Literary Life Hacks

Some shorter prepositions sometimes function as adverbs. In such cases, they should be capitalized like any other adverb in titles, headlines and such.

How can you tell if it’s a function or preposition? Look for the noun. If the word is in a “relationship” with a noun, it’s a preposition and should stay “down” (lowercase).

“Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay”

Jones to Update Attendees on Legislative Matters

If it’s modifying a verb, it’s an adverb. Uppercase it.

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In general, when a piece of text, such as a title or a headline, contains initial caps, the following words should not be capitalized:

  • Articles (a, an, the)
  • Conjunctions (and, or, nor)
  • Prepositions of three letters or fewer (in, out, by, for, of, to, etc.)

Nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs are always capitalized, no matter how short. So are prepositions of four letters or more.
Of course, the first word in a title, headline or similar piece of text is always capitalized, no matter what part of speech it is, or its length.

  • An Evening With John Dau
  • Board Will Not Vote Until After Budget Is Finalized
  • Experts to Speak on Discrimination in the Workplace

 

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“More than” is preferable to “over” when referring to numbers of people, places or things:

More than 500 people attended the national conference, representing more than 50 local chapters.

Reserve “over” for monetary amounts and ages.

The charity walk raised over $10,000 to benefit Senior Services, which helps needy individuals over 65.

Rule of thumb: If the question is “how many?” use “more than.” If the question is “how much,” use “over.”

 

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When to spell out numbers and when to use figures:

General rule: Spell out one through nine, use figures for 10 and above.

Exceptions:

  • Spell out all numbers that start a sentence: Fifty years ago, U.S. astronauts landed on the moon. * Exception to the exception: Years: 2019 went by so fast!
  • Ages: Always figures. He’s 45 years old. His children are 2, 6 and 9.
  • Measurements (including distances): Always figures. She is 5 feet 3 inches tall. The hotel is 7 miles from the airport.
  • Percentages: Always figures. 5 percent, 8.6 percent.
  • Addresses: Figures. 5 Main St. * Exception to the exception: Spell out street names that are numbers if they’re under 10. Use figures for 10 and up: Fifth Avenue, 42nd Street.
  • Numerical designations after a noun: Always figures. Route 9. Page 6. Grade 7 (but “seventh grade”).

 

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Use double quotation marks — singles are only for “quotes within quotes”:

“I can sing ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star’ all by myself,” the little girl said.

What quote marks are for:

  • Quotations (duh)
  • Titles of movies, plays, songs, TV shows, books (but not magazines, newspapers or reference works)
  • Nicknames (e.g., Thomas “Tip” O’Neill)
  • Irony/sarcasm/playfulness (My friend’s “party” was nothing but a sales pitch for those “miracle creams” she sells. My son made a “spaceship” out of a cardboard box.)


What quote marks are not for:

Emphasis. If you want a word or phrase to stand out, put it in bold, all caps, a larger font, a contrasting color or all of the above – NOT in quotes. (See what we did there?) There is a special place in Copy Crank Hell for those who misuse both quote marks and apostrophes as attention getters (“New Car’s” for sale! Don’t miss out on our “Big Deal’s”!).