UvA English Style Guide Contents
University / university or Faculty / faculty
11.3 Main spelling differences (UK / US)
11.4 Other common spelling differences (UK / US)
This English Style Guide is for the use of editors and other staff members at the University of Amsterdam (UvA) who regularly write or edit documents in English. It aims to cover the most common issues that arise in preparing UvA texts, and cites examples wherever possible. It is also meant as an aid to external translators and translation agencies.
There are few absolute rules on language, and commonly used style guides (such as the EU Style Guide, The Economist Style Guide and New Hart’s Rules) have differing opinions on many issues. Choices have therefore been made on the basis of established usage, extensive research and relevant UvA policies. For example, as a European institution the UvA adheres to British rather than American English in its corporate manifestations (print and online). For reference, however, certain differences between British and American English are highlighted in this Guide.
One should always bear in mind that context is vital and will largely determine the appropriate usage. It is also important to strive for consistency – within an individual text and within the body of texts published by the UvA as a whole. This need for consistency is one of the reasons the UvA Translation List (UvA-Vertaallijst)was developed and also the main motivation behind the writing of this Style Guide.
As language is a living entity, this Guide will be subject to change. Suggestions or comments are welcome and can be sent to:The latest version of the English Style Guide is available on the UvAweb at:
Abbreviations can be classed into two main categories:
Acronyms and initialisms Acronyms are words formed from the first (or first few) letters of a series of words. They are pronounced as words (Benelux, NATO). They never take full stops.
Initialisms are formed from the initial letters of a series of words and are usually written without full stops. Each letter is pronounced separately (BBC, MEP, USA).
Contractions and truncations Contractions omit the middle of a word (Mr, Dr) and in British usage are not followed by a full stop. Truncations omit the end of a word (Feb, Wed, Tues) and are also not followed by a full stop.
Upon first reference, write the name out in full, followed by the abbreviation in parentheses. After that, the abbreviation alone will suffice (there is no need to abbreviate the name if it appears only once in the text):
e.g. The University of Amsterdam (UvA) was founded in 1877. The UvA is one of
the leading universities in the Netherlands
NB If you are using an abbreviation that is so familiar in English that it is used more often than the full form, it is not necessary to use the full name first:
If a Dutch institution has an English name (i.e. check the website and/or publications of the institution itself) for which the Dutch abbreviation is also used, write the official English name first, followed by the Dutch abbreviation in parentheses:
e.g. The Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) funds thousands of top researchers at Dutch universities and institutes.
Other examples of Dutch institutions with official English names which use the Dutch abbreviation:
e.g. Royal Netherlands Academy for Arts and Sciences (KNAW) e.g. University of Amsterdam (UvA)
If you are using a non-official English translation of a Dutch name or title (because no official translation exists), write the English translation first, followed, in parentheses, by the full name in Dutch in italics, with the abbreviation after the name and separated from the name by a comma:
e.g. The Netherlands Association for Surgery (Nederlandse Vereniging voor
Do not use Dutch abbreviations in English texts. Most non-Dutch readers will not know what they mean:
a.u.b., bijv., o.a., p.m. (pro memorie), e.a.
Common English abbreviations with meanings exempli gratia (for example) (comma is used before not after this abbreviation)
Post Office Box (not Postbus) per procurationem (Latin phrase meaning you are signing a letter on
Capitals (upper case)
Avoid the excessive use of capitals. In general, capitals are used to start sentences, to distinguish proper nouns (person, place or thing), organisations or institutions, and for key words (e.g. nouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs) in headings or titles. There are no absolute rules regarding the use of capitals, but here are some useful guidelines.
When to use a capital Sentences - capitals are used with the first letter of a word beginning a sentence
Cities - e.g. London, Amsterdam, The Hague
Historical terms/events - Renaissance, the Depression, the First World War
Political, economic or religious labels - e.g. Buddhism, Hobbesian, Marxism
Organisations or institutions - European Commission, University of Amsterdam, the United Nations, the Faculty of Science, the Executive Board
Ranks and titles (in conjunction with name) - Prime Minister Mark Rutte, Colonel
Dates and periods/holidays - Tuesday, March, Christmas Eve
Legislation and official documents - the Employment Act, the Bill of Rights
Honours and awards - Nobel Prize for Physics
People and languages - American, English
When not to use a capital Titles (without name) - he is a professor of physics, he was elected prime minister, he works as a manager
Compass points - east, west (do use capitals if part of official name, e.g. North Korea, North Holland)
University / university or Faculty / faculty
If the word ‘University’ refers to a specific institution, then it is capitalised. Otherwise ‘university’ is written in lower case. The same applies to Faculty/faculty, e.g. Faculty of Science vs faculty in general:
e.g. The University was proud to announce the appointment of Professor Dymph van
NB ‘UvA’ is often used instead of ‘University’. Correspondence Yours faithfully If you do not know the name of the person you are writing to, open the letter with ‘Dear Sir‘ or ‘Dear Madam’ or ‘Dear Madam or Sir’. Close the letter with ‘Yours faithfully’. In American English, the letter might be closed with ‘Sincerely yours’. Yours sincerely If you do know the name of the person you are writing to, open the letter with ‘Dear Mr [Smith]’ or ‘Dear Ms [Smith]’. Use ‘Mrs [Smith]’ if you are sure the person you are writing to is married or otherwise appreciates that form of address. Close the letter with ‘Yours sincerely’. In American English, the letter might finish with ‘Sincerely yours’ or ‘Sincerely’. Kind regards If you know the person better or have a more personal relationship with him or her, open the letter with ‘Dear [first name]’ and close the letter with ‘Kind regards’, ‘Regards’ or ‘Best wishes’. In American English, the letter might end with ‘Best regards’. NB Both the salutation and the closing are followed by a comma.
Emails in British English generallly close with ‘Kind regards’ or ‘Regards’. Emails in American English often close with ‘Best regards’.
Dates, times and numbers
The date is written in the British English style: e.g. Monday, 21 January 2011 or 21 January 2011 (note comma after day)
The American English style has the month before the date: e.g. January 21 2011, but the UvA opts for the British English style.
Cardinal numbers used instead of ordinal numbers:
e.g. 12 May 2011 not 12 May 2011 NB The -st, -nd, -rd or -th endings (as in 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc.) are not commonly used in British English print or web texts. This is more for spoken English.
Time should be written in the 24-hour notation, with a colon between the hours and the minutes: e.g.
In invitations or more personal texts, you may prefer to retain the12-hour notation. e.g. 12 pm or 12 p.m. NB Never use hrs after the time, e.g. 12.00 hrs. This is always wrong.
As a general rule, write lower numbers (1-9 inclusive) in words and larger numbers (10 and above) in figures: e.g. three universities, 25 professors.
Figures are generally used with: - decimals (the average family has 2.3 children) - percentages in scientific texts (only 5% of the sample showed improvement) - times (the class starts at 14:00 or 2 pm) - money (the participants received $200 each).
Words are used in the following circumstances: - figures at the start of a sentence (Twenty respondents were excluded) - modifiers next to each other (ten 45-page brochures / nine 6-room apartments).
In numbers, the comma and full stop appear in different positions in English than they do in Dutch. In English, a full stop marks decimals (the decimal point) and a comma marks thousands:
e.g. ‘A million’ is 1.000.000 (Dutch) but 1,000,000 in English.
Further examples: - €9.95, not €9,95 - 11,000 students, not 11.0000 students - €10,499.99, not €10.499,999 NB At the UvA, no spaces are used between the currency symbol and the numbers following it, e.g. €500. Singular / plural agreement
Use the singular verb when the emphasis is on the whole entity:
e.g. The Government is considering changing the law. e.g. The Commission was not involved in the decision-making process.
Use the plural verb when the emphasis is on the individual members:
e.g. The police have failed to find a suspect. e.g. A majority of the Central Student Council were in favour of the changes.
Countries and organisations with a plural name take the singular verb:
e.g. The Netherlands is reconsidering its position on the sale of cannabis. e.g. The United Nations was unwilling to send troops to the region.
Use a singular verb when a multiple subject clearly forms a whole:
e.g. Checking and stamping the forms is the job of the IND.
Words in -ics: Such words are singular when used to denote a scientific discipline or
body of knowledge (mathematics, statistics, economics). They are plural in all other contexts:
e.g. Economics is a very popular study programme.
Present perfect and simple past tenses
When writing from the standpoint of the present moment in time, the present perfect is used to refer to events or situations in the period leading up to that time:
e.g. The Commission is meeting to consider the proposal. It has (already) discussed
Where the starting point of this period is indicated, the present perfect is often used in its continuous form to emphasise the ongoing nature of the process:
e.g. The Commission is meeting to consider the proposal. It has been discussing this
If the reference is not to a period up to the present but to a time that ended before the present, the simple past is used:
e.g. The Commission is meeting to consider the proposal. It discussed this last week.
Titles (Dutch and English) Academic titles
Only two academic titles are commonly noted in English: Dr and Prof. Note that Dr is without a full stop (i.e. not Dr.) and Prof. is with a full stop. This is because when a title is abbreviated in English but ends on the actual last letter, no full stop is necessary (e.g. Dr and Mr).
It is not common to include academic titles, such as BA, BSc, MA, MSc, LLB and PhD, after a name (NB no full stops after these titles). If you do want to include these titles, place them after the name, e.g. Mr J. Smeets, MA, Ms E. Konijn, LLB.
Do not use academic titles that are not common in English (e.g. drs, ir, mr.), even if they are common in Dutch:
e.g. Professor Dr. Jan Braun > Professor or Prof. Jan Braun e.g. Drs. J. van den Heuvel > Ms or Mr J. van den Heuvel
In English no distinction is made between male and female in academic titles.
e.g. Mw. Prof. Dr. van den Boom > Professor or Prof. Van den Boom e.g. Mw. Dr. Smit > Dr Smit
When referring to a woman, use Ms as the standard title (for Dutch mevrouw). Mrs is only used for a married woman, usually if it is her personal preference. Even if a woman is married, she may still use her maiden name (meisjesnaam). Miss is generally only used for a young girl. Mr is the only title used for a male (for Dutch heer). Place names / geographical names Local vs anglicised forms
Use well-established English forms where they exist:
e.g. Cologne, Copenhagen,The Hague (capitalise ‘The’), Munich, Vienna
Use The Netherlands, not Holland, to refer to the country.
Use the English names to refer to the 12 provinces of the Netherlands (most are the same as in Dutch): Drenthe, Flevoland, Friesland, Gelderland, Groningen, Limburg, North Brabant, North Holland, Overijssel, South Holland, Utrecht, Zeeland.
Use the Dutch names to refer to the districts of Amsterdam, but include the English translation in brackets: Amsterdam Oost (East), Amsterdam Zuidoost (South-east), Amsterdam Zuid (South), Amsterdam Nieuw-W est (New West), Amsterdam Noord (North).The reason for using the Dutch name in this case is because this is specific, local usage. Moreover, in UvA texts these districts are often referred to in shortened form, e.g. Ik woon in Zuid.United Kingdom and United States
United Kingdom = England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland
Great Britain = England, Wales, Scotland
Do not use British when you mean English and vice versa. ‘English’ refers specifically to someone from England.
Refer to the country as the United States or the US. America includes both North and South America.
Public or religious holidays
Here is a list of the main public or religious holidays. Note the use of capitals:
New Year’s Day Nieuwjaarsdag Good Friday Goede Vrijdag Easter Pasen Easter Monday
NB Capitals are never used for the seasons, e.g. summer, not Summer. An exception is when reference is made, for example, to ‘Summer Programme’. Punctuation Apostrophes
The possessive form of nouns is marked by an apostrophe followed by an -s. If the noun already ends in ‘s’, then an apostrophe only is added:
e.g. the owner’s car, the countries’ gross national product
Singular words, names ending in ‘s’ and plurals that do not end in ‘s’ use the ’s ending:
e.g. the boss’s car, children’s ideas
Plurals of abbreviations do not take an apostrophe: Bullet points / lists
Lists of short items (without main verbs) should be introduced by a full sentence and have the following features:
- introductory colon - no initial capitals - no punctuation (for very short items) or comma after each item (if a bit longer) - a full stop at the end.
If all items are complete statements or longer sentence fragments, proceed as follows:
- introduce the list with a colon; - label each item with the appropriate bullet, number or letter; - start each item with a lowercase letter; - end each item with a semicolon (comma also possible); - put a full stop at the end of the last item.
Colons are most often used to indicate that an expansion, qualification or explanation is about to follow (e.g. a list of items in a running text). The part before the colon must be a full sentence in its own right, but the part after need not be.
e.g. It is available in two colours: red and black.
After a colon, the next word should not start with a capital.
e.g. Three main topics were discussed: grammar, vocabulary and punctuation.
Use a colon before a whole quoted sentence, but not before a quotation that begins mid-sentence.
e.g. Karel van der Toorn is very content with new rankings: ‘The UvA has shown that
it can compete with the best universities in the world.’
e.g. Karel van der Toorn highlighted ‘the need for a new approach to sustainability’.
The two kinds of relative clauses, restrictive and non-restrictive, are distinguished by their use of the comma.
- defining or restrictive clauses cannot be omitted without affecting the sentence’s meaning. They are not enclosed in commas:
e.g. Identical twins who share strong emotional ties may live longer.
- non-restrictive or non-defining clauses can be removed and the sentence will retain its meaning. These clauses must be enclosed with commas:
e.g. Identical twins, who are always of the same sex, develop in a different way.
A comma should not be used to join two main clauses or those linked by adverbs or adverbial phrases, such as nevertheless or therefore. This error is called the comma splice:
e.g. I like swimming very much, I go to the pool once a week e.g. He was still tired, nevertheless he went to work as usual.
This error can be corrected by adding a coordinating conjunction, such as and or but, or by replacing the comma with a semicolon:
e.g. I like swimming very much, and go to the pool once a week. e.g. He was still tired; nevertheless, he went to work as usual.
When a sentence is introduced by an adverb, adverbial phrase or subordinate clause, this is often separated from the main clause with a comma:
e.g. Moreover, the University of Amsterdam is one of the top universities in the
e.g. Founded in 1887, the University of Amsterdam is one of the top universities in
Unlike in American English, in British English there is no comma before and or or in a list of three or more items:
e.g. The doctor suggested an aspirin, half a grapefruit and a bowl of chicken soup.
This so-called ‘serial comma’ is conventional in American English and is often referred to as the Oxford Comma.Exclamation marks
Broadly speaking, avoid exclamation marks in English as they look unprofessional and irritate readers:
e.g. ‘Thank you for participating!’ e.g. ‘Sign up for a Crea photography course!’
Use full stops at the end of the sentence, but not:
if the sentence already has some form of stop (e.g. a question mark, exclamation mark or abbreviation – such as e.g. or etc. – which ends in a full stop);
after listed items when the item does not start with a capital and is not the last item in the list;
after headings, column headings or addresses.
Hyphens and compound words
Many compound nouns that are written as one word in Dutch are written as two words in English:
e.g. policy document, team leader, project manager, health insurance
In English, compounds may be written as two or more separate words, with hyphen(s) or as a single word. There is a tendency for compounds to develop into single words as they become more frequently used:
Compound adjectives or modifiers (i.e. where two or more words are used to modify a noun) are usually hyphenated:
e.g. long-term plans, up-to-date information, market-oriented course, high-quality
programme, student-friendly facility, country-specific rules, UvA-related issues,
A hyphen is not used when the adverb ends in -ly:
A hyphen is used to avoid confusion or mispronunciation, particularly where vowels or consonants are repeated, and before a capitalised name or numeral:
e.g. anti-intellectual, co-occur, semi-annual, anti-American, pre-1980s
A number of words with prefixes are often not hyphenated:
e.g. coordinate, cooperate, extracurricular
NB The UvA does not hyphenate the word email. Quotation marks
Use single quotation marks (‘). Double quotation marks (“) are used for a quote within a quote:
e.g. ‘We still have no idea,’ Jansen states, ‘what “red mercury” means.’
10. References (in publications, e.g. scientific journals)
Various systems are used when referencing works cited in a text. The most common forms of referencing are indicated below. Please note that scientific journals often have their own style guidelines. These should be consulted in advance.
10.1 Harvard system (author-date)
This system is most common in the physical and social sciences, but also used for Humanities. The author’s name is followed by the date (sometimes in parentheses), the title of the article (in single quotation marks), the name of the scientific journal/publication (in italics), and the page number(s) (if known):
e.g. Stokey, R.W. (1974). ‘Social Structures and Politics in the Yemen Arab
Republic’, Middle East Journal, 248-60.
e.g. Murphy, P.L. (2003). ‘Semantic Distance and the Verification of Semantic
Relations’, Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behaviour, 431-35.
e.g. Johnson, R. (2009). Birds, Bees and Butterflies (Garden Press, London).
10.2 More detailed information on referencing works cited in a text Butcher’s Copy-editing (J. Butcher, C. Drake, M. Leach, Cambridge University Press, 4th ed., 2008)
The Chicago Manual of Style (The University of Chicago, 16 ed., 2010)
11. Spelling 11.1 Names of organisations
The UvA, like most universities and organisations in the Netherlands and Europe, adheres to British English spelling. However, if a company or organisation has officially adopted American spelling for its own name, then this spelling should be used:
e.g. Academic Medical Center (AMC-UvA)
11.2 Specific words
With American influences crossing the Atlantic all the time, some words used in a specific context are always written with the American spelling:
e.g. program (American English) > program (British English), when talking about
computer software/data processing). In all other contexts, the correct spelling in British English is programme.
e.g. disk (American English) > disk (British English), when referring to a computer, In
all other contexts, the correct spelling in British English is disc.
American English is more obviously phonetic than British English and may often seem more logcial:
e.g. labour (British English) > labor (American English), theatre (British English) >
theater (American English), sizeable (British English) > sizable (American English)
For more information on spelling, consult the Oxford English Dictionary online (www.oed.com). Please note that the UvA’s preferred spelling may sometimes differ from that of the Oxford English Dictionary (see, for example, the item on -ise / -ize below).The New Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors is also an invaluable tool for checking the correct spelling of certain words. NB The default setting in Word is ‘English (U.S.)’. Be sure to change this to ‘English (U.K.)’ or the American spelling will automatically be used. 11.3 Main spelling differences (UK / US English) -ae / -oe British English retains the classical composite vowel or digraphs. These are most common in scientific/medical words. -ce / -se In British English, the verb that relates to the -ce noun ending has the ending -se. This spelling change is sometimes accompanied by a slight change in pronunciation e.g. device/devise. However, in other instances they are pronounced the same, e.g. practice/practise.-e / -ue The final silent -e or -ue is usually omitted in American English but retained in British English. -eable / -able The silent e in certain adjectives with this suffix is generally left out in American English, although it is sometimes retained where it affects the sound of the preceding consonant, e.g. manageable, traceable. -ise / -ize In British English both the -ise and the -ize form can be used. Oxford University Press has traditionally used -ize endings, whereas The Economist Style Guide advocates the use of the -ise ending. (The -ize ending has in fact been in use in English since the sixteenth century and is not an Americanism.) However, the -ise ending is more common in British English and is thus the preferred choice of the UvA. There are also many words in which the -ise ending must be used in both British and American English (e.g. advertise, advise, comprise, compromise, despise, disguise, exercise, improvise, merchandise, revise, supervise, surprise, televise).
analyse (cannot be spelt with -ze) -l / -ll In British English, words often end in a single -l where a double -ll is used in
American English. However, when there is a suffix beginning with a vowel (-able, -ed, - ing, -ous, -y), British English does double the -l (e.g. anul/annulled, enroll/enrolled, model/modeling, quarrel/quarelling, rebel/rebellious, travel/traveller). Note that American English does not double the -l when the stress is not on the preceding vowel (e.g. travel / traveler, model / modeling). exceptions: -mme / -m American English tends to use the single -m ending, although there are some exceptions (e.g. software program in both British and American English).
programme (e.g. study programme) program (except in ICT, then program)-our /-or British words ending in -our lose the u in American English. -re / -er Most British English words ending in -re tend to end in -er in American English. Exceptions are acre, massacre, mediocre. -t / -ed (past tense forms) Both forms are acceptable when spelling past tense
endings in British English, but the -t form is dominant.
burnt burned learnt learned spelt spelled
11.4 Other common UK / US spelling differences 11.5 Common spellings to watch out for
accommodate / accommodation (two ‘c’s, two ‘m’s) acknowledgment - not acknowledgement address - not adress adviser - not advisor (American English) alumnus (plural = alumni) all right - not alright
am/pm - no capitals or full stops (i.e. 9 am, not 9 a.m.) among - not amongst analysis (plural = analyses) annex (verb) / annexe (noun) any more - not anymore (this is American English) appendix (plural = appendices) artefact Autumn - not Fall (American English)
BA - abbreviation of Bachelor of Arts. No full stops (i.e. not B.A.) BSc - abbreviation of Bachelor of Science. No full stops benefiting, benefited cannot - rather than can not committee (two ‘m’s, two ‘t’s) correspondence - not correspondance cooperate, cooperation, cooperative - no hyphen (i.e. not co-operate) coordinate - no hyphen dependant (noun) - not dependent (American English) dependent (adjective) - not dependant desperate - not desparate email - rather than e-mail (noun & verb) embarrass (two rs, two ss) enrol, enrolment - not enroll, enrollment (American English) focused, focusing forty - not fourty fulfill, fulfillment, fulfilling - not fulfill, fulfillment (American English) government (silent ‘n’) gram - not gramme (American English) HBO - rather than hbo holiday - rather than vacation (American English) homogeneous - not homogenous install, instalment, installation judgment - not judgement kilogram - not kilogramme (American English) MA / MSc degree - preceded by an, i.e. ‘it leads to an MA/MSc degree’ Master’s degree / programme - ’s and capital M, not master programme or Masters
PhD - no full stops possess - not posess postcode - not zipcode (American English)
programme - not program (American English - except in ICT) recommend (one ‘c’) separate - not separate success / successful (two ‘c’s / one ‘l’ at end) The Hague - not the Hague tomorrow (one ‘m’) 12. Translating foreign words and phrases
If a word or phrase has no official English translation and the Dutch word or phrase would mean nothing to a non-Dutch audience, an English translation can be used. Write the English translation first, followed, in parentheses, by the original Dutch name, in italics:
e.g. The Knowledge for the City (Kennis voor de Stad) symposium was a forum for
discussion between civil servants and academic staff of the two universities.
If a body or organisation’s original-language name is familiar to the intended readership, or if the organisation uses the original-language name in its own English texts, use this rather than a translation:
e.g. The Bundesbank has issued a new policy directive.
British and American English vocabulary
Differences between British and American spelling have already been described earlier in this Style Guide. There are also many differences in British and American vocabulary. Use the British option:
Many more examples can be found in The Economist Style Guide.
Useful websites and reference books > UvA Translation List Invaluable list of standard terminology used at the University of Amsterdam.
> European Commission English Style Guide
> The Economist Style Guide Bestselling guide to style, and manual used by journalists at The Economist and beyond. One of the most useful and clear style guides available. It also contains a lot of useful reference material.
> Longman Phrasal Verbs Dictionary (Pearson Education Limited, 2009) A ‘phrasal verb’ is a verb that consists of two (or three) words, the second of which is either an adverb or a preposition (e.g. confer on/upon, centre on/round).This books explains how to use them correctly.
> New Hart’s Rules (Oxford University Press, 2005) Handbook of style for writers and editors
> New Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors (Oxford University Press, 2005) Deals with common difficulties met by writers and editors, including information not available in standard dictionaries.
> New Oxford Dictionary for Scientific Writers and Editors (Oxford University Press, 2009) Specifically for editors of scientific material.
> Oxford English Dictionary (online)
> Penguin Dictionary of English Grammar (Penguin Books, 2005)
> Penguin Guide to Punctuation (Penguin Books, 1997)
> Usage and Abusage (E. Partridge, ed. J. W hitcut, Penguin Books, 1999) Covers grammatical problems, words that are commonly misused or confused and points of style, and gives advice on how to write clearly and elegantly.
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