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Page last updated 04/11/2020

Whether you use ‘a’ or ‘an’ depends on how the word, abbreviation or acronym sounds when you say it out loud.

As a rule, use "an" if it begins with a vowel sound – for example, aardvark. Use "a" for consonant sounds, for example, unicorn. Note, unicorn clearly start with the vowel ‘u’, but when you say it out loud, it sounds like ‘yoo’.

Words that begin with a silent "h" – hour, honour, heir, honest and all their derivatives – clearly have vowel sound when said out loud, and so they use ‘an’. Another anomaly is when we say, “An historic event”.  While it breaks the rules above, “An historic” is more idiomatic then "a historic", which sounds forced.

Spell any acronyms out in full at first reference. If it’s repeated later in the text, add the acronym in brackets, for example, The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). In most cases, use all capitals with no full stops or spaces, for example FA, IRA or NUT. Alternatively, you can introduce it with a descriptive label, for example, the public sector union, Unite.

If there really is absolutely no chance of any misunderstanding, you can use the abbreviated form of a title without explanation, for example, UN, NATO, IRA or BBC. When creating content for a specialist audience, for example, copy advertising an upcoming academic conference, other, less well-known abbreviations may be permitted, such as REF or OfS.

One important point to remember is that Leeds Beckett University attracts students from around the globe. Understanding acronyms as a non-native speaker is particularly difficult and can add an extra barrier to comprehension. 

 

Some acronyms are so well known, we usually pronounce the set of letters as a word, for example, Aids, Nasa, or Opec. In these cases, write them like a proper noun, such as Friday, London, Martha, or Unilever – so, first letter in upper case, lower case for the rest.

Exceptions to the rules

  • The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence is capped up to NICE
  • The UK Independence Party is capped up to UKIP
  • Strategic Health Authority becomes SHA, as ‘Sha’ looks like a typo
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder becomes SAD, as ‘Sad’ would be confusing
  • For names with initials, avoid full stops and spaces, for example JK Rowling and WH Smith
  • When abbreviating a phrase, rather than a name or title, use lower case, for example, lbw, mph

Follow these rules for writing addresses:

  • No full stops at the end of addresses
  • No comma between the number and the street name
  • Don’t abbreviate Road, Street, Avenue
  • No comma between town or county and postcode
  • Building numbers that cover a range, for example, 196-198 should be separated by a hyphen with no spaces

Where the address is in a city or major town, do not include the county:

Leeds City Council
Merrion House
110 Merrion Centre, Leeds
LS2 8BB

If the address is for a department, put the department name first:

Community Services
Leeds City Council
Merrion House
110 Merrion Centre, Leeds
LS2 8BB

When referring to our graduates, in most cases the term ‘graduate’ should be used. We generally use alumni when referring to specific groups of graduates within the context of their achievements, for example, alumni who’ve gone on to start businesses.

If you are using one of the Latin terms, please remember that as an academic institution, it’s important that we observe the correct use in each instance:

  • Alumnus – male singular
  • Alumna – female singular
  • Alumni – male plural – also, used for mixed groups which comprise both male and female graduates
  • Alumnae – female plural

“England and America are two countries separated by the same language!”

George Bernard Shaw

Shaw said that in 1942 and despite loads of Americanisms sneaking into our everyday speech, there’re still many, many more that we simply don’t use.

 We say  They say
 Meet Meet with
Consult Consult with
 Talk to  Talk with
 Protest against a decision  Protest a decision
 Appeal against a verdict  Appeal a verdict
 I couldn’t care less  I could care less
 Often  Often times
 Visit  Visit with
 Different from  Different than
 Swap  Swap out
 Write to me  Write me
 Car  Automobile
 Mortuary  Morgue
 Pavement  Sidewalk
 Football  Soccer
 (car) Boot  Trunk
 Maths  Math
 Mobile  Cell phone
 Motorway  Highway
 Petrol  Gas

And that’s just the obvious ones. More troublesome for writers, are all the words that have very different meanings in the UK to the US, for example, suspenders or pants. If quoting American text, please check it thoroughly for these differences.

Americans convert nouns into verbs, but we don’t – avoid "to hospitalise", "to scapegoat", "to rubbish", or "to debut". 

American teams "post" a total of goals or runs – ours score it. Where American protesters throw rocks, ours use stones

Don’t use American spellings for job titles, for example, use "US Defence Secretary Robert Jones", rather than "Defense Secretary". However, they’re retained for the official names of organisations, buildings, etc. for example, US Department of Defense, Lincoln Center, World Health Organization.

Don’t be scared of apostrophes. They have just two primary uses, which are to indicate:

  • Possession, for example, our university’s new library – the library belongs to (is possessed by) the university. If the possessive noun is plural, the apostrophe moves after the ‘s’, for example, our libraries’ security systems – we have more than one library, and we’re referring to the security systems for them all
  • The omission of one or more letters – usually in a contraction, for example, It's busy on campus today (when we contract “it is”, it becomes “it’s” with the apostrophe replacing the missing “i”)

As always, there are some uses that don’t follow the general rules or that need extra clarification:

  • There is no apostrophe in the possessive "its", for example, Virtue is its own reward
  • Some common abbreviations don’t require apostrophes, for example, phone, plane, flu
  • It’s wits’ end (wits are assumed to be plural) and winner’s medal (only one winner gets this medal)
  • Dates don’t require apostrophes, for example, 1900s) – unless the century is omitted, for example, the England squad of ’66
  • Apostrophes aren’t used for plurals, for example, MPs, MBEs, but they are for the pluralisation of letters of the alphabet, for example, Our task now is to dot the i’s and cross the t’s
  • For names, use the possessive 's whenever possible, for example, Burns's, Jones’s, Charles's, James's, Dickens's, Phillips's. But be guided by how the last syllable of the name is pronounced, for example, Jesus', Bridges', Moses', Hodges', Griffiths', Walters' – also Wales'
  • There should be an apostrophe before the word "time" in sentences such as The game will be played in two weeks’ time or They stop work in an hour’s time