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Use a pair of commas to surround a non-deﬁning clause (one which adds
descriptive information but which can be removed without losing the meaning
of the sentence) – note that only ‘which’ or ‘who’ can be used in this type of
clause, not ‘that’.
The library, which was built in the seventeenth century, needs to be
The man, who climbed the tower without a safety harness, died of
Do not use commas to surround a deﬁning clause (which cannot be removed
without losing the meaning of the sentence) – note that ‘which’ or ‘who’ can be
replaced by ‘that’ in this type of clause.
The library which was built in the seventeenth century needs to be
repaired [but the library which was built in the eighteenth century
The man that climbed the tower without a safety harness died of old age
[but the other man died in a different way].
He asked his friend Sam to be his second [not any of his other friends].
Use commas to surround a non-deﬁning word or phrase (which adds
information but could be omitted without changing the sense of the sentence),
and follow the non-deﬁning word/phrase with a single comma if it is at the
start of the sentence.
Shakespeare, the proliﬁc playwright, might not have existed.
A proliﬁc playwright, Shakespeare might not have existed.
He asked Sam, his friend, to be his second [not the Sam who is his
The prime minister, David Cameron, is an alumnus of Brasenose.
Do not use a comma where deﬁning information is used at the start
of a sentence.
The proliﬁc playwright Shakespeare might not have existed.
The proliﬁc playwright, Shakespeare might not have existed.
His friend Sam was his second.
His friend, Sam was his second.
Deﬁning vs non-deﬁning information
Do not use a comma to join two main clauses, or those linked by adverbs
or adverbial phrases (eg ‘nevertheless’, ‘therefore’, ‘however’). This is sometimes
referred to as ‘comma splicing’. Either use a semicolon or add a coordinating
conjunction (eg ‘and’, ‘but’, ‘so’).
Shakespeare was popular, and his plays were all proﬁtable.
Shakespeare was popular; his plays were all proﬁtable.
Shakespeare was popular, his plays were all proﬁtable.
Use a comma after an introductory adverb, adverbial phrase or subordinate
clause; or use a pair of commas surrounding it if it is in the middle of a sentence.
However, it was too late for that.
It was, however, too late for that.
With his possessions in a bundle, Dick Whittington walked to London.
Dick Whittington, with his possessions in a bundle, walked to London.
Do not use a comma after a time-based adverbial phrase.
After playing tennis all day she was tired.
Whenever she went to the cinema she ate popcorn.
In 2010 the most popular game among children was hopscotch.
Use a comma between multiple qualitative adjectives (those which can be used
in the comparative/superlative or modiﬁed with ‘very’, ‘quite’ etc).
He was a big, fat, sweaty man with soft, wet hands.
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Do not use a comma between multiple classifying adjectives: absolutes which
either are or are not, such as ‘unique’, ‘English’, ‘black’ etc (although note that
stylistically these can be modiﬁed).
It was an edible German mushroom.
The eighteenth-century sandstone tower is lit up at night.
Do not use a comma between classifying and qualitative adjectives.
It was a large German mushroom with hard black edges.
It was a large, squishy German mushroom with hard, frilly black edges.
Use a comma between items in a list.
I ate ﬁsh, bread, ice cream and spaghetti.
I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.
Note that there is no comma between the penultimate item in a list and
‘and’/‘or’, unless required to prevent ambiguity – this is sometimes referred to
as the ‘Oxford comma’. However, always insert a comma in this position if it
would help prevent confusion.
He took French, Spanish, and Maths A-levels.
I ate ﬁsh and chips, bread and jam, and ice cream.
We studied George III, William and Mary, and Henry VIII.
She left her money to her parents, Mother Theresa and the pope.
Dashes and hyphens — – -
Do not use; use an n-dash instead.
Use in a pair in place of round brackets or commas, surrounded by spaces.
It was – as far as I could tell – the only example of its kind.
The library – which was built in the seventeenth century – needs to be
Use singly and surrounded by spaces to link two parts of a sentence, in place of
The bus was late today – we nearly missed the lecture.
Use to link concepts or ranges of numbers, with no spaces either side.
German–Polish non-aggression pact
The salary for the post is £25,000–£30,000.
Radio 1 is aimed at the 18–25 age bracket.
Use between names of joint authors/creators/performers etc to distinguish
from hyphenated names of a single person.
Superman–Batman crossover comics
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When to use a hyphen
In an adjectival phrase before a noun
the up-to-date list
The value of a ﬁrst-class degree is indisputable.
a hot-air balloon
‘Rethinking provincialism in mid-nineteenth-century narrative ﬁction:
Villette from our village’
In an adjectival phrase including a verb participle
The jumper was tight-ﬁtting.
With preﬁxes only if required to avoid confusion/mispronunciation, such as
where preﬁxes themselves or letters are repeated
gifts of pre-eminent objects and works of art to the nation
The animals are re-released into the wild when recovered.
A protein precursor can also be called a pro-protein.
Procapitalists and anticapitalists clashed in the streets.
The email address for the webmaster can be found on the website.
With preﬁxes before a proper name, number or date
Hilary term starts in mid-January.
In numbers which are spelt out
Twenty-seven is the most popular ‘random’ number.
The Thirty-Nine Steps
In compass points (unless used geographically rather than as directions)
They’re heading south-east.
The southwest is a popular holiday destination.
When not to use a hyphen
In noun phrases
Labour Party conference
The 19th century saw much reform.
To make a new compound noun – if it is a recognisable concept, make it one
word; if it isn’t, use two words
Websites are made up of webpages.
Send me an email when you’re ready to proceed.
Send me an e-mail.
In an adjectival phrase following a noun
The list was up to date.
His marks just scraped into the ﬁrst class.
She wasn’t top-drawer.
In an adjectival phrase before a noun where the ﬁrst element is an adverb
ending in -ly (but note that any other adverbs in adjectival phrases do take
She had a ﬁnely tuned ear for off-key music.
XML documents must be well-formed texts.
She was a highly-respected tutor.
She was a badly paid apprentice.
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Use an ellipsis to show that some text is missing, usually from a quotation –
do not surround it with spaces.
…we shall ﬁght on the beaches…we shall never surrender…
It is a truth universally acknowledged…
There is no need to add square brackets around an ellipsis.
[…]we shall ﬁght on the beaches[…]
Use an ellipsis to indicate a pause for comic or other effect – follow the ellipsis
with a space in this case, as it stands in place of a comma or full stop.
You don’t have to be mad to work here… but it helps!
Note that, if used either in place of omitted text at the end of a clause/
sentence or to indicate a pause for effect, a full stop/comma should not follow
the ellipsis. However, an exclamation mark or a question mark can and should
follow the ellipsis if required.
Did he say that…?
Use an ellipsis to indicate a trailing off in speech or thought.
We could do this…or maybe that…
Full stop, exclamation mark and question mark
Use one – but only one – of these at the end of every sentence.
What time did you leave last night?
We went home at 5 o’clock.
Go home now!
Do not use a full stop at the end of titles, even if they make a sentence,
but, if a title ends with an exclamation mark or question mark, do include it.
All’s Well that Ends Well
is my favourite play.
‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?’ was a hit for the Shirelles.
‘Help!’ was covered by Bananarama in 1989.
Do not use a full stop if it will be followed, or preceded, by an ellipsis.
Behind him stood a ﬁgure. …It was ghostly grey.
Use a full stop, not a question mark, at the end of a reported question – only
use a question mark for a direct question (whether in quotation marks or not).
He asked if I wanted to go home that morning.
‘Do you want to go home this morning?’ he asked.
He asked if I wanted to go home?
Use a full stop, not an exclamation mark, at the end of a reported imperative.
Wait for me! He asked me to wait for him.
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Use single quotation marks for direct speech or a quote, and double quotation
marks for direct speech or a quote within that.
‘I have never been to Norway,’ he said, ‘but I have heard it described as
“the Wales of the North”.’
Use no quotation marks if the quote is displayed (ie not in line with the rest of
as I noted then,
Those of us who toil in the Groves of Academe
know full well that our research helps inform
Use single quotation marks and roman (not italic) type for titles that are not
whole publications: eg short poems, short stories, songs, chapters in books,
articles in periodicals etc. See also Highlighting/emphasising text.
contains nine short stories, of which ‘Little Lost Robot’ is my
Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, from the album
Night at the Opera
reached number one in both 1975 and 1991.
Using other punctuation with quotation marks
If the quote would have required punctuation in its original form, place the
punctuation inside the quotation marks. (If it is unclear, try writing the whole
sentence out without quotation marks and ‘he said’ etc, and replicate the
Bob likes cheese. ‘Bob’, I said, ‘likes cheese.’ OR
‘Bob likes cheese,’ I said.
Bob, do you like cheese?
‘Bob,’ I asked, ‘do you like cheese?’
Out, damn’d spot!
‘Out,’ said Lady Macbeth, ‘damn’d spot!’
‘You’re engaged to Florence?’ I yipped, looking at him with a wild
Place any punctuation which does not belong to the quote outside the
quotation marks (except closing punctuation if the end of the quote is also the
end of the sentence).
After all, tomorrow is another day.
‘After all,’ said Scarlett,
‘tomorrow is another day.’ OR
‘After all, tomorrow’, said
Scarlett, ‘is another day.’
‘The kitchen,’ he said, ‘is the heart of the home’.
‘The kitchen’, he said, ‘is the heart of the home.’
Note that American English has different rules about the use of quotation marks.
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Names and titles
Use capitals for titles preﬁxing names, but not for job descriptions. Note that
some job descriptions are never used with names, such as ‘prime minister’.
Although being president of the United States is stressful, President
Obama was glad to be re-elected.
The prime minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is the leader
of the party that wins the most seats. The Right Honourable David
Cameron MP is the current prime minister.
The current pope, Pope Francis, is Argentine.
Give people’s title, forename and surname when ﬁrst mentioned. On
subsequent mentions, use either surname only or title and surname (unless
further information is required to prevent ambiguity), but be consistent with
whichever usage you choose.
Dr John Smith was present at the ceremony, as was Professor Susan
Jones. Dr Smith had to leave early.
Dr John Smith and Professor Susan Jones presented their research
paper to a large audience. The results will be published in book form,
which Smith says will be available in the spring.
Dr John Smith and Professor Susan Jones debated the topic. Smith
recently reviewed Professor Jones’s book.
Note that it can be helpful to your readers to clarify the sex of the person
if it is unclear (eg if they have a name given to men and women, or an unusual
Use capitals when referring to the speciﬁc person holding a speciﬁc position
and to their work in this role, but not when referring to any holder of that
role unless it is a statutory position (see Capitalisation and Word Usage
sections for further information).
Andrew Hamilton became Vice-Chancellor in 2009.
There are several Pro-Vice-Chancellors without portfolio.
The Registrar will always have to attend these meetings.
He invited Wadham’s Head of House, Lord Macdonald, to attend the
event. Other heads of house were not invited.
I wonder who the Senior Proctor will be next year...
Candidates will be required to undertake practical work, as speciﬁed by
the Head of the Department of Experimental Psychology.
Recruiting new academic staff is vital to all departments; heads of
department often personally oversee the procedure.
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members of the peerage
When referring to or writing to people entitled to call themselves Sir/Dame/
Lord/Lady etc, make sure that you know the correct form of address for
that individual. The examples below are not deﬁnitive – if in doubt, consult
Debrett’s (for general advice and examples: www.debretts.com/forms-
address/titles) or Who’s Who (for speciﬁc individuals: www.ukwhoswho.
If an individual has expressed a wish to be addressed in a particular way, even
if it is technically incorrect, use their preferred style.
Take particular care with people from countries where family names precede
For more advice on addressing people with titles, see the helpful guide
compiled by the University Development Ofﬁce at: www.advancingoxford.
Always use ﬁrst names with these titles, whether or not you are using
surnames as well.
‘Are you going to hear Sir John Smith’s speech? Sir John is always a good
Dame Jane Jones is the chair of this committee.
If you are writing to a knight or a dame, use ‘title ﬁrst name surname’ on
envelopes then just ‘title ﬁrst name’ in the salutation.
To: Dame Jane Jones, 14 Bluebird Way, Oxford OX1 1AB
Dear Sir John...
Check the exact status of anyone verbally addressed as Lord X or Lady Y as
these titles may be used by many types of peer (eg earls, barons, viscounts,
sons of dukes etc) whose titles in writing are different.
Life peers are formally barons/baronesses but are addressed informally as
Lord/Lady followed by the name they chose when ennobled.
Helena Kennedy (Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws) should be addressed
as Lady Kennedy of the Shaws.
Baron Patten of Barnes is Chancellor of the University. Lord Patten
was formerly Chairman of the BBC Trust.
Have you met Lord Chris Patten?
Lord Sugar’s full title is Baron Sugar of Clapham.
Lady Benjamin was the best
promotion within an order of chivalry
If someone is promoted within an order of chivalry (eg from MBE to OBE),
the higher honour replaces the lower; don’t list all of them.
Mrs Tanni Grey-Thompson was appointed MBE in 1993.
Mrs Tanni Grey-Thompson was appointed OBE in 2000.
Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson was appointed DBE in 2005.
If someone receives an honour in a different order of chivalry, or is
made a life peer, they are entitled to use both honours but not both titles.
Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson, OBE MBE DBE, is a fellow of Hertford.
Baroness Grey-Thompson, DBE, was made a life peer in 2010.
Baroness Dame Grey-Thompson
Documents you may be interested
Documents you may be interested