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NPR Online Styleguide: Pronunciation, Usage and Grammar P-Z


panacea - The word means a cure-all, or remedy for all ills. It does not mean a remedy for specific ills, so it generally shouldn't be followed by a phrase beginning with for. Wrong: This tiny pill is a panacea for headaches.

passer-by, passers-by

PBS - Acceptable on second reference for the Public Broadcasting Service (not System).

Peking - See Beijing.

penitentiary - See prison, jail

people, persons - Use person for the singular, people in all plural forms. (This conforms with AP, but is an exception to Bernstein.)

personal pronouns - Do not use them when discussing U.S. foreign policy. You should ask the secretary of State, What should the United States do next? not What should we do next?

phenomenon, phenomena - Phenomenon is singular, phenomena plural. Make sure verbs agree.

pianist - pee-AN-uhst is the preferred pronunciation.

picket - Verb and noun. Do not use picketer.

plead, pleaded - The past tense of plead is pleaded.

plurality - See majority, plurality.

politics - Usually it takes a plural verb: His politics are liberal. When it is used as a study or science, it takes a singular verb: Politics is hard to teach.

Port-au-Prince - Port-oh-PRINCE (Not Prance)

practicable, practical - Practicable means capable of being done; practical means capable of being done in a way that is useful or valuable.

predominant, predominantly - Not predominate, predominately. The verb, however, is predominate.

premier, prime minister - The titles are used interchangeably for the first minister of a national government that has a council of ministers. Prime minister is correct throughout the Commonwealth, and it usually is the best term for other countries as well. However, for France it is premier, in parts of Asia it is premier, and in Austria and Germany it is chancellor. Canadian and Australian provinces use premier, but the national governments are headed by a prime minister.

presently - It means in a little while, not now.

press conference - Use news conference instead.

prime minister - See premier, prime minister

prior to - Before usually is the better choice of words.

prison, jail - Do not use the two words interchangeably. Here is AP's excellent description of the difference: "Prison is a generic term that may be applied to the maximum security institutions often known as penitentiaries and to the medium security facilities often called correctional institutions or reformatories. All such facilities confine people serving sentences for felonies. A jail is a facility normally used to confine people serving sentences for misdemeanors, people awaiting trial or sentencing on either felony or misdemeanor charges, and people confined for civil matters such as failure to pay alimony and other types of contempt of court."

profanity - See the objectionable language entry in Editorial and Production Guidelines section.

protest, demonstration - See demonstration, protest.

prove, proved, proving - The past tense of prove is proved. Use proven only as an adjective: a proven cure.

Public Broadcasting Service - Not System.

Pulitzer - PUUL-uht-suhr, not PYOO-liht-zuhr


quote - A verb. The noun is quotation.

"quote" - Under most circumstances, use your voice to indicate quotation in script. In some rare cases, for precision, use the formulation, The attorney general said, quote, We will not let up until we get a conviction. Do not close with unquote unless it is absolutely necessary for clarity.


raised, reared - Only humans may be reared. Any living thing, including humans, may be raised.

random sample - This is a scientific term having to do with a sample in which every member has an equal chance of occurring or occurs with a particular frequency. Thus, when we gather vox pop, we are not taking a random sample. Call it an unscientific survey instead.

ravage, ravish - To ravage is to devastate: The troops ravaged the city. The city was ravaged by the storm. To ravish is to abduct, to rape, or to carry away with emotion: The Nazi troops ravished the young girls. The words are not interchangeable; inanimate objects like buildings and towns cannot be ravished.

Realtor - A Realtor is a member of the National Association of Realtors. The preferred generic term is real estate agent.

reared - See raised, reared.

rebut, refute - The words are not interchangeable. Rebut means to argue in opposition: He rebutted the candidate's argument. Refute connotes winning an argument; it almost always requires an editorial judgment on the part of the reporter, so use deny, dispute, rebut, or respond to instead.

recently - It's usually just a way to conceal the fact that we're late in reporting a story. Avoid it.

recur - Not reoccur.

referendum, referendums

reformatory - See prison, jail

refused, declined - When someone won't agree to an interview or to allow his name to be used, that is his right. Say, politely, that he declined, not refused to be interviewed or allow his name to be used.

refute - See rebut, refute

regime - See government, junta, regime.

religious titles - Members of the clergy who run for political office do not carry the religious title in political stories. So, for instance, Jesse Jackson should not be referred to as the Reverend Jesse Jackson in political stories. Cardinals--when referring to Catholic cardinals, our journalistic usage is Cardinal Joseph Bernadin, not Joseph Cardinal Bernadin. The reverse order is a Catholic usage based on Latin word order.

reluctant, reticent - Reluctant means unwilling to act. Reticent means unwilling to speak.

responsibility, credit - See credit, responsibility.

restaurateur - Not restauranteur.

restrictive clauses - See essential clauses, non-essential clauses.

Reuters - A private British news agency. When used as an adjective, drop the s: A Reuter correspondent.

right of way, rights of way

Roh-Tae-Woo - The Korean leader's name is pronounced NOH-TIY-OO, not NO-TIY-WOO.

Romania - Not Rumania.


sanitarium, sanitariums

schism - SIHZ-uhm.

schizophrenia, schizophrenic - The words refer to a serious personality disorder involving the distortion of reality. They do not mean split-personality.

sculptor - Use for both men and women.

sexual orientation - Not sexual preference. When talking about people and their sexual orientation, use terms that do not imply guilt. E.g. avoid admitted, self-avowed, acknowledged, etc. unless the qualifier is clearly needed and relevant to the piece. Do not talk at all about people's sexual orientations unless it is relevant, and do not reveal someone's sexual orientation against their will (outing). Gays can suffice for both sexes, though most members of the gay and lesbian community prefer gays and lesbians.

sewage, sewerage - Sewage is waste matter. Sewerage is the drainage system for the waste matter.

she - Do not use this pronoun in relation to ships, nations, or hurricanes. Use it instead.

shirk/shrink - One shirks responsibility. You can also shrink from responsibility, with much the same effect.

short-lived - SHORT-LIYV'D

should, would - Should expresses an obligation: We should always use good grammar. Would expresses a customary action: We would use good grammar at work.

sink/sank/sunk - Sank is the past tense of the verb sink. Sunk is the past participle.

Smithsonian Institution - Not Smithsonian Institute.

sound-bites - We call them cuts or actualities because we want to avoid emulating the nine-second TV sound-bite. In news reporting, actualities should express full and interesting thoughts. Avoid the quick inanity -- unless, of course, your purpose is to show the speaker is being inane.

sources, experts -There is a temptation to use these words to cover a reporter's own opinions or even legitimate analytical points. This is a temptation to avoid. There are two things to keep in mind if these words are used: First, the words are plural and mean that the reporter is quoting more than one expert or more than one source. Second, when reporters use these words, they should describe the experts' expertise or the sources' reliability, even if the experts and sources cannot be named.

sovereignty - SOV-ur-un-tee

spokesman, spokeswoman - Not spokesperson. Use another word (official, representative) if you don't know the sex of the person.

stadium, stadiums

subjunctive mood - AP has a good explanation of when to use the subjunctive: "Use the subjunctive mood of a verb for contrary-to-fact conditions, and expressions of doubts, wishes, or regrets. If I were a rich man, I wouldn't have to work hard. I doubt that more money would be the answer. I wish it were possible to take back my words. Sentences that express a contingency or hypothesis may use either the subjunctive or the indicative mood depending on the context. In general, u se the subjunctive if there is little likelihood that a contingency might come true: If I were to marry a millionaire, I wouldn't have to worry about money. But: If the bill passes as expected, it will provide an immediate tax cut."

Supreme Court of the United States - It is chief justice of the United States, not chief justice of the Supreme Court. Other justices are associate justices. Before the name: Chief Justice and Ju stice.

surprised, astonished - See astonished, surprised.


tablespoonful, tablespoonfuls, teaspoonful, teaspoonfuls - not -spoonsful for the plurals.

tack/tact - Tack is a sailing term meaning to switch directions; tact as in tactic, means being diplomatic. So it's take a different tack, not tact.

Taiwan - Use Taiwan, not Formosa.  

temblor - Not tremblor for earthquake.

terrorism, terrorist - Terrorism is the act of causing terror, usually for political purposes, and it connotes that the terror is perpetrated on innocents. Thus, the bombing of a civilian airliner clearly is a terrorist act, but an attack on an army convoy, even if away from the battlefield, is not. Do not ape government usage. The Israeli government, for instance, routinely refers to PLO actions as terrorist. A journalist should use independent criteria to judge whether the term is accurate.

that - Use it to introduce a dependent clause if the sentence sounds clumsy without it. When in doubt, use it.

that, which - See essential clauses, non-essential clauses.

theft - See burglary, larceny, robbery, theft.

think - Reporters are paid to think, but hearing them speculate and express opinions on the air not tied to the facts they are conveying is a dangerous departure from the journalist's role. In interviews with reporters avoid the "What do you think?" questions when they elicit opinion going beyond journalistic analysis. Leave the opinion-making to the pundits and the newsmakers.

Third World - Refers to the developing nations of Asia, Africa, and South America. Don't substitute non-aligned, which is a political term.

tonight - You can say 8 o'clock tonight or 8 p.m. today, but 8 p.m. tonight is redundant.

toward - Not towards.

translator, interpreter - A translator renders written words into another language. An interpreter does the same for spoken words. Thus, in explaining actualities, it is almost always He spoke through an interpreter. NOTE: Remember that our listeners may understand the foreign language that is being heard in an actuality before the English voiceover. Make sure what is heard in the foreign language is heard in English.

trees/forests - Living and growing trees that have not been cut down. timber/logs -- trees or forests that have been cut down, or have fallen naturally. Lumber is timber or logs milled into building materials.

trustee, trusty - A trustee (trus-TEE) is a member of a board of trustees. A trusty (TRUS-tee) is a person who can be relied upon, especially in a prison.


Ukraine - yoo-KRAYN, not YOO-krayn. It is not preceded by the.

United Nations - Generally, use the full name as a noun, U.N. as an adjective only.

United States - Generally, use the full name as a noun, U.S. as an adjective only.


vast - Refers to area. Donít use to mean number or majority.

vie - Means to compete. You vie with someone and for something, but vie never takes the infinitive. (Incorrect: vie to do something)

volatile - It refers to something that evaporates rapidly; it is not necessarily explosive.

vulgarities - See the objectionable language entry in Part II of this Stylebook.


weapons - See the AP Stylebook for good descriptions of different kinds of weapons.

weather terms - See the AP Stylebook for detailed descriptions of various weather terms.

whence - It's an old-fashioned word that should be avoided, except for effect. If you do use it, remember that it means from which place or from which position. Thus, from whence is redundant.

whether or not - Usually, the or not is superfluous. Use whether, as opposed to if or when.

which - See essential clauses, non-essential clauses.

who, whom - Whom is the word for someone who is the object of a verb or preposition: Whom do you want to go? Be careful with whomever: Give it to whomever. (Whomever is the object of the preposition to.) But: Give it to whoever wants it. (Whoever is the subject of the clause whoever wants it.)

Women's clinics - Some clinics are properly described as abortion clinics, because it is in the name or because abortion is the predominant activity there. But do not so describe any facility that is under attack by anti-abortion protesters without checking to make sure the label is appropriate. When in doubt, call the facility a clinic where abortions are performed, or women's clinic that does abortions. This is not a question of seeking a euphemism; rather it is a question of making sure that the description fits the facts. If abortion is incidental to the main activity of the clinic or a minor part of its business, then clearly it shouldn't be called an abortion clinic. Any hospital would be in this category. It is accurate on the other hand to describe as abortion clinic a facility that does birth control counseling and mammograms, if those activities are minor compared to the abortion activity.


zoom - Here's one you probably didn't know, courtesy of Bernstein: "Aside from its meanings connected with sound and camera, zoom, originally an aviation term, denotes rapid upward motion. Both the following sentences are therefore incorrect: Melville zoomed down the incline in 2:15.2, a full second ahead of Tommy Burns of Middlebury. At least 12 large hawks are making their homes atop city skyscrapers and zooming down to snatch pigeons. Both writers may have had in mind the word swoop. Swoop is usually down; zoom is always up."

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