Wikipedia:Use modern language

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The Wikipedia Manual of Style offers a great deal of guidance on article writing. This essay explores in more depth a few points as they relate to contemporary Modern English language style versus archaic or neologistic usages, and makes some recommendations that go beyond the MOS "rules", based on actual cases encountered in Wikipedia articles.

Why modern, accessible English is important[edit]

Most Wikipedia readers are native speakers of dialects that have largely dispensed with obsolescent words and turns of phrase, while other readers have learned (or are still learning) English as a second language. It is important for these audiences that Wikipedians write articles in accessible, modern wording. Other audiences to consider are media organizations, students, bloggers and others who may quote material from Wikipedia directly, to a more general secondary audience.

While your regional dialect may include in daily speech and informal writing, some features of English that are considered archaic in most dialects, it is generally not a good idea to use them in Wikipedia articles, even when some of them may still be considered "proper" in some prescriptive grammar books or dictionaries.

Likewise the introduction of "postmodern English" terms and [mis]usage will not help our readers.

Also, please remember that being excessively wordy, writing in a pedantic or condescending manner, or habitually using overly learned words when simpler ones will suffice, makes it more difficult to use the encyclopedia. (That said, is not, and need not be "dumbed down".)

Direct quotations, of course, should always retain the original wording.

Examples of the obsolete[edit]

Some of the most common usages that today are too archaic or dialectal for encyclopedic use include but are not limited to:

  • Whatever used alone: Avoid constructions like "Whatever, they relocated to Birmingham the following year". The more common, informal overusage of whatever to indicate indifference or uncertainty makes such a sentence jarring and confusing to modern readers, and should be replaced with something more specific: "Regardless of these problems, they relocated to Birmingham the following year" or "Whatever the case may have been, they relocated to Birmingham the following year", as the context requires. "In any case" and other constructions can also be substituted.
  • Whomsoever and whosoever: Use whomever and whoever, respectively.
  • Unbeknownst, unbeknown: Simple substitution of unknown is often awkward or ungrammatical. Rewrite to use unknown more appropriately, or use another construction: "unbeknownst to Johnson ..." could become "although Johnson was unaware of it ...", "behind Johnson's back ..." etc., depending on the context. Like "whatsoever", "unbeknownst" has some vestigial currency in journalism and fiction, but isn't a word that non-fluent speakers are likely to be familiar with.
  • Other uses of archaic -st, -est and -eth constructions: Words like canst, knowest and cometh are essentially extinct, not just obsolescent, and are not likely to appear in WP articles anyway, other than in titles (e.g. The Iceman Cometh) and direct quotations, where they must not be modified, of course. Note: Although they can safely be replaced with among and while, amongst and whilst are still commonly used in British English.
  • Oftentimes, ofttimes: Use often, frequently, commonly, etc.
  • Oft-: Use often, frequently, commonly, etc.; or a different construction, such as common story for oft-repeated tale
  • Out-of-doors: Use outdoor, [the] outdoors, adjective and noun respectively.
  • Use of he, him, his, man, and other masculine terminology generically (as in "the player may then make his closing move"): Rewrite to avoid these constructions, which are broadly and increasingly interpreted as sexist. See also "Wikipedia:Gender-neutral language."
  • Use of awkward double pronouns for gender neutrality: Rewrite to avoid the need for such contortions as his/her or (s)he. While still common informally, this practice is sloppy, redundant and non-encyclopedic. See also "Wikipedia:Gender-neutral language."
  • Use of upon when on will suffice. There are few instances of phrases in forms like "depended upon" or "thinking upon", in which "upon" cannot be replaced with "on". The "upon" construction is principally poetic (e.g. "wish upon a star"), but remains common in poor attempts at formal English. The surviving worthwhile use of "upon" is as a replacement for awkward phrases such as many (but not all) uses of "[up] on top of" (e.g., "she climbed upon the table" vs. "she climbed on top of the table").
  • Spake: Obsolete except in poetry; use spoke.
  • Morrow: Now rarely used except in poetry. Use another construction, such as next day, following morning etc.
  • Eve: Likewise, use eve with caution, such as in established holiday names or in its figurative sense ("on the eve of victory", though verge and other terms are good substitutes), but not as a general substitute for evening or night.
  • Use of Latin forms when these have been largely supplanted by native English suffixes: For example, use forums not fora; broadly recognized exceptions are loci in scientific contexts, literary appendices, communications or artistic media, and many technical, medical and legal jargon terms.
  • Possessed of: Use having/had, possessing, etc. Something like "being possessed of a keen business sense" is much clearer and less stilted when rewritten as "having a keen business sense". We generally avoid passive voice, anyway.
  • Hyphenation of terms that are now fully compounded in Modern English: Use inline skating, not in-line skating, today, not to-day. But note that online (stressed as ON-line) and on-line (stressed as on-LINE) are actually different terms; the former means "connected to a computer network", while the latter means "connected to a power source" and also has some figurative meanings of "operational; completely functional", as in "our new business model is finally on-line".
  • Hyphenation of standard suffixes just because they would result in doubled letters: Use tailless, not tail-less. Prefixes are generally a matter of variety of English (pre-eminent and preeminent are both current usage).
  • Use of periods (dots) at the end of constructions no longer interpreted as abbreviations in English: E.g., replace per cent. or percent. with per cent or percent respectively.
  • Use of periods in acronyms and initialisms – use AWOL, NORAD and UK, not A.W.O.L., N.O.R.A.D. and U.K. Note that some (especially American) editors prefer to use "U.S." in reference to the United States, even when they would use "UK" and "AWOL" in the same paragraph; as of October 2011 this remains contentious. In the interim, follow WP:ENGVAR: if the article is written in American English and uses the spelling with periods, the spelling should not be changed, but in other cases should be "US" in consistency with Wikipedia's handling of acronyms generally. Per Wikipedia:Manual of Style#Acronyms and abbreviations "U.S.A." and "USA" should be avoided in general prose. Where one of these appears in a proper name, its punctuation should not be changed (e.g., "Mosconi Cup 2010 Team U.S.A."). See WP:Manual of Style (abbreviations) for more detail on acronyms and initialisms.
  • Use of slashes (strokes) in acronyms and initialisms, except in the rare cases where this usage remains overwhelmingly the most common, as with n/a ("not applicable") and c/o ("care of"). Normally, use all-caps like NORAD or periods like i.e., per WP:Manual of Style (abbreviations).
  • All-capitals presentation of words that are technically acronyms or initialisms but which are no longer interpreted as such by the vast majority of speakers/readers. Use scuba vs. SCUBA, and laser vs. LASER or worse yet L.A.S.E.R..
  • Obsolete abbreviations, such as &c. for etc.
  • Use of diacritics in English words (as opposed to proper names) to disambiguate pronunciation: E.g., coöperation, learnèd. This practice was almost extinct by the early 1970s, and has long since fallen into obscurity, as the words and their pronunciations are clear through familiarity and context. Personal name and trademark spellings like José, Nestlé, Cēpacol etc., are to be respected, of course (but see also the Wikipedia guideline on trademarks), as are unassimilated foreign words like brüt in winemaking.
  • Non-standard contractions, especially those formerly used in poetry. These were most commonly used to distinguish pronunciations (such as between learn'd and learnéd) for reading aloud, and are still sometimes used in sheet music for this purpose. Wikipedia is not a songbook. These spellings should be retained if quoting sheet music, however. There are non-poetic examples such as 'bus (for omnibus), now simply bus.
  • Use of diacritics in loanwords that have become completely assimilated into English: E.g., use debut not début, role not rôle, naive not naïve, precis not précis. Especially do not do this for words that have common English-only derived forms, such as debuting, roleplaying and naivety (and avoid the French loanword naïveté, since there is an English version). More examples include bric-a-brac, debacle, depot, detour, and regime, as well as various basic cooking terms like saute. Obvious exceptions are résumé, exposé, lamé and pâté, since they are completely different words in English without the diacritics. A few other words such as attaché, cliché, cloisonné, fête, mêlée, papier-mâché, protégé and raison d'être are frequently but not mandatorily spelled with diacritics, since they are perfectly intelligible without them. Avoid diacritics with most -ee words in particular, which already have a long-established history in English without the embellishment: financee, matinee, soiree. For these purposes also consider ligatures a form of diacritic, and never use them in assimilated terms like hors-d'oeuvre, foetus, manoeuvre.
  • Italicization of loanwords that are now fully incorporated into English: Terms like rendezvous, corps, versus and teriyaki (and debut, role, naive, precis, etc., as above) do not need to be italicized in running prose. Contrast terms like élan, esprit de corps, Weltanschaaung, and la Raza, which have not been fully assimilated, and are not likely to be interpreted as English by native English speakers. Food names may be in either category; sushi need not be italicized, but unagi (freshwater eel), anago (sea eel) and tako (octopus) should be; burrito, taco (the Mexican dish, not the cactus) and enchilada have been assimilated, but chicharrones (pork rinds), chorizo (spicy sausage) and posole/pozole (hominy, pork & chile stew) have not, except arguably in the U.S. Southwest, Florida and Belize (i.e., the fully-understood usage in English is confined to too small an area for such terms to be broadly considered assimilated and their italicization dropped). Use common sense, don't be insular, and defer to italicization if edit-warring over the issue breaks out: perhaps in Australia and New Zealand, for example, taco and burrito are assimilated, but enchilada is not. Some of the more common words listed as examples of assimilated and not italicized by the MHRA Style Guide include: avant-garde, debris, denouement, dilettante, ennui, genre, leitmotif, milieu, par excellence, salon, status quo and vice versa. Older editions of The Guardian Style-book which are specific on the matter include many others, the most obvious of which are addendum/addenda, aide-de-camp, appendix'/appendices, apropos, axis/axes, basis/bases, bayonet, connoisseur, concessionaire, cul-de-sac, desiderata, en masse, en route, ex officio, facsimile, garotte, gratis, hors-d'oeuvre, innuendo, laissez-faire, libretto/libretti, literati, khaki, manifesto, memorandum/memoranda, premise, pro forma, proviso, quartet (and quintet, septet, trio, etc.), questionnaire, racquet, ricochet, savant, sheikh, sobriquet, sotto voce, stratum/strata, sub rosa, thesis/theses and veldt. If in further doubt, perhaps consult The Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors. Another hint that may be useful though not terribly reliable is spell-checking software; if a singular, single-word foreign term is flagged as unrecognized, this may be an indication that it should be italicized (this trick often does not work with plurals or multiple-word or hyphenated terms).
  • Italicization of Latin-derived abbreviations that are very common in Modern English: Commonplace cases like etc., i.e., e.g., c./ca., and vs. (or v. in legal contexts) should not be italicized. Less common ones, such as q.e.d. and op. cit. should be italicized (and linked at first occurrence, for the benefit of readers unfamiliar with them). Various style guides disagree on exactly which should and should not be in italics; if in doubt, italicize, and don't edit-war over it if someone removes the italics.
  • Italicization of legal terms, when used in a legal context. Legal writing does not italicize (or use diacritics with) cy pres, estoppel, habeas corpus, modus operandi, etc. Use outside of the legal context should follow the recommendations above (e.g. modus operandi and post mortem have been assimilated into everyday English, cy prés has not, prima facie is borderline).
  • Formerly common transliterations of foreign words and names which are now transliterated differently in general English usage: E.g. amok, Mumbai and Beijing, not amuck, Bombay and Peking, except where historically/culturally significant and appropriate (i.e., do not rewrite history).
  • Obsolete holiday names or spellings thereof: E.g., use Halloween, not All Hallow's Eve or Hallowe'en (but again, do not rewrite history).
  • Fame and famous as negatives: Use infamy and infamous.
  • German-style capitalization of nouns that are not proper names: Once common in English – well into the early 20th century in some areas – it is no longer appropriate at all to write something like "McDougal's Cavy was eaten by his Dog". Be warned, however, that WP:WikiProject Birds insist on the capitalization of "official" common (vernacular) names of birds. The outcome of this debate, at WT:Manual of Style, WP:Village pump/Policy and elsewhere, remains uncertain as of February 2012, and frequently closes without consensus. Summary of the birds issue: The practice is common in specialist publications such as bird field guides and ornithology journals – where even some ornithologists have attacked the convention, and non-ornithological zoology journals do not honor it even in articles on ornithology. This style is virtually unknown elsewhere and not acceptable under any general, major style guide (Oxford, Chicago, Strunk & White etc.) For now, do not de-capitalize bird common names (though certainly do not feel compelled to capitalize them) in articles specific to and exclusively about birds, or intractable editwarring may result, but do lower-case them everywhere else, per WP:Manual of Style, which is clear that common names of species are not to be capitalized. For completely different reasons, breeders of dogs, cats, horses and other domestic animals, and horticulturalists, insist that the names of formal breeds (not types, classes, clades, subspecies or landraces) of pet and work animals, and cultivar (hybrid variety) names of cultivated plants, as recognized by authoritative fancier/breeder/livestock, horticultural or agricultural organizations, be treated as proper names and capitalized. Again, to avoid editwarring, editors should leave such names capitalized if found that way, in this case regardless what type of article it is, as the Manual of Style has nothing to say on the matter as of February 2012, or edit-warring is again likely to result. Capitalization of other random nouns should be lower-cased with prejudice, unless and until a preponderance of the evidence shows that the term in question is not only uniformly capitalized in formal publications in the field to which it pertains but also in mainstream generalist works such as encyclopedias, dictionaries, newspapers, etc., and the Wikipedia article at hand is exclusively about that field or term, in which case please update this entry to include it along with birds, dogs etc. until the issue is fully settled at the Manual of Style.
  • May have in reference to the hypothetical past: Use could have or might have. May have was formerly commonly used to refer to past events with a hypothetical but no longer possible conditional, as in "if the Administration's response had been faster, the public reaction may have been less negative". This usage is now confusing to many readers, for whom may is exclusively taken to indicate genuine possibility ("paid conscripts rather than slaves may have built the Egyptian pyramids"), not a pure what-if.
  • Essentially extinct terms/spellings from Middle and Early Modern English: Examples include whither, thither, forthwith, ere, thrice and twain. Whence and nigh are considered by some to be borderline exceptions, but it is best to avoid them, as poorly educated or non-fluent speakers will be unfamiliar with them.
  • Similarly, words that do, but only barely, survive in Modern English: Some words and spellings aren't quite extinct because of their presence in well-known sayings or quotations, but have virtually no modern use outside those contexts. A few familiar examples include hither, yon, alack, and wherefore.
  • A- prefixing: In verbs (as in "after his divorce, the mayor went a-courting for a new love interest"), this has long been used in poetry and song, popularly at least as recently as Bob Dylan's "The Times They Are a-Changin'", but it is otherwise unused today except by writers who sometimes do this simply for "cute" effect. Wikipedia is not a tabloid, children's book or pop song, so the usage is inappropriate here. In adjectives, it should be uniformly avoided when an alternative construction exists (e.g., use tilted in place of atilt, use on fire or burning instead of ablaze or afire or aflame, and so on). In some cases, such a word remained current well into the early 20th century (e.g. appertain for pertain), with the result that such a word may appear by default in a Wikipedia article based on the 1911 Encylopaedia Britannica, and should be replaced. In a handful of cases (e.g. akimbo) there is no cognate equivalent, but passages that use them can usually be rewritten more clearly anyway. All these non-encyclopedic cases should not be confused with the negative a- in asymptomatic and asexual, nor with some of the fully compounded cases, such as around, ahold and await, which have formed words with completely distinct meanings from the bases to which the a- is attached.
  • Long-winded expressions of very simple relationships: Unless the result would be ambiguous, use for instead of for the purpose of, use to instead of in order to, and so on. Example of ambiguity: "they fought the new requirements [in order] to conserve fuel"; without "in order", it would be unclear if there was a fight to conserve fuel, against fuel-inefficient requirements, or a fight against requirements that call for conserving fuel. Nevertheless, such a phrase can also simply be rewritten to avoid the construction ("they fought the new fuel conservation requirements", or "to conserve fuel, they fought the new requirements", as appropriate).
  • Yoda-esque grammar. There are many possible examples of mixed-up, obfuscatory word order that should be avoided. One of the most common is the excessively poetic prefixing of forms of to have, as in "Had the Administration a faster response, the public reaction could have been less negative." Rewrite to avoid such constructions, which are often confusing for non-fluent English readers: "If the Administration's response had been faster, the public reaction could have been less negative." Have-prefixing is common in poetry and song ("Have yourself a merry little Christmas", "Baa-baa black sheep, have you any wool?"), but not appropriate in encyclopedic writing. Another example to avoid is placement of the subject and verb (even worse, in inverted order, again from poetic uses like "a jolly old soul was he") after the object: "the company's chief executive he was, from 2002 to 2006" or "the company's chief executive was he, from 2002 to 2006".
  • Confusing "corrections" of split-infinitives: Despite split infinitives being a natural feature of English, many prescriptive grammarians find them distracting, even offensive, especially in formal writing. The typical but sometimes archaic and faulty solution is simply to move the inserted modifier to before the infinitive (as in "simply to move" in this sentence, instead of "to simply move"). This often results in ambiguous or even inaccurate or nonsensical passages. When rewritten, split infinitives must be handled carefully, on a case-by-case basis. "She wanted to simply go to the store" can arguably be changed to "She wanted simply to go to the store", although this would be much better as "she simply wanted to go to the store" (it is the circumstance that is simple, not the mental process). On the other hand, "he went home to quietly reflect on the day" can not be handled in this manner, as "he went home quietly to reflect on the day" has a completely different meaning, describing his manner of going, not of his reflection. A better rewrite would be "he went home to reflect quietly on the day". A comma-laden version preserving the rather Victorian modifier-first structure – "he went home, quietly to reflect on the day" – is excessively flowery, and the subtle difference will be lost on many readers who will mistake it for the same thing as the comma-free version. It is notable that recent editions of The Chicago Manual of Style have abandoned the recommendation that split infinitives always be avoided, on the principle that the most clearly understandable construction is the one that should be used. This principle is obviously one that can be applied to writing an encyclopedia. If an edit-war erupts over a split infinitive, rewrite the passage, without changing the underlying meaning, to make the dispute moot.
  • Overuse of commas: English before the 20th century frequently made use of many more commas than modern prose. Today, commas are generally only used a) to indicate a natural brief pause, and b) to disambiguate passages that would be confusing without them. Victorian-style comma usage (which can even be found in the text of many 1911 Britannica articles imported into Wikipedia, where they have yet to be significantly rewritten) was often between any clauses simply because they were clauses, regardless of actual reading flow. This is unhelpful for our readers. Comma usage has to be balanced; see below for post-Internet excessive avoidance of commas.
  • Melodramatic euphemisms for death: Wikipedia:Manual of Style (words to watch)#Euphemisms covers this more generally, but especially avoid florid terms like was slain, was felled, perished, expired and other poetic imagery favored by tabloid journalists and Gothic novelists. Simply use died, unless something more specific is warranted (e.g., was murdered or committed suicide etc.).
  • Mixture of present and preterite in compound verbs: In constructions like "the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya is ended" use "has ended" or, in more typical encyclopedic prose, something like "ended in October 2011" with no auxiliary verb.
  • Use of cutesy, obscure alternative terms in an attempt to sound more learned or clever, e.g. yarn and raconteur for story and storyteller. This practice was once almost overwhelmingly common in newspaper headlines, but is declining even there, though it remains common in editorial journalism (which often even invents "words", like ballsman for football player), especially in biographical articles. Via emulation of journalist writing, it appears frequently enough in Wikipedia to be a problem. It isn't encyclopedic, and is a clear example of Victorianesque verbosity and archness for their own sakes.

Examples of postmodernisms[edit]

  • Allows to, permits to, etc.: An error by non-native English speakers, especially in software and other product advertising and documentation, that has become so common in the last decade that it has even been picked up by some native speakers.[1] Phrases like "the new feature allows to process the data more efficiently" are actually nonsensical in English, as allow (or permit, enable, assist, help, etc.) in such a construction is almost invariably a transitive verb requiring an object (or a prepositional phrase serving as one). Rewrite to clarify: "the new feature allows for more efficient processing of the data" or "the new feature allows users to process the data more efficiently".
  • Dropping of commas that are required (by most if not all style guides, and by readability), and the related inappropriate reduction of semicolons to commas. Real world example: "Mature males can weigh as much as 15 pounds, however females are generally smaller weighing between 8 and 11 pounds."[1] There is no such thing as a "however female" nor a process called "smaller weighing". This should have read: "Mature males can weigh as much as 15 pounds; however, females are generally smaller, weighing between 8 and 11 pounds", and the "however" is unnecessary. Such laziness is the direct result of applying the breathless rush of instant messaging, texting and online chat to contexts that have no need for excessive haste. Comma usage has to be balanced; see above for excessive Victorian use of commas.
  • Neologistic over-compounding: Some phrases have recently begun undergoing the process of compounding, and remain in that process, which may or may not ultimately prevail. This has led to much compounding in informal prose that it too neologistic for Wikipedia use. For example, eachother should not be used here, as it is not recognized as anything but colloquial by any major dictionary (use the standard each other). On the technological side, the rise of electronic real-time messaging has led to increasing laziness (or "efficiency", according to some), with resultant excessive running-together of phrases, hyphenated compounds and acronyms. One of the most frequent cases is email; as do most other publications, Wikipedia uses e-mail (just as we do not write "ecommerce" or "egovernment" when discussing electronic business or online civil service). Furthermore, "email" (pronounced "eh-MAIL" rather than "EE-mail") is already a long-standing though obsolete English transitive verb, meaning "to put armor on oneself or another (such as a horse)". Another common error already mentioned is aka for a.k.a.
  • Tortured attempts at gender neutrality: Several features (or alleged features) of English may be gradually coming to the forefront in the area of gender-neutral language, but should be avoided on Wikipedia unless and until such time that they become far more widely accepted. Broadly successful changes in this area are considered standard English for Wikipedia purposes, as already mentioned, but several are too "bleeding-edge" to be used here. Our language is constantly evolving, the articles will change gradually with the language, and Wikipedia is not a soapbox for any kind of language reform. In particular:
    • Never introduce neologistic gender-neutral "pronouns" (e.g., zie, hir, hisr, herm, etc.). Rewrite, as for masculine.
    • Do not use feminine pronouns as generic pronouns: While in vogue in the 1990s, she, her and hers in place of the traditional but obsolete usage of masculine pronouns as gender-neutral is no better from a sexism point of view, and is confusing, distracting or POV-pushing to the majority of readers. Rewrite, as for masculine.
    • Avoid the use of they as a gender-neutral singular pronoun: E.g., "If a politician receives a bribe offer, they should not accept it." While it has always been common in spoken English, it is not encyclopedically formal, so rewrite to avoid.
    • Do not use novel or rare person- and -person constructions: Some gender-neutrality attempts result in alleged words that do not appear in any major dictionary, or only as colloquial or slang (e.g., "personkind" as a replacement for mankind, where humankind, people and other standard-English substitutes would suffice). As another example, to the vast majority of readers there are no such terms as "unsportspersonlike conduct" and "sportspersonship", even if many do now acknowledge the word sportsperson as a stand-alone noun. Rewrite to avoid; e.g., if "unsportsmanlike" or "sportsmanship" might be considered inappropriate in the context, such as an article about women's basketball, use alternative wording like "unfair conduct" or "fair play", or if the official rules of the sport use the masculine terms go head and use them, and cite the rules as a source in a footnote.
    • Do not use gender-neutral terms where not necessary (e.g., where the subject's gender is already known), or where such a term is/was not preferred by the article subject: Use "Janet Yamamoto became Chairwoman in 1999", not "... Chairperson ..." (and avoid Chair, Vice-chair and Co-chair – people are not furniture). In some cases, there may be reliable sources that a female executive (for example) may prefer the masculine title, and thus should be referred to by it (e.g., Esther Dyson is a former Chairman, not "Chairwoman", "Chairperson" or "Chair", of the Board of Directors of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.)
    For more information, see WP:Gender-neutral language.
  • Corporate-style verbosity: Intentional use of obfuscatory language intended to stretch the length of a sentence is not just a Victorianesque practice, but in a different form has arisen as corporate-speak and marketing blather, buzzwords, technobabble, psychobabble and scientific, medical and legal jargon. Example: "what the advanced replacement module does on the technical level is that it streamlines the productivity of the organizational prioritization in the system of the employees' and other associates' calendarized labor output" vs. "the new module prioritizes the system's worker scheduling." While the practice was scathingly lampooned in 1946 by George Orwell in "Politics and the English Language",[2] it has become rampant since the 1980s. It is not encyclopedic, and has become the butt of mockery in buzzword bingo. Nevertheless, many editors, especially from business, marketing and technical fields, will insert language of this sort in Wikipedia articles, simply because they're so mired in it every day at work.
  • Doubled subject or verb: One of the most common grammar errors in modern English – so frequent in everyday speech it can become transparent, especially in complex sentences – is doubling of the subject and even the verb. (Did you even notice it in the corporate verbosity example above?) It typically takes a core form like "What it does it is it does something." In this case both the [pro]noun and verb were doubled. A typical example might be "What the foundation does for shelters is it provides essential funding for clean clothes, blankets and other mundane necessities, while other foundations may earmark their donations for only food or medical needs." Most of us are paying attention to the message, and don't notice the redundancy. In almost all cases this structure can be reduced to "It does something." E.g. "The foundation provides shelters with essential funding for ..." In rare cases, where some qualifier is present on the initial verb, the verb doubling can seem more appropriate, but it still boils down to a redundancy: "What it does is do something.") Sample case: "What the foundation really does for shelters, contrary to common misconceptions, is provide essential funding for ..." But even such cases can easily be re-worded: "Contrary to common misconceptions, the foundation really provides shelters with essential funding for ..."


Several features of English are in various stages of slow decline (or subject to conscious attempts at change), but are still vastly preferred in formal writing, including on Wikipedia. These include but are not limited to style guide advice to:

  • Avoid split infinitives: Do not split infinitives unless the result will be unusually awkward or difficult to understand; rewrite if possible to avoid splitting. However, see above for problems to be aware of.
  • Avoid ending a sentence with a preposition: The same caveat as for split infinitives applies here. But note that the preceding bullet point ends with a preposition; a terminal preposition is preferable to a tortured construction like "for problems of which to be aware".
  • Use whom when appropriate.
  • Begin a sentence with a capital letter: We are inundated with trademarks like 3M Corporation and iPod; articles should, despite occasional phrasing awkwardness, be written so as to avoid beginning any sentences with such names. This makes the material grammatically sound, and respects the official name at the same time (definitely do not change the name, e.g. to ThreeM or IPod), as that would be a falsification of facts).
  • Use though and although correctly: While although appears at first to be structurally redundant, the uses of though and although are actually distinct, and many instances of though are overly informal colloquialisms that should be replaced with although in encyclopedic writing. Any good grammar and style guide (Oxford, Strunk & White, Chicago, etc.) will offer clear advice on the different uses of these similar words.
  • Use one another and each other appropriately: Each other is usually used in reference to two parties ("Jane and Ernesto love each other very much"). And note that it is "each other", with a space; "eachother" is one of the most common typographical errors in English. One another, by contrast, is usually used in reference to three or more parties ("all members of the board of directors should treat one another with courtesy") and to aggregates in the general ("Lennon believed we would have peace if people simply learned to love one another"). "One another" is archaic when applied to pairs, unless the relationship is impersonal ("the United States and China watch one another warily"; each other here would be informal and tabloid-journalistic).
  • Use periods (stops, dots) to indicate acronyms and initialisms that are not given in all-capitals: a.k.a., t.b.d. "Aka" and "tbd" are not words in English, despite the spread (from instant and text messaging) of lower-case, period-free acronyms in informal prose. However, unit initialisms in lower case, including mph, mpg, and dpi are written without periods. See WP:Manual of Style (abbreviations) for more detail on acronyms.

Borderline cases[edit]

  • Irregular compounds: A few words are curiously "over-compounded" in standard English and are so confusing to many readers and editors that they are frequently de-compounded because they are mistaken for typographical errors. In virtually every case, they can easily be replaced with other words, and are best avoided on Wikipedia: While not fully obsolete (yet?), the usage is confusing to many readers who are not fully fluent. Some examples include albeit, notwithstanding (use aside [from]) and moreover (use in addition, additionally, also, etc.), as well as whomsoever and whatsoever (detailed above). Two exceptions so common that they do not need to be avoided are nevertheless and nonetheless, yet there isn't a compelling reason to use them either, as they can be replaced with "regardless" and various other terms easily without any loss of meaning.
  • Compounds in transition: Many examples of compounds remain in transition, and different writers hyphenate or completely merge them, such as co-operation and cooperation, or re-establish and reestablish. In some cases, these are largely matters of UK versus US usage, and should be handled just like any other such matter of English language variation. In other cases, such as website vs. web site (more properly Web site), and taskforce vs. task-force or task force, it is a matter of personal or peer-group-collective preference. In either case, be wary of changing such an example to your own preferred spelling, as this may result in very pointless edit-warring. The simplest way to settle any such dispute is to agree to use the version best attested in refereed/peer-reviewed journals (in fields in which the term in question is not a term-of-art with one commonly accepted spelling). Such transitional compounds, which frequently arise in technology and business contexts, differ from the outright neologistic compounds (covered in the "Examples of postmodernisms" section, above) in that they are commonly found in professionally edited publications, as are their uncompounded and sometimes their hyphenated counterparts (i.e. disparate views on what is standard usage), while the neologistic variety are common only on blogs, Web pages and other media without editorial oversight (i.e. non-standard usage by most accounts, even if consensus on that may be shifting).
  • Eponyms: Capitalization of eponyms, and repurposings of proper names that have become fully absorbed into English as simple words seem confusing at first. While often capitalized until the early–mid 20th century, many are not typically capitalized any longer, such as draconian, wattage, lynching, decibel, platonic love, caesarian section, waldo in robotics, john in the prostitution context, english in billiards, and bohemian in the context of subculture. By contrast, a different class of eponyms are almost always still capitalized: Cartesian, Marxism, Bushism, Platonic idealism, Reaganomics, Caesar salad. A good rule of thumb is that if the term either refers to a cohesive system – political, scientific, etc. – or is a recent coinage referring to a living or recently living person (or recent business entity, etc.), it should be capitalized. If the phrase has come to be used metaphorically or comparatively, but once referred to a specific well-known person or group, it is also usually capitalized, e.g. Young Turk and Hitlerian – unless from antiquity, thus draconian, and platonic when in reference to love relationships rather than Plato's philosophical or mathematical systems. Eponymous units of measure (e.g. ampere, kelvin) are not capitalized, although their standard abbreviated symbols may be (e.g. A, K), determined on a unit-by-unit basis. Meanwhile, eponymous scales (i.e. systems) of measurement, such as Kelvin scale, are capitalized. (See WP:UNIT for more detail.) If the term has shifted spelling away from the original name, it is not capitalized, as in martini, formerly the "Martinez cocktail".
  • The subjunctive mood: Some readers have difficulty with the subjunctive and mistake it for a typographical error, which can lead to edit-warring and the littering of article talk pages with longwinded grammar debates (see the article and talk history of Godwin's law for an example). If indicative mood can be used without awkwardness, prefer it. If use of subjunctive is reverted more than once, this is a strong indication that the passage needs to be rewritten one way or another because it is distracting and confusing various readers.
  • Waning units of measurement and numeric terms: Some near-obsolete units survive, but only with limited application. For example, hands and stone are still broadly used in describing horses. There are many such units, including fathoms, furlongs, cords, rods, chains, leagues, drams (of mass and of volume), jiggers, gills, hogsheads, grains, pennyweights, and so on, almost entirely limited to specialized contexts such as nautical usage, cooking and bar-tending, or jewelry-making. Such terms should not be used outside the context in which they regularly survive in current publications, and arguably they should be avoided entirely in favor of more common units when this would not be unduly jarring to readers experienced in the field in question. When used, they should be parenthetically converted into their metric and imperial/customary equivalents (see Template:Convert) and the unit linked to the article about the unit. Example: 20 [[Stone (mass)|stone]] ({{convert|280|lb|kg|sigfig=3|abbr=on}}). Some units such as cubits are entirely obsolete, and should not be used outside of quotations or discussion of the units themselves.

Another numeric term that was formerly common throughout English but today has almost disappeared is score (twenty). Because its survival, in only a few variants of the language, is weak at best, it most helpful to readers to avoid it on Wikipedia. Seven-night (one week) and its variously spelled contractions should not be used at all, since the term has been essentially extinct since the early 19th century. The related fortnight (two weeks) remains common in British and many Commonwealth variants, especially in business (e.g. in reference to wage and billing cycles), but is no longer current in North American and some other dialects; everyone, on the other hand, knows what "two weeks" means. Another example is treble for triple. All English readers know what triple means, but treble to many is an audio term (among various other, unrelated uses). While it remains common in sporting contexts, especially in darts and football (soccer), there's no compelling reason to use it outside such contexts even in British English. Briticisms, Americanisms, etc., should not be used just because you might be able to "get away with it" under WP:ENGVAR; Wikipedia prefers mutually-intelligible wording.

Dispute resolution: In the advent of edit-warring over the matter, generally prefer plain, internationally-understood English (e.g. two weeks) or a more common unit (kg), unless the unusual term is especially important in the context, in which case provide at first occurrence a link to an article about the term (e.g. "[[fortnight]]", "[[Stone (mass)|stone]]", or an explicit conversion, e.g. "fortnight (two weeks)", "x stone (y kg or z lb)". See WP:Manual of Style (dates and numbers) for more information.

  • Past tense verbs (and past participles) optionally ending in -t instead of -ed: Some variants of English, mostly British, prefer ending a small number of past tense words differently. Two of the most common are spelt and smelt for spelled and smelled, respectively. While this uncommon pattern is ostensibly covered by WP:ENGVAR it should be avoided when the resulting word coincides with another word, as is the case with both of these examples (spelt is also a kind of grain, and smelt is also a kind of fish, as well as a metallurgical process and product).

The -ed versions are clearly understood by all English speakers, and they are less colloquial. Swelt up for swelled up is as foreign to North Americans as the U.S. Deep South dialectal equivalent, swoll up, is to British, Australian, etc., readers; meanwhile, speakers of all English dialects know what swelled up means, even if that's not how they would pronounce it in their own everyday registers.

Some examples that don't form other words and are less likely to be confusing, and thus should be considered within the purview of WP:ENGVAR include spoilt for spoiled, spilt for spilled, gilt for gilded, and dwelt for dwelled (though both spellings of this last one should usually be avoided per WP:EUPHEMISM – use lived or resided). Some -t words are entirely obsolete Shakespearean English, such as wilt or willt for willed, and should not be used here. Words for which the -ed versions are extinct are not applicable to this concern (e.g., there are no dealed, feeled, creeped or teached, so of course always use dealt, felt, crept and taught). On the other hand, some very colloquial British and American -t variants are far too obscure for usage on Wikipedia, ENGVAR notwithstanding, and do not often appear in dictionaries; some examples are holt for held and kilt or killt for killed.

Dispute resolution: Basically, use common sense. If your article reads like some 100-year-old dude/bloke down the street wrote it at the roadhouse/pub for his buds/mates, you are making a mistake. The -t variants should not be added to articles written in American English, and while it is grammatically permissible and arguably helpful for our general readership to replace often obscure -t variants with standard -ed versions even in British and other Commonwealth dialect articles, if any edit-warring results, just drop the matter and leave the -t spelling.


  1. ^ Example: Louis, Tristan L. (December 4, 2011). "Interop: the future of hardware". self-published. Retrieved 2011-12-05. All of a sudden, the TV screen would become a giant web browser in full screen mode, allowing to not only access any content on cable or broadcast TV but also any content available on the internet. 
  2. ^ Orwell, George (April 1946). "Politics and the English Language". Horizon. 13 (76): 252–265). Objective consideration of contemporary phenomena compels the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account.  Republished online in Fifty Orwell Essays, Project Gutenberg Australia, 2003.

See also[edit]