Words to watch

A or An

Use “a” and “an” as they would be said.

an 18% increase
a NATO paper
a UK organisation
an IT solution

Use “a” for words beginning with “h” when the “h” is pronounced.

a historian
an hour

Accept or except

“Accept” means to agree to receive or do.

I accept your terms.

“Except” means not including.

Bring everything except the tent.

Advice or advise

“Advice” means recommendations about what to do.

The advice was very useful.

“Advise” means to recommend something.

I advised him to call the police.

Affect or effect

“Affect” means to influence or to adopt.

The war affected him greatly.

“Effect” means to accomplish the result of an action.

The overall effect was stunning.

Altogether or all together

“Altogether” means completely.

There were six altogether.

“All together” means everyone in one place.

We were all together in the living room.

Alzheimer’s disease

Use “Alzheimer’s disease”, including the apostrophe and “s” in line with the NHS style.

Because, due to and since

The words “due to” and “since” should not be used in place of “because”. “Owing to” can replace “because of”.

It was wet inside owing to the window being open


it was due to the rain
it has been wet inside since she opened the window

Due to

“Due to” can be used to mean either “owed to” or “scheduled to”.

the money that is due to her from an inheritance
the train is due to arrive at 8:45pm


“Since” is usually used in the past tense.

They have known each other since 1982
Mother and I have not spoken since the fall of Tobruk

“Since” can be used in the present tense when it refers to the current situation.

Since he went to university, he thinks he knows everything

Between or among

Use “between” when referring to two subjects.

We divided the money between John and Michael

Use “among” when referring to more than two subjects. Do not use “amongst”.

We shared the sweets among Sarah, Lucy and Clare

Brexit, not EU exit

Search engine data show that many more people use “Brexit” than “EU exit”.

The UK government set out its strategy for trade policy after Brexit in a paper published in October.
The decline in transport equipment was due largely to a fall in car manufacturing, as firms planned shutdowns around the originally-intended date for Brexit.

Complement or compliment

“Complement” is that which completes or fills up something.

A full complement of staff.

“Compliment” is an expression of admiration or praise.

He complimented my choice of outfit.

Complementary or complimentary

“Complementary” is completing or making up a whole.

The complementary staff.

“Complimentary” means given free of charge.

Here are the complimentary peanuts.

Coronavirus and COVID-19

Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that cause disease in people and animals. They can cause the common cold or more severe diseases, such as COVID-19. COVID-19 refers to “coronavirus disease 2019” and is a disease that can affect the lungs and airways. 

Coronavirus is lower case unless at the start of a sentence. Refer to “coronavirus (COVID-19)” in the first instance of each section of your article or bulletin. 

Coronavirus” should be used for all subsequent uses in a section when referring to the virus and the pandemic in general. Do not add the word “the” before “coronavirus” when it is being used as a noun. For example, “effects of coronavirus on the economy.” Include the word “the” when “coronavirus” is being used as an adjective. For example, “the coronavirus pandemic”.

“COVID-19” should be used for all subsequent uses in a section when referring to the specific disease. For example, “there was an increase in registered deaths involving COVID-19”. 

Questionnaires and respondent materials should use “coronavirus (COVID-19)” for all instances. 

View our full coronavirus guidance for more information.

Dependant (noun) or dependent (adjective)

“Dependant” means someone who relies on another for support, financial or otherwise.

I have six dependants

“Dependent” means depending, relying, contingent or relative.

The trip is dependent on the weather


“The act of spending” or “money spent”. An item cannot have expenditure, it can only have money spent on it.

Fewer or less

Use “less” with nouns that cannot be counted or do not have a plural.

less praise
less rain

In sentences with “than”, use “less” with numbers on their own:

The price fell from £18 to less than £12

Use “less” when referring to measurements or time:

Companies less than 5 years old are creating jobs
Per capita income is less than $50 per year
Heath Square is less than 4 miles away

Use “fewer” with nouns in the plural.

fewer than 20 employees
fewer people

Do not use “over” and “under” for quantities. Use less than and fewer than, or more than.

more than 6%


The capacity to be functional or practical; purpose. Also means “a specific application of a computer program”.


“Hopefully” means “full of hope”. Instead, use “it is hoped that” or “we hope”.


“However” has two meanings: “nevertheless” and “no matter how”. If you use “however” at the beginning of a sentence to mean “nevertheless”, it must be followed by a comma.

The data are usually consistent. However, rounding can cause differences.

If you use “however” to mean “no matter how”, a comma is not required.

However many times I write this, it is never easy.

Do not use “however” as a substitute for “but”.

It is raining today, however we hope it will be dry tomorrow.

-ise and -ize

Use “-ise”, not “-ize” as a word ending, unless it is a proper noun. The Cambridge English Dictionary uses “-ize”, please ignore this.


Illegitimate births

Use “born outside marriage”.

Imply or infer

“Imply” is to insinuate, signify or hint

The statistician implied the crime levels had gone down.

“Infer” is to draw a conclusion from something.

From the statistics we infer that the crime levels have gone down.

Important or interesting

If something is important or interesting, you should also say why and to whom.

The crime statistics are important to the police in each area, as they can use them for employment estimates.

Lead (verb or noun) or led (verb)

“Lead” (verb) means to cause a person or animal to go with one or to be in charge or command.

Jack will lead the horses to water.
I always lead the team on large projects.

“Lead” (noun) can mean taking the initiative or being an example to others, or the metal.

Britain has taken the lead in this race.
The pipe is made of lead.

“Led” is the past tense and past participle of the verb “to lead”.

Annie led the meeting successfully.

Licence (noun) or license (verb)

“Licence” means being allowed or given leave. A patent or grant of permission.

The police asked to see my licence.

“License” means to give permission or allow.

The premises is licensed for alcohol.


Use “such as”, not “like”

stylistic devices such as bold and italic.


To appease, to make something more easily borne or to lessen the severity, violence or evil of something.

Of, from, with and to

Compared with and compared to

Use “compared with” when pointing out the similarities and differences of subjects.

full-time workers in England earned £316 per week compared with only £284 per week in Wales.

Use “compared to” when pointing out similarities.

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?

Use “in comparison with” and never “in comparison to”.

Consists of and comprises

Use “consists of” or “comprises” but never use “comprises of”.

The pudding consists of cream, berries and meringue
The pudding comprises cream, berries and meringue

Different from/than/to

Use “different from”, “different to” and “different than”.


It is different from the original version
It is different to the original version
It is different than the original version

Similar to

Use “similar to”, and never use “with” or “as”.

It is similar to the original version.

Practice (noun) or practise (verb)

“Practice” is the application or use of an idea, belief, or method

The practice of hanging was outlawed.

“Practise” means to perform an activity or exercise

I am practising my juggling.

Principal or principle

“Principal” means:

  • adjective = taking the first place
  • noun = the head of a college or university

The principal idea for school closure. The principal closed the school.

“Principle” means a law or premise.

The school was closed on principle.

Program or programme

Write “computer program” but every other type uses the extra “-me” spelling.

television programme
theatre programme


In the UK, “recession” refers to two or more consecutive quarters of negative growth in GDP or output. If you are unsure if this applies to the period you are writing about, use the term “economic downturn”.

Stationary or stationery

“Stationary” means not moving

The train was stationary.

“Stationery” means writing or office materials

The pen is in the stationery cupboard.

That or which

Use “that” when the next part of the sentence is essential to its sense or meaning.

The statistics that show the decline are invaluable.
The chart shows the population increase that occurred in 2019.

Use “which” to introduce part of a sentence that offers additional information but is not essential. When used in this way, “which” should be preceded by a comma.

The statistics, which were produced this week, show there has been a decline.
The largest increases were in Wales and Northern Ireland, which both saw a 3% rise.

Which or what

Use “which” when there is a limited choice and assumed knowledge of options.

Use “what” when there are many possibilities.

Which colour do you prefer?
What breed is your dog?

www, internet and online

“web”, “world wide web”, “www”, “internet” and “online” are always lower case. “Online” is always written as one word.

world wide web
web page