Grammar and punctuation

There are plenty of resources to help you check grammar and punctuation, such as Grammar Girl and the Plain English Campaign’s grammar guides. Here are a few areas we often need reminding about.

  • Apostrophes
  • Dashes and hyphens
  • e.g. and i.e.
  • Mispelled words
  • Misused words
  • Who

Apostrophes

For guidance on how to use apostrophes, see The Canadian Press Stylebook (page 378 in the 17th edition). If you don’t have a copy, this from The Oatmeal might help or Grammar Girl.

Apostrophes aren’t needed for plural words or acronyms or for dates.

Not: PDF’s, Q’s and A’s, First Nation’s
But: PDFs, Qs and As, First Nations

Not: 1950’s, 1960’s, 1970’s
But: ’50s, ’60s, ’70s

Dashes and hyphens

Dashes and hyphens are easy to get mixed up. Dashes are longer than hyphens and have different uses. Hyphens are mostly used to connect two-part words.

Not: She worked for a non–profit organization.
But: She worked for a non-profit organization.

We use dashes instead of commas and parentheses when we want to provide more emphasis.

When the committee discovered the errors – all nine of them – they asked for a new draft.

We also use dashes to represent a span or range of numbers, dates or time.

Not: Please read pages 11-17 in the report.
But: Please read pages 11–17 in the report. Please read pages 11 to 17 in the report

See how to find dashes on your keyboard

Using dashes in sentences

There are two types of dash: the em dash and the en dash. Our style is to use the en dash.

This is an en dash:

  • The office will re-open at Taylor House – with limited services – on the February 26.

This is an em dash:

  • The office will re-open at Taylor House—with limited services—on the February 26.
Using dashes with numbers

We also use the en dash when we give a span of numbers.

  • See pages 11–14.

You can also use words rather than a dash. This can often be easier and clearer.

  • See pages 11 to 14.
How to find dashes on your keyboard

How to find an en dash:

  • Add a space after the word.
  • Type two hyphens.
  • Add a space.
  • Type the next word.

Or:

Alt + 0150

How to find an em dash:

  • Type a word.
  • Press the hyphen key twice.
  • Then carry on typing.

Or:

Alt + 0151

The federal government’s The Canadian Style has helpful guidance on when to use hyphens and different types of dashes.

e.g. and i.e.

It’s often better to avoid using abbreviations as not everyone understands them. If you do use them, include a comma.

Not: e.g.,
But: For example,

Not: i.e.,
But: that is, specifically

E.g. is short for exempli gratia, which means “for example” and i.e. is short for id est, which means “that is.”

There are several communities in Yukon, e.g., Whitehorse, Mayo and Haines Junction.

There are three communities in Yukon with a population of more than 1,000, i.e., Whitehorse, Watson Lake and Dawson.

Misspelled words

Here some words we sometimes spell incorrectly.

  • council (as in city, or the Executive Council Office) and counsel (as in Crown, or the Legislative Counsel Office)
  • councillor (as in city)
  • counsellor (a person who gives guidance)
  • palette as in “colour palette” (not “pallet” unless you mean a platform for moving things, or a “palate” as in the roof of your mouth)
  • publicly (not publically)

Misused words

Here are some words we sometimes use incorrectly. For more information about these common errors and other guidance, visit Grammar Girl. (It’s an American site but much of the guidance still applies.)

  • among and between (generally speaking, use “between” for specific, one-to-one relationships and “among” for less defined, collective relationships)
  • cement and concrete (concrete is the mixture; cement is an ingredient of concrete)
  • comprised (don’t add “of” to “comprised”, e.g., “the committee comprises six members”)  
  • fewer and less (use “fewer” for things you can count one by one, “less” for things you can’t count individually)
  • fulsome (“fulsome” means excessive and offensive to good taste; it doesn’t have positive connotations)
  • linkages and links (keep things simple and use “links” unless you specifically mean a system of links or linking different issues in political negotiations)
  • podium and lectern (a podium is what you stand on and a lectern is what you stand behind)
  • reactionary (“reactionary” means extremely conservative, resisting change; it doesn’t mean “reactive”)
  • unveil (only use “unveil” when something is literally going to be unveiled, for example, at an event)

Who

Use “who” not “that” when referring to people.

Not: Two people that didn’t previously know about the services have now registered.
But: Two people who didn’t previously know about the services have now registered.

Last update:
Aug 4, 2017