Abbreviation: U.S. or US for United States?

A client used to abbreviate the United States as U.S. and the United Kingdom as UK. The inconsistency drove me batty. I couldn’t find a reason for that disparity. But it made me wonder, what are the rules for how one should abbreviate the United States?

What style guides say

The 2017 AP Stylebook uses periods most of the time. It says “The abbreviation U.S. is acceptable as a noun or adjective. Use US (no periods) in headlines.” AP style seems to allow for multiple space-saving adaptations for headlines—like using numerals in headlines, but spelling out numbers under 10 in the body of the text. By the way, AP style has a similar rule for abbreviating United Kingdom.

Garner’s Modern American Usage says of U.S. and U.SA.,

As the shortened forms for United States of America, these terms retain their periods, despite the modern trend to drop the periods in most initialisms… U.S. is best reserved for use as an adjective…, although to use it as a noun in headlines is common. In abbreviations incorporating U.S., the periods are typically dropped <USPS> <USO> <USNA>.

However, other style guides favor US. For example, the MLA Style Center says,

In its publications, the MLA uses the abbreviation US. (Practices among publishers vary, however, and it is not incorrect to use U.S. Whichever abbreviation you choose, be consistent.)

What you should do

Notice how the MLA Style Center mentions consistency? Consistency is key because it makes your publications easier to read. Your organization should pick one style and stick with it.

I am sticking with U.S., unless I write for a publication with a style guide that calls for US. What about you?

If you like this post, you may also like “How to capitalize financial acronyms.”  

U.S. vs. UK

I couldn’t find any rules suggesting why one should use U.S. for the United States along with UK for the United Kingdom. Do any of you have ideas about this? Please let me know. Curiosity is killing me.

One of my friends suggested that some publications mix the two styles of punctuation because UK is preferred in the United Kingdom.

Another suggested that it’s OK to drop the periods from UK but not U.S. because uk is not a real word, while us is a widely used pronoun.

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My five favorite reference books for writers

A printed book is sometimes the best place to find a solution to your question about writing style, punctuation, or grammar.

Here are my five favorite reference books.

  1. Edit Yourself: A manual for everyone who works with words by Bruce Ross-Larson. Everyone should own this small, inexpensive, easy-to-use book. I use Part II, the back of the book, the most. It lists troublesome words in alphabetical order. It’ll help you cut pretentious words and resolve problems such as deciding between “which” and “that.” Part I describes and offers solutions to problems common in everyday writing. Buy it today!
  2. Words into Type, based on studies by Marjorie E. Skillin, Robert M. Gay, and other authorities. This fat classic from 1974 is my second “go to” reference book when I’m flummoxed by a question of style, punctuation, or grammar. I go straight to the index to look for the word or type of problem. The book is aimed at individuals preparing manuscripts for publication.
  3. The Chicago Manual of Style was my favorite reference book for many years. It’s the most academic of the books on this list. You can also subscribe online to the manual and follow it on Facebook or Twitter.
  4. The Associated Press Stylebook. If you’ve ever heard an editor say, “We follow AP style,” they’re talking about the print or online edition of this style book. There’s even an iPhone app for this guide. If you’re geeky enough–like me–to consider owning multiple style guides, you may enjoy the sarcastic, not-to-be-trusted FakeAPStylebook Twitter account, in addition to the Twitter account of the real thing.
  5. The Grammar Bible by Michael Strumpf and Auriel Douglas. This book gives plain English explanations of vexing issues of grammar and more.

Honorable mention

If you’re passionate about good writing, you’ve probably got a favorite reference that I’ve overlooked. Please tell me about it.

Colons and bullets: Keep ’em together or tear ’em apart?

I’m a big fan of bulleted lists. They’re reader-friendly because, when used properly, they’re easy to scan. But I’ve gone back and forth on how to punctuate the text introducing a list of bullets. I always used a colon before the list until a friend told me that was wrong. However, other friends chide me when I skip the colon.

To put an end to this argument, I’m reviewing some opinions on this topic.

Use a colon to introduce bullet points

“End your introduction with a colon, which serves as an anchor,” says Bryan Garner in the section about bullets Garner’s Modern American Usage.

Use a colon to introduce lists

Many texts don’t explicitly discuss the combination of colons with bullets, but they discuss colons preceding lists. “Use a colon to introduce a list that appears at the end of a sentence,” say Michael Strumpf and Auriel Douglas in The Grammar Bible (p. 426). My 2007 Associated Press Stylebook says, “The most common use of a colon is at the end of a sentence to introduce lists, tabulations, texts, etc. (p. 325).

“Following” or “as follows” demands a colon

Other texts don’t explicitly mention bullets, but give mixed opinions about colons preceding lists. For example, my 1982 copy of The Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS) says, “A colon is commonly used to introduce a list or a series” (p. 149).  It also specifies that “The terms as follows or the following require a colon is followed directly by the illustrating or enumerated items or if the introducing clause is incomplete without such items.” My 1974 copy of Words into Print agrees these “follow” phrases require a colon.

However, things get complicated after that.

Here are some of the situations when you should skip the colon after the introductory phrase, according to CMOS (all citations on the same page).

  1. “A colon should not be used to introduce a list or object of an element in the introductory statement.”–Words Into Print seems to agree, saying, “When the introduction is not a complete sentence and one or more of the items of the list are need to complete it, no colon or dash should be used” (p. 181).
  2. “If the list or series is introduced by expressions such as namely, for instance, for example, or that is, a colon should not be used unless the series consists of one or more grammatically complete clauses.”

Grammar Girl’s two-part rule

Mignon Fogarty, better known as Grammar Girl, suggests a simple two-part rule in “Formatting Vertical Lists.”

  1. “If your lead-in statement is a complete sentence, use a colon at the end to introduce your list.”
  2. “On the other hand, if your lead-in statement is a sentence fragment, I recommend that you don’t use a colon.”

I like rules that are easy to remember. They boost the likelihood that I’ll punctuate consistently.

What about you?

If you have strong feelings about colons and bullets, please express them below.

Image courtesy of Master isolated at

Punctuation reminder: When an -ly adverb is part of a compound modifier

Should you hyphenate “socially responsible” in the following phrase?

“Socially responsible funds are…”

“Hyphens should never be used with compound modifiers that include an adverb ending in -ly,” as my colleague Hilda Brucker reminds me occasionally. Yes, I make punctuation mistakes, too. This is one of my weaknesses.


How can I brush up my grammar?

Grammar, punctuation, and word usage questions puzzle many of my readers. If you’d like to brush up on the basics, I’ve got some tips for you.

1.  Buy and read Edit Yourself  by Bruce Ross-Larson.

This slim paperback offers tips in an easy-to-read style in its first 11 chapters. For example, “Long sentences−those of more than, say, twenty words−often are hard to read. Short sentences usually are not.” The second half of the book is an alphabetical, reader-friendly reference.

When you have questions beyond the book’s scope, check out the books listed in “My five favorite reference books for writers” and the online resources I discuss in “Poll: What’s your favorite online resource for grammar, punctuation, and word usage questions?

2. Take quizzes. offers interactive quizzes. What I liked about the one quiz I took was that the answers explained the rules clearly. Plus, it taught me some fine points of grammar, so it’s good for advanced students as well as writers who are brushing up.

Some of the GrammarBook quizzes are free. If you like the freebies enough, you can buy an annual subscription to access the rest.

Introducing “Mistake Monday” on the Investment Writing Facebook page

Every writer makes mistakes. The best writers learn from mistakes. In the interest of furthering your learning, I’ve introduced Mistake Monday on the Investment Writing Facebook page. My goal is to share examples of writing mistakes every Monday. I also welcome your contributions.

For Mistake Monday, can you suggest a replacement for "mitigate"? You may not think of "mitigate" as a mistake, but I'd prefer a simpler word.

Why you should visit the Mistake Monday posts

Mistake Monday offers you a chance to test your knowledge of the fine points of writing. I’ll post writing samples, but I won’t correct them. At least not right away. I’d like to give you room for friendly discussions about the mistakes on the page.

Reading the comments on the Mistake Monday conversations will help you to refine your understanding of good writing. I expect to learn things, too.

Please contribute to Mistake Monday

I welcome your posts of writing mistakes on any Monday, but only on Mondays. Please keep the content clean and your comments civil. I look forward to learning from you!

How do you make Degas possessive?

I learned in high school English to form the possessive of a word ending in the letter s by adding only an apostrophe. According to this rule, the workers of Degas should become Degas’ workers.

But times have changed. Today many people and organizations don’t observe the apostrophe-only rule. Not even The New York Times, where I spotted “Degas’s.”

Leave off the s for the possessive

Grammar Girl says opinions are divided, but she prefers to leave off the s.

Here’s what my old AP style guide says about the possessive and singular common nouns ending in s:

Add ‘s unless the next work begins with s: the hostess’s invitation,the hostess’ seat; the witness’s answer, the witness’ story.

In another complication, the Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL) says:

add ‘s to the singular form of the word (even if it ends in -s)

OWL’s rule means that you’d write about “General Mills’s divisions.”

I think the AP and OWL recommendations are too complicated. Let’s keep things simple! However, if you prefer different rules, it’s okay as long as you apply them consistently. Consistency will make it easier for your readers to process what you write.


Note: I updated this post on Dec.  27, 2015 by adding links.

“Atrocious apostrophe’s”

Writers abuse apostrophes. If you find this amusing, you can see many examples in the Atrocious Apostrophe’s Flickr stream.

Do you understand what’s wrong in the photo to the right? I’ve explained it in “Bloggers’ top two punctuation mistakes.”

If you have questions about apostrophes, please post them as comments on this blog post.

JUNE 6 UPDATE: I apologize if you clicked on the broken link to “Atrocious Apostrophe’s.” I’ve corrected it to

What’s your favorite online resource for grammar, punctuation, and word usage questions?

Grammar, punctuation, and word usage questions come up every day–even for someone like me who prides herself on being a good writer.

We can all benefit from online resources that help us figure out answers to our writing challenges.

My three favorites: GrammarGirl, OWL, and Google

I often Google my writing questions.

But sometimes Google’s results aren’t on target or the sources don’t seem reliable. This is when I turn to GrammarGirl and Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab (OWL). Both are trustworthy sources that explain things clearly.


Jane Straus’ GrammarBook website was brought to my attention by Jill Brogan of Martingale Asset Management after I originally drafted this post. I plan to visit this site more often. Although founder Jane Straus  passed away, her husband plans to continue her work.

Subscription-based resources

I use the hard-copy versions of the following two resources, so I imagine they’re worthwhile for organizations with budgets.

Your favorite online resource?

What’s YOUR opinion on the best online resource? Have you discovered new resources? Please share your new discoveries.


Note: This post has been updated since it originally appeared on Feb. 27, 2011.


My May blog posts by category: Blogging, economy/investments/wealth management, marketing, social media, writing

Did you notice that I went wild in May, posting every day as part of the Word Count Blogathon? For your convenience, I’m listing my May posts by category.


Economy, investments, and wealth management


Social media


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Copyright 2010 by Susan B. Weiner All rights reserved