paedophile, pederast

A paedophile sexually desires children. A pederast has sexual relations with a boy.

pail, pale

Pail is a small bucket. Pale is wan or light in colour.

palate, palette, pallet

Palate is a sense of taste or part of the mouth. An artist mixes his paints on a palette, and a pallet is a mattress or small bed.

Palestine Liberation Organisaton

Not Palestinian. PLO is acceptable on first reference and spell out in a subsequent reference.


The prefix does not usually take a hyphen. For example – panacea, panoply, pantheism. But Pan-American -- hyphenated when referring to the North, Central and South America region, but not in the official title of the Pan America Games. Also pan-African and pan-European.


A universal medicine or cure.

Panchen Lama

See Dalai Lama, Tibet.


Not Panjshar or Panjshir, Afghanistan.

Pap smear

Capitalise Pap. A smear test for cancer devised by George Papanicolaou.

papal nuncio

The Holy See’s ambassadors around the world are known as papal nuncios and its embassies as nunciatures. If the Holy See does not have formal diplomatic relations with a country the pope’s envoy to the church in that country is an apostolic delegate.

paparazzo, paparazzi

parallel, paralleling, paralleled


The total or partial paralysis of both legs. Quadriplegia is the paralysis of all four limbs.

Paris Club

An informal body of 19 creditor nations plus occasional others. It has met in Paris under the chairmanship of the French Treasury since 1956 to help indebted countries reorganise their finances. It treats debt only for those countries with support agreements with the IMF and does so on the condition that other lenders give comparable terms. See also loans, London Club.

Parkinson's disease


As a general rule refer to legislative assemblies initially as parliaments, regardless of their formal names. These can be given lower in the story, e.g. Prime Minister Tony Blair told parliament ... Replying to questions in the House of Commons, he said ... In American style, capitalise when the name of a formal body, e.g. The British Parliament.


Member of parliament preferable, although parliamentarian is becoming more widely accepted.

part time, part-time

Two words for the verb, one word for the adjective.

partial, or broken quote

Try to avoid unless the fragment is vital to understanding the importance of meaning.


Use take part.


There are cases in which an unattached participle is acceptable, e.g. Considering the risks involved, you were right to cancel the trip. Although it is not you who is considering the risks but the writer of the sentence, the sense is clear. But avoid the unattached participle when it makes the sentence absurd, e.g.: Having disarmed, Ruritania’s allies guaranteed its defence. Here the participle having disarmed is wrongly attached to the allies when in fact it is Ruritania that has disarmed. Fetching anything between $16,000 and $40,000, onIy about 2,500 women around the world can afford to buy haute couture dresses. The juxtaposition of fetching and women suggests it is the women not the dresses who are worth $16,000.


Prefer boyfriend, girlfriend or lover.


Not Pushtun, Pushtoon, Pathan. This tribe in Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province and areas of Afghanistan speaks Pashto, also one of the main languages of Afghanistan.

passer-by, passers-by

past, last

Usually we mean last when we write past. Last refers to the time up to the present. Past is vaguer. Joe Smith has been injured for the last three games not for the past three games, but Eva Petite relived past glories. Also, check for redundancy in phrases such as past history, past record, past achievements.


Avoid the passive voice. It is longer and clumsier than the active voice and often confuses the reader. Write Police arrested five armed men rather than Five armed men were arrested by police. The active voice allows you to push on with the rest of the story. Police arrested five armed men who had stormed a bank in central Paris. If you write Five armed men, who had taken over a bank in central Paris, were arrested by police… you ask readers to retain a great deal of information before they know fully who did what to whom. The passive voice is unavoidable when the subject of an action is the main point of the story. President Jane Flow was shot and killed by... is better than A gunman shot and killed President Jane Flow.

patrol, patrolling, patrolled


One word ("non-farm payrolls" -- U.S.).

peach Melba

peal, peel

Peal of bells, orange peel.

pedal, peddle

You pedal a bicycle but peddle your wares. A pedaller rides a bicycle, a pedlar sells goods, or peddles door to door. But use the form drug peddler.


An equal.



This is the adjective. The noun is peninsula. The Peninsular War was fought on the peninsula.


Avoid the Latin. Six dollars each rather than six dollers per item.


One word, but the abbreviation pct is acceptable in alerts and headlines. Use numerals before percent, 4 percent, 6 percent etc. Use percent after both numbers when writing about a change, rose to 5 percent from 4 percent, not rose to 5 from 4 percent. Do not confuse percentage with percentage points. If a bank rate rises from one percent to two percent it is a rise of one percentage point and an increase of 100 percent not one percent. Note that a 100 percent increase is twice the original figure, 200 percent three times, 300 percent four times, etc. It is a common error to write, for instance, that a 400 percent rise means a quadrupling; in fact it means a fivefold increase. To calculate percentages divide the first figure by the second and multiply by 100. For example 70 as a percentage of 350 is: 70/350 x 100 = 20 percent. Use a calculator for complicated figures and express the result to the nearest two decimal places, e.g. 75 expressed as a percentage of 350 is 21.42857142 or 21.43 percent. Always use decimals not fractions in percentages.


Write many or most rather than a large percentage of.



Do not write more perfect or less perfect because things are either perfect or they are not. You can use less than perfect.

period close quote

Periods (full points, full stops) go inside quotation marks unless it is a broken quote, i.e. a phrase or a single word, in which case they go outside the quotation marks.

period of time

Use one word or the other, not both together.


Shortened form of perquisite. Explain as a fringe benefit.


Generic name for the language spoken in Iran, Tajikistan and northern Afghanistan. It is also known locally as Farsi in Iran, Tajik in Tajikistan and Dari in Afghanistan, but Persian is the preferred overall name.

Persian Gulf

Use Gulf

person, people

Person singular and people plural. Do not use persons.

personal, personally, personnel

Personal or personally, meaning private or individual, is almost always unnecessary, e.g. He personally took his personal belongings. For personnel use people, staff or workers.

personal names

Check names, and then check them again, and then check them again. Never presume you know how to spell a name, no matter how common and how familiar it may seem. Is it Smith, or Smyth or Smythe or Smif? Use a given name and surname when first identifying people, and the surname alone on second reference. Only if a given name is not available or if it is known that an individual prefers to be identified by his initials (e.g. Former South African President F.W. de Klerk) should you use initials. First names that look unfamiliar or odd to English-speaking readers need no special treatment but first names that look like misprints of familiar names, such as Joh or Jame or Arturk may call for repetition at first reference, e.g. Joh (repeat Joh) Bjelke-Petersen. Do not write Joh (ed:correct) Bjelke-Petersen. Be careful with e.g. Evan/Ewan, Michel/Michael. Sports stories and results follow the same rule. Use given name and surname at first reference and the surname alone for subsequent references. To help readers not familiar with names, use a he/she or his/her at second reference to make clear the gender of someone whose name could be of either sex or whose name is not readily known to a non-native, e.g. Clare, Hilary. If you see a story with the same name spelled in different ways, do not assume that the first use is right, or the most frequent use is right, or any or all of them are right. Check with the author. Write declined to be identified not declined to be named. The source already has a name but does not wish to publicise his identity. See also Chinese, Ethiopian, European, Hispanic, Korean, Portuguese, Thai, Vietnamese names.

persuade, convince

You persuade people to do something, convince them of something or that something is the case. Never write convince to.

petrol bomb

A bottle of petrol with a petrol-soaked rag stuffed into the neck. The rag is set alight and the bottle thrown, resulting in a fiery explosion on impact. Do not use Molotov cocktail.



Professional Golfers’ Association

phase, faze

Phase is a stage in growth or development. Faze is to worry or disturb.


Phenomena is the plural form. Do not use phenomenal if you mean extraordinary or remarkable or just big.



picket, picketed, picket line

picnic, picnicking, picknicked, picknicker

pidgin English


Both noun and verb.


Military aircraft other than strategic bombers and transports normally carry only one pilot. Write the two crew not the two pilots when reporting incidents involving fighter-bombers and the like.


One word as a noun, two words as a verb.


Personal identification number. PIN number is tautologous.


Avoid describing someone as e.g. a pious Muslim or a pious Christian. Say practising.

plan ahead

Just plan will do.


Use aircraft, but higher plane, not higher plain.


Capitalise the names of planets.

plea bargain

Noun. Plea-bargain is the verb. The verb is only used intransitively, i.e. not The lawyer plea-bargained the case.

plead, pleading, pleaded


Legalese. Use pleaded.


Palestine (not Palestinian) Liberation Organisation. PLO is acceptable on first reference. Spell out in a subsequent reference.

plough, but American style plow


Avoid in market reports unless it is a precipitous decline. A 2-percent fall is not a plummet.


See majority, plurality.


Time, e.g. 3 p.m. or 3:45 p.m.



A speaker stands behind a lectern (a stand for notes) on a podium and in a pulpit. Several speakers can fit on a dais or rostrum or platform.


As in other works of art, capitalise every word in the title apart from conjunctions, articles, particles and short prepositions, e.g. “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, “Elegy in a Country Churchyard”, “The Waste Land”.


Note hyphen.

pointed out

Avoid this term if the statement is in any way contentious since it suggests that the writer accepts that what the speaker is saying is a fact. Plain said is better.


Use police officers, not policemen.


One word.

Polisario Front

Algeria-based movement seeking the independence of Western Sahara from Morocco. It fought a low-level war for independence for 16 years after Morocco annexed the territory with the pullout of colonial power Spain in 1975. Its name is the Spanish abbreviation for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro.

political parties

Capitalise the names of political parties and of movements with a specific doctrine, e.g. a Communist official, a Democratic senator. Use lower case for non-specific references, e.g. The communist part of the former Soviet Bloc, but the Communist Party of what was then East Germany; the settlement was run on communist principles; he proposed a democratic vote. The name of a political phlosophy should be lower case as noun or adjective, unless it derives from a proper noun: communism, communist, fascism, fascist, but Marxism, Marxist, Nazi, Nazism.



Polynesia, Melanesia and Micronesia are island groups in the Pacific and sub-regions of Oceania.



Use Pune, India.


Capitalise only as a title before a name, not when referring to "the pope". See religious titles


The common folk. Does not mean the population


Pour liquid and pore over maps and documents.

port, starboard

Port is left, starboard right in nautical parlance. Use left and right.

Portuguese names

Portuguese and Brazilians, like the Spanish, include the family names both of their father and their mother in their full names. Unlike the Spanish, they put the mother’s name before the father’s and they normally retain both names at second reference. Where they use one it would always be the patronymic, i.e. the last name. Thus Jose Cabral Nettim could be either Cabral Nettim or Nettim at second reference.


Slang. Avoid.


Avoid as a synonym for good or fruitful.


One word.

post mortem

Needs the word examination afterwards -- a post mortem examination. By itself, post mortem means simply 'after death'.


Events that are called off but will be held later are postponed. Report the new date if possible. Only those events scrapped completely are cancelled. American style uses cancel,canceled, canceling but cancellation.


No hyphen.

potato, potatoes


The abbreviation lb (with no full stop and the same in the singular and the plural) is acceptable at all references. To convert to grams roughly multiply by 900 and divide by 2, precisely multiply by 454. To convert to kilograms roughly multiply by 9 and divide by 20, precisely multiply by 0.454.

pound sign

Use pounds rather than the £ sign to denote sums in pounds sterling, thus 420

pour, pore

Pour liquid and pore over maps and documents.

practice, practise

Practice is the noun, practise the verb, but in American style practice is both noun and verb.


If the second element of a word beginning with pre- starts with an e, hyphenate, e.g. pre-empt.

precautionary measure

Precaution alone will do.


Tautological. Condition is enough.


If something happened shortly before dawn, pre-dawn may be technically correct, but it is a cliché to avoided. Never use it to mean merely that something happened during the night.

predominant, predominantly

Not predominate, predominately.



As a general rule do not hyphenate. The exceptions are if the prefix ends in a vowel and the word that follows starts with the same vowel, e.g. pre-eminence and pre-establish. Cooperate and coordinate are exceptions. If the word that follows a prefix is capitalised then use a hyphen, e.g. trans-Panamanian. Transatlantic and transpacific are exceptions.


One word.


Use premier for heads of government in states that are part of a larger political entity, e.g. the Australian and German states and the Canadian provinces. Reserve prime minister for the heads of government of sovereign states. Premier may be used for brevity in a headline.


The debut, opening or first showing of a TV show or film.

premier league

The English premier league is not capitalised.

premise, premises

Premises are always plural when referring to property, but legalistic and best avoided. Prefer an exact description – the house, the factory etc. A premise is a proposition supporting an argument.


Use second-hand.


Tautological. Planned is enough.

prepositional phrases

Phrases that start and end with a preposition are usually verbose. Avoid expressions like: in order to ... in accordance with ... at this moment ... in respect to ... in receipt of ... with a view to … in connection with ... in the wake of … apprehension as to the outcome.


Prescribe is to set down as an order, proscribe is to prohibit.


Use to mean in a short time or soon, rather than now or at present. Present and presently are usually redundant when used to mean what is happening now.


Capitalise only when a formal title before a name.

Presidents Day

No apostrophe. Unofficial name of the holiday celebrating George Washington's and Abraham Lincoln's birthdays, and observed on the third Monday in February. AP follows same style.


Lower case.

press conference

Use news conference unless broadcast journalists, photographer and camera operators have been excluded.

press reports

When picking up newspaper, radio or television reports, name the source. Do not refer just to press reports. Quoting a news report does not exonerate journalists from responsibility to be accurate, balanced and not defamatory. We should make every effort to check a pick-up – even ... not available to comment... shows an effort was made. Insert relevant background and give some indication of the political stance, reliability and potential for bias of the source.


Use press or pressure unless speaking of industrial processes.


Avoid this pompous and often tautological word. If something is prestigious, or famous, then we need hardly say so.


One word, no hyphen.

pretence, pretext

A pretence is a false show, a sham or a false allegation. A pretext is an ostensible motive put forward to conceal the real one. Pretense is the American style.

pretension, pretentious

prevaricate, procrastinate

Prevaricate is to mislead or lie. Procrastinate is to delay or defer.

prime minister

Capitalise the title when it immediately precedes the person’s name. When the title follows the name or is used alone, use lower case, e.g.: French Prime Minister Jacques Dupont; Jacques Dupont, the French prime minister. But The president said: “I would like to welcome the Manchukistan prime minister, Stefan Hartzjand.”

prime rate

In the United States prime rate is a benchmark reference for determining interest rates on short-term loans to high-quality large borrowers. The actual rate could be lower but more often it is higher than the benchmark. Sometimes used erroneously to imply it is the bank’s lowest rate.


principal, principle

Principle is always a noun, meaning a fundamental basis or truth. Principal can be an adjective, meaning chief, or a noun meaning chief person, as in principal of a school or capital sum, as in debt principal.

prior to

Prefer before.

prise apart, not prize.

prison officers

Not jailers or warders.

prisoner of war, prisoners of war

Hyphenate when a compound modifier: prisoner-of-war camp.


Pristine means belonging to the earliest period or in its original state. It does not mean just clean.

prize money

Two words.

private equity firm

Three words.

privilege, privileged

Not priviledged.


Prefer active or energetic.


Can usually be excised in phrases such as development process. Prefer active or energetic.

Procter and Gamble

Not Proctor and Gamble.

proffer, proffered


Not profits.


Hyphenated for both noun and adjective.


Hyphenated for both noun and adjective.


Prognosis is forecasting, or a forecast, especially of a disease.


Use this spelling only in stories about computers and for stock market program trading. Otherwise progamme. In American style, program is for all uses.


Use anti-abortion.

prone, supine

Prone, like prostrate, means lying face down. Supine is face up.


Use neuter pronouns for countries, ships, cars, aircraft, animals, etc., e.g. Portugal and its territories, Aboard the liner when it sailed. The occasional bright story may be enhanced by the use of a feminine or masculine pronoun to personalise a machine or animal, but these should be rare exceptions.


When a difficult personal or place name appears on the file for the first time, radio and television subscribers by giving a guide to pronunciation. Assume familiarity with the principles guiding pronunciation of European languages like English, French, German, Italian and Spanish and need not provide guides to pronunciation of most names phonetically transcribed from another script, e.g. Arabic or Japanese. Give guidance in brackets after the name, hyphenating the syllables and capitalising the syllable stressed, e.g. General Michel Aoun (pronounced OW-oon), a rail strike in Bydgoszcz (pronounced BID-gosh).


proper names

If proper names are in English use the style and spelling as it appears on the organisation’s own nameplate and business cards, e.g. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Scottish Labour Party, U.S. Department of Defense. If proper names are translated into English use the spelling convention of that region.

prophecy, prophesy

I make a prophecy when I prophesy. The noun is prophecy, the verb is prophesy.

proscribe, prescribe

Proscribe is to prohibit, prescribe to set down as an order.

prostate, prostrate

Prostate is a gland, prostrate is lying face down.


Protest against a government or protest about a policy. If it is a solemn declaration rather than an act of disapproval then protest the faith or protest his innocence. Do not write a protest when you are describing a demonstration. American style drops the adverb for the verb of disapproval, protest the policy.


Not protestor. But demonstrator.


The original model. Do not qualify, as in the first prototype or an early prototype.


Use proved except in two cases: in writing of oil reserves or of the Scottish legal verdict not proven (neither guilty nor not guilty).


Best excised. If you are using or describing a proverb then there is no need to say so.

provost marshal, provost marshals

public school

In some countries this term refers to a private or fee-paying school as opposed to a state or government school. Use only when quoting someone and then explain it.


No quotation marks around the title. Capitalise articles and particles in the names of English-language newspapers and magazines, e.g. The New York Times, The News of the World. The names of some non-English language newspapers begin with a word meaning the. In such cases write O Globo/Le Monde/Die Welt not the O Globo/Le Monde/Die Welt newspaper.


Not publically.

pull back, pullback

Two words for the verb, one for the noun.

pull out, pullout

Two words for the verb, one for the noun.


  • apostrophes: Use the apostrophe according to the following rules, unless to do so would lead to a word that looked or sounded very strange.

Singular words and plural words not ending in s form the possessive by adding ‘s, e.g. Boeing’s new airliner, the children’s books. Plural words already ending in s form the possessive by adding the apostrophe alone, e.g. the soldiers’ weapons.

There is usually no problem about using the apostrophe with words ending in s. the class’s performance, the princesses’ return, Shultz’s car are all acceptable because they can be pronounced easily. Some words would look or sound so odd, e.g. the Dukakises' son, Paris’s reputation, Tunis’s main prison or Woolworths’s results that it best to write your way out of trouble. Recast such phrases, e.g. the son of the Dukasises, the reputation of Paris, the main prison in Tunis and results from Woolworths. Companies which end in s like Qantas or Optus might also appear ugly with the ‘s possessive. The best option is to avoid if possible.

Note that it’s is a contraction of it is. The possessive form of it is its.

Do not use an apostrophe in words like the 1990s or abbreviations like NCOs.

  • brackets: If an entire sentence is in brackets, put the full stop (period) inside the closing bracket, e.g. ( ...reported earlier.) If a sentence has a bracketed section at the end, the full stop goes outside the closing bracket, e.g. -reported earlier). If a bracketed section in the middle of a sentence is followed by a comma, it also goes outside the bracket.
  • colons: Use a colon before directly quoting a complete sentence and as a signal that you are about to list things advertised in the preceding words, e.g. ... these were: three French hens, two turtle doves and a partridge in a pear tree. Put the word following a colon in lower case unless the next word is a proper name, a direct quotation or the beginning of a sentence.
  • commas: Do not over-punctuate, especially with commas. Any sentence studded with commas could probably benefit from a rewrite. Use commas as a guide to sense, to break a sentence into logically discrete parts, but do not use them to the extent that they break the sentence flow.

Use commas to mark off words and phrases that are in apposition to, or define other words or phrases in the sentence e.g. Herve de Charette, French foreign minister, said ... Rudolf Nureyev, most prominent of the defectors from the Bolshoi, has danced …

Use commas to mark off a clause that is not essential to the meaning of a sentence, e.g. The airliner, which was seven years old, crashed ... But a clause that cannot be removed from the sentence without affecting its meaning is not marked off by commas, e.g. The airliner that crashed on Thursday was seven years old but the plane lost the previous day was brand new.

Use commas to separate items in a list, e.g. cheese, fruit, wine and coffee or Smith despised ballet, hated the theatre and was bored by opera. Note that there is normally no comma before the final and. However, a comma should be used in this position if to leave it out would risk ambiguity, e.g. He admired Irving Berlin, Rodgers and Hart, and Leonard Bernstein.

A comma follows an initial however. But as long as there is no risk of ambiguity there is no need for the comma after opening phrases like On Wednesday the committee decided ... In the first four months of 2002 Britain exported ...

  • dashes: Use dashes sparingly, never to set off relative clauses in a sentence. For the sake of clarity, dashes should be double (–) and hyphens single (-). Dashes are followed by lower case unless they are used to label sections of a list The study concluded: – Almost half had more exports this year than last. – In 1995, a third had less imports than in 1994. – One in five expects better terms of trade in 1996.
  • hyphenation: Use the hyphen if its omission might lead to ambiguity, e.g. three year-old horses is quite different from three-year-old horses. Use caution in headlines: False jailing claim delayed or False-jailing claim delayed?

Hyphens tend to erode with time and many words once hyphenated are now generally written unhyphenated e.g. ceasefire, cooperation, gunrunner, machinegun.

Use a hyphen to show that two or more words are to be read together as a single word with its own meaning, different from that of the individual words, e.g. extra-judicial duties (duties other than judicial ones) as opposed to extra judicial duties (additional judicial duties).

Do not hyphenate an adjective and a noun when they stand alone, e.g. the left wing of the party. If the adjective and noun are paired to form a new adjective, they are hyphenated, e.g. a first-class result, the left-wing party. Hyphenate numbers and nouns or adjectives when they are paired to form a new adjective, e.g. a six-cylinder car, a one-armed man. Do not hyphenate adjectives used to form comparatives or superlatives, e.g. the most desirable outcome, the least likely result, the more obvious solution.

Do not hyphenate an adverb and adjective when they stand alone, e.g. The artist was well known. If the adverb and adjective are paired to form a new adjective, they are hyphenated, e.g. a well-known artist. Do not do so if the adverb ends in -ly, e.g. a poorly planned operation.

Hyphenate two adjectives or an adjective and a present or past participle when they are paired to form a new adjective, e.g. a dark-blue dress, a good-looking man, a well-tailored suit.

Do not hyphenate very with an adjective. He is a very good man.

If the second element in a word is capitalised, hyphenate, e.g. anti-Semitism. Transatlantic is an exception.

If pre- or re- is followed by an element beginning with e, hyphenate e.g. pre-empt, re-employ.

If the first element of a word is the negative non-, hyphenate, e.g. a non-aggression pact (but nonconformist).

Where two nouns are paired to form another noun, hyphenate if their original distinct meanings are still clearly retained, e.g. actor-manager. Otherwise do not hyphenate, e.g. housekeeper.

Where a verb and adverb are paired to form a noun, hyphenate if the verb ends and the adverb begins with a vowel, e.g. cave-in, flare-up.

Hyphenate titles when the first word is a preposition, e.g. under-secretary, vice-admiral, or when a noun is followed by an adjective, e.g. attorney-general. (However official U.S. titles are not hyphenated, e.g. the US. Attorney General.) Do not hyphenate when the noun follows the adjective, e.g. second lieutenant.

Hyphenate fractions, e.g. three-quarter, two-thirds.

Hyphenate secondary compass points, e.g. south-southwest but not main ones e.g. southwest.

Hyphenate compound words when not to do so would result in an ugly sound or confusion of meaning, e.g. cross-section, sea-eagle.

Hyphenate both terms in phrases such as short- and medium-range missiles. If a figure being converted is hyphenated make sure that the figure in the conversion is also, e.g. within a 10-mile (six-km) radius.


Not Poona, India.


Prefer gambler, not bettor which is unfamiliar outside the Americas. Do not use in financial stories as a synonym for investors or speculators unless it is in quotes, in which case explain.


buy is shorter and better.

push up, push-up

Two words for the verb, one word for the noun.


Lower case if you mean small, as in pygmy hippopotamus, but upper case for members of specific human groups in Asia and Africa.

Pyrrhic victory

At great cost to the victor.

This page was last modified 20:51, 14 February 2014.

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