Garbl's Writing Center
Facebook One word. Capitalize only the first letter.
facility Unless part of a proper name, avoid this word when possible, especially as a bureaucratic euphemism for building. Be more specific by naming or describing individual facilities, such as base, building, factory, hotel, jail, laboratory, museum, office, plant, restroom, stadium, warehouse or even toilet: The council appointed her director of the new jail [not facility, or worse, jail facility].
facsimile, fax As a noun, verb or adjective, fax may be used in all references, including first. Don't capitalize as FAX; the word fax is neither an acronym nor a proper noun. See reproduce, telephone numbers.
fact Use this word only if a statement can be verified as accurate, true or correct, not for matters of judgment. Also, a true fact is redundant; drop true. See factoid below.
When possible, avoid using the phrase the fact that. Omit needless words: since or because, not because of the fact that; even, though, despite or although, not despite the fact that; please note, remind you or tell you, not call your attention to the fact that; we were unaware that (or did not know that) instead of we were unaware of the fact that; her success instead of the fact that she had succeeded; and our arrival, not the fact that we had arrived. See in fact.
factoid Confusing. A factoid is a single possibly interesting "fact" that's either unverified and unconfirmed or trivial and useless. To be clear, consider using facts or statistics when writing about something significant and trivia or useless facts when writing about something that's not. See fact above.
factor Hackneyed if used to mean a thing to be considered, an event or action. Instead, use influence, cause, reason, part, fact, feature, condition or circumstances. Or be specific and name the specific factor that contributed to a particular result.
Fahrenheit In texts, on first reference use numerals and spell out degrees. Also, spell out and capitalize Fahrenheit: The mercury hit 86 degrees Fahrenheit. On later reference if the context is clear, the degrees may be dropped and the abbreviation for Fahrenheit used: The mercury hit 86 F yesterday (space before and no period after the F). See temperatures.
fairly Vague adverb meaning "more than a little but much less than very." Huh? Eliminate that word, be more precise, or rethink what you're writing about: Change fairly hot to hot or warm--or be specific: 78 degrees.
family A singular noun, family takes singular verbs. To make it possessive, add apostrophe s: The family's fortune is tied up in real estate. The family's gifts are in the closet. Also an adjective: The family fortune is tied up in real estate (family is modifying the noun fortune). The family gifts are in the closet. Also see collective nouns.
family, genus, species In scientific or biological names for plants or animals, capitalize the broad Latin family name and generic Latin genus name. But lowercase the specific species name: Homo sapiens, Tyrannosaurus rex. Italicize the genus and species names when possible. See fish; species; taxonomy.
family names Capitalize family names like dad, mother, son and grandmother only when they are before the name of a person or when they substitute for the name of a person: He sent an email message to Aunt Larson. She sent an email message to Father. She sent an email message to her dad. "Would you hand me the spatula, Son?" Also see Dad and Mom.
Also, when making family names plural, don't change their spelling. And don't add an apostrophe. Simply add es to most proper names ending in es or z: the Gonzalezes, the Jameses, the Edwardses. And add s to other proper names, including most proper names ending in y even if a consonant comes before it: the Clintons, the Kerrys, not the Kerries. When making a plural family name possessive, put an apostrophe after the final s: the Jameses' car, the Clintons' home, the Abernathys' holiday greeting (but Bob Abernathy's holiday greeting). See plurals, possessives.
FAQ Abbreviation of plural frequently asked questions; it doesn't end with a redundant s. Except in headings, spell it out on first reference; FAQ is fine for later references.
farebox One word.
farther, further Often misused or confused. Farther suggests measurable physical distance: The plant was farther away than they thought. Memory aide: The far in farther refers to physical distance.
As an adjective, further means "more" or "additional" in time, degree, amount or quantity: She had further news. But consider using simpler more instead. Further is also used as an adverb meaning "in addition" or "moreover." As a verb, further means to "advance or promote": She worked to further his career. But consider using simpler help.
fast, fastly Fast is both an adjective meaning "quick" to modify a noun or pronoun and an adverb meaning "quickly" to modify a verb, adjective or other adverb: She has a fast car, and she likes to drive fast. Don't use fastly as the adverb, as in drive fastly.
fatal, fateful Sometimes confused adjectives. Use fatal to describe something that will cause or has caused death or disaster: a fatal disease, a fatal mistake, a fatal flaw. Use fateful to describe something that will have or has had a momentous consequence or decisive significance: a fateful decision.
fats See collective nouns.
fax See facsimile, fax.
faze, phase Commonly confused. Faze is a verb meaning "to confuse or disturb someone." As a verb, phase means "to do something gradually, in stages." As a noun, a phase is "one part of a process in which something develops or changes."
feasible Sometimes misspelled as feasable. Means "capable of being done or achieved, or capable of being used or handled to good effect." Consider using less ambiguous can be done or can be achieved. If you mean "reasonable or likely," use possible, likely to work, workable or probable instead.
fecal coliform bacteria A group of organisms common to the intestinal tracts of people and animals. Its presence in water is an indicator of pollution.
federal Use a capital letter for corporate or governmental bodies that include the word as part of their formal names: Federal Express, the Federal Trade Commission.
Lowercase when used as an adjective: federal aid, federal government, federal judge.
Always lowercase the phrase federal courts. Use the proper name of the court on first reference.
Federal Emergency Management Agency FEMA is acceptable on second reference.
feedback Jargon. Try rephrasing with advice, comments, response or opinions.
feel, think Not interchangeable. If ideas are based on feelings or emotions, use feel. But if ideas are based on perception, memory and judgment, use think (or believe). See I. Also see bad, badly for feel badly.
feet See foot.
female, male Best used as adjectives, if necessary to refer to the sex of a person or occupational title. For nouns, use woman, man, girl and boy instead. Female and male are OK as nouns when writing about animals, when it's not known if a person is an adult or a child, and when writing about a group that includes both adults and children. See sex, sexism.
ferryboat One word. Ferry is acceptable as both a noun and a verb. Plural is ferries.
fewer, less Fewer (or few) stresses number, and less stresses degree or quantity. Use fewer for plural nouns and individual items that can be counted, less for singular nouns and a bulk, amount, sum, period of time or idea that is measured in other ways: Fewer than 10 applicants called. I had less than $50 in my pocket. Fewer dollars, less money. Less food, fewer calories. See amount, number; less than, under.
few in number Redundant. Drop in number. Or replace with infrequent, limited, meager, not many, rare, scant, scarce, sparce or uncommon.
(the) field of If someone works in a field of wheat or corn, wonderful! We need family farmers. But if someone works in the field of accounting or journalism, simplify and drop the field of as redundant and unnecessary. The area of is also unnecessary. See area.
finalize Pompous and often misused. Use only to mean "make final" or "put into final final form." Otherwise, simplify. Replace with finish, end, complete, settle or wrap up, depending on your point. Change: I will finalize the report. To: I will finish the report.
final outcome, final result Wordy. Redundant. Simplify. Drop final.
fire, fired Consider using this verb instead of the formal euphemism terminate or terminated when writing about someone who's dismissed from a job for poor performance or breach of ethics. But use lay off or laid off -- and not downsize or downsized -- when writing about someone who's been dismissed to cut costs or for lack of work. See laid off, lay off, layoff; terminate.
firm (n.) A firm is a business partnership: She rose quickly within the law firm. Use company or corporation for an incorporated business entity.
first- Include a hyphen when used as a part of a compound adjective modifying a noun: first-class service, first-degree murder, first-quarter touchdown. Otherwise, use two words: first line of defense, murder in the first degree, scored in the first quarter, service that's first class.
first began, first started Wordy and redundant. Simplify. Drop first.
first-come, first-served Use hyphens when used as a modifier before a noun: a first-come, first-served policy. But don't include hyphens after a verb: The policy was first come, first served. Note the comma after come and the letter d in served.
first, firstly, first of all Simplify. Just use first. And drop the ly from secondly, thirdly and so on.
firsthand One word.
first names See names.
first person See I.
fiscal, monetary Fiscal applies to budgetary matters. Monetary applies to money supply.
fiscal year The 12-month period that a governmental body or corporation uses for bookkeeping. Spell out phrases like the 1999 fiscal year on first reference. For later references, use fiscal 1999, not fiscal year 1999. Don't capitalize. Avoid FY 1999.
fish Lowercase the name of all fish species, such as chinook, coho, silver, blackmouth and spring. Do not capitalize salmon or trout when used either alone or with the species name (such as chinook salmon or bull trout). However, capitalize the Latin family name, if you are using it: chinook Salmonidae). See family, genus, species; species.
flagrant See blatant, flagrant, fragrant.
flair, flare Commonly confused. Flair is "a person's natural ability, conspicuous talent or sense of style." A flare is "a bright light used as a distress signal; a flame or burst of unsteady light; an emotional outburst; and part of something that curves or spreads outward, as in a skirt." Things can flare up and flare out.
flammable, inflammable, inflammatory, nonflammable Sometimes dangerously confused. Flammable and inflammable both mean "combustible or burns very easily." But use less ambiguous flammable when making a safety warning. Use nonflammable to mean "will not burn." Inflammatory means "tending to inflame or excite the senses, or tending to incite anger or disorder."
flaunt, flout Commonly confused verbs. To flaunt is "to show off something vainly." To flout is "to mock, treat with contempt or deliberately disobey a rule or law."
flex-time Lowercase and hyphenate this word used to describe flexible working hours.
flesh out, flush out Sometimes confused. Use flesh out to mean "add details, give more substance, elaborate." Use flush out to mean "reveal something that's been hidden, force someone out of hiding, push something into the open." If there's a chance readers might misunderstand those phrases, use their definitions instead.
flier, Flyer Flier is the preferred spelling meaning "a bulletin, handbill, pilot or someone who travels on a plan": Staff members delivered fliers about the public meeting. Flyer is a proper name of some buses and trains.
flood plain Two words.
floodwaters One word.
floppy disk Use diskette.
flounder, founder Commonly confused verbs. To flounder is "to struggle with saying or doing something" and "to struggle awkwardly, as in water, mud or snow." To founder is "to fail and collapse" and "to fill with water and sink."
flout See flaunt, flout.
fluorescent Commonly misspelled.
flush left, flush right See justification.
flush out See flesh out, flush out.
Flyer See flier, Flyer.
following Usually a noun, verb or adjective: She has a large following. He is following his conscience. The committee is considering the following projects. Also, after is clearer and more precise as a preposition: He spoke after dinner. Not: He spoke following dinner.
follow up (v.), follow-up (n. and adj.) Did Sasha ever follow up on her idea? We need to schedule a follow-up. Let's plan a follow-up session on Sasha's idea.
foot Use figures and spell out in texts: She jumped 5 feet. The wall panel is 8 feet long. Use the singular foot and hyphenate when used as a compound adjective before a noun: The 4-foot box is heavy. Foot or feet may be abbreviated to ft. in tables. See dimensions.
footnotes, endnotes Often confused, misused and overused. Footnotes go at the foot, or bottom, of pages; endnotes go at the end of chapters, articles and books. But avoid using them, except for bibliographic references or citations. They force readers to look somewhere else on a page or another page for the information they contain. That interrupts reading and can cause reader distraction, confusion and frustration. Instead, try putting the information in parentheses within the text. If you must use them, consider footnotes first.
forceful, forcible Commonly confused or misspelled. The adjective forceful means "powerful and strong." The adjective forcible means "done using (physical) force." The adverbs forcefully and forcibly have similar differences in meaning.
forecast Use forecast also for the past tense, not forecasted.
forego, forgo Often confused verbs. To forego is "to go before." To forgo is "to do without something for expediency or altruism."
foreign, international Use foreign to describe foreign cars, cities, governments, languages, markets, money, names, products, trade, words and other foreign people, places and things (not in or from the United States). Foreign-made (or imported) and foreign-born are acceptable adjectives. Use international when writing about activities, groups, operations, people and relations involving more than one country.
foreign words and phrases Before using an unfamiliar foreign word or phrase, consider the needs and interests of your readers. If your readers may not understand the words, consider using an English alternative, defining the foreign words or suggesting the meaning of the words within the context of your document.
Don't italicize (or define) foreign words and phrases commonly used in English and listed in English dictionaries: bon voyage, versus. Also, don't italicize foreign language names of cities, buildings, streets, organizations and other proper nouns.
Italicize truly foreign words and phrases the first time they're used in a document. If they're used again in the document, use roman (or regular) type. Truly foreign words and phrases have not become part of the English language; they're not listed in English dictionaries, or they're identified as foreign in English dictionaries. Translations are typically put in quotation marks and set off with parentheses immediately after the foreign words or phrases they translate. See accent marks.
Complete sentences or long phrases in a foreign language are not usually italicized. If they're direct quotations, place them between quotation marks instead. And again, if using an untranslated foreign-language statement would confuse, annoy, frustrate or insult many of your readers--and make you look foolish, pompous or arrogant--don't use it.
foreword, forward, preface Commonly confused and misspelled. Foreword is an introductory statement at the beginning of a book or other document, usually written by someone other than a book's author or authors. Forward means "at or toward the front" or describes movement toward a point in time or space. A preface is an introduction usually written by a book's author. See forward below.
formal Formal writing, formal language and formal words have their place, but it's not usually a place where communication is clear, concise and friendly. Be wary of visiting such a place when you want others to take the time to read, understand and even act on the words you write. If you want to put distance between you and your readers, use formal writing. It'll surely be cold and uninviting for your readers and lonely for you. This style and usage manual suggests simpler alternatives to formal, pompous and pretentious words and phrases. See simple, simplistic.
formally, formerly Sometimes confused adverbs. Formally means "orderly, stiffly and officially." Formerly means "in earlier times, in the past."
former Always lowercase. But capitalize an official title used immediately before a name: former Redmond Mayor Wesley Charles.
former, latter Avoid forcing your readers to reread something by using these words. Instead, restate the item. If you must use these words, they apply to only two things; former is the first, and latter is the second. Also see later, latter.
formfitting One word, no hyphen.
formulate Overstated. Simplify. Replace with develop, create, work out, devise, plan or form.
forte A forte is "a person's special skill or strong point" and "the strongest part of a blade." But simplify and try using strength or specialty instead. In music, forte means "loud or loudly." (Pronounce both as "for-tay," ignoring outdated, pretentious claims about how to say the word when mentioning a person's strength.)
for the purpose of Overstated and wordy. Simplify. Delete or replace with for or to.
for the reason that Overstated and wordy. Simplify. Replace with because, since, for or why.
fortuitous, fortunate Sometimes confused. Use fortunate to mean "lucky." Use fortuitous to mean "happening by chance or accidental," especially if the circumstances are positive, "a happy accident." A fortuitous accident is redundant, and calling a bad accident fortuitous would confuse people.
forward Not forwards. See foreword, forward above.
for your information Consider dropping this overused, potentially insulting phrase, or replace it with something more original or precise.
founder See flounder, founder.
fracking The energy industry uses fracking to extract oil and gas from rock by injecting high-pressure mixtures of water, sand or gravel and chemicals. The short form is fracking, a term considered pejorative by the industry. The industry likes using two words and six syllables to label this technique: "hydraulic fracturing."
fractions Spell out amounts less than one in stories, and hyphenate between the words: two-thirds, four-fifths. Use numerals for precise amounts larger than one: 5 2/3, 59 5/8. Whenever practical, convert fractions to decimals: 5.5, 43.5, 8.25.
If using a whole number with a fraction, do not hyphenate: 4 3/8, 15 4/5.
Avoid numerals separated by a slash--5 1/2--when the typeface has case fractions as special characters, such as Ã'Â½. The fractions 1/4, 1/2 and 3/4 are usually available as special characters in word processing and desktop-publishing programs.
With phrases like three-fourths of X, the verb agrees with X: Three-fourths of the project is done. Three-fourths of the visitors are from Andorra.
In charts and tables, always use numerals. Convert to decimals if the amounts involve extensive use of fractions. See decimals.
fragrant See blatant, flagrant, fragrant.
free As an adverb, free means "for nothing." So for free is usually redundant; drop for. Also redundant is free gift; drop one word or the other.
freelance (v. and adj.) The noun: freelancer.
French dip When preparing the menu for your restaurant, don't offer French dip au jus or French dip with au jus. It's redundant. Either phrase is like offering a house with roof. And since au means "with" in French, with au jus is even more redundant. Simply list your tasty French dip. Also redundant is soup du jour of the day. Soupe du jour means "soup of the day" in French.
frequently Consider using simpler often.
frequently asked questions See FAQ.
freshman (n. and adj.) Don't use the plural noun, freshmen, as an adjective. It's freshman class, freshman volleyball and so forth; similarly, sophomore adviser, junior class, senior English. Also, first-year as in first-year student, first-year class and first-year volleyball is a useful, unbiased alternative.
from ... to See between ... and, from ... to.
from whence See whence.
front line (n.), front-line (adj.)
FTE See full-time equivalent.
fulfill, fulfilled, fulfilling Commonly misspelled. One l in the middle of fulfill, two at the end.
full- Hyphenate when used to form compound modifiers: A full-length film. A full-scale attack.
full-time equivalent Refers to a full-time employment position. Spell out on first reference. FTE is acceptable on second reference.
full time, full-time Hyphenate when used as a compound modifier: He works full time. She has a full-time job.
fulsome Commonly misused, as in fulsome praise. Use it to describe something that's disgusting or offensive, excessive or insincere, not abundant or very full. If you need a positive adjective, try full, ample, lavish, generous or whole-hearted instead. And note: Fulsome has only one l.
fun In serious writing, fun is only a noun. It's not an adjective, so it lacks comparative/superlative forms, as in funner and funnest or more fun and most fun. Incorrect: This year's event was more fun than last year's. Your party was the funnest one I've been to all year. But as a noun, fun can be modified with the adjectives more and most: We had more fun at this year's event than we did at last year's event. I think I had the most fun of anyone at the party. In casual, informal communication, fun is sometimes used as an adjective: That was a fun thing to do. It's always funner this time of year. That was the funnest part.
fundamental Overstated. Simplify. Cut or change to basic, important or needed.
fundraising, fundraiser No hyphen or space between fund and raising. Fundraising for charity is a good cause. The committee planned the annual fundraising campaign. The division sponsored a fundraiser.
further See farther, further.
furthermore Formal and overstated. Simplify. Try using also, and or besides.
future Wordy, if used with the words in the near ... or in the not too distant .... Simplify. Use soon, shortly or even be specific: tomorrow, this Saturday, in a week, next month and so on.
gaff, gaffe Sometimes misspelled and confused nouns. A gaffe is "an embarrassing mistake, a social blunder." A gaff is "a strong hook or steel point on equipment used in fishing and power-line work" and "a pole or spur attached to the mast on a ship."
Garbl Acronym for Gary B. Larson, webmaster for this online style and usage manual and Garbl's Writing Center. He means "to untangle and clarify misunderstood or incomprehensible rules and guidelines of grammar, style and usage." Avoid garbling with the unrelated creator of the excellent "The Far Side" cartoons. Also see garble.
Gas Works Two words when writing about the park on Lake Union in Seattle.
gay, lesbian Identify a person's sexual orientation only when it is relevant. Do not refer to "sexual preference" or to a gay, homosexual or alternative "lifestyle." Use gay (n. and adj.) to describe men and women attracted to the same sex, though lesbian is the more common term for women. Avoid using homosexual except in clinical contexts or references to sexual activity. Instead of referring to lesbians and gays, consider using gay women and men or lesbians and gay men. Lowercase gay and lesbian except in names of organizations. Don't refer to gays with disparaging, offensive terms. Use gay and queer carefully in other contexts. Do not use gay as offensive, incorrect adolescent slang meaning "stupid." See sex, sexism.
gender Gender has become an acceptable term for writing about differences between males and females, especially their social, psychological and cultural traits--or who we are. Sex is more often used when writing about physical and biological traits--or what we do. Stay tuned. See sex, sexism.
general manager Capitalize as an official title before a name, and lowercase when standing alone or after a name between periods: General Manager Ron Burton; Ron Burton, general manager, said ... See capitalization, titles.
general public See public.
genocide See ethnic cleansing, genocide.
get Get is good English. It's an acceptable, simpler substitute for formal words like obtain, receive, become and procure. And so are its verb forms: got and gotten: He got a digital camera for his birthday. I have gotten really tired of pulling morning glory.
GIF Acronym for graphics interchange format. Acronym (capitalized) is usually acceptable on first reference. Lowercase gif in file names.
Girl Scouts See Scouts.
give and take Cliche. Use sparingly. Consider replacing with compromise, concession, exchange or discussion.
gobbledygook Complicated, highfalutin, obscure, pompous and wordy language and jargon that's especially useful in official letters and technical documents you don't want your reader to understand. See highfalutin, jargon.
goes without saying, needless to say Well, what more can I say? Omit needless words and information. Either phrase may be useful to stress a common bond with your audience, but think about clearer, stronger ways to do that. If you still want to make say something, simplify. Consider using clearly, naturally, obviously, of course or plainly -- but avoid insulting your reader by stating the obvious in condescending ways. And accept that your reader may ignore or question your words. See clearly evident.
goodbye Not goodby.
good Samaritan Lowercase good unless used in a title: Good Samaritan Recovery Center.
good, well As a modifier, good is always an adjective for writing about the quality of someone or something, which means it describes nouns and pronouns (or people, places and things): good English, good guitarist, a good many. As a modifier, well is usually an adverb for writing about the way something is done, which means it describes verbs, adjectives and other adverbs: to play well, well-paid employee.
Well also can be an adjective but usually when describing someone's health, as in "not sick": She is well. When asked the unavoidable question "How are you?" a reply like "I am well" refers to your health. But replies using "good" or "fine" or a similar adjective (or "bad" or "terrible" or a similar adjective) refer to your situation, thoughts, feelings and so on. And if the question is "How are you doing?" a reply like "I'm doing well" refers to your actions. See bad, badly; well.
good will (n.), goodwill (adj.)
Google, Googled, Googling Google is the trademark for a Web search engine. Using the trademark symbol -- TM -- is unnecessary unless Google is named in advertising materials. Always capitalize the name and the verb forms. Unless use of Google is essential, use a generic equivalent (lowercased): browser search tool, searched the Web, Web search engine.
got, gotten See get.
gourmand, gourmet Sometimes confused nouns. A gourmand is "a person who really likes good food and drink but tends to eat and drink too much." A gourmet is "a person with expert knowledge about food and drink who appreciates subtle differences in flavor or quality."
government, governmental Always lowercase the noun government, never abbreviate: city government, state government, the U.S. government. Use governmental as the adjective: a governmental agency. Also, lowercase the branches of government: the legislative, executive and judicial branches of the federal government.
governmental bodies Capitalize the full, proper names of federal, state and local governmental agencies, departments and offices: the U.S. Department of State, the state Department of Ecology, Portland Department of Transportation, the county Department of Adult Detention. Also, capitalize the shortened version: the State Department, the Ecology Department, Transportation Department. But lowercase the department.
GPA The abbreviation (capitalized, no periods) for grade-point average is acceptable in all uses.
grade, grades Hyphenate both the noun forms (second-grader, 10th-grader) and the adjective forms (a second-grade student, a 10th-grade student). But a student is in the second grade or the 10th grade. When mentioning letter grades, use B-plus, C-minus and so forth, not B+ or C-. Don't enclose grades in quotation marks. Use an apostrophe with plurals of single letters: straight A's, all B's and C's.
graduate, graduated Commonly misused. People graduate from high school or college, they don't graduate high school or college. Remember that they received their diploma from some place; they graduated from that place.
grass roots (n.), grass-roots (adj.) Cliches. Consider rephrasing to avoid these expressions.
gray, grey Gray is the preferred spelling.
grease See collective nouns.
Great Britain See United Kingdom.
grisly, grizzly Sometimes confused. Grisly means "terrifying or horrible." A grizzly is "a large brown bear that lives in west North America."
ground breaking (n.), ground-breaking (adj.)
ground cover Two words.
groundskeeper One word.
groundwater One word.
ground zero Often misused. Use it to identify the site of a devastating nuclear bomb blast or the location of the tragic World Trade Center attack in New York on Sept. 11, 2001. Don't use it to describe the beginning of something. Instead, use phrases like the beginning, starting point or start from scratch.
grow Unless you're writing about growing crops or a beard, use less trendy expand, develop, build or increase: expand your business, not grow your business.
guardedly optimistic Wordy cliche. If you can't simply write that you're optimistic, don't bother writing anything. Delete guardedly or replace the phrase with confident, encouraged or hopeful.
guardrail One word.
gun An acceptable term for any firearm, though guns or firearms may literally be unacceptable or inappropriate in some settings.
guerrilla Often misspelled. Two r's and two l's. Not guerilla.
Maintained by Gary B. Larson of Seattle, Washington, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Updated April 14, 2013.