Grammar and syntax

Language version

  • UK English, using the –ise (not –ize) spelling for words such as organisation and recognise.
  • Proper nouns are left as they are if they are non-UK spelling, e.g. World Trade Center.

Style rules


The general rule is to use lower case except if there is a compelling reason to use a capital letter, and this rule extends to the names of website pages and headings and subheadings in general. Why? Because it makes the screen look cluttered, if there are too many capital letters. And it’s difficult to be consistent once you start capitalising some words that don’t really need it.

In general, use capital letters only for:

  • The first word of a sentence, line or caption
  • Proper nouns
  • Other terms specified in this style guide

Quotation marks

  • Use double quotes for reported speech or a direct quotation.
  • Use single quotes for reported speech within a quotation.
  • Use single quotes if necessary to indicate that a word or phrase is being used in a figurative or special sense (but this usage is best kept to a minimum).


In running text write one to nine in words; 10 and above in figures – except if it’s part of a mathematical quantity, in which case always use figures. Do not start a sentence with a numeral; instead, write the number in words. Example: “Forty years ago…”

If a sentence would contain some numerals and some numbers expressed in words, apply common sense to make it consistent if it would look odd to mix them.

Hyphens and dashes

Hyphenate compound adjectives that precede nouns. This means: when two or more words are used together to form an adjective describing the noun that follows, join them with a hyphen, or hyphens. Examples:

  • man-eating tiger (not the same sort of thing as a man eating chicken)
  • hard-to-find examples


Do not hyphenate if the first word of the compound adjective is an adverb ending –ly. Example:

  • fully equipped studio

Use a hyphen (-) to join words to form a compound word where applicable. Use an en-dash (–) with a space before and after to separate clauses in a sentence – like this.

Possessive apostrophe

Add apostrophe and the letter S to the end of a word or name to make the possessive form, even if the name or word already ends in S or double S:

  • Smith’s
  • Jones’s
  • Francis’s
  • the dog’s
  • the boss’s

If it’s a plural ending in S, write the word in the normal plural form and add an apostrophe:

  • the Smiths’
  • the Joneses’
  • the Francises’
  • the dogs’
  • the bosses’

Plural abbreviations

To form the plural of an abbreviation written in block caps, add lower case s (with no apostrophe).
Examples: PMQs, FAQs, MOTs.

If the whole text is a block-caps heading, then also capitalise the S.

Serial comma (Oxford comma)

Put an extra comma before the word “and” at the end of a list where it’s helpful for clarity or readability.

We operate across Europe, North and South America, and Australia.

Here, the reader can see without having to read it twice that North and South America is treated as one region, and Australia as another.