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There are a number of options here, but generally they are always in the form of Author, Title (Publication Information), Page(s). Thus,

1 Ron Ziel & George Foster, Steel Rails to the Sunrise: The Long Island Rail Road (New York: Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 1965), p. 25.

The citation in the text would appear as follows:

The Manorville branch was abandoned in 1939.1

Subsequent references to this work would appear as the following:

2 Ziel, et. al., p. 26.

As a bibliography entry, this would appear as follows:

Ziel, Ron, & George Foster. Steel Rails to the Sunrise: The Long Island Rail Road. New York: Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 1965.

Again, there are a number of acceptable options in academic usage. The above is the Modern Language Association style, popular in the humanities. The most common in the social sciences is the American Psychological Association, being the following:

1965   Ziel, Ron & George Foster. Steel Rails to the Sunrise: The Long Island Rail Road. New York: Duell, Sloan and Pearce.

When the latter format of the bibliographic entry is used, footnotes per se are not used in the text; rather, the citation in the text references the author's name and date of publication (if there is only one title by the author the date may be omitted):

The Manorville branch was abandoned in 1939 (Ziel, 1965: p. 25).

However, when using this form of citation, footnotes may still be used to include information not necessarilly appropriate to the text of the docuement, such as addtional supporting information.

Online references are essentially similar. The U.S. Library of Congress recommends using either the University of Chicago or the Modern Literary Association (MLA) formats. (see "How to Cite Electronic Sources"). A typical citation would look something like the following:

Steve Sconfienza, "Selkirk Yard" (Mohawk & Hudson Chapter, NRHS, 1999). Retrieved April 25, 2002:

This reference includes the

  1. Author's name[s]
  2. Title of document (italics for major works, quotes for smaller pieces)
  3. Publication information (publisher and publication date of the document).
  4. Date of access and electronic address.

Note the inclusion of the URI (http://www...) and the date the document was last visited at the site, which will help readers review the original document or aide in finding it if it has moved.

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Affect: to influence(v) (an uncommon usage, from psychology, is an emotion [n]); an unrelated word, also spelled "affect," means to put on a false display.
Effect: a consequence of an action (n) or to produce some consequence (v).

Among: used with respect to a group of more than two items (e.g., among A, B, and C).
Between: used with respect to a group of two items (i.e., "between A and B").

Farther: a greater distance (a synonym to "longer")
Further: in addition to (a synonym to "also")

Lay: a transitive verb meaning to put or place (its principal parts are lay, laid): "I lay my wallet on the dresser when I get home."
Lie: an intransitive verb meaning to recline or rest on a surface (its principal parts are lie, lay, lain): "I lie on the sofa to watch The Simpsons on television."

That: used with a restrictive clause (i.e., specifically identifies the element discussed; not set apart with commas).
Which: used with a non-restrictive clause (i.e., adds supplemental information about an element that is already identified; set apart with commas).

They're: they are
Their: belonging to them
There: a place

A lot: refers to quantity
Allot: to distribute or parcel out.
Alot: no such word.

Then: refers to the passing of time
Than: indicates a comparison.

More difficult usages


Practicable: "feasible" or "usable for a specified purpose" (Note: practicable cannot be applied to persons).
Practical: has at least eight meanings: among them,

more commonly,

Regardless of that last definition, practical and practicable are not synonyms: a common example of their subtle distinction is

"If you have a practical knowledge of French, you can order coffee in a Parisian cafe, though it may not be practicable to try to learn the language of every country you visit."


Who: referring to a person
That: referring to an object

We want to hire someone who is great at grammar, and we will buy him or her books that can be used for reference.


Who: the subject of an action.
Whom: the object of an action.

We want to hire a lobbyist who knows politics, such as to whom to address our issues.


Tortuous: "winding," "crooked," or "tricky to handle."
Torturous: "causing torture" or "painful in a cruel way."
Tortured: "receiving torture" or "pained."

He had to take a tortuous route through the Alps.
He survived the torturous existence of the concentration camp.
The beggar gave a tortured look to the passers-by.


Fewer: describing things that can be specifically counted
Less: describing things that cannot be specifically quantified.

"If you want to weigh less, you will want to eat fewer candy bars."


The formal and the actual usages of will and shall are now hopelessly muddled. Formally, shall is used for the 1st person singular & plural while will is used for the 2nd & 3rd persons singular & plural, except to express determination or a command, where the usages are essentially reversed:

"I shall go to the store after work today."
"I will finish this crossword puzzle!"

— and —

"He will need to go to the store after work today."
"You shall finish this assignment before you go home!"

Only the British still follow these rules, and they sound awkward or even pretentious in American usage.

Loose / Lose

Loose: unrestrained, pronounced with an "S" sound
Lose: misplace, pronounced with a "Z" sound

This is primarilly a spelling issue, and these spellings really don't make much sense, so you just have to remember them: no sounding–out or logical hints. And they are not homonyms, as they are pronounced differently. "Loose" (the one with the "S" sound) is the opposite of tight, and rhymes with goose, which also has two "O"s. "Lose" (the one with the "Z" sound) is the opposite of win, and rhymes with booze (which also has two "O"s — oh well). (To show how unpredictable English is, compare another pair of words, "choose" and "chose," which are spelled the same as "loose" and "lose" except for the initial sound ("ch" instead of "l"), but pronounced entirely differently from their corresponding words: no wonder so many people get it wrong!)

"I never thought I could lose so much weight: now my pants are all loose!"

Odd homonyms

We all know to, too, and two, right?

Hangar: a place for aircraft.
Hanger: a place for clothing


The apostrophe means it is a contraction of two words; "you're" is the short version of "you are" (the "a" is dropped), so if your sentence makes sense if you say "you are," then you're good to use you're. "Your" means it belongs to you, it's yours.

"You're going to love your new job!"


Its: a rare possessive that does not use the apostrophe.
It's: the contraction of "it is," but never in contemporary usage to show possession (it does appear in archaic usage).

This one is confusing, because generally, in addition to being used in contractions, an apostrophe indicates ownership, as in "Dad's new car." But, "it's" is actually the short version of "it is" or "it has." "Its" with no apostrophe means belonging to it.

It's important to remember to bring your telephone and its extra battery.

A Note on Pluralizing with apostrophes

The way we make words plural in the English language is usually by adding the letter 's' to the word. So egg becomes eggs and CEO becomes CEOs and two G5s locomotives are G5ses (or perhaps G5s-es). Apostrophes are never used to pluralize words. Ever.

Some problem phrases & pronunciations

Supposed to:

Do not omit the "d" -- "suppose to" is incorrect.

Used to:

Same as above: "use to" is incorrect.


There is no "s" at the end of the word -- "towards" is incorrect.


Same as above: "anyways" is incorrect.


There is no "t" at the end of the word -- "acrost" is incorrect.

Should have/Should of

Could have/Could of

Would have/Would of

The problem here is probably tracable to how the word phrases "should have" and "could have" were contracted in spoken English to "should've" and "could've" and – as a result of the sound of these expressions – some people now think that means "should of" and "could of." The correct expression is always "have" — "should have," "could have," or "would have" — and that is how you write it out.


Loan: a noun, the tranference of a resource (to be repaid in some manner)
Lend: a verb, the act of tranferring a resource

The problem here is probably tracable to how the verb "to lend" takes a past tense, the root of which looks the noun loan. "Loan" is never used as a verb: "Will you loan me your car?" You go to the bank and ask for a loan, and it lends you money; or, the bank loaned (past tense of the verb "to lend") you money, and now you have a loan to pay off.

If I was in charge . . .

Wrong! It is "If I were in charge . . ." If the sentence begins with "if" you are talking about a condition that is contrary to known fact. It may be a fact in the future, or it may be a fact but is just not known to be one; nevertheless, it is not now known to be a fact (or is known to be contrary to fact). This requres the subjunctive tense of the verb.

I couldn't care less:

Be sure to make it negative, not "I could care less," which states that you do care. N.B.,

  1. "I could care less," as an idiom in spoken English, is probably well enough understood (to mean "I don't care") that the intent is clear; however, such an idiom should never be used in formal writing;
  2. "Like I could care less" (as a statement or question) actually does imply that the speaker really cannot care less, so in that case the usage is syntactically correct (but it is still an awkward idiom).

Between you and I

OMG! Never do that! This one is widely misused, even by people who should know better. In English, we use a different pronoun depending on whether the pronoun represents the subject or the object of the sentence: I/me, she/her, he/him, they/them. This becomes second nature for us and we rarely make mistakes with the glaring exception of when we have to choose between "you and I" or "you and me." Know that "between you and I" is never correct, and although it is becoming more common (ugh!), it is like saying "him did a great job." It is not just incorrect but it is glaringly incorrect. The easy rule of thumb is to replace the "you and I" or "you and me" with either "we" or "us" and you'll quickly see which form is right. If "us" works, then use "you and me" and if "we" works, then use "you and I."

"Between you and me (us), here are the secrets to how you and I (we) can develop a new solution to the Eintein Field Equations."

Me, Myself, and I

People often are found to be using the word "myself" in sentences like "You will have a meeting with Bob and myself." Myself is a reflexive pronoun, and is generally used to add emphasis, such as after the predicate nomnitives in, "I painted it myself." Never say "You'll be meeting with Bob and myself." Never say "You'll be meeting with Bob and I." You need to use an objective pronoun (see above) as the object of the preposition "with": "You'll be meeting with Bob and me." (Note that as a predicate nomnitives the reflexive is not used: "You'll be meeting Bob and me" is correct with "me"; "I scheduled your meeting with Bob myself" is correct with "myself" emphasizing reflexively the action of scheduled.

He, She, and They

His, Hers, and Their

What about the sentence "The person who spoke about the movie they saw . . ." Is it an accident, or is it a lack of understanding of English grammar and pronouns, to choose the plural word "they" to describe the singular reader.

Many people actually know the technically correct wording options, but they just don't want to write or speak that way as it seem awkward. Why? Because English does not have a gender-neutral third-person singular pronoun for a person, distinct from "it" — English's third person singular neuter — so they (plural — those people) choose to use "they." The traditional assumption that "he" is inclusive is not acceptable to these people (nor is "mankind"). One option taught is that if the gender of the subject of the sentence is indeterminate, then the default usage is to use "he" or "his" and that that includes women, too. Does anyone really believe that in contemporary usage the word "he" describes both men and women? "He" is a masculine pronoun, and gender-neutral words are important when you have a commitment to equal opportunity.

Oxford Dictionaries offers three possible solutions (upon which these examples are based):

  1. Use the wording "he or she" or "his or her": "A newspaper reporter must be able to crank out his or her work quickly."
  2. Reword the sentence to make the relevant noun plural: "Newspaper reporters must be able to crank out their work quickly."
  3. Use the plural pronoun despite the technicality that it refers back to a singular noun: "A newspaper reporter must be able to crank out their work quickly."

The Oxford article acknowledges that many people object to the third choice as ungrammatical (which it is); however, they point-out that "[T]he use of plural pronouns to refer back to a singular subject isn't new: it represents a revival of a practice dating from the 16th century. It's increasingly common in current English and is now widely accepted both in speech and in writing." [See Oxford Dictionaries, "'He or she' versus 'they'" (retrieved 21 November 2012).]

So, the choices are

Which leaves

Language is a living thing, and it evolves and changes. Whoever thought there would be words like software and firmware? The apparent emergence of using the plurals "they/their" to refer to an unknown-gender singular person is one of those evolutions. Perhaps one day "they/their" will be the formally accepted third-person singular pronoun for a person of unknown gender.

Other usage hints


Acronyms should be spelled out and then put in parentheses, e.g., New York State Office for the Aging (NYSOFA, the first time it is used in a document. Use terminology and acronyms consistently throughout documents:

  1. If used again in the correspondence, the acronym should be used alone;
  2. Capitalize acronyms (e.g., NYSOFA; FAA, SUNY, etc.) unless the specific custom is not to capitalize some or all letters (e.g., AFofL);
  3. Always use the same acronym (e.g., do not start with NYSOFA and then switch to [the also sometimes used] SOFA).


Numbers one through ten should be written in words. Any number above ten may be written in figures (Two Empire State Plaza, 13 Elm Street).


For major works (books, newspapers), Italicize the main title or subtitle (underline if done on a typewriter, handwritten, or if italics is otherwise not available):

I think you'll find some good travel tips in Speedway to Sunshine: The Story of the Florida East Coast Railway.

— or —

I think you'll find some good travel tips in Speedway to Sunshine: The Story of the Florida East Coast Railway.

Quotation Marks should be used around titles that represent a minor work or only a part of a complete published work, for example conference themes, feature columns in newspapers and magazines, or parts within a book or journal:

The article is entitled "Working with Data" in The American Journal of Sociology.

Note that with respect to all of the above, underline should not be used on web pages as it will be confused as an indication of a link.

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- - U.S. Library of Congress
- - How to Cite Electronic Sources

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Other Key Links

-- Alan Cooper's "Homonyms"
-- Tracy E. Finifter's "The Homonym/Homophone Page"

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