KU Style Guide

  • apostrophe ( ' )

    apostrophe ( ’ ) is a punctuation mark a right single quotation mark — formed by a point with a downward tail curving clockwise. Also known as a curly apostrophe, it is identical in form to the closing single quotation mark. The apostrophe is used to indicate:
    — the possessive case of nouns.
    — the omission of letters or figures.
    — the plural of individual characters.

    Possessive Case of Nouns

    Plural nouns not ending in S: add ’s: the alumni’s contributions, women’s rights.

    Plural nouns ending in S: add only an apostrophe: the churches’ needs, the girls’ toys, the horses’ food, the ships’ wake, states’ rights, the VIPS’ entrance.

    Nouns plural in form, singular in meaning: mathematics’ rules 
    Apply the same principle when a plural word occurs in the formal name of a singular entity: General Motors’ profits, the United States’ wealth.

    Singular nouns not ending in S: add ’s: the university’s needs.

    Singular nouns ending in S: add ’s: the hostess’s invitation, the hostess’s seat; the witness’s answer, the witness’s story.

    Singular proper names ending in S: use only an apostrophe: Achilles’ heel, Descartes’ theories, Dickens’ novels (St. James’ Palace is an exception).

    Proper names ending in S:
    — Plural: That home belongs to the Williamses.
    — Singular possessive: That is Frank Williams’ home.
    — Plural possessive: That is the Williamses’ home.

    Special expressions: for appearance’ sake, for conscience’ sake, for goodness’ sake. Use ’s otherwise: the appearance’s cost, my conscience’s voice.

    Compound words: add an apostrophe or 's to the word closest to the object possessed: the attorney general's request, the attorneys general's request.

    Joint possession, individual possession: Use a possessive form after only the last word if ownership is joint: Fred and Sylvia's apartment.

    Use a possessive form after both words if the objects are individually owned: Fred's and Sylvia's books.

    Descriptive phrases: Do not add an apostrophe to a word ending in s when it is used primarily in a descriptive sense: citizens band radio, a Cincinnati Reds infielder, a teachers college, a Teamsters request, a writers guide.

    Omission of letters or figures

    Omitted letters: I’ve, it’s, don’t, rock ’n’ roll, ’tis the season to be jolly. He is a ne’er-do-well.

    Omitted figures: When replacing omitted letters or figures, insert an apostrophe (’), not an opening/left single quotation mark (‘). The class of ’62. The Spirit of ’76. The ’20s.

    Plural of individual characters

    Plurals of a single letter: Mind your p’s and q’s. He learned the three R’s and brought home a report card with four A’s and two B’s. The Oakland A’s won the pennant. Kutztown University awarded 162 M.S.’s this past semester. In the 1960s I earned mostly B’s, but by the ’70s I was knocking down A’s.

  • comma ( , )

    Use commas to separate elements in a series, but do not put a comma before the conjunction in a simple series: The American flag is red, white and blue.

    Use a comma before the concluding conjunction in a series if an integral element of the series requires a conjunction. I had orange juice, toast, and ham and eggs for breakfast.

    Use a comma before the concluding conjunction in a complex series of phrases. The main points to consider are whether the students are keen enough to discern a trick question, clever enough to rule out the wrong answers, and smart enough to recognize the correct one.

    Placement with Quotes: Commas always go inside quotation marks.

    With Hometowns and Ages: Use a comma to set off an individual’s hometown when it is placed in apposition to a name: Mary Richards, Minneapolis, and Maude Findlay, Tuckahoe, New York, were there.

    If an individual's age is used, set it off by commas: Maude Findlay, 48, Tuckahoe, New York, was present.

  • ellipsis ( … )

    In general, treat an ellipsis as a three-letter word, constructed with three periods and two spaces.

    If the words that precede an ellipsis constitute a grammatically complete sentence, either in the original or in the condensation, place a period at the end of the last word before the ellipsis.

    Follow it with a regular space and an ellipsis:
          I no longer have a strong enough political base. …
          Will you come? …

  • hyphen ( - )

    Hyphens are joiners. Use them to avoid ambiguity or to form a single idea from two or more words.

    Use of the hyphen is far from standardized. It is a matter of taste, judgement and style sense. Think of hyphens as an aid to readers’ comprehension. If a hyphen makes the meaning clearer, use it. If it just adds clutter and distraction to the sentence, don’t use it.

    If the sheer number of hyphens in a phrase, or confusion about how to use them, can daunt either the writer or the reader, try rephrasing. It’s a guide about how to use hyphens wisely, not it’s a how-to-use-hyphens-wisely guide.

    These guidelines include changes in 2019, most notably removal of the requirement to hyphenate most compound modifiers after versions of the verb to be. In addition, see individual entries in the AP Stylebook and in Webster’s New World College Dictionary.

    compound modifiers: When a compound modifier – two or more words that express a single concept – precedes a noun, you must decide: Hyphenate that modifier, or not? Often there’s not one absolute answer.

    Do use a hyphen if it’s needed to make the meaning clear and avoid unintended meanings: small-business owner, better-qualified candidate, little-known song, French-speaking people, free-thinking philosophy, loose-knit group. (Think of the different possible meanings or confusion if the hyphen is removed in each of those examples.)

    Other two-word terms, particularly those used as nouns, have evolved to be commonly recognized as in effect, one word. No hyphen is needed if the modifier is commonly recognized as one phrase, and if the meaning is clear and unambiguous without the hyphen. Examples include third grade teacher, chocolate chip cookie, special effects embellishment, climate change report, public land management, first quarter touchdown, real estate transaction.

    Try to judge what is most clear and logical to the average reader. Also, consult Webster’s New World College Dictionary. In this case, the dictionary recognizes alternative rock as a phrase. Thus: alternative rock playlist, no hyphen.

    Hyphenate well- combinations before a noun, but not after: a well-known judge, but the judge is well known.

    Generally, also use a hyphen in modifiers of three or more words: a know-it-all attitude, black-and-white photography, a sink-or-swim moment, a win-at-all-costs approach. Consider carefully, though, before deciding to use more than three modifiers.

    No hyphen is needed to link a two-word phrase that includes the adverb very and all adverbs ending in -ly: a very good time, and easily remembered rule.

    Many combinations that are hyphenated before a noun are not hyphenated when they occur after a noun: She works full time. She is well aware of the consequences. The children are soft spoken. The play is second rate. The calendar is up to date. (Guidance changed in 2019 to remove the rule that said to hyphenate following a form of the verb to be.)

    But use a hyphen if confusion could otherwise result, especially with longer compound modifiers or those that are not as commonly used: The steel surface should be blast-cleaned. The technology is state-of-the-art. The test was multiple choice and fill-in-the-blank. He will work arm-in-arm with the director.

    Also use hyphens to avoid nonsensical terms such as nonlife: Make it non-life-threatening, not nonlife threatening. Often the better choice is to rephrase, even if it means using a few more words.

    compound verbs: Don’t use a hyphen in phrasal verbs (a verb combined with an adverb, a preposition or both). It’s back up the car, not back-up the car; set out the desserts, not set-out the desserts. In general, do hyphenate other compound verbs: She speed-walked her way to victory: he spoon-fed the baby.

    compound nouns: Hyphenate compounds when needed to avoid confusion: merry-go-round, sister-in-law, hand-me-downs, so-and-so.

    modifying one-word compounds: Words that are usually one-word compounds (automaker, bookstore) should be separated wen a modifier is added: fast-car maker, not fast carmaker or fast-carmaker.

    compound proper nouns and adjectives: Do not use a hyphen to designate dual heritage: African American, Italian American, Mexican American.

    prefixes and suffixes: Prefixes that generally require hyphens include self-, all-, ex-, half-. Suffixes that generally require hyphens include -free, -based, -elect. See prefixes and suffixes

    avoid duplicated vowels, tripled consonants: Examples: anti-intellectual, shell-like. But double-e combinations usually don’t get a hyphen: preempted, reelected. (Exception added in 2019, reflecting common usage.)

    multiple compound modifiers: If the phrase is easily recognized without hyphens, use a hyphen only to link last element: They hope to spark consumer interest in department store-based shopping. She said assistant vice president-managed courses should include real estate licensing-related materials. (Again, rephrasing may be a better option.)

    suspensive hyphenation: Use these forms to shorten a compound modifier or a noun phrase that shares a common word:

    When the elements are joined by and / or, expressing more than one element: 10-, 15- or 20-minute intervals; 5- and 6-year-olds. But: The intervals are 10, 15 or 20 minutes; the children are 5 to 6 years old.

    When the elements are joined by to or by, expressing a single element: a 10-to-15-year prison term; an 8-by-12-inch pan. But: The prison term is 10 to 15 years; the pan is 8 by 12 inches.