Branding Standards Guide

Commonly Used Words

Arranged alphabetically, these sections include spelling, usage, punctuation and capitalization notes for specific words and phrases commonly used in the CSU. An entry without an explanation is simply to indicate the correct spelling of a word or words.


a/an: Use the article a before consonant sounds (a historic moment, a one-year appointment), including acronyms and abbreviations (a FAFSA application). An is used before vowel sounds (an honorable man, an FAA regulation).

about/around: Use about for approximately; use around for location. (We had about 60 attendees. I thought that street was around here.)

abbreviations and acronyms: (Acronyms are abbreviations that do not take periods and are pronounced as a word.) Avoid using an alphabet soup of abbreviations and acronyms. Spell out the full name of the organization, group or program, etc., at the first mention, followed by the abbreviation or acronym in parentheses if the organization will be referred to again. See the Acronyms, Abbreviations and Organization Names section for examples that are often found in university writing. To create a plural, just add s; for the possessive, add ’s.

academic degrees: In text, spell out but do not capitalize academic degrees when used in a general sense (bachelor’s, master’s, doctorate, bachelor of art, master of science). (That campus offers bachelor’s and master’s degrees.) Abbreviate degrees with no spaces between letters (BA, EdD, MSW, PhD). Capitalize and spell out or abbreviate names of specific degrees and honors when they follow a personal name (James A. Johnson, Doctor of Philosophy).

academic year: An annual period beginning with the fall term and ending with the spring term. Summer quarters and sessions are not included in the academic year.

accessible, accessibility

acting/interim: Someone filling in for an administrator temporarily on leave is acting. The correct title when someone is filling in while a permanent replacement is being sought is interim.

admission office (not admissions office)

affect/effect: Affectas a verb means to influence. (How do you think that will affect us?) Effect as a verb means to cause. (Many changes were effected.) As a noun, effect means result. (The effect of all these changes will become apparent.)

afterschool (one word)

afterward (not afterwards)

a lot: A lot is two words, not one (alot). However, a more specific term or quantity is preferable.

all right (not alright)

alternate/alternative: Alternate means to occur in a successive manner. (The department will meet on alternate Mondays.) Alternative means one of two possibilities. (As an alternative, the department could meet on alternate Mondays.)

alumna, alumnus, alumnae, alumni: Use alumna when referring to a female who has attended a school (alumnae is the plural); alumnus is similar reference for a male (alumni is the plural). Use alumni for a mixed group of men and women; do not use alumni/ae.

AmeriCorps (note capital c)

a.m., p.m.: Lowercase with periods after each letter.

annual: An event cannot be considered annual until it has been held in at least two successive years. The fourth annual symposium will occur in March. It is incorrect to say “first annual,” as in “the first annual conference is being held.”

another: Means one more and should not be used with a number. It is incorrect to say “another 70 students were invited.” Reword to: Seventy additional students were invited.

anyone/any one: One word for an indefinite reference. (Anyone can do that.) Two words when the emphasis is on singling out one element of a group. (Any one of them may speak up.)

archaeology (not archeology)

as follows: As follows (not as follow) is correct to introduce a statement or list.

assembly: Lowercase when part of the name for the lower house of a legislature (the California assembly or the state assembly). The same treatment is applicable for the state senate and legislature.

assembly member: Two words; capitalized only when preceding an individual’s name. This usage is preferred to assemblyman and assemblywoman. (Assembly Member Jones spoke. Martinez, an assembly member, plays golf.)

assist: Be careful when replacing the word help with assist in sentences. Assist by itself cannot always replace help without the addition of to. This seems to occur most often when a writer feels that help has an emotional connotation not associated with assist and so replaces one word with another without rereading the sentence for clarity. “We can help you prepare for the exam” cannot be changed to “we can assist you prepare for the exam.” We can assist you to prepare for the exam or we can assist you in preparing for the exam is correct.

assure/ensure/insure: Assure is a verb used to convey a sense of reassurance and must be used in reference to a person. You can assure someone that something will be done; you cannot assure that something will be done. (I assure you that will be done, not “I assure that will be done.”) Ensure is a verb that means to guarantee. Insure is a verb reserved for use with reference to the insurance business. (I assured her that we would ensure that she was insured by our company policy.)

as well as: As well as can mean and not only or in addition. It is perfectly acceptable to have more than one and in a sentence, and very often and is more appropriate than as well as. Using the phrase as well as rather than and can lead to questions of subject and verb agreement (Nick as well as Maria agrees with you is correct) or of pronoun usage (They have elected you as well as me is correct).

auxiliary (not auxillary)

awhile/a while: Awhile is an adverb; a while is a noun. (He came in awhile ago and sat for a while.)