrect: Both opinions were given in the course of the debate.
in the event that Wordy. Simplify. Replace with if.
in the final (last) analysis Wordy cliche. Simplify. Delete or try finally.
in the (very) near future Wordy and vague. Simplify. Change to soon or shortly, or be specific about the time or date.
in the neighborhood of, in the region of, in the vicinity of Wordy. Simplify. Replace with about, nearly, in, near or close to.
in the wake of Wordy cliche. Simplify. Try after, immediately after, behind or following.
intimate (v.) Overstated and formal. Simplify. Try using suggest or hint.
into See in, into, in to.
intranet Usually lowercased. While there is one Internet, there are many intranets within companies, organizations, government agencies and other computer networks. When naming the unique internal computer network of an organization, intranet may be capitalized: The Goodnuff Co. Intranet is well-liked by employees.
Though not always possible, avoid using the Web or, especially, World Wide Web when writing about an intranet. An intranet page or intranet site can look like an Internet page or site, but it's not on the World Wide Web. See email, Internet, online, World Wide Web.
intravenous See IV.
inverted pyramid A writing format used by journalists that puts the most important, interesting or essential information at the beginning of an article. Other details follow in order of lessening importance. Very effective for most other types of writing. See lead; Writing news articles.
in view of (the fact that) Wordy. Simplify. Replace with although, as, because or since.
invoke See evoke, invoke.
iPad, iPod, iPhone Brand names for these Apple products. Capitalize the i when these words begin a sentence or headline, just as you capitalize the first letter of all other words when they begin a sentence or headline.
IQ Abbreviation for intelligence quotient. Acceptable in all references, including first. Capitalized, no periods.
IRA See individual retirement account.
irony, sarcasm Sometimes confused. Both terms (as well as ironic and sarcastic) describe situations or use words that are directly opposite of what's expected or meant. And both can involve use of humor. But sarcasm and sarcastic jokes usually mock and ridicule in a hurtful way.
irrelevant Commonly misspelled.
irregardless A redundant, nonstandard combination of irrespective and regardless. Regardless is correct, or try even if.
irresistible Commonly misspelled. Ends with ible, not able.
irruption See eruption, irruption.
island Capitalize island or islands as part of a proper name: Vashon Island, Whidbey Island, the San Juan Islands, the Hawaiian Islands. Lowercase when they stand alone or refer to the islands in a given area: the Puget Sound islands.
issue Overstated to mean a "problem or difficulty." Simplify. Use one of those words instead, and save issue for discussing a controversial topic or matter in dispute. That topic or matter is at issue, not in issue. You could also call it a dispute or a controversy. See noncontroversial.
it When writing about a company, a business, a university, a country, a department within a company or another organization, use it (not they) and singular verbs: The Acme Advertising Agency won the Distinguished Achievement Award for its creative TV commercials. It also earned a Certificate of Merit in the radio commercial category. See collective nouns, this, that, these, those, it.
IT Abbreviation for information technology. Spell it out.
it appears, it would appear that Wordy and weak. Simplify. Leave out or try it seems or apparently.
it is important (interesting) to note (mention, realize, recognize, remember, say, understand) that Wordy. Simplify. Delete, or drop it is important (interesting) to.
it is probable Wordy. Simplify. Replace with probably.
It's I, It's me, It is I, It is me The debate goes on. It is I or It's just Mike and I is favored in formal, grammatically correct writing. But It is me or It's just Mike and me is favored in casual, informal writing. Writing authorities aren't unanimous in recommending one or the other. Most acknowledge that It is I sounds stuffy and stilted. And some say that It is me is so common in our living, changing language--especially in conversation--that we should accept it as correct. Also, consider rewriting sentences so they don't begin with the wordy, weak It is, especially in formal or business writing; that would eliminate the I/me question: Just Mike and I are still in the office. See pronouns.
its, it's Often confused or misspelled. Its is the possessive form of the pronoun it, meaning "belonging to it." The possessive its never takes an apostrophe: Mary had a little lamb; its fleece was white as snow. It's is a contraction that means "it is" and sometimes "it has." The contraction always takes an apostrophe: It's a beautiful day. It's gotten out of hand. If you often mix up these words, consider using only it is or it has and its; drop it's. Finally, use its' only when you're trying to show poor spelling skills or confuse your readers. It's not a word, and no one will know its meaning.
IV Abbreviation (all caps, no periods) for intravenous. Acceptable in all references.
-ize Avoid creating awkward, unneeded verbs like incentivize by tacking ize onto the end of a noun or adjective. A useful, simpler verb may exist: motivate or encourage for incentivize; end or finish for finalize; order, rank or set priorities for prioritize. Use a dictionary or thesaurus to find better synonyms.
jargon Avoid jargon, the special or technical words, phrases and idioms of a particular class, profession or occupation. Example: The biota exhibited a 100 percent mortality response. Rewrite: All the fish died. When jargon is necessary, explain or define terms that will be difficult for most readers to understand.
jeopardy Commonly misspelled.
Jew Too often misused and abused. When pertinent, use the noun Jew (always capitalized) to mention a person whose religion is Judaism or whose family descended from the ancient Hebrews. Using it as a verb or adjective is insulting and offensive. Jewish is the correct adjective.
jewelry Commonly misspelled. Not jewelery or jewellery.
join together, link together Both are redundant. Remove together or try unite or connect instead.
JPEG, JPG Acronyms for joint photographic experts group. Acronyms (capitalized) usually acceptable on first reference. Lowercase in file names.
judge Capitalize before a name when it is the formal title for a person who presides in a court of law. Don't use court as part of the title except to reduce confusion: District Judge Douglas Brennan; Superior Court Judge Sandra Black; the District Judge ruled. Lowercase judge as an occupational or temporary description: contest judge Edward Prince. See capitalization, court names.
judgment Preferred spelling. Not judgement.
junior, senior Abbreviate Jr. and Sr. only with full names. Do not use separate the abbreviations from the name with a comma: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Also, do not use a comma to separate Roman numerals from names: Larry Moe IV, M.D., is losing his patience. Larry Moe V is in the nursery. Pope John Paul George Ringo IV. .
Also, think about deleting or replacing just. It can be vague, redundant or meaningless: exactly instead of just exactly; about, almost or nearly instead of just about; recently instead of just recently; only instead of just.
justification Often misused. It's one way to align text in documents. Justification involves adding spaces between words so the words fill each line of text from the left margin to the right margin. When a body of text--such as a paragraph, newspaper column, or chapter in a book--is justified, both the right and left margins are aligned. A body of text is either justified or aligned in some other way: left aligned (or ragged right or flush left), centered, or right aligned (or flush right). Most word-processing and publication-design software offers those choices.
Opinions vary on which alignment is most readable. Centered text is OK for special effects, headings and headlines. Save right alignment for special effects. Many favor left alignment (ragged right) as less formal, less official and less like a form letter. Others favor justification, with its even margins, as neater and more attractive. Be careful when justifying text--to prevent excess white space between words and a ribbon of white running through the lines. Breaking long words at the end of some lines--using hyphens between syllables--can make both justified and right alignment more attractive. See hyphen.
Maintained by Gary B. Larson of Seattle, Washington, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Updated April 14, 2013.