Words and Usage

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a, an

Let pronunciation determine your choice of a or an:

  • an M.B.A. program
  • a PSU alumnus
  • an IRS audit
  • an honor society
  • a historical precedent

a lot

Not alot.

affect, effect

Affect is a verb (except when used as a noun in psychology):

  • My broken leg will affect my ability to participate in the mountain expedition.

Effect is typically a noun meaning result or accomplishment:

  • His donation will have a tremendous effect on the university.
  • When effect is used as a verb, it means to cause or to bring about:
  • The new president will effect many changes on campus.


Hyphenate and capitalize when referring to an individual or team:

  • He is an All-American football player.
  • Rasheed was a member of the All-American team.
  • Hyphenate and lowercase in other uses:
  • Apple pie is the all-American dessert.

all right

Not alright.

alum, alumnus, alumni, alumna, alumnae

When referring to men and women, use alumni.

  • Mary Wagner and her son, Harry, are alumni of Portland State University.
  • More than 2,500 alumni heard President Cepeda speak.

When referring to a man, use alumnus:

  • Right: Bill Adams is an alumnus of Georgetown University.
  • Wrong: Bill Adams is an alumni of Georgetown University.

When referring to more than one man, use alumni:

  • Bret Hartgrove and Tom Harris are alumni of Portland State University.

When referring to a woman, use alumna:

  • Lois Snopkowski is an alumna of Kansas State University.

When referring to more than one woman, use alumnae:

  • Lois Snopkowski and her daughter, Harriet Lane, are alumnae of Kansas State University.
  • The alumnae of Smith College gathered for a reunion.

Alum is acceptable in informal copy:

  • I love running into fellow PSU alum!

Use alumni when referring to the entirety of the graduated population as a single unit:

  • Portland State, unlike some universities, requires an individual to have been graduated before he or she is considered a member of the alumni.

Also see Capitalization.

assure, ensure, insure

Assure means to reassure somebody of something:

  • The dean assured Tim that he would receive tenure.

Ensure means to make sure:

  • Her long list of academic accomplishments will ensure that Stephanie will receive tenure.

Insure is a verb related to insurance:

  • Tim and Stephanie might have tenure, but their driving records are so poor that no company will insure them.

athletics scholarship, athletics director

Note the plural.

  • Louise was awarded an athletics scholarship.

beside, besides

Beside means at the side of:

  • He should sit beside the podium.

Besides means in addition to:

  • Besides collecting seashells, Nathan enjoys running on the beach.

building numbers

At PSU, Arabic numerals are used with numbered buildings (instead of Roman numerals):

  • Parking Structure 1
  • Parking Structure 2
  • Parking Structure 3
  • Science Building 1
  • Science Building 2

See room numbers below.


One word; not campus wide or campus-wide.

Cascade Range

Not Cascade Mountains.


Preferred over catalogue. The official title of the PSU course catalog is the Portland State University Bulletin, General Catalog Issue. It can also be referred to as the Portland State University Bulletin, Portland State Bulletin or PSU Bulletin. If you use catalog, do not capitalize or italicize it:

  • May I borrow your PSU catalog?


Do not use; no longer in scientific use. Use white (note lowercase w).


CD can be used for compact disc on first reference, so long as the context does not lead your readers to interpret CD as certificate of deposit.


See course, class below.

Coast Range

Not Coast Mountains.

collective nouns

Some words may refer to many people but are considered collective nouns and take a singular verb:

  • The group is going to the game.
  • The committee is considering a decision.

Faculty sometimes takes a singular, sometimes a plural; it depends on what the writer means. Using faculty members rather than faculty can often clarify a sentence:

  • The entire faculty is committed to attending every game. Some faculty (members) are even season ticket holders.
  • When our faculty (members) arrive for the games, they are usually subdued, but once the game gets going, they often get completely carried away.
  • The faculty is highly respected throughout the nation. (The faculty as a whole.)
  • The faculty (members) are highly respected throughout the nation. (Some members of the faculty.)
  • To solve the problem, use members when you mean some, but not all, of the faculty:
  • The faculty is going to the game. (Meaning that each and every member of the faculty is going to the game.)
  • Some faculty members are going to the game. (Meaning that some faculty members are going, and some are not.)


One word; not college-wide or college wide.

compose, comprise

The whole comprises the parts; the parts compose the whole:

  • The United States comprises the 50 states; the 50 states compose the United States.

course, class

A course is offered for academic credit and includes a certain number of class sessions.

  • The course is offered by the English Department; classes meet in Fariborz Maseeh Hall.

course level

  • a 400-level course
  • an upper division course

course titles with course prefix and number

Do not use course prefixes when referring to academic disciplines.

  • Right: Students are required to take courses in English, sociology, and biology.
  • Right: Students are required to take Eng 315 The Shorter Poem, Soc 341 Population Trends and Policy, and Bio 251 Principles of Biology.
  • Wrong: Students are required to take courses in Eng, Soc, and Bio.
  • Note that commas are not used to separate the course number and title.

Consult the PSU Bulletin for correct course prefixes.


One word.


Not credit hours, units, hours, quarter hours, quarter credit, term credits, or term hours.


The U.S. preference is for month, day, and year. Do not use ordinals. A comma should follow the year. Do not use commas when referring only to month and year:

  • On June 15, 2001, Barry turned 40.
  • The meeting will be held on September 21 in Dallas, Texas.
  • We expect the conference to be held in July 2002 in Atlanta.


Use Dr. under either of two circumstances. First, if the individual named in the story is a medical professional (M.D., D.V.M., D.M.D., D.D.S.) and it is pertinent to the story. Use on first reference, but drop on subsequent references, except quoted matter. Do not use on first reference if the person is otherwise identified as a physician, veterinarian, or dentist:

  • The Committee on Medical Ethics was chaired by Diane Smythe and included Joseph Hartly, Dr. Steven Lopez, Dr. Millie Morse, and George Thayer. Hartly and Lopez previously served on the Committee for Critical Care Practices. For Morse and Thayer, however, this represents their first committee assignments.
  • The Committee on Medical Ethics was chaired by Diane Smith, vice president of Health Benefits, Inc., and included Joseph Hartly, executive administrator of Mercy Hospital; Steven Lopez, a heart surgeon on the staff of Mercy Hospital; Millie Morse, a physician in private practice; and George Thayer, professor of philosophy at Western State University.

Second, if the individual named in the story has a doctorate, the individual’s professional title is unknown, and there is no other way to indicate his or her bona fides. This usually occurs in lists of committee members or speakers that include people from off-campus. However, it is always preferable to use professional titles for identification:

  • Scheduled speakers for the seminar are Jessica Yates, professor of philosophy, PSU; Homer Musloff, associate professor of political science, PSU; and Dr. Per Gustafsson, Institute for Applied Research, Oslo, Norway.

Do not use Dr. if it has no bearing on the story or a professional title is known:

  • The city council added four new members to the parks commission last week: Diane Smith, Steven Lopez, Millie Morse, and George Thayer.

See Names and Titles.

each other, one another

Each other usually refers to two; one another to three or more:

  • Al and Jesse congratulated each other.
  • To the relief of all, the four faculty members agreed with one another.

e.g., i.e.

These are not interchangeable. The abbreviation e.g. stands for exempli gratia, or for example. Follow with a comma; do not italicize:

  • The best major league baseball players (e.g., Ty Cobb, Joe DiMaggio, Willie Mays) are in the Hall of Fame.

The abbreviation i.e. stands for id est, or that is. Punctuate the same as e.g:

  • Free lunch will be provided to all teaching faculty (i.e., professors, associate professors, assistant professors, instructors, and lecturers) who attend the meeting. 

Hall of Fame.

The abbreviation i.e. stands for id est, or that is. Punctuate the same as e.g:

  • Free lunch will be provided to all teaching faculty (i.e., professors, associate professors, assistant professors, instructors, and lecturers) who attend the meeting.

Earth, earth

Capitalize when referring to the planet:

  • The alien spaceship approached Earth.
  • The farmer picked up a handful of earth.


Usually adds nothing; leave it out.


See collective nouns above.

See also Capitalization.

farther, further

Farther refers to physical distance:

  • Dan can throw a football farther than anyone else.

Further refers to something that cannot be measured:

  • We will discuss the issue further at the next meeting.

foreign words

Generally, italicize foreign words unless they are so common as to be easily understood by a wide audience or are familiar to the specific audience of the publication.

full time, full-time

Hyphenate only when used as an adjective before a noun:

  • Linda is a full-time student.
  • Gary works full time at the bookstore.

fundraising, fundraiser

One word in all cases:

  • Fred is a superb fundraiser.
  • Fundraising is critical to the success of Portland State.

high school

Do not hyphenate.


One word.

international students

Preferred to foreign students.


Not judgement.

less than, fewer than

Use less than when referring to a quantity that cannot be counted:

  • Julie has less money in her wallet than she did yesterday.

Use fewer than when referring to something that can be counted:

  • Nicole has fewer than five dimes in her pocket.

Lewis & Clark College

Note the ampersand.

long term, long-term

Hyphenate as a compound modifier, two words in all other uses: 

  • We’re in this for the long term.
  • This is a long-term project.

long time, longtime

One word as a compound modifier, two words in all other uses.

  • She has been a professor for a long time.
  • She is a longtime professor at Portland State.

lower division

Hyphenate as an adjective.


Plural of memorandum. This is an exception to most dictionaries.


One word.


One word.


When it means not one, use as a singular noun:

  • None of us is planning to attend.

But when it means not any or no amount, use as a plural noun:

  • None of the professors, graduate students, or office managers are receiving credit for their hours of committee work.


Not 12 a.m. (there is no such thing) or 12 p.m. (which is midnight).

  • Right: The meeting is scheduled from noon to 3 p.m.
  • Wrong: The meeting is scheduled from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m.


Do not use o’clock except in formal invitations.

Oregon Health & Science University

Note the ampersand and that Science is singular.

OK, OK’d, OK’ing, OKs

Not okey or okay. Avoid informal writing. Used mostly in headlines when space is tight:

  • President OKs faculty plan

Pacific Northwest

It is always correct to refer to Oregon, Washington, and Idaho as the Pacific Northwest. Calling the same area “the Northwest” is accepted and understood west of the Rockies, but “the Northwest” also means Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan to people in the upper Middle West.

part time, part-time

Hyphenate as a compound modifier, two words in all other uses:

  • Julia is a part-time employee.
  • David works part time at the deli.


One word:

  • Dwight was shocked to learn that 55 percent of the class failed the test.

Use the percent sign only in tables, charts, scientific and statistical copy, and some informal copy, such as advertising. Otherwise spell out.

practicum, practica

Singular and plural, respectively.

prepositions at the end of a sentence

Let common sense and clarity be your guide. Compare:

  • That’s nothing to sneeze at.
  • That’s nothing at which to sneeze.


Not irregardless.


A sheet describing employment background and qualifications.


To begin again.

room numbers

It is usually unnecessary to use room before the number of a PSU location.

  • Right: The meeting will be held in 365 Smith Memorial Student Union.
  • Right: The meeting will be held in 365 SMSU.
  • Wrong: The meeting will be held in Room 365 Smith Memorial Student Union.

See building numbers above.

special campus rooms

There are several special rooms on the PSU campus. When using the name of one of them in a publication, consider whether your audience will know the room’s location:

  • Alumni Room, 229 Smith Memorial Student Union
  • Ballroom, 355 Smith Memorial Student Union
  • Browsing Lounge, 238 Smith Memorial Student Union
  • Cascade Room, 236 Smith Memorial Student Union
  • Multicultural Center, 126 Smith Memorial Student Union
  • Nordic Room, 26 Smith Memorial Student Union
  • Vanport Room, 338 Smith Memorial Student Union
  • Campus Ministry, 633 SW Montgomery Street
  • Performance Hall, 175 Lincoln Hall
  • Studio Theater, 115 Lincoln Hall
  • The School of Business Auditorium, 190 The School of Business


No periods. Do not spell out; it no longer stands for “Scholastic Aptitude Test.”

ship names

Italicize the name, but not the designator (U.S.S., R.M.S., S.S., etc.). Drop the designator on second reference. Do not place “the” before a ship’s name:

  • George was one of the few who survived the sinking of U.S.S. Juneau. A light cruiser, Juneau was sunk in 1942.

split infinitive

Try to avoid split infinitives (a famous one: “to boldly go where no man has gone before”), but not to the detriment of clarity:

  • Guests are asked to please arrive promptly.


One word.

symposium, symposia

Singular and plural, respectively.


note the capital T.

technical terms

  • database
  • disc (for a compact disc)
  • disk (for a computer disk)
  • e-mail
  • high-tech
  • home page
  • Internet
  • Internet 2
  • intranet
  • online
  • Web page
  • Web site
  • Webmaster

that, which

Not necessarily interchangeable. That is a restrictive pronoun; it identifies the noun preceding it:

  • The train that went by was headed for Chicago.

Which does not convey any special formality or elegance. Which is used with nonrestrictive clauses, which add information rather than define or limit what has gone before:

  • The train, which passed through town at full speed, was headed for Chicago.


Not theatre. At PSU, it is the Department of Theater Arts.


In an effort to make writing nonsexist, their has become a handy tool to avoid the awkward he or she. Remember that their is plural:

  • Right: Students who bring their books to class must stow them under their desks for the duration of the test.
  • Wrong: Any student who brings their books to class must stow them under their desks for the duration of the test.


Do not use :00, except in invitations. Use a.m. and p.m. (note periods and lowercase):

  • We expect Jean to arrive at 1 p.m.

Do not use hyphens in text to express inclusive times:

  • Right: The store is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Wrong: The store is open 8 a.m.-5 p.m.

Do not unnecessarily repeat a.m. and p.m.:

  • Right: The lecture is scheduled from 8 to 10:30 a.m.
  • Wrong: The lecture is scheduled from 8 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.

titles of articles, books, magazines, movies, poems, television shows

Articles, chapters, episodes, poems, and short works should be quoted:

  • Kirsten’s chapter, “Spicy Swedish Food Favorites,” was by far the smallest in the book.
  • Eliot’s “The Waste Land” is a long and difficult poem.
  • Did you read “The King of the Forest” in last week’s New Yorker?
  • Generally, any long work, e.g., ballets, books, periodicals, movies, plays, operas, and television shows, should be italicized:
  • Doreen was reading Pride and Prejudice.
  • Jim is a big fan of the old Dick Van Dyke Show.
  • Ed was thrilled to learn that he would play Biff in Death of a Salesman.


Not towards.

  • The professor moved toward the student.

under way

Two words, except as an adjective in the nautical sense: the underway fleet.


Something either is unique or is not unique. There are no degrees of uniqueness:

  • Right: Our program is unique. (That is, there are no other programs like it.)
  • Wrong: Our program is the most unique in the country.


Try to avoid.

upper division

Hyphenate as an adjective.


Use only as an adjective; spell out United States when used as a noun.

  • Erik came to the United States when he was 27, and he became a U.S. citizen five years later.

Vikings, Viks

The name of all PSU intercollegiate athletic teams. Viks is also acceptable.


One word when used as an adjective.

Zip code

An exception to Postal Service usage, which uses ZIP Code.

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