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Everyday usage & common issues

'a' or 'an'

Common usage

Italics

Latin words and phrases

'that' or 'which'


'a' or 'an'

Before h, use 'an' if the h is silent (eg: an hour, an heir) and use 'a' if the h is not silent (eg:  a hero, a hotel, a historian).


Common usage

Common errors in English language use include:

  • amid, not amidst
  • among, not amongst
  • any more, not anymore (but anyhow, anyone, anything, anyway, anywhere)
  • 'compare to' when comparing similarity, 'compare with' when comparing difference
  • contrast to, not contrast from
  • different from, not different to or different than (US)
  • either ... or, not either … nor
  • 'enquire' is asking for information, 'inquire' is investigating
  • fewer refers to numbers, less refers to quantity, e.g. fewer than 40 staff, less than half of the class
  • less than, not less then
  • more than (when referring to number and quantity), not 'over'
  • neither ... nor, not neither … or
  • partner, not spouse
  • 'past' in present tense, 'passed' in past tense
  • similar to, not similar with
  • 'stationary' is fixed or immobile, 'stationery' is pens and paper
  • that or which
  • while, not whilst.

Also refer to Inclusive language.


Italics

Where possible avoid italics on websites as some users may have difficulty in reading italics on screens. However italics can be used to represent titles such as newspaper publications. For example:

  • the Mercury
  • the Australian
  • the Melbourne Age
  • The Advocate
  • The Examiner.

Also refer to Latin words and phrases.


Latin words and phrases

Phrases such as the following would typically be italicised:

  • Modus operandi
  • in situ
  • ultra vires
  • inter alia.

Some expressions, which are accepted as part of our English lexicon, do not require italics:

  • de facto
  • testamur
  • vice versa
  • Professor Emeritus
  • an ad hoc committee confirmed the status quo.

'that' or 'which'

If a clause is definitive, use 'that'. Use 'which' if a clause is descriptive. 'Which' is usually preceded by a comma. For example:

  • The site collects data on browsing behaviour that is collated for future reference.
  • The site, which uses a statistics package, collects data on browsing behaviour.