cabinet Capitalize references to a specific body of advisors heading executive departments for a national or state leader (president, king, prime minister, governor, etc.): In the U.S. federal government, the Cabinet includes the vice president and the heads of 15 executive departments, who are appointed by the president. Otherwise, lowercase.

caliber Not caliber.

campuswide No hyphen. Also: collegewide, statewide, nationwide, worldwide.

can, may The word can traditionally applies to physical or mental ability: she can do calculations in her head. In colloquial English, the word can also expresses a request for permission (Can I go to the movies?), but this use is not recommended in formal writing. The word may suggests possibility (the class may have a pop quiz tomorrow) or permission (students may borrow the camera). A denial of permission is properly phrased in formal writing with may not (students may not borrow the college van) or with cannot (we cannot access the internet tonight).

cancel, canceled, canceling, cancellation

capital, capitol A capital is a seat of government (usually a city): Albany is the capital of New York. (When used in a financial sense, capital describes money, equipment, or property used in a business by a person or corporation.) A capitol is a building in which a legislature meets: the legislature opened its new session in the capitol today. Capitalize when referring to the building in Washington, D.C.: The meeting was held on Capitol Hill in the west wing of the Capitol.

car pool (n.), carpool (v.)

caregiver, caregiving One word, no hyphen.

case Avoid using in its abstract sense; try using if instead of in case, usually instead of in most cases, and always instead of in every case.

catalog Not catalogue.

CD Acceptable in all references for compact disc.

CD-ROM Acceptable in all references.

cell phone Acceptable in all references for cellular phone; two words, no hyphen (Chicago Manual style; a common exception to AP style, which is one word).

center around Avoid; use either center on or revolve around.

cents In running text, spell out the word cents and lowercase, using numerals for amounts less than a dollar: The college fee is 85 cents per credit.

century Do not capitalize in running text; spell out first through ninth; do not use superscript; hyphenate when used as a compound adjective before a noun: in the eighth century, 20th-century literature.

CEO, CFO, COO CEO is acceptable in all references for chief executive officer. Use chief financial officer and chief operating officer on first reference, and CFO and COO thereafter. Always spell out lesser-known positions such as chief administrative officer or chief risk officer.

chair (vs. chairman, chairwoman, chairperson) “Chair is widely regarded as the best gender-neutral choice. Since the mid-17th century, chair has referred to an office of authority” (Chicago Manual; exception to AP style). The use of chair as a verb is acceptable, although lead, head, or preside over is preferred.

chapter Capitalize when used with a numeral in reference to a section of a book or legal code. Lowercase when standing alone.

check-in (n. and adj.), check in (v.)

checkout (n. and adj.), check out (v.)

checkup (n.), check up (v.)

child care Two words, no hyphen, in all cases.

Chinese names In personal names, Chinese generally place surnames first and then given names: Deng Xiaoping. Second reference should be the surname (family name), Deng in this case. If in doubt, check with the individual.

class Do not use interchangeably with course. Capitalize the C when referring to a particular class with the year: the Class of 2011 had its reunion; but: the class had its reunion.

close proximity Redundant; use either close or in proximity.

co- In most cases, no hyphen is used after this prefix. For exceptions, see Words Formed with Prefixes under General Style Preferences.

college Do not capitalize unless used as part of a formal name: Purchase College; the college.

collegewide No hyphen. Also: campuswide, statewide, nationwide, worldwide.

collide, collision Two objects must be in motion before they can collide. A moving vehicle cannot collide with a parked vehicle.

comedian Use for both men and women.

committee Takes singular verbs and pronouns: The committee reviewed its progress last month. Capitalize when part of a formal name: the House Ways and Means Committee. Lowercase in shortened versions of long committee names: deficit reduction committee (shortened version of Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction).

compare with, compare to To compare with is to discern both similarities and differences between things. To compare to is to note primarily similarities between things.

complement, compliment A compliment is a flattering or praising remark: a compliment on your skill. A complement is something that completes or brings to perfection: he recommended acupuncture as a complement to the physical therapy. The words are also verbs: to compliment is to praise (the professor complimented her students on their hard work), while to complement is to supplement adequately or to complete (the graphs complement his research paper).

compose, comprise, constitute Use these with care. Compose means “to create, to put together, to form the substance of something” and is commonly used in both the active and passive voices: She composed a song. The U.S. is composed of 50 states. Comprise means “to contain, to be made up of” and is best used only in the active voice: The U.S. comprises 50 states. The jury comprises five men and seven women. The phrase comprised of, though increasingly common, is poor usage. Instead, try using composed of, consisting of, or made up of. The word constitute, in the sense of form or make up, may be the best choice if neither compose nor comprise seems to fit: Fifty states constitute the U.S. Five men and seven women constitute the jury.

consumer price index Capitalize when referring to the U.S. Consumer Price Index, issued monthly by the Bureau of Labor Statistics; do not refer to that index as a cost-of-living index. The preferred form for second references is the index; confine CPI to quoted material.

contact (v.) If you mean write or call or email, it is best to say so. However, contact is a useful way of referring to communication without specifying the means.

continual, continuous What is continual is characterized by continued occurrence or recurrence: This winter we have experienced days of continual sunshine. What is continuous is marked by an uninterrupted extension in space, time, or sequence: That is football’s oldest continuous rivalry.

copyedit (v.), copy editor (n.)

corequisite No hyphen. Also: prerequisite.

counter- In general, no hyphen after this prefix: counterculture, counterclockwise, counterintuitive, counterpoint, countertop. See Words Formed With Prefixes under General Style Preferences.

county Capitalize when an integral part of a proper name: Westchester County. Lowercase plural combinations: Westchester and Rockland counties.

course Do not use interchangeably with class: The course, which is offered in the spring semester, has 15 class sessions. The policy on unexcused class absences is indicated on the syllabus.

course load


criterion (singular), criteria (plural)

critique A critique is a “critical review or commentary, especially one dealing with a literary or artistic work.” Although it is also used as a transitive verb, avoid when possible by recasting the sentence: The course includes regular critiques of student work. Students participate in end-of-semester critiques.

curriculum (singular n.), curricula (plural n.)

curriculum vitae (n.) Spell out in public communications (do not use vita or c.v.).

Updated May 3, 2016