Garbl's Writing Center
sacrilegious Commonly misspelled. Not sacreligious or sacriligious. Remember by thinking of the noun sacrilege, not the adjective religious.
safe-deposit box Not safety-deposit box. Include the hyphen.
said Vague legal jargon if you mean the, this, that, these or those. Simplify. Change to one of those words.
safe haven Redundant. Simplify. Drop safe.
sanguinary, sanguine Sometimes confused. Use sanguinary to describe something "involving or causing much bloodshed." Or try simpler bloody to describe something that's "covered with blood or are made up of blood." Use sanguine to describe something that's "the color of blood or blood-red" or to describe someone who's "cheerfully optimistic."
sans Archaic unless you're writing about a typeface. Change to without.
sarcasm See irony, sarcasm.
sat See set, sit below.
save Archaic if you mean except. Avoid. Use except instead.
scan Scan used to mean "examining something carefully to find a particular person or thing." But it now commonly means just the opposite: "reading something quickly to get its main meaning or find a particular detail."
scenario Overused cliche. Avoid, unless writing about the outline of a plot, play or film. For other uses, delete or try chain of events, plan or situation.
scheme Do not use as a synonym for a plan or a project.
scores Use numerals when giving game scores, separating the scores with a hyphen: The Seattle Mariners won 12-4. Use commas to separate team names and scores: Mariners 12, Yankees 4.
Scouts Depending on their age, boys involved in Cub Scouting, Boy Scouting or Exploring are Cub Scouts or Cubs, Boy Scouts or Scouts, and Explorers. Girls can also be Explorers. Depending on their age, girls involved in Girl Scouting are Brownie Girl Scouts or Brownies, Junior Girl Scouts or Juniors, Cadette Girl Scouts or Cadettes, and Senior Girl Scouts or Seniors.
screen saver Two words.
sea level Two words.
seasonable, seasonal Sometimes confused. Seasonable applies to things that are suitable or appropriate for a particular season: seasonable weather. Seasonal applies to things that happen, are available or are needed only during a particular season: The store usually hires seasonal help for the Christmas rush.
seasons Lowercase spring, summer, fall and winter. Don't separate the season and the year with a comma: The report is scheduled to come out in summer 2004.
SeaTac A city in King County, Washington. No space between Sea and Tac.
Sea-Tac See Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
seat, seated, seating See set, sit below.
Seattle-Tacoma International Airport Including International is optional. Sea-Tac Airport is acceptable on second reference. To avoid confusion with the city of SeaTac, avoid using Sea-Tac alone.
second of all Wordy. Simplify. Drop of all. Same with first of all.
second reference In this manual, this term applies to all later references to an organization or person named in an article or publication.
section Capitalize the name of the department's organizational sections: Environmental Planning Section. Also capitalize when used with a numeral to name part of a law or bill: Section 201 of the U.S. Clean Water Act. See capitalization.
secure (v.) Overstated and formal. Simplify. Try get or set.
seeing that, seeing as, seeing as how Awkward and wordy. Try using simpler because, since, given or in that instead.
seize, seize the day See cease, seize
seizure Commonly misspelled. An exception to the "i before e rule."
semicolon (;) The semicolon has three main uses, although the first use below is the most common. The semicolon shows a greater separation of thought and information than a comma but less separation than a period.
First, use semicolons to separate parts of a series when at least one item in the series also has a comma. A semicolon also goes before the final and in such a series: Attending were Tina Lopez, 223 Main St.; Ron Larson, 1414 Broadway; and Robert Zimmerman, 1976 E. Pine St.
The following two uses can add variety, eliminate a word or two, and closely link contrasting or related ideas. But breaking a long sentence with a semicolon into two or more shorter sentences can aid readability and clarity.
Second, use a semicolon to link two (or more) closely related statements that could stand alone as independent sentences (or clauses): The train arrived on time; the passengers were overjoyed. If a coordinating conjunction such as and, but or or separates the two independent clauses, a comma would replace the semicolon: The train arrived on time, and the passengers were overjoyed.
Third, use a semicolon between two independent clauses when the second clause begins with transition words such as therefore, however, thus and for example: The department had planned to drop the service; however, overwhelming customer demand persuaded officials to keep it.
Place semicolons outside quotation marks. Put only one space after a semicolon.
senior See junior, senior.
sensual, sensuous Sometimes confused. Use sensual to describe enjoying physical pleasure, especially sexual gratification. Think "sexy": sensual desires. Use sensuous to describe something pleasing to the senses; it applies to aesthetic pleasures such as art, music and food and doesn't involve sexual stimulation: sensuous music. And if one leads to the other, wonderful!
sentence length Varying sentence length makes writing more interesting and easier to read. Include only one idea in a sentence, with an average length of 20 to 25 words. Shorter sentences, 10-15 words or less, are good for emphatic, memorable statements. Try including a short sentence every three or four sentences. Longer sentences, no more than about 30 words, are good for detailed explanation and support. See lists, period. Also see Myths and Superstitions of Writing.
separate Commonly misspelled. Remember that two a's go in the middle, and the two e's near the ends.
serve, service Sometimes misused, especially service. Serve has the broader use, especially for providing goods and services that people want or need. Use it when writing about fulfilling a duty or working for, helping or obeying someone. Use service to describe installation and maintenance of things: Mechanics service trucks. Also, try using simpler repair instead of service.
serviceable Commonly misspelled.
service mark A brand, design, phrase, symbol or word used by a service supplier and protected by law to prevent inappropriate use by a competitor. If you must use a service mark, capitalize it. Unless use of a service mark is essential, replace it with a generic term (lowercased): real estate agent, not Realtor. You don't have to use the service mark symbol--SM. See brand names, trademark.
set, sit Sometimes confused. Use set when you're putting something down. An object usually follows set: He set the book onto the table. She set the child into the crib. Use sit when you're putting yourself into a chair or others are putting themselves into a chair. An object doesn't have to follow sit: He will sit there all day if we let him. Other verb forms of set: set, setting. Other verb forms of sit: sat, sitting, seat, seated, seating. Use sat, not sitted.
set up (v.), setup (n., adj.)
7-Eleven Trademark for the neighborhood convenience store.
sewage, sewerage, sewers, effluent, wastewater Sewage is the collective term for household and commercial wastewater that contains human waste. Sewerage is obscure jargon for the entire system of pipes, pump stations, tanks and so on that collects, transports, treats and discharges both sewage and other kinds of wastewater. Instead, call it a sewage system, sewer system or wastewater system. Sewers are the pipes or pipelines that carry sewage. Wastewater, usually interchangeable in meaning with sewage, is all the waste treated by sewage treatment plants, including human waste, industrial waste and liquid waste from other sources. Effluent is treated sewage and wastewater discharged into the environment.
Avoid the outdated use of words that restrict meaning to males. Include all people in general references by substituting unbiased, asexual words and phrases: informal agreement for gentlemen's agreement, homemaker for housewife, employees and their spouses for employees and their wives.
Here are other examples: hours worked, staff hours or working hours for man-hours; people, men and women, human beings, the human race, civilization or humanity for mankind; physical strength, resources, human effort, staff, workers or work force for manpower; artificial, synthetic, manufactured or handmade for manmade; and large, big, generous or formidable for man-sized. Also, think about using sewer access, pipeline opening, utility maintenance hole or utility access hole for manhole. See man.
Avoid using man or woman as a suffix or prefix in job titles: Substitute business executive, business leader or businessperson for businessman; worker, laborer or employee for workman; camera operator, videographer or cinematographer for cameraman; firefighter for fireman; letter carrier, mail carrier or postal worker for mailman; and sales representative, agent or clerk for salesman. Use generic titles or descriptions for both men and women. Avoid writing about woman managers, male secretaries, men's work, women's interests such as recipe swapping, sewing and fashion. See chairman, chairperson, chairwoman.
Reword sentences to drop unnecessary gender pronouns, especially the outdated generic he and his but also she and her. Here are some alternatives:
Refer to women and men equally and consistently: Middle school teachers Larry Carson and Emily Johnson won the awards. Not: Middle school teachers Larry Carson and Mrs. Gus Johnson won the awards. See Miss, Mr., Mrs., Ms..
Use parallel language when mentioning people by gender: Substitute husband and wife for man and wife, ladies and gentlemen for ladies and men (or gentlemen and ladies, for variety). Neither men nor women over the age of 18 are boys or girls. Usually, use woman and man as the noun and female and male as the adjective. See female, male.
Give equal respect to women and men. Do not describe men by mental qualities or professional position and, simultaneously, describe women by physical features. Only refer to appearance, charm, intuition or physical strength when relevant.
shall Avoid this formal, ambiguous, pretentious word:
share, sharing Sharing is wonderful, but don't use it redundantly: sharing together, sharing the same office or sharing the same birthday. Drop together from the first example, and reword the others: using the same office, sharing an office, having the same birthday, sharing a birthday. Also redundant: both share and share in common. Use they share instead, and drop in common.
Sheetrock A trademark for a brand of gypsum wallboard. Use plasterboard instead.
she Do not use this pronoun to refer to ships or nations. Use it instead.
sherbet Sometimes misspelled. Only one r. Not sherbert.
sheriff Commonly misspelled. Capitalize when used as an official title before a name: Benton County Sheriff Wyatt Dillon, county Sheriff Wyatt Dillon. Do not abbreviate sheriff. Capitalize Sheriff's Office with or without the name of the county when referring to a particular sheriff's office.
On first reference, capitalize an officer's rank when used as a formal title only before the name of a sheriff's officer (as well as before the name of police officer or firefighter). Except in direct quotations, abbreviate most military-style titles used before the name of a person: Lt., Capt., Sgt., Maj. Add police or fire before other titles if needed for clarity: county Sheriff Sgt. Smitty Williams, police Capt. John Davidson. Spell out detective and other titles not used in the military. Don't continue using the title with the name in later references. Use only the last name.
short-term See long-term, short-term.
should, would Use should to express an obligation (meaning "ought to"), a condition (an "if" statement) or an expectation: We should help the needy. If I win the lottery, I should give at least 10 percent to charity. They should be back in 15 minutes. Use would to express a usual action, a hypothetical situation or a preference: In the summer we would spend hours by the seashore. She would do it if she could. I would like to see you. See could of, may of, might of, must of, should of, would of; ought to.
shut down (v.), shutdown (n.)
shut off (v.), shut-off (n., adj.)
sic This Latin word means "thus" or "so." Usually bracketed and in italics, it's used after quoted material to show that an error, odd usage or misspelling is in the original document. But avoid using unless you must keep the error for historical or technical accuracy--or want to appear snide. Think about paraphrasing the mistaken word, phrase or statement instead.
sightseeing, sightseer No hyphen.
sight, site Sometimes confused. Sight is about seeing, from "the ability to see" to "things you see, can't see or should see." We go sightseeing. And we set our sights on something we look forward to doing. Site is about a place, "a place where something happened," "a place where something could be built" or "a place on the World Wide Web." Site is also a verb for "putting something in a particular place." Don't confuse with cite. See cite.
significant See import, important, significant
signs When giving the words of a sign in text, capitalize the words; don't italicize them or place them in quotation marks: Police said many drivers ignore the Yield to Pedestrians signs.
similar Often misspelled or mistyped. Not similiar.
simple, simplistic Too often confused. Simplicity is a virtue, especially in communications. Simple means "not complex or complicated, easy (as in easy to understand), unembellished, not ostentatious." Simplistic, best used when referring to complex problems and usually used in a negative way, means "unrealistically simple or oversimplified." See concise; plain English, plain language; Garbl's Concise Writing Guide; Garbl's Fat-Free Writing Links.
simple, simply Simple is unnecessary and wordy in phrases like simple reason, simple truth, simple purpose. Simply is often redundant and wordy when used to mean "absolutely" or "extremely": The Rolling Stones concert was simply thrilling. Simplify. Drop simple and simply.
single-occupant vehicle Spell out. Avoid abbreviation SOV.
sink down Redundant. Drop one of the words.
sit, sitting See set, sit above.
site See sight, site above.
situation Trite. Delete, or find a more concrete, descriptive word: a crisis situation. Drop situation.
sizable No e after the z.
size Lowercase size and use figures to give sizes: waist size 36, 10 1/2 shoes, size 9 dress
-size Something may be small, medium-size or large. Size is inherent in the meaning of small and large. See small-sized below.
skeptic See cynic, skeptic.
Skid Road, Skid Row The term Skid Road started in Seattle, where dirt roads were used to skid logs to the mill. It later became a synonym for the area where loggers gathered, usually among rooming houses and saloons. In other cities, Row has replaced Road in many references to areas that are havens for derelicts.
skillful Commonly misspelled. Two l's in the middle, one at the end.
sky-high Hyphenate in all uses, as an adjective and adverb, before and after a noun: sky-high ticket prices; trees grown sky-high.
slander See libel, slander.
slant, slash (/) See virgule for punctuation mark.
sleight of hand Sometimes misspelled. Not slight of hand.
slideshow One word.
slough (off), sluff The correct spelling is slough, not sluff.
slow, slowly Slowly is the more common adverb to modify a verb, adjective or other adverb, but slow is also acceptable as an adverb (as well as an adjective to modify nouns and pronouns). Let your ear be your guide: He complained that his computer runs slowly. Her car is really slow, but her children say she drives slow.
small-sized Wordy and redundant. Change to small. See -size above.
snail mail Slang for regular postal service. Two words, no hyphen.
snowfall, snowflake, snowman, snowplow, snowstorm Each one word.
so Like the conjunctions and, but and yet, so is a useful, correct transition word at the beginning of sentences--instead of as a result, consequently and therefore. For emphasis, so may be followed by a comma. See and, but; thus; yet.
so as to Wordy. Change to to.
so-called It modifies a popularly known or questionably designated term. Don't enclose that term in quotation marks: so-called Gang of 6, so-called expert.
Social Security Capitalize all references to the U.S. system.
soda, soft drink Soft drink is probably the most common term for carbonated, flavored and sweetened nonalcoholic drinks in the United States. Usually called pop in the Midwest and West and soda in the Northeast and around St. Louis, Missouri. In the South, soft drinks are called cold drink, drink and Coke, even when it's not Coca Cola. And around Boston: tonic.
software Software is a mass (or non-count) noun, like postage, research, machinery, hardware, cash, advice and mail. Mass nouns take singular verbs. To refer to software in countable or measurable--and plural--terms, add countable phrases or use software as an adjective: Three types of software are available. Three software products are available. Capitalize software titles like Windows and PageMaker. Use quotation marks around only computer game titles: "Where in the World is Carmen San Diego?"
soil See collective nouns.
some See all, any, most, some.
some of the Wordy. Simplify. Replace with some.
some time, sometime, sometimes Sometimes confused. Use some time (two words) to refer to "an unspecified period or time": He had hoped to meet her for some time. They met some time ago. Use sometime to mean "at an unstated time or an indefinite time in the future": She'll meet you sometime after work. Let's get together sometime. It also means "former": The sometime colleagues hadn't seen each other for years. Use sometimes to mean "occasionally": They now write each other sometimes.
something, somewhat Sometimes confused. Avoid using the weak word somewhat. But if you must use it, use it only as an adverb to describe a verb, adjective or other adverb. Somewhat means "a little, slightly": somewhat scary, somewhat boring. Don't use somewhat as a noun; use something instead: David may be somewhat hungry, but he can't be somewhat of pest about eating. He can be something of a pest about eating, however.
soup of the day See French dip.
sort of See kind of, sort of.
sound See Puget Sound.
SOV Abbreviation for single-occupant vehicle. Avoid use of this abbreviation.
spacing Put only one space after all punctuation marks--unless no space is needed, such as between adjacent punctuation marks and before and after a dash and a hyphen. This guideline applies to the colon, period and other punctuation marks at the end of a sentence: exclamation point, question mark.
To prevent a person's initials from splitting between two lines of type, don't put a space between them: T.S. Eliot. Also, don't put spaces before or after hyphens, dashes or virgules. But treat an ellipsis like a word, with a space before and after it.
Either put one space between paragraphs or indent paragraphs; doing both is usually redundant.
spade, spayed Sometimes confused or misspelled. You use a spade--a shovel--to dig a hole in the ground. It's also one of the two black symbols in a deck of cards. After you sterilize your pet to prevent unwanted offspring, she's been spayed.
Spanish-speaking See Hispanic, Latino.
species Same in singular and plural. Unless writing about coined money, don't use the substandard specie as the singular form. Use singular or plural verbs and pronouns with species depending on the sense: The species has been unable to maintain itself. Both species are extinct. See family, genus, species; fish; taxonomy.
speech tags See attribution.
speeds Use figures: The taxi slowed to 7 miles per hour.
spelling Frequently misspelled words are listed alphabetically throughout this style manual. Also listed are preferred spellings for words with more than one possible spelling. Based in the United States, this manual prefers American spellings to British spellings, except for names of British publications and organizations. For more guidance, see capitalization, collective nouns, compounds, hyphen, plurals, possessives, prefixes, suffixes, verbs.
For spelling and definitions not covered in this manual, check another manual or your dictionary, such as the New Oxford American Dictionary. The Associated Press prefers Webster's New World College Dictionary. If two (or more) spellings are listed, use the first one unless your style manual lists a specific exception. If your dictionary provides different spellings in separate entries (gray and grey, for example) use the spelling followed by a full definition (gray). If a dictionary entry is listed as usually or often, use that entry.
Use computerized spelling checkers carefully; they don't catch mistyped words that are spelled correctly--not instead of now--or words that sound alike but are spelled differently--too, two, to.
spell out Hackneyed. Use explain, specify, show, describe or detail instead. And don't spell out in detail.
spiritual, spirituous Sometimes confused. Spiritual is an adjective for describing things related to or affecting the human spirit or soul rather than things that are material or physical. Spirituous is an adjective for describing things containing alcohol, especially distilled beverages.
split infinitives Avoid awkward sentence constructions that split the infinitive forms of a verb, such as to leave or to help, as in this sentence: Try to not awkwardly or incorrectly split infinitives. But splitting infinitives is grammatically correct--and even useful if it helps strengthen the meaning of a sentence by placing the modifier before the word it's modifying: He wanted to really impress the council. Unfortunately, split infinitives can distract some readers who think they're incorrect. See Garbl's Myths and Superstitions of Writing.
sport-utility vehicle No s at the end of sport. Hyphenate. SUV is acceptable on second reference: SUVs are vehicles that combine sport and utility while using too much gas and endangering smaller cars.
spousal unit Ridiculous euphemism. Simplify. Swap in wife or husband, spouse, or partner.
spreadsheet One word.
springtime One word, no hyphen. But unless you're being poetic, spring is simpler.
square feet, square foot See dimensions.
square Do not abbreviate. Capitalize when part of a proper name: Pioneer Square.
SRO See standing room only below.
stadium, stadiums Capitalize only when part of a proper name: Husky Stadium.
stalactite, stalagmite Sometimes confused or misspelled. A stalactite hangs from the ceiling of a cave. A stalagmite rises from the floor. Memory aide: A stalactite is stuck tight to the ceiling.
stanch, staunch Sometimes misused or confused. The verb stanch means "to stop or restrict (a flow of blood)." Use the adjective staunch to describe someone as "loyal and committed" or something as "strong or firm."
stand-alone (adj.) Two words, hyphenated.
standard transmission See transmission.
standing room only Abbreviate as SRO; acceptable on second reference.
start See begin, start.
start off, start up Wordy. Simplify. Change to start.
startup (n., adj.), start up (v.)
state (v.) Say or said is often a better word than state or stated in most writing. Tell us or write are other choices. State sounds formal or stilted, unless you're stating something officially and specifically: The school's complaint policy states that all letters will be researched thoroughly. The school's complaint policy states, "All letters will be researched thoroughly." See attribution.
state names, states Spell out the names of the 50 U.S. states when they stand alone in texts: He moved to Washington after living 20 years in New York. State names may be abbreviated in charts and tables.
Except in business correspondence, abbreviate most state names when used with the names of U.S. cities, counties, towns or villages. Spell out the names of the two states that are not part of the continental United States and the six continental states that have five or fewer letters: Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Ohio, Texas and Utah. These states may be abbreviated in charts and tables. If documents or websites have large audiences outside the United States, consider spelling out all state names. Always spell out the state name in business correspondence.
For punctuation, place one comma between the city and the state name and another comma after the state name, unless ending a sentence: She moved to Portland, Ore., from Portland, Maine. Do not use ZIP code spellings for state names in written text unless part of an address. See ZIP code.
Use state of Washington or Washington state--with lowercase state--when necessary to distinguish the state from the District of Columbia.
Lowercase state when used as an adjective: a state map, the state government. They visited the state of Washington. Capitalize state when writing about the state government: He worked for the State of Washington.
Do not capitalize state when used simply as an adjective to specify a level of jurisdiction: state Rep. Ellen Berger, state Department of Social Services, state funds, state Department of Ecology. But capitalize the full name of state governmental units: Washington State Department of Ecology. See ecology, Ecology; governmental bodies.
Here are standard abbreviations for state names:
See ZIP code.
state route See highway designations.
state with confidence Stock phrase. Think about omitting or rephrase with a form of be confident.
stationary, stationery To stand still is to be stationary. Writing paper is stationery. Memory tip: Both stationery and paper contain er.
staunch See stanch, staunch.
still remain Wordy and redundant. Simplify. Drop still.
stockbroker One word.
stormwater One word.
storm weather (n.), storm-weather (adj.)
strait, straight Sometimes confused or misspelled. Think of strait as narrow, tight or confined, like a narrow channel between two bodies of water, a straitjacket to confine a person's arms, and a strait-laced family with strict moral views. And think of straight as something that's not bent, curved, leaning or dishonest. Someone who's straight and narrow follows a law-abiding, moral path. And someone who's in dire straits is passing through a distressing time.
stream bank (n.), stream-bank (adj.)
streambed One word.
subcommittee Lowercase when used with the name of a legislative body: a City Council subcommittee. Capitalize when a subcommittee has a proper name of its own: the City Council's Long-Range Planning Subcommittee.
subsequently Overstated and formal. Four syllables and 12 letters. Simplify. Try later, after, next or then.
subsequent, subsequent to Pompous. Try after, next, later, following or resulting.
substitute People substitute one thing for another. Don't use substitute by or substitute with.
successfully Often unnecessary: She finished the assignment successfully means the same as She finished the assignment.
succinct See concise.
such as See including, such as.
suffice Formal. Simplify. Think about replacing with be enough, do, satisfy, meet or answer: A few hours of your time will be enough [or will do].
suffixes See separate listings for commonly used suffixes. Usually, do not hyphenate words formed with the suffixes wide, down, less. If in doubt, follow your preferred dictionary. If it does not list a word combination, use two words for the verb form and hyphenate any noun or adjective forms. See capitalization, titles.
Here are some general rules:
summertime Janis Joplin and others sing a powerful "Summertime." But summer is simpler.
summon Overstated and formal. Simplify. Try send for, call, order, call up or call on.
sum total Wordy and redundant. Simplify. Drop sum or total.
supervisor Capitalize as an official job title before a name: Division Three Supervisor Connie Tyler. Lowercase when standing alone or between commas after a name: Keith Jagger, motor pool supervisor, thanked his crew. See capitalization, titles.
supersede Commonly misspelled. Not supercede. It's the only English word that ends with -sede. Also, think about using the simpler replace.
superstitions See Garbl's Myths and Superstitions of Writing.
supine See prone, supine.
supplement Simplify. Try add to or go with instead of supplement. Also, think about using simpler extra, more, added, another or spare for supplementary and supplemental.
support Vague verb with multiple meanings. Be more precise if possible: consider hold up or carry, help or encourage, uphold or agree with, maintain or provide for, prove or confirm, endure or tolerate, keep up or sustain.
supposably, supposedly, supposingly Sometimes confused. Supposedly is usually the correct choice. Use it to mention something that might be true or real though you may not believe it. If you must use supposably, first find a dictionary and then try to figure out what it means. You'll find supposingly in a dictionary of words that don't exist.
surprise Commonly misspelled.
surrounded Completely surrounded is redundant. Simplify. Drop completely.
SUV See sport-utility vehicle.
sympathy See empathy, sympathy.
syndrome Jargon. Avoid this term unless the meaning is medical. Try pattern, conditions or characteristics instead.
synergy "I don't know what it means, and I don't have time to look it up." If your readers might respond like that, don't use synergy--or at least explain it.
systemwide One word, no hyphen.
Maintained by Gary B. Larson of Seattle, Washington, email@example.com.
Updated April 14, 2014.