Garbl's Writing Center
magazine names Capitalize the name but do not place it in quotations. Italicize magazine names if possible; underline them if not. Lowercase magazine unless it is part of the formal title. See composition titles.
magnitude Overstated. Simplify. Try size, importance, influence or greatness instead. Also, try substituting simpler most important or greatest importance for of the first magnitude.
mail stops Two words.
mainframe One word.
maintenance Commonly misspelled. Not maintainence. If appropriate, consider using the simpler upkeep.
major Vague. Consider deleting or be more specific: main, important, large, great or big. See major breakthrough below.
major breakthrough Redundant, wordy cliche. A breakthrough is an important new discovery. By definition, it's already major. Simplify. Drop major.
majority, most Often confused. Use majority to describe "more than half a total or amount" and "the group, party or faction with more than half the votes": A majority vote of only 51 percent is no mandate to make changes that affect everyone. Use simpler most to mean "greatest in amount, quantity, number, extent or degree." Also, use simpler most instead of almost all. And simpler most may replace these wordy phrases: vast majority, the great majority, a significant majority and the overwhelming majority. Or be more specific about the details.
Use majority for describing the larger of two clearly divisible things: A majority of the councilmembers voted for the resolution. Or be specific: Fifty-two percent of the councilmembers were for the resolution. When majority is used alone, it takes singular verbs and pronouns: The majority has made its decision. If a plural word follows an of construction, the sense of the sentence will determine use of either a singular or plural verb: A majority of three votes is not enough to control the committee. The majority of the houses on the block were destroyed.
-maker Check this style manual and your dictionary for adding this suffix. If the word combination isn't listed, hyphenate any adjective or noun form, and use two words for the verb form.
make reference to Wordy. Simplify. Replace with refer to.
makeup One word for the stuff women and actors apply to their faces.
manageable Commonly misspelled.
manager Capitalize when used as an official title before a name: Social Services Division Manager David Koyama or Social Services Manager David Koyama. Lowercase when standing alone or between commas after a name: David Koyama, Social Services Division manager, toured the facility, or David Koyama, social services manager, toured the facility.See capitalization.
mandatory Beware of redundancy when using this word, as in Washington law requires mandatory use of seat belts. Instead, Washington law requires use of seat belts, or Use of seat belts is mandatory in Washington.
M&M's Preferred punctuation, capitalization.
maneuver Commonly misspelled.
man, manned, manning Do not use man as a verb. Use staff instead or forms of use, operate, worked or run. Change: Three employees man the office. To: Three employees staff the office, Three employees run the office. See female, male; gentleman; sex, sexism; staff.
manner Overstated and formal. Simplify. Try way.
mannequin Sometimes misspelled.
mantel, mantle Sometimes confused. A mantel is the shelf above a fireplace. A mantle is a loose cloak or cape and anything the cloaks, covers or hides something: a mantle of snow. A mantle is also a particular duty or responsibility: Their oldest daughter took on the mantle of parent after the accident. Mantles, with other meanings, are also found in lanterns, furnaces and the earth.
many, much Use many with numbers, things that can be counted, and things that comprise several separate entities: many buildings, many cars, many dollars. Use much with mass or abstract nouns and nouns that refer to amounts or quantities instead of numbers: much salt, much courage, much help. See amount, number; much, muchly.
marginal, marginally Formal. Consider using simpler small, slight or barely instead.
marijuana Hey man, like put a j in your marijuana. And keep the h out of it. Using marihuana is a bummer.
marshal Often misspelled as marshall. In the United States, don't double the l when using other forms of the verb. Correct: marshaled, marshaling.
marshland One word.
Martin Luther King Jr. See King Jr., Martin Luther King; Martin Luther King Jr.
Master of Arts, Master of Business Administration, Master of Science Abbreviate as M.A., MBA, M.S. Lowercase master's degree and master's. See academic degrees, titles, subjects.
masthead, nameplate A masthead is a box or section printed in a publication that gives the names of the publisher, owner and editors; the location of the offices; subscription rates; and other information. A nameplate gives the name of a newspaper, newsletter or magazine as it appears on the front page or cover.
match up Wordy. Simplify. Drop up.
materialize Simplify. Try happen, appear, occur, develop, take place or turn up.
maximal Vague. Simplify. Try greatest, most, biggest, highest or largest.
maximize It means "to increase to the maximum, to enlarge as much as possible." But if you mean only increase, raise, enlarge, enhance or intensify, simplify and use one of those words instead.
maximum Vague. Simplify. Try greatest, most or largest.
may, might Both words suggest possibility. One meaning of may suggests a likelihood that something will happen. It may rain. Might suggests a remote possibility or a possibility that once existed but no longer does: I might as well be the man in the moon. I might have married her if our circumstances had been different. Consider using might if using may could imply permission instead of possibility: The graduating seniors might skip classes on Friday. See can, could; can, may; could of, may of, might of, must of, should of, would of.
may perhaps, might perhaps Redundant and wordy phrases. Drop perhaps. And drop possibly from may possibly and might possibly.
MB Abbreviation for megabyte, which is 1,048,576 bytes. Leave no space between MB and the preceding number: 5MB of storage.
mean See average, mean, medium, mode, norm.
meaningful Vague and overused, as in meaningful action, meaningful discussion, meaningful dialogue, meaningful experience and meaningful relationship. Delete or try serious, useful, important or easy to understand instead. Or add meaning by describing what you mean by meaningful.
medal, meddle, metal, mettle Sometimes confused or misspelled. A medal, often made of metal, is a prize for winning a competition or award for doing something brave. To meddle is to get involved in someone else's business without an invitation to do so. Metal is a hard, often shiny substance such as bronze, gold and silver that's often simulated in medals. And mettle is the courage and stamina a person shows, often before earning a medal.
media Media takes plural verbs and pronouns when it refers to more than one medium of communication, such as TV, radio and newspapers: Radio and television are popular entertainment media. The Internet is now a major news medium. But it's becoming acceptable to refer to the mass media or communications media or news media as a singular entity that takes singular verbs and pronouns: He's convinced the local news media is out to get him. See press.
mediation See arbitration, mediation.
medium See average, mean, medium, mode, norm.
member of the public See citizen.
memento, mementos Not momento, momentos.
memo, memos, memorandum, memorandums
men See sex, sexism.
mendacity, mendicity Sometimes misspelled or misused. Mendacity is a noun meaning "lying or untruthfulness." Mendicity is an obscure noun that means "begging."
methodology Formal, jargon. Simplify. Use method, methods or way instead.
metrics Include metric terms when they are relevant. Use metric terms when they are the primary form in which the source of information has given statistics. Follow the metric units with equivalents in terms more widely known in the United States. Usually, put the equivalent in parentheses after the metric figure, or make a general statement, such as: A kilometer equals about five-eighths of a mile. Except for references to computer memory storage and mm for millimeter in film widths, do not use metric abbreviations, such as kg for kilogram.
microphone, mike Abbreviate as mike, not mic.
mid Mid is both an adjective and a prefix (or combining form) that means "middle." It can stand alone without a hyphen to modify a noun but is often joined with the following noun: midday, midsize. Mid- (with a hyphen) typically goes before a capitalized word and figure: mid-Atlantic, mid-70s. Check your dictionary for preferred uses. Also see prefixes.
midday One word.
middle initials Use middle initials when they are an integral part of a person's name (as typically used by the person named): John F. Kennedy. Also, use middle initials in stories or reports where they help identify a specific person, such as in casualty lists and accident reports. See initials.
midnight, noon Don't capitalize, and do not put a redundant 12 in front of either word. Use midnight and noon instead of misleading, confusing and inaccurate 12 a.m. and 12 p.m. Although equipment like clock radios may need to be programmed using 12 a.m. for midnight and 12 p.m. for noon, readers likely won't know the difference between 12 a.m. and 12 p.m. in other uses.
Also, midnight is part of the day that is ending, not the one that is beginning. A 24-hour day begins immediately after midnight and runs until midnight. When writing about the beginning and end of a day, say it runs from midnight Thursday to Friday at midnight or from midnight Jan. 28 to Jan. 29 at midnight. An alternative is to write that an event begins after midnight, Jan. 28, and that something is due or ends by midnight, Jan. 29, or before midnight, Jan. 29. See time.
miles Use figures for amounts under 10 in dimensions, formulas and speed: The land measured 2 miles by 3 miles. The truck slowed to 8 miles per hour. The coach gets 6 miles per gallon. Spell out below 10 in distances: He drove eight miles.
miles per gallon The abbreviation mpg (lowercase, no periods) is acceptable on second reference.
miles per hour Abbreviation as mph (lowercase, no periods) is acceptable in all references.
millennium Commonly misspelled. Two l's and two n's. The millennium was neither 2000 nor 2001. A millennium is a 1,000-year period, not a year. The year 2000 was the start of the 2000s. Despite what many people celebrated, Jan. 1, 2001, was the first day of the "new millennium." See century, decades, years.
militate See mitigate, militate.
minimal, minimum These adjectives have subtle differences in meaning. Minimal means "extremely small in number, amount or degree ... and not worth worrying about": with minimal support, minimal objectives, minimal amount of pain. Minimum means "the smallest number, amount or degree that is possible, necessary, acceptable or lawful to have": Of any one in his family, he had minimum contact with his father. Minimum wage. Minimum payment.
minimize Overstated. It means "to make as small as possible, to reduce to a minimum." But if you mean only decrease, lower, reduce or lessen, simplify and use one of those words instead.
minuscule Often misspelled. Not miniscule. Memory tip: Think minus. Also consider replacing with simpler tiny.
minus sign Use a hyphen, not a dash, but use the word minus if confusion is possible. Use a word, not a minus sign, to show temperatures below zero: minus 10 or 5 below zero.
miscellaneous Commonly misspelled.
mischievous Commonly misspelled. Not mischievious.
misnomer Often misused. Use it to note that a person, place or thing has been given a wrong or inappropriate name. Don't use it to identify something as a popular misconception or misunderstood concept. Memory aid: Nomer is from name in Latin, but don't then misspell the word as misnamer.
Miss, Mr., Mrs., Ms. In texts, do not use the courtesy titles Miss, Mr., Mrs. or Ms. Instead, use the first and last names of the person. On second reference, use only the last name. Courtesy titles may be used in business correspondence. Plural forms of these titles: Misses, Messrs., Mmes., Mses. See names.
misspelling Commonly misspelled.
mitigate, militate Often confused or misused. To mitigate is "to moderate, lessen, or make something milder, less severe, less unpleasant, less painful, less intense, less harsh or less hostile." If possible, consider using a simpler word for mitigate, such as lessen, moderate, ease, soften, relieve or reduce -- or define the word: The department will mitigate, or reduce, the environmental impacts. To militate is "to exert influence, usually against but sometimes for something." Correct terms include militate against, militate for and militate in favor of. Don't use mitigate in those terms.
mock-up (n.) Include hyphen.
mode See average, mean, medium, mode, norm.
modern Don't overdo it when describing something as modern. Simplify these redundant, wordy phrases: modern instead of modern-day; modern world instead of modern world of today; modern instead of modern, state-of-the-art. Also see state-of-the-art.
modifications, modify Consider replacing with simpler changes or change, or improvements or improve, or adjustments or adjust.
Mom and Dad See Dad and Mom.
money If you must note foreign currencies, don't put spaces between the abbreviation and the currency symbol and between the currency symbol and the number: US$60, Can$35 or C$35. If you don't use the dollar sign (or the suitable symbol for other currencies), a space goes between the abbreviation and the number: Fr 40 million, DM 501.23. Avoid using the symbol for foreign currencies that may be unfamiliar to your readers. Also see between ... and, from ... to, cents, dash, decimals, dollars, fractions, numbers, ranges.
monies, moneys Don't use this jargon for the plural of money. Replace it with simpler cash, funds or even money. But if you must sound like a bureaucrat, use the preferred spelling moneys, not the illogical spelling monies.
Monorail Capitalize on all references to the unique, effective public transportation system in downtown Seattle.
months Capitalize the names of months in all uses. In documents, reports and Web pages, abbreviate the following months when used with a specific date: Jan., Feb., Aug., Sept., Oct., Nov., Dec. Spell out when using a month alone or with a year alone: The committee met in August. The committee met Aug. 23, 1995. The committee met in August 1994. Do not abbreviate months in datelines of business letters.
When using the month, day and year, set off the year with commas: The committee met Aug. 23, 1994, at the Seattle Center. See dates.
Also, don't insult your readers by noting that a month is a month. Simplify. Drop the month of: in the month of January.
monthlong One word, no hyphen.
moot, mute Sometimes confused. Use moot to describes a question that hasn't been decided or resolved. Moot also describes a situation that isn't likely to happen or is no longer important. Mute is usually about speech or sound and the lack of it. The correct phrase is moot point.
moral, morale, morals Sometimes confused, misused or abused. A moral is "a practical lesson about how to behave, learned from a story, fable or personal experience." Morale is "the confidence, enthusiasm and mental conditions and feelings of a person or group." Morale can be good or bad, positive or negative, high or low. Morals (plural) are "principles or standards of good and bad, right and wrong behavior, often involving sex." See amoral, immoral.
more than half See majority.
more and more Wordy cliche. Avoid. Try often.
more, most Most one-syllable adjectives and adverbs add the suffixes -er or -est to show comparison with other items--as in strict, stricter and strictest. And most adjectives and adverbs with two or more syllables are preceded by more (or less) and most (or least), like logical, more logical and most logical, and difficult, less difficult and least difficult. Using both the suffix and more (less) or most (least) to form the comparison is redundant. When comparing only two items, use the comparative -er or more (less). When comparing three or more items, use the superlative -est or most (least). Be aware of irregular forms (like bad, worse and worst), and check your dictionary when in doubt.
moreover Overstated. Simplify. Try besides, in addition, also or and.
more than See over.
most unique See unique.
motion, ordinance A city council may adopt motions and ordinances. A motion lacks the power of law but is used to request information. An ordinance is a law and has the power of law. Capitalize motion and ordinance when writing about a specific council motion or ordinance, but do not use Number or No.: The council will consider Ordinance 1112 and Motion 4119 Thursday. Lowercase when standing alone. See adopt, approve, enact, pass; law; ordinance, ordnance.
mount Always spell out, including the names of communities: Mount Rainier, Mount Si, Mount Baker.
mountains Capitalize as part of a proper name: Cascade Mountains, Olympic Mountains, Rocky Mountains. Or simply: the Cascades, the Olympics, the Rockies.
mouse If you have more than mouse looking for cheese in your house, you have mice. If you have more than one mouse for your computer, you have mouses.
moustache See mustache.
mph See miles per hour.
Mr., Mrs., Ms. See Miss, Mr., Mrs., Ms..
mustache Preferred spelling, not moustache: The editor's 34-year-old mustache hasn't turned completely gray yet.
mute See moot, mute.
mutual Sometimes misused or used redundantly after words like and, between, both and two: The two candidates reached a mutual understanding about the debate. Drop mutual. It means "two-way or reciprocal," not "common." See common, mutual.
myriad Acceptable as both a noun (a myriad of) and an adjective: She supported the candidate for a myriad of reasons. She supported the candidate for myriad reasons. But simplify and save some words by using the adjective form.
myself Often misused. Use this word to refer to yourself or for emphasis: I dressed myself. I'd rather do it myself. But don't use it self-consciously as a substitute for me. Incorrect: He asked Tina and myself for a ride home. Give it to him or myself. He talked to Tina and myself. The horse carried Tina and myself. Correct: He asked Tina and me for a ride home. Give it to him or me. He talked to Tina and me. The horse carried Tina and me.
To test for correctness: Remove the other person's name and the conjunction from the sentence, leaving myself; if it sounds incorrect, it probably is. For example, you wouldn't want to be heard saying, "He asked myself for a ride home. Give it to myself. He talked to myself. The horse carried myself." See I, me.
MySpace One word; capitalize as shown.
myths See Garbl's Myths and Superstitions of Writing.
Maintained by Gary B. Larson of Seattle, Washington, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Updated June 27, 2012.