Garbl's Writing Center
nameplate See masthead, nameplate entry.
names People are entitled to be known however they want to be known, if their identities are clear. In publications, use a person's full name on first reference, last name only on second reference. Don't repeat a person's title before the last name on second reference. See brand names; capitalization; Dad and Mom; junior, senior; middle initials; Miss, Mr., Mrs., Ms.; nickname.
National Environmental Policy Act Spell out on first reference. NEPA is acceptable for later references.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Spell out on first reference. NOAA is acceptable for later references.
National Public Radio See NPR.
nationwide One word.
nauseated, nauseous A subtle distinction, commonly confused. Use nauseated to describe the experience of nausea -- someone's suffering from nausea and ready to vomit: I felt nauseated after eating that hamburger. Use nauseous to describe something that's causing nausea because it's sickening or disgusting: The news of his election is nauseous.
naval, navel Commonly misspelled or confused. Use the adjective naval when writing about the navy. Use navel when writing about the belly button or navel oranges, which have a small navel-like depression in the outer skin.
near miss, near-miss A near miss (without a hyphen) is a miss that is near, like a blue jacket is a jacket that is blue. But near-miss (with a hyphen) is a hit. Avoid confusion by using near-collision (with a hyphen) instead of near miss when describing a narrowly averted collision. See collide, collision.
near, nearly Near is sometimes used incorrectly instead of nearly. Use nearly as an adverb meaning "almost" to modify a verb: The dog is nearly [not near] finished eating its food. Use near as an adjective meaning "close to" or "next to" to modify a noun: Edmonds is near Seattle.
necessary Vague. Try needed or essential.
necessitate Overstated and formal. Simplify. Try need, call for, cause or have to.
needless to say See goes without saying, needless to say.
negative Except in informal writing, avoid using double negatives--two or more words with negative meanings--in a single sentence: I don't want nothing. He couldn't hardly walk. Common negative words include neither, no, nobody, none, no one, not, nothing and nowhere, contractions such as couldn't and don't, and words such as barely, hardly and scarcely.
Double negative can distract people who think they're ungrammatical and uneducated or awkward and odd. They can confuse readers and slow down understanding. They add unnecessary words. They usually end up stating a positive by canceling the negative meaning. And they can confuse writers who may unintentionally end up making a positive statement when they mean to be saying no or not.
neither When used on its own without nor, make the verb singular: Neither of the men was ready.
neither ... nor See either ... or, neither ... nor.
NEPA See National Environmental Policy Act.
nevertheless Overstated. Simplify. Try even so, but, yet, still or however.
new development, new improvement, new initiative, new innovation, new introduction Redundant and wordy. Simplify. Drop new.
news conferences See press.
newsgroup One word when writing about an Internet discussion group.
news media See media.
newspapers Capitalize all proper nouns that are part of the official title. Italicize them if possible; underline them if not. Capitalize the in a newspaper's name if that is the publication's preferred title. Don't use quotation marks. See composition titles.
news releases See press.
newsstand Commonly misspelled. Like in misspelled, two s's. Not newstand.
New Year's, New Year's Day, New Year's Eve But the new year.
nice It has many meanings, including "finicky," "precise and subtle," "delicate," and "scrupulous." And it's commonly used to mean "friendly, pretty, courteous, respectable or good." If you mean one of those words -- or any of the other definitions of nice -- be nice to your readers and use one of them. Or describe why you think something is "nice" He volunteers at the dog shelter; not He's nice. Their house has indoor plumbing; not Their house is nice.
nickel Commonly misspelled.
nickname Use instead of a person's given name if the person prefers to be known by the nickname. When including a nickname in the identification of a person, use quotation marks, not parentheses. But omit the quotation marks when using a nickname without the person's real name: Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt but Teddy Roosevelt. See names.
nighttime One word.
9/11 Commonly used reference to terrorist attacks on the United States, Sept. 11, 2001.
911 call Emergency call number in the United States. Acceptable in all references.
No. Use as the abbreviation for number when used with a figure, in both singular and plural forms: the No. 3 choice, invoice Nos. 4311 and 5207, lot No. 23, apartment No. 6. Don't use the number symbol or sign, #, to stand for No. or number.
noisome, noisy Often confused adjectives. Use noisome to describe something that's disgusting, offensive, harmful, or foul-smelling. Use noisy to describe something that's loud, making a lot of noise, full of noise or raucous.
none are, none is Both phrases are correct, depending on the noun that follows them (or the understood noun if you're not naming it). If that noun is plural, use a plural verb; if it's singular, use a singular verb. Thus: Of the eight applicants, none of them are qualified. Every child went to the haunted house, and none [of them] are returning. None of the applicant's proposal was persuasive. None of it is safe for children. If the noun form is unclear, use a singular verb.
none at all Redundant. Replace with none.
nonflammable See flammable, inflammable, inflammatory, nonflammable.
nonmotorized Don't hyphenate.
no one See nobody, no one above.
norm See average, mean, medium, mode, norm.
notable, noticeable Commonly misspelled or confused. Notable means "important, interesting or unusual enough to be noticed." Noticeable means "easy to see, feel or hear, or likely to be noticed." Drop the e when adding able to note, but keep the e when adding able to notice.
not hardly See hardly.
not only ... but also Balance the sentence grammatically when using this phrase. If a prepositional phrase follows not only, for example, a prepositional phrase should follow but also. Correct: The fall in the birthrate varies not only from city to city but also from area to area. Incorrect: Not only does the fall in the birthrate vary from city to city but also from area to area. See both ... and.
noun A noun is a word or group of words used to represent a person, place, thing, object, quality, idea, activity, action or emotion. A proper noun names a specific or unique person, place or thing and is capitalized: Jennifer Lopez, Hollywood, The Wedding Planner. A common noun is not specific when naming people, places, things, qualities, ideas or emotions. Do not capitalize common nouns: the actress, the city, the movie, beautiful, creativity, desire. See capitalization, hyphen.
nuclear, nuke Potentially misused. George W. Bush and some other U.S. presidents have mispronounced nuclear. But just because presidents say something doesn't make it true or correct. (Think WMD in Iraq.) It's "noo-klee-ar," not "noo-kyuh-lar." And spell it correctly too; it's not nucular. Also, casual use of the slang word nuke for nuclear minimizes the death and destruction that would come after use of nuclear weapons. Avoid using nuke whether you're writing about attacking with nuclear weapons or cooking with a microwave oven. See weapons of mass destruction.
number The number always takes a singular verb. A number always takes a plural verb and plural noun: A small but increasing number of people were using the shortcut. The small but interested number of engineers was essential to the success of the workshop. Use number to refer to items that can be counted. See amount, number; amount of; a number of; No.; total number.
numbers Spell out most whole numbers below 10. Use figures for 10 and above--and for noting measurable units (such as dimensions and distances); the ages of people, animals, events, things and other inanimate objects; and statistics in tables and charts: five, nine, 15, 650. See cross-references below for exceptions to those guidelines. If you're not already doing so, use the number 1 key on your computer keyboard to create the number 1. Don't use the old-fashioned, potentially odd-looking lowercase L key to create the number l.
In amounts more than a million--unless the exact amount is essential--round off up to two decimal points. Write out the word million, billion or trillion, and use numbers in all but casual uses; don't insert a hyphen after the number: 4 million, 31.6 million, a $6.25 million investment, a million bucks.. Always include the words million, billion or trillion when giving ranges: The project could cost $35 million to $41 million, not $35-$41 million. Some readers may think you mean only $35.
When numbers must be spelled out, use a hyphen to connect only two-digit numbers twenty-one through ninety-nine. Don't use either a hyphen or the word and when spelling out numbers in the hundreds and thousands: fifty-two, fifty-two thousand, fifty-two million, nineteen fifty-two, one hundred fifty-two students, two thousand fifty-two trips, two thousand two.
Also, spell out ordinal numbers first through ninth when they show sequence in time or place: first base, Third Avenue, Fourth Amendment, fifth grade, 10th in line. Exceptions include county, legislative and congressional districts: She lives in the 2nd District. See districts.
Most ordinal numbers 10th and above (21st, 215th and so on) are usually not spelled out. When particular ordinals must be spelled out, use a hyphen to connect two-digit numbers twenty-first through ninety-ninth: twenty-fifth anniversary.
Avoid beginning a sentence with a number. If unavoidable, spell it out. Also, spell out casual expressions: thanks a million, a thousand bucks. See years.
Avoid following the word for a number with a figure in parentheses for the same number. It's redundant. Avoid: The contract will run out in eight (8) days.
For exceptions and other uses, see act, addresses, ages, between ... and, from ... to, cents, chapter, dash, dates, decimals, dimensions, distances, dollars, fractions, headlines, highway designations, hyphen, miles, money, No., page numbers, percentages, ranges, ratios, room numbers, route number, scores, size, speeds, telephone numbers, temperatures, time, votes, weight.
number sign (#). See pound sign (#).
numerous Overstated. Simplify. Try many, or be specific.
objective Think about replacing with simpler aim, purpose or goal.
obscenities, profanities, racial or ethnic slurs Avoid using offensive and derogatory terms unless there are compelling reasons to include them. For example, they might be essential to show the intensity or meaning of a statement or direct quotation or to document specific communication in a conversation or speech. Consider your intended audience and the purpose of the document when evaluating a quotation containing offensive or derogatory language.
Try to find a way to give a sense of a person's statement without using a specific offensive word or phrase. If a full quotation containing an offensive term must be included, consider using only the first letter of the term followed by hyphens to replace the other letters: s---, m-----------. Don't substitute a less offensive alternative in direct quotations: darn it instead of damn it. If used, lowercase damn, damn it, god, goddamn it.
obligated Try replacing with simpler bound.
obligation Consider replacing with simpler duty, debt, bond or contract.
obtain Overstated and formal. Simplify. See get.
obviously Often unnecessary and condescending. If something is obvious, why mention it? But if you do state the obvious, don't insult your readers. Drop obviously. See goes without saying, needless to say.
occasion Commonly misspelled. Uses two c's but only one s.
occur, occurred, occurring, occurrence Formal, and commonly misspelled. Double the r when adding to the root word, occur. Use occur or simpler happen to refer to "an accidental or unscheduled event." Use take place to refer to "a planned event": The power outage occurred about 5 p.m. The opening ceremony will take place at 2 p.m. Friday. Instead of the general, formal word occurrence, try using event for a significant occurrence or incident for an event with relatively minor significance.
of all Wordy. Try omitting: Nils Johansen is the most careful driver. Not: Nils Johansen is the most careful of all drivers.
off-, -off Follow your preferred dictionary. Hyphenate if not listed there.
offensive language See obscenities, profanities, racial or ethnic slurs above.
office Capitalize when part of an agency's official name: Customer Assistance Office, Clark County Sheriff's Office, U.S. Attorney's Office. Lowercase all other uses: the analyst's office, the sheriff's office, the attorney's office. See capitalization.
Also, office as a verb is business jargon. Use have an office instead.
officeholder One word.
official, officious Sometimes confused adjectives. Use official to describe something done or approved someone in authority, especially by the government. Use officious to express disapproval, describing someone who offers advice and service that's unwelcome and annoying, who interferes, who meddles.
offline No hyphen.
off of Wordy. Change: Stay off of the highway. To: Stay off the highway. Or use from. Change: She moved off of the campus. To: She moved from the campus.
off-ramp, on-ramp Hyphenate.
of major importance Wordy. Simplify by replacing with is important, are important or was important.
oils See collective nouns.
OK, OK'd, OK'ing, OKs Preferred spelling. No periods.
old Sometimes used redundantly after words like adage, cliche, maxim, proverb and saying: She often used old cliches when giving advice. Drop old.
older, oldest See elder, older.
omitted Commonly misspelled.
on Avoid using on before a date or day of the week, unless its absence would lead to confusion. Change: The council will meet on Dec. 12. To: The council will meet Dec. 12. Use on to avoid an awkward juxtaposition of a proper name and a date: Peter met Tina on Tuesday. See on, onto, on to, upon.
on account of Wordy. Simplify. Use because of or caused by instead: She was hired because of her excellent writing skills. Not: She was hired on account of her excellent writing skills.
on behalf of, in behalf of Sometimes confused. On behalf of means "as the agent of" or "in place of," often in a formal relationship: The attorney spoke on behalf of her client. Think about substituting the simpler for, representing or speaking for for on behalf of. In behalf of means "in the interest or for the benefit of," typically acting as friend or defender: The character witness gave evidence in behalf of the defendant. Consider using simpler supporting.
onboard One word, no hyphen.
one another See each other, one another.
one time, one-time They arrived early one time (or once). But: She is a one-time winner. They were one-time colleagues.
one of the Verbose. Drop of the or use a or an instead. Change: One of the purposes of the meeting was to choose a new chair. To: One purpose of the meeting was to choose a new chair. Or: A purpose of the meeting was to choose a new chair. Also, Don't use the illogical one of the only; instead, choose one of the few.
ongoing Overstated and bureaucratic. Omit, or try using continuing, current, developing, under way or active.
only Placement of only can change the meaning of a sentence: Only David said he was hungry. (David alone said.) David only said he was hungry. (He was not hungry, but he said he was.) David said he was only hungry. (He was not also thirsty or tired or dirty or angry.) To avoid confusion, place only directly before the word or phrase it modifies. Any words separating only from the word or phrase it's intended to modify can lead to ambiguity and confusion.
on, onto, on to, upon Use onto when two elements work as a compound preposition to mean "movement toward and then over": He jumped onto the horse. But use on to where on is an adverb: We moved on to the next subject. Avoid using upon instead of the simpler on. See on.
on the part of Wordy. Simplify. Replace with among, by, of or for.
operational Try replacing with simpler working, running, active, live or operating.
oppress, repress Often confused. Always a negative term, oppress means "to treat people in an unjust, harsh and cruel way." Repress means "to restrain feelings" and "to keep under control."
optimum Overstated. Simplify. Think about replacing with best, greatest, ideal or most suitable.
or When all the elements of a conjunction using or are singular, use a singular verb. When all the elements are plural, use a plural verb. When the subject has a mixture of singular and plural elements, make the verb agree with noun or pronoun nearest it. See and (conjunction); either ... or, neither ... nor.
oral, verbal, written Use oral to refer to spoken words: The planner gave an oral presentation. Or be less formal and more specific: The planner gave a talk ... The planner spoke about ... The planner talked about .... Use verbal to compares words with some other form of communication: His facial expression revealed the ideas that his limited verbal skills could not express. Use written to refer to words on paper: The two jurisdictions had a written agreement. See aural.
ordinance, ordnance Occasionally confused or misspelled. An ordinance is a law of a city, town or county. Ordnance is all the artillery, weapons, ammunition, combat vehicles and other equipment used by a military branch or unit. See motion, ordinance.
ordinal numbers (first, 10th, etc.) See numbers.
organisms See taxonomy.
Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries Use the full name for first reference. OPEC is OK for later references.
organizations and institutions Capitalize the full names of organizations and institutions. Lowercase the internal elements of an organization when the names are widely used generic terms: board of directors, history department of the University of Washington. But see capitalization.
orientate Simplify. Use orient instead.
other than Wordy. Simplify. Try using except or besides.
ought to Always follow ought as well as ought not with the infinitive to. Ought to and should are similar in meaning, though ought to is stronger (but less commonly used) for describing a sense of duty. See should, would.
our See we.
outbox One word, no hyphen. Also, inbox.
outbreak For disease references, reserve for large numbers of an illness or a larger number of illnesses than typically expected.
outgoing Be careful in using this word as an adjective describing people. It has two differing meanings: One is going away, retiring or withdrawing from a place or position, and the other is friendly or responsive.
output See input, output, throughput.
over, more than Over usually refers to one thing being above another thing: The plane flew over Bellevue. More than is preferred when using figures, numbers and amounts: More than 300 people attended the meeting. The document had more than 40 pages. But over may be less awkward in some uses: He is over 40. Let your ear be your guide. See above, less than, under.
-over Follow your preferred dictionary. Hyphenate if not listed there.
overall Hackneyed. Simplify. Delete or try total, complete or general.
over and over Wordy. Simplify. Try again or repeatedly.
overexaggerate Redundant and overstated. Drop over.
overly Wordy and almost always unneeded. Delete or use the suffix over- instead: overeager, not overly eager. Alternative words: too or very.
oversight Potentially misleading euphemism that means both watchful, responsible care and an unintentional omission or error. Think about using supervision as an alternative for the first meaning.
Maintained by Gary B. Larson of Seattle, Washington, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Updated April 14, 2013.