Spelling-Word usage |
The Wisconsin Department of Transportation style guide is for WisDOT employees and contractors who prepare department information for publication. This includes print materials, PowerPoint presentations and websites. In some cases, guidelines for web documents may differ from those of print documents. This resource is designed to give the department's public information products a consistent, uniform look and style. Our goal is to produce and provide clear and concise informational materials, which are easily understood by our customers.
If you have additional questions or need clarification on writing style, the Office of Public Affairs staff is here to help. Contact OPA at (608) 266-3581 or send us an email at
Note the guide is not intended for use with technical materials.
Define them! Write out the words that make up an acronym during its first use, with the acronym included in parenthesis. Example: The Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) is starting work on the project. Once the acronym is clearly established, use it for any following references within a document. An alternative for additional references is to use a generic noun rather than the acronym. For example, after spelling out American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials, "the organization," or "the association," can be used instead of AASHTO.
Spell the state when you only give city and state: She lives in Madison, Wisconsin.
Abbreviate the state in a full address: 4802 Sheboygan Ave., Madison, WI
Spell the street when not used in an address: He lives on Sunny Street.
Abbreviate Ave. Blvd., St., etc. only if part of a numbered address
Use P.O. Box
Use this acronym (American travel by track) in all references to the National Railroad Passenger Corp. Do not use all caps (AMTRAK).
Always spell out the word in text (rather than using the ampersand symbol "&"), unless the symbol is specifically part of a name (Madison Gas & Electric). An ampersand may be used in tables if space is limited.
Use lower case when spelling out degrees; upper case when abbreviating: bachelor of arts, master's degree. Abbreviate only after a full name, set off by commas: Bill Jones, Ph.D., M.A., B.A.
Don’t capitalize college degrees used as general terms of classification; however, capitalize a degree used after a person's name.
Abbreviate Co. or Cos. when a firm uses it at the end of its name. Spell out and lowercase company or companies whenever they stand alone.
Abbreviate corporation as Corp. when a company or government agency uses the word at the end of its name. Spell out and lowercase corporation whenever it stands alone.
U.S. DOT, WisDOT, or Wisconsin DOT (not WIDOT or WDOT)
Spell out on first reference and abbreviate on subsequent references:
DBM Division of Business Management
DMV Division of Motor Vehicles
DSP Division of State Patrol
DTIM Division of Transportation Investment Management
DTSD Division of Transportation System Development
OS Office of the Secretary
OGC Office of General Counsel
OPA Office of Public Affairs
OPFI Office of Policy, Finance and Improvement
See the word usage section
Abbreviate and capitalize as Inc. when used as part of a corporate name. Don’t set off with commas. Example: ABC Company Inc. will benefit from the Transportation Economic Assistance grant.
You may abbreviate Jan., Feb., Aug., Sept., Oct., Nov. and Dec. when these months are used with dates: Oct. 31, 2009 Don't abbreviate: March April, May, June, or July, unless you have a chart or table where space is limited (Mar., Apr., May, Jun., Jul.) Always spell out the month when it is only month and year: January 2005 (no comma separating month and year)
It's OK to use just the call letters: radio station WIBA-FM, television station WISC. "TV" is acceptable as an adjective or in such cases as cable TV, but generally spell out television when used in text.
Spell out the names of the 50 United States when they stand alone in text. The names of eight states are never abbreviated: Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Ohio, Texas and Utah. Wisconsin can be abbreviated as Wis. to fit in a table or chart. Be consistent within documents. The two-letter abbreviations (WI) should only be used in mailing addresses, or in charts where the postal abbreviation is used for all states referenced.
Main Street; 609 Main St.; Main and Locust streets
Spell out the name when it stands alone in text. It may be abbreviated as Wis. to fit in a table or chart. “WI” should only be used in mailing addresses.
Wisconsin Department of Transportation
Spell out Wisconsin Department of Transportation or state Department of Transportation in the first reference. Use WisDOT, Wisconsin DOT or the department in second and subsequent references. In most cases, do not precede WisDOT with "the." (For example, do not write "The WisDOT announced today that..." But it is correct to write, "Additional information is on the WisDOT website.")
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WisDOT uses a down style in our writing. If the word isn't at the beginning of a sentence or isn't a proper name, we generally don’t capitalize it. When in doubt, we recommend using lower case.
Capitalize airport only when it’s part of a proper name: General Mitchell International Airport
Assembly and Senate
Capitalize when part of a proper name or when the state name is dropped but the reference is specific:
The Wisconsin Assembly
The state Senate
Board of Directors
Capitalize when part of a proper name: the WisDOT Board of Directors; the board of directors
Capitalize key words including "A" or "The" when they are the first or last word in the title
Capitalize the word bridge when part of a proper name: Lloyd Spriggle Memorial Bridge. Lowercase when describing the location: the bridge over the Mississippi River, or the Prairie du Chien bridge (when used to designate a location).
When used generically, do not capitalize. But when it is part of a name, capitalize: Verona Bypass.
Capitalize city if part of a proper name, an integral part of an official name, or a regularly used nickname: Kansas City, New York City, Windy City. Lowercase elsewhere: a Wisconsin city; the city government; and all "city of" phrases: the city of Appleton.
Capitalize when part of a proper name: the Madison City Council; lowercase in other uses: the council, the Superior and Green Bay city councils
college and high school classes
Do not capitalize: freshman; sophomore; junior; senior. Do capitalize Class of 2014.
Capitalize Congress when referring to both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, not just one house. Use figures and capitalize district when naming a specific district: the 2nd Congressional District.
Capitalize only when part of a proper name: Bayfield County; but Bayfield and Dane counties; the county.
Capitalize when it is part of a proper name. Lower case whenever it stands alone. Do not abbreviate in any usage. A phrase such as "the department" is preferable on second reference.
directions and regions
Generally lower case: north, south, etc., when they indicate compass direction; capitalize when they designate region or are part of a proper name. He drove north. Rail would serve southeastern Wisconsin; Midwest; Northern accent; northern France but South Korea.
draft environmental impact statements (DEIS)
Use lowercase for the term, but use capital letters for the acronym. The same would apply to environmental impact statement (EIS) and other long terms that are used repeatedly. (Shorter terms, such as environmental assessment and needs assessment, should always be spelled out.)
U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin; U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, D-Wisconsin; State Rep. Robin Vos, R-Burlington; State Sen. Julie Lassa, D-Stevens Point
No hyphen; capitalize only at the beginning of a sentence
Always capitalize; one word
Don't capitalize; use FY 2013-14 in second reference
Always capitalize; name of a fund
General Transportation Aids (GTA)
Always capitalize; name of a program
geographical and infrastructure names
Rock River, Great River Road, Fox Lake, Lake Michigan, Bong Bridge, Badger Interchange, Marquette Interchange
When a generic term is used in the plural, following more than one name, it’s lowercase:
Between the Wisconsin and Mississippi rivers
At the intersection of Mineral Point and Segoe roads
Eau Claire and Chippewa counties
When a generic term precedes more than one name, it’s usually capitalized:
Lakes Superior and Michigan
Capitalize the full proper name of governmental agencies, departments and offices: Alcohol-Drug Review Unit; Bureau of Driver Services; Bureau of Transportation Safety; U.S. Department of Transportation for first reference; U.S. DOT on second reference
Governor Scott Walker; on second reference the preferred formatting is Governor Walker, not “the Governor.”
Capitalize them: Christmas Day, New Year's Eve. The legal holidays in state law are: New Year's, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day (or Fourth of July), Labor Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Capitalize when used as a formal title before a name. See titles.
Internet and Intranet
Always capitalize these words
Do not capitalize unless included in a proper name: Zoo Interchange
Capitalize when preceded by the name of the state. Lowercase when used generically and for all plural references:
The Wisconsin Legislature
Both houses of the legislature
No legislature has approved the amendment
The Wisconsin and Minnesota legislatures
Use Rep., Reps., Sen. and Sens. as formal titles before one or more names in regular text. Spell out and capitalize these titles before one or more names in a direct quotation. Spell out and lowercase representative and senator when they follow a name, and in other uses. Spell out other legislative titles in all uses. Capitalize formal titles such as assemblyman, assemblywoman, city councilor, delegate, etc., when they are used before a name. Lowercase when they follow a name, and in other uses. Add U.S. or state before a title only if necessary to avoid confusion: U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin spoke with state Sen. Frank Lasee.
Major Highways Program
This is the name of a program and should be capitalized when it is used as such. Do not refer to major highways as "majors," but rather identify specific highway names and numbers.
nationalities and races
Capitalize nationalities, peoples, races, tribes, etc.: Native American, African American, Caucasian, Chinese; lowercase: black, white, tribe and tribal
Capitalize both the name of the party and the word party if it is customarily used as part of the organization's proper name: the Republican Party, the Democratic Party. Capitalize Communist, Conservative, Democrat, Liberal, Republican, Socialist, etc., when they refer to a specific party or its members. Lowercase these words when they refer to political philosophy.
Regions within WisDOT: Use North Central, Northeast, Northwest, Southeast and Southwest in formal communications
When appropriate, abbreviate regions as: NC Region, NE Region, NW Region, SE Region, SW Region (all caps for the directional references)
Capitalize region when used as a name-proper noun: Southeast Region or SE Region
When used as an adjective, the reference is the regional office rather than the region office
When listing regions, list in alphabetical order NC, NE, NW, SE, SW
When referring to a regional office: the Southwest Region, La Crosse Office
For the Hill Farms Office, use Central Office, Madison
lower case except in reference to a specific rideshare program
Capitalize names of schools, colleges and universities, but not departments or courses unless proper nouns-adjectives: College of Agriculture, Law School, engineering department, department of English
Do not capitalize seasons: spring, summer, fall, autumn, winter
Capitalize when referring the head of a state or federal department, such as WisDOT: Secretary Dave Ross; on second reference the preferred formatting is Secretary Ross, not “the Secretary.”
Capitalize only when it is part of a proper name: the State of Wisconsin; state legislature, but Wisconsin Legislature
Capitalize State Patrol, Wisconsin State Patrol, but do not capitalize the patrol
Trademark for stun gun. (Acronym for Thomas A. Swift's Electric Rifle) Use the generic form if the brand is uncertain. Don't use verbs like
tasered. Exception: When the verb forms appear in direct quotations, use lowercase.
Capitalize and spell out: Eastern Standard Time, Central Standard Time, Daylight Saving Time
Capitalize key words in books, plays, lectures, pictures, etc., including "A" or "The" if it is the first or last word in the title
In general, use capitalization in formal titles used directly before an individual's name:
President Barack Obama
Deputy Secretary Paul Hammer
Administrator Aileen Switzer
In general, do not capitalize a formal title when it appears after a name; however, for very high officials, when you are referring to a specific person, capitalize the title:
Barack Obama, President of the United States; the President
The Secretary of State just entered the room.
Ron Johnson, senator from Wisconsin; the senator
It may be appropriate to capitalize all titles on certain documents (agendas, certificates, etc.). Be consistent throughout the document.
town of Grand Chute; village of Waunakee; city of Milwaukee; cities of Eau Claire, Green Bay, Madison – list a series of municipalities in alphabetical order, regardless of population difference
This is a proper name
Capitalize when used as a formal title before a name. See titles.
Always capitalized; “tweet” is lowercase
web, webpage, website
Do not capitalize; no spaces (home page is two words)
Always capitalize the "Y" and "T"; one word
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In general, spell out one through nine and use figures for 10 and above; use all figures when you have a series of numbers. Be consistent throughout a document.
Use figures and spell out the measurement. She is 5 feet 9 inches tall. When used as an adjective, hyphenate: the 10-mile bypass.
Use only numbers for dimensions, prices, temperatures, etc.: 4 by 5 feet, 7 degrees, 4-lane, $5, 5 cents, 12 cents, $2.50.
Use words when a percent or percentage is under 10: one percent, 10 percent, four percentage points (use decimals, not fractions). For a range, 12 to 15 percent or between 12 and 15 percent; for amounts less than one percent, precede the decimal with a zero: The cost of living rose 0.6 percent. A percent sign (%) may be used in charts, graphs and tables, especially online.
1st District, 10th Ward, 3rd Precinct (political divisions)
(608) xxx-xxxx or 1-800-xxx-xxxx or (608) xxx-xxxx, ext. 364.
Use the term toll-free before any toll-free number except 800 so readers know it is a toll-free number: "Call toll-free 888-368-9556 anytime to make a road test appointment."
2-lane, 4-lane, etc.
Round a number up if it is five or more, and down if it is less than five: $2.6 million, not $2,594,697.40.
Spell out numbers when they start a sentence
Use figures except for noon and midnight. 8:30 a.m., 9 p.m., (not 9:00 p.m.). Avoid redundancies such as: 10 a.m. this morning. Use 10 a.m. today. Put the time after the verb in a sentence. Governor Walker announced today...
Use when the toll-free number is anything but 800 so readers know it is a toll-free number. Example: Call toll-free 888-368-9556 anytime to make a road test appointment.
Early '60s, not 60's; 1980s (Don't use an apostrophe when making figures plural). Avoid starting a sentence with a year. Always include the year on first reference of a date in a document.
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Use when creating a contraction: don't (do not), couldn't (could not), it's (it is)
Use to indicate possessive case of nouns: the department's budget; the employee’s job
Use to indicate omission of figures: the '90s; class of '97
When you make a noun or number plural by adding "s," don't use an apostrophe: 1990s
Use parallel construction
Capitalize the first letter of the first word in each bullet
Create bullet point lists; it’s easier than writing complete sentences
Avoid using semicolons, commas and conjunctions to separate bullets
Stay consistent; if complete sentences must be used then make each bullet point a complete sentence with proper punctuation
Use a colon to signal to the reader that a series or a list will follow.
Use a colon to separate an explanation, rule or example from a preceding independent clause.
The Zoo Interchange is not just another highway project: it is one of the largest infrastructure projects in the history of Wisconsin.
Use a colon to introduce a long quotation.
The governor noted: "Transportation touches every Wisconsinite every day. Whether going to work school, or recreational activities, the citizens of this state use our products and services all the time."
Only capitalize the first word after a colon if it is a proper noun or the start of a complete sentence.
Use commas to separate elements in a series, but do not put a comma before the conjunction (and, or) in a simple series:
- You can get there by car, bus or train.
- LED traffic lights now come in red, yellow and green.
However, if one element of the series has a conjunction in it, put a comma before the last element:
- I had orange juice, toast, and ham and eggs for breakfast.
- Project funds covered resurfacing pavement, replacing curb and gutter, and adding new guardrail.
When a conjunction (and, but, or) links two clauses that could stand alone as separate sentences, use a comma before the conjunction, in most cases.
- Young people often drive too fast, and sometimes they don’t wear their seat belts.
Use a comma to separate an introductory clause or phrase from the main clause:
- By retirement age, many people who haven't ridden for years take up the bicycle again.
If the information in a parenthetical phrase relates closely to the sentence, enclose it in commas.
- The most scenic way to cross the country, if you have the time, is to travel by train.
Use a comma to introduce a complete one-sentence quotation within a paragraph.
- The officer said, “Stay with your vehicle; a tow truck will be along shortly.”
A comma should follow yes, no, why, well, etc., when one of these words begins a sentence.
- No, they didn’t close the Sun Prairie exit after the semi-trailer overturned.
Hyphens are primarily used to connect words, whereas dashes are most often used to set words — or phrases — apart. Here are some rules for when to use hyphens:
In compound numbers between twenty-one and ninety-nine and when used in larger numbers, such as three hundred forty-six. Ordinal numbers, such as twenty-fifth and sixty-third need hyphens, too.
In compound adjectives in which the last word is capitalized, such as un-American, mid-Atlantic.
To join a word to a past participle to create a single adjective preceding the noun it modifies:
- We held the program kick-off event last Friday.
- This is a government-funded program.
But do not hyphenate the same phrase when it follows the noun:
- When do they plan to kick off the program?
- The program is government funded.
In a compound adjective that is a fraction:
- The bill passed with a two-thirds majority.
But fractions treated as nouns are not hyphenated:
- Two thirds of the applications have been reviewed.
In compounds made up of two or more words used as an adjective before a noun:
- He made a last-minute decision.
But do not use a hyphen when one of the words is an adverb ending in “-ly:”
- We viewed an amazingly good PowerPoint.
With ages, when they are adjective phrases involving a unit of measurement:
- My ten-year-old car broke down.
But do not use a hyphen when the phrase comes after the noun:
justified text alignment
WisDOT uses a left justified format for print and web documents. All text is aligned to the left margin, with the right side looking jagged depending on the length of various words.
No hyphen unless a capitalized word follows: mid-April, mid-Atlantic, midterm, midsemester. Use a hyphen when mid- precedes a figure: mid-30s.
The rules in prefixes apply but in general, use no hyphen: multimodal, multilateral, multimillion, multicolored. However, multi-lane is the exception for the use of a hyphen.
right of way; rights of way; right of ways
Do not hyphenate
Use quotes at the beginning of each paragraph of a continuous quote of several paragraphs, but at the end of the last paragraph only.
You may quote a word being introduced for the first time, but not in subsequent references.
Don’t quote names of newspapers or periodicals: the Wisconsin State Journal.
Don’t quote names of aircraft, automobiles, trains, vessels, etc.
Use single quotes for quotations within quotations and in headlines. "I know the public will 'rage' at the design."
The period and the comma always go inside the quotation marks.
Italic type is generally used for the following: certain scientific names, court cases, named vehicles, books, feature-length films and documentaries, paintings (and other works of visual art), periodicals (journals and magazines).
Use a semicolon between independent clauses to indicate separation stronger than a comma, but less than a period.
- The Marquette Interchange project was on time and under budget; it is our showcase project.
Use a semicolon to separate clauses joined by such transitional words as hence, moreover, however, also, therefore, and consequently. Follow these words with a comma.
- The rains were extraordinary; however, the road did not wash away.
Use a semicolon to separate lengthy statements following a colon, and when commas are used within these clauses or phrases.
- Division and office meetings with the executive assistant took place on specific days: DMV, DTIM and DTSD on Mondays; DSP and DBM on Tuesdays; and OPA, OPFI and OGC on Wednesdays.
Use a semicolon to precede "for example," "namely," "for instance," "i.e.," and others when they introduce a list of examples that you don’t feel belong in parentheses. Follow these words with a comma.
- Many factors are considered before a highway is built; for instance, available funding, environmental assessment and community needs.
spacing after period
Use just one space between sentences. This applies to print and web-based documents.
When quoting shorter statutory material, just put it in quotation marks and identify the statute in the following sentence:
The law requires the Department of Transportation to, "maintain its principal office at Madison and district offices at such other cities, villages and towns as the necessities of the work demand." Section 84.30, Wis. Stats.
When quoting longer statutory material, a colon should follow introductory material with the quoted materials set in an indented block of text, without quotation marks:
Example: The law generally requires the Department to keep bidder information confidential, except as provided in s. 84.01 (32)(b), Wis. Stats.: 84.01 (32)(b) This subsection does not prohibit the department from disclosing information to any of the following persons:
- The person to whom the information relates.
- Any person who has the written consent of the person to whom the information relates to receive such information.
- Any person to whom 49 CFR 26, as that section existed on October 1, 1999, requires or specifically authorizes the department to disclose such information.
The Department's duty to advise local authorities is clear:
The department shall advise towns, villages, cities and counties with regard to the construction and maintenance of any highway or bridge, when requested. On the request of any town, village, city or county board, or county highway committee, any supervision or engineering work necessary in connection with highway improvements by any town, village, city or county may be performed by the department and charged at cost to such town, village, city or county. Section 84.01(5), Wis. Stats.
If you are simply citing to statutory authority, without quoting any material: Billboards cannot be erected adjacent to state trunk highways without a permit. Section 84.30, Wis. Stats.
When writing for the web, only hyperlinked words should be underlined. Books, magazines, periodicals and newspapers should be italicized, not underlined, in print documents.
The official web address for WisDOT is:
Unless it’s a key point of the message, don’t include full web addresses in web copy; use hyperlinked words when possible: The 2014 awards total more than $5 million. For Wisconsin travel information, visit
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Use a before consonant sounds: a historic event, a one-year term (sounds like it begins with a "w".) Use an before vowel sounds: an energy crisis, an honorable man (silent h).
When a motor vehicle makes contact with something with force, such as another vehicle or a tree, it is a crash, not an accident.
Use the word. Avoid use of the ampersand symbol.
adopt, approve, enact, pass
Amendments, ordinances, resolutions and rules are adopted or approved. Bills are passed. Laws are enacted.
adviser or advisor
Both spellings are acceptable, but be consistent within each document.
afterward or afterwards
Both spellings are acceptable, but be consistent within each document.
all time, all-time
An all-time high, but the greatest administrator of all time.
alright / all right
Alright is not a word; it's a common misspelling of all right, which means all correct. Some people prefer yes, acceptable, or satisfactory instead of all right.
alot / a lot / allot
Alot is not a word; it is a common misspelling of a lot. A lot is colloquial and vague; choose a more precise word, when possible. Allot (verb) means to assign a share, to allocate.
Do not refer to an event as annual until it has been held in at least two successive years. Don't use first annual, but sponsors plan to hold the fair annually. Never capitalize annual meeting.
anybody, any body, anyone, any one
Use anybody or anyone for an indefinite reference: Anybody could do that. Use any body or any one when you single out one element of a group: Any one of them could speak up.
Because bimonthly can mean every two months or twice a month, and biweekly can mean every two weeks or twice a week, these are confusing word. Semi- only means twice, so avoid confusion by writing semimonthly or semiweekly; or write twice a week or month.
bus, buses, bused, busing. It is acceptable to double the "s" in these words, but be consistent within a document.
cancel, canceled, canceling, cancellation
car pool, carpool
Both spellings are acceptable, but be consistent within each document.
carryover (noun and adjective); carry over (verb)
cement, not concrete
The powder mixed with water and sand or gravel to make concrete. Use concrete (not cement) pavement, blocks, driveways, etc.
The first century (under 10), the 21st century (numerals 10 and over). Century is not capitalized.
clean up (verb); cleanup (noun and adjective)
control, controlled, controlling
Refer to both men and women by first and last name: Susan Smith or Robert Smith. Use the courtesy titles Mr., Miss, Ms. or Mrs. only in direct quotations or in other special situations: 1) When it is necessary to distinguish between two people who use the same last name, as in married couples or brothers and sisters, use the first and last name; 2) When a woman specifically requests it; for example, where a woman prefers to be known as Mrs. Susan Smith or Ms. Susan Smith.
Not different than
A person with disabilities works for DMV. Not "a disabled, or handicapped person" or "she is disabled, handicapped, etc." Avoid “hearing impaired” – preference is deaf or hard of hearing. Do not call attention to disabilities unless it is clearly pertinent to a story.
Not driver’s license
Interstate highways: interstate means between states. Capitalize Interstate when referring to a specific highway. Interstate highways in Wisconsin: I-39, I-41, I-43, I-90, I-94, I-535, I-794, and I-894. Or write "the Interstate," or "the Interstate System."
U.S. highways: US highways in Wisconsin include: US 2, US 8, US 10, US 12, US 14, US 18, US 45, US 51, US 53, US 61, US 63, US 141 and US 151.
State and county highways. State highways are designated as "WIS," as in WIS 29. County highways are designated as (for example) "County H" in all public information materials. Do not refer to a specific state highway as STH or state trunk highway. Do not refer to a specific county highway as CTH or county trunk highway. However, in technical documents, STH and CTH are acceptable.
Municipalities (Commonly misspelled)
Butte des Morts
Eau Claire (city and county)
Fond du Lac (city and county)
Kewaunee (city and county)
Lac du Flambeau
Lac La Belle
La Crosse (city and county)
Land O’ Lakes
Manitowoc (city and county)
North Fond du Lac
Prairie du Chien
Prairie du Sac
Shawano (city and county)
Trempealeau (village and county)
Waukesha (city and county)
In general, use last names only on second reference; except in information communications such as the WisDOT Bulletin, when a first name reference is appropriate.
news release, not press release
OK, OK’d, or okay
public information meeting (PIM)
One word in all cases for computer connection term
It generally refers to spatial relationships: The plane flew over the city. More than is preferred with numerals: There are more than 30 commercial ports in Wisconsin.
Spell out in text; use symbol in charts and graphs and in materials written specifically for the web. When two numbers are used to designate a range, use the word or symbol with each number: "The project is 20 percent to 30 percent complete." Or in a chart or table: "20% - 30%." Be consistent throughout document.
Safety belt is the preferred term
Means twice a month
soon or recently
Avoid using these words on the web as the timing is too vague
Part of WisDOT’s logo; a figure of three curved lines or branches radiating from a common center
website / webpage
Use who and whom for references to human beings and animals with a name. Use that for inanimate objects and animals without a name.
Who is the word when someone is the subject of a sentence, clause or phrase (Examples: The woman who rented the room left the window open. Who is there?) Use who whenever he, she, they, I, or we could be substituted in the who clause.
Whom is the word when someone is the object of a verb or preposition. (Examples: The woman to whom the room was rented left the window open. Whom do you wish to see?) Use whom whenever him, her, them, me, or us could be substituted as the object of the verb or as the object.
Words that are often confused
Accept to receive something; to bear up under (bad news)
Except with the exclusion of; but
Adverse opposed; bad
Averse feeling unwilling; experiencing distaste
Affect (verb, usually) to produce an effect upon; to influence
Effect (noun, usually) intent; result; appearance; influence; a distinctive impression
Aggravate to annoy, provoke, irritate; to make worse or more troublesome
Exacerbate to increase the severity of
Aisle a narrow passageway
Isle an island
All ready prepared (to go)
Already something has happened previously
Allude to make an indirect reference to
Elude to evade or escape from; to escape the understanding or grasp of
Altar a place or structure upon which sacrifices or offerings may be made, or where religious ceremonies may be enacted
Alter to change or make different; to modify
Ambiguous susceptible to multiple interpretations; doubtful or unclear
Ambivalent torn between two opposing feelings or views; uncertainty or indecision as to what course to follow
Amiable good-natured; cordial; sociable; congenial (usually refers to people)
Amicable characterized by or showing friendliness (usually refers to relationships or agreements)
Among use when reference is to more than two
Between use when reference is made to only two
Amoral not moral or immoral; not caring about right and wrong
Immoral contrary to established moral principles
Amount bulk, the sum total referring to the number
Number refers to something counted
Quantity refers to something measured
Antagonist adversary; one who opposes and actively competes with another
Protagonist the leading character in a play, novel, movie, etc.; a leading or principal figure
Appraise to estimate the value of something
Apprise to give notice to; to inform
Artisanal food and other things made in small batches by hand (ARR-tizz-uh-nul)
Artesian describes water that spurts out of the ground under natural pressure (arr-TEE-zhun)
Assure declare, promise
Ensure make certain
Insure protect by insurance
Aural has to do with things you hear
Oral has to do with things you say, or relating to your mouth
A while a short time (n.)
Awhile for a time (adv.)
Beside at the side of; next to; apart from (beside the point)
Besides in addition to; furthermore; moreover;
Biannual twice a year; synonymous with semiannual
Biennial every two years
Blatant disagreeably loud or boisterous; clamorous; conspicuous; obvious
Flagrant glaringly bad; notorious; outrageous
Boarders residents in a house or school paying for their room and board (food); also, people who go snowboarding
Borders having to do with boundaries or edges
Bring to convey toward (the speaker)
Take to carry from (the speaker)
Cache from a French word meaning “to hide”, pronounced like cash
Cachet a quality attributed to something with authority or prestige (ca-SHAY)
Can to be able to; to be capable of
May to be permitted to
Canon a secular law, rule or code of laws; an authoritative list; a musical form
Cannon a big weapon for firing projectiles; section of a horse’s leg
Capital the seat of government; money invested in a business
Capitol the building (and only the building) in which a state or federal legislative body meets
Carrot an orange, crunchy vegetable
Carat unit of weight for precious stones
Karat unit of measure for the fineness of gold
Caret a proofreader’s mark showing where something needs to be inserted
Censor person who examines literature or other material and may remove or suppress what is judged morally or otherwise objectionable
Censure an expression of blame or disapproval; an official rebuke; severely criticize
Chafe to make sore by rubbing; to irritate or annoy, or become annoyed
Chaff to tease good-naturedly; finely cut straw or hay used as fodder
Chord a combination of notes played simultaneously; harmony; emotional feeling
Cord a string or small rope, or electrical wire; raised rib on the surface of cloth
Cite to refer to; to quote by way of authority; to summon to appear in court
Sight a view
Site a place
Climactic pertaining to or constituting a climax
Climatic having to do with the climate
Coarse rough, crude
Course a class or seminar; a route or passage; a series or sequence; procedure or process, etc.
Collaborate to work together, especially in a joint intellectual effort
Corroborate to attest the truth or accuracy of; support or confirm by new evidence
Columbia name if U.S. cities, universities, a sportswear company, etc.
Colombia name of South American nation
Compel to force, drive or constrain
Impel to urge to action through moral pressure; to drive forward; propel
Compliment to praise (v.); a piece of praise (n.)
Complement a worthy addition (n.)
Comprise to consist of; to be composed of. The whole comprises the parts.
Compose to form in combination; to make up; to constitute; to create. The parts compose the whole.
Connote to suggest or imply; to convey to the mind what is not explicit. (Indicates our association with a thing.)
Denote to reveal or indicate; to signify; to refer to specifically. (Indicates the thing a word names.)
Continual repeated again and again
Conscious capable of thought, will or perception; deliberate
Consciousness a critical awareness of one’s own identity and situation
Conscience conformity to one’s own sense of right conduct
Corps a group of people working together to achieve a specific task
Corpse a dead body, usually human
Council an assembly or group
Counsel advice; legal adviser
Country the physical territory of a nation or state; geographical characteristics of a place
Nation large group of people who share customs, origins, history and often language; political and social characteristics of a place
Cue a long stick, as for billiards; a reminder or a prompt to do or say something
Queue a waiting line of people or vehicles; a long braid of hair worn hanging down the back; a sequence of stored computer data or files awaiting processing
Currant small, sour fruit, used chiefly for jelly, or dried like raisins
Current now, in the present; flows, especially of liquids, gases and electricity
Defective having a defect; faulty
Deficient lacking an essential quality or element; insufficient
Dependant a person who depends on another (mostly used in British English)
Dependent contingent upon something or someone else; one who relies on another for support
Desert dry, barren, often sandy region (emphasis on first syllable)
Desert to forsake or leave; abandon (emphasis on second syllable)
Dessert something sweet, served at the end of a meal (emphasis on second syllable, as above)
Discomfort uneasiness; to make uncomfortable; hardship
Discomfit disconcert; defeat; thwart
Disassemble to take something apart; opposite of assemble
Dissemble to conceal ones real motives, nature or feelings under a pretense
Disburse to pay out; distribute
Disperse to break up and scatter; vanish, dissipate
Disinterested neutral, unbiased
Uninterested bored, not interested
Drier one that dries; (adj.) comparative of dry (more dry)
Dryer an appliance that removes moisture
Dual an adjective describing the two-ness of something (dual-purpose)
Duel a prearranged, formal combat between two persons, to settle a dispute
earth the land surface of the world, as distinguished from the oceans and air.
Earth the third planet from the sun.
Effective having an intended or expected effect; producing the desired impression or response
Effectual producing or sufficient to produce a desired effect; fully adequate
Effective having an intended or expected effect
Efficient acting or producing effectively, with a minimum of waste, expense or unnecessary effort; exhibiting a high ratio of output to input
Elicit to bring out; evoke; to call forth
Illicit not sanctioned by custom or law; unlawful
Eligible qualified, as for a position or office; desirable and worthy of choice
Illegible not legible or decipherable (as in handwriting)
Emigrant one who leaves one country or region to settle in another
Immigrant one who enters and settles in a country or region to which one is not native
Eminent outstanding, high, lofty
Imminent threatening to happen soon
Empathy identification with and understanding of another’s feelings or situation
Sympathy feeling or expression of pity or sorrow for distress of another
Energize to give energy to
Enervate to cause to lose vitality or energy
Envelop to enclose or encase completely, with or as if with a covering
Envelope something that envelops; a flat, folded paper container, as for a letter
Envious combines resentment and desire; feeling of discontent and resentment toward another’s possessions or qualities, and strong desire to have them for oneself
Jealous apprehensive of the loss of another’s affection; resentful or bitter in rivalry
Epigram short, witty, proverbial poem, maxim or saying
Epigraph inscription (often in Latin) on a statue, coin, etc.
Epitaph words written in memory of one who has died, usually on their tombstone
Farther used with physical distance
Further used with abstract distance or depth
Fictional an imaginative creation or pretense that does not represent actuality but has been invented
Fictitious imaginary; adopted or assumed in order to deceive; not genuinely believed or felt; sham
Flack a press agent or publicist; to act as a press agent
Flak excessive or abusive criticism; anti-aircraft artillery or bursting shells fired from anti-aircraft artillery
Flair a natural talent or aptitude; distinctive elegance or style
Flare to burst into intense, sudden flame; device that produces bright light for signaling; to expand or open outward in shape
Flaunt to ostentatiously show something off, deliberately to call attention to it
Flout to deliberately break or disregard a rule or law
Flounder to proceed clumsily and in confusion; a flat fish
Founder to sink below the water (ship); to become disabled or go lame (horse); to collapse or break down; to cave in
Forbear to abstain or desist from doing something
Forceful powerful and vigorous
Forcible accomplished by force
Forgo to do without
Forego to go before; to precede
Fortuitous happening by chance
Fortunate lucky; having good fortune
Gambit a strategic maneuver
Gamut a full range or extent
Gild to cover something in gold or gold-like material
Guild a special interest group or association
Good (adjective) describes nouns or pronouns; can be linked with look, sound, taste (She is a good driver.) (Good describes “driver;” a noun.)
Well (adverb) describes verbs (She drives well.) (Well describes “drives;” a verb.)(adjective) healthy (I am well.)
Gray American spelling of an achromatic color that is between black and white
Grey British spelling of the same thing
Hangar a structure, especially for storing or repairing aircraft
Hanger a contrivance to which something hangs (coat hanger)
Hebrew the Semitic language of the ancient Hebrews; the language of the Israelis
Yiddish a High German language with many words borrowed from Hebrew and Slavic that is spoken chiefly as a vernacular in eastern European Jewish communities and by emigrants from these communities
Historic an event whose significance will be remembered by future generations
Historical based on or concerned with events in history
Hoard (n) a hidden fund or supply stored for future use; cache. (v) to accumulate a hoard
Horde a large group or swarm; any nomadic tribe or group
Imply the speaker implies
Infer the listener infers
Incredible unbelievable, hard to believe
Incredulous unbelieving or skeptical
Infamous having an exceedingly bad reputation; having committed an evil or criminal act that is publicly known (close to “notorious”)
Notorious known widely and usually (but not always) unfavorably
Insulate to prevent passage of heat, electricity or sound into or out of; to cause to be in a detached or isolated position
Insolate to expose to the sun’s rays
Jack in electronics, a socket that accepts a plug at one end and attaches to electric circuitry at the other.
Plug in electronics, a fitting used to connect an appliance to a power supply
Legible capable of being read or deciphered (words on a page)
Readable capable of being read easily; pleasurable or interesting to read
Less generally used with qualities or quantities that cannot be individually counted
Fewer generally used with objects that can be counted one by one
Lesson a noun, something you learn or teach
Lessen a verb, to cause to decrease or make less
Lie to recline (past tense: lay; past participle: have lain)
Lay to put or place something (past tense: laid; past participle: have laid)
Lightening making something lighter; illuminating or brightening
Lightning accompanied by thunder during storms
Loath adjective meaning “unwilling.” Rhymes with “both.”
Loathe verb meaning “to hate intensely.” Ends in soft “th” like “breathe.”
Mantel shelf over a fireplace
Mantle something that covers, envelops or conceals; a cloak
Mfr. abbreviation for "manufacturer"
Mfg. abbreviation for “manufacturing”
Myth a sacred story from the past, that expresses a culture’s moral values in human terms, or explains the origin of the universe and of life
Legend a story from the past about a subject (people, places or events) that is believed to have been historical; associated with a time and place
Naval of or pertaining to ships or shipping, or a navy
Navel the mark on the abdomen of mammals where the umbilical cord was attached
Naturist a nudist
Naturalist one versed in natural history, especially in zoology or botany
Palate the roof of the mouth; sense of taste
Palette a board on which an artist mixes colors; range of colors or qualities inherent in an art form
Parameter a scientific term, adapted to general usage. Means a constant, a given or a precondition; or a limit or boundary (not physical)
Perimeter the outer barrier of a closed, curved figure or area; the length of this; circumference
Passed the past tense form of the verb “to pass,” which means to move forward or through
Past (n.) what has already happened (don't live in the past); (adj.) gone by, ended (this past week was busy); (prep.) beyond (it is past the deadline)
Pedal n. a lever worked by the foot (on a piano, sewing machine, bicycle, etc.)
v. to operate a pedal, or to ride a bike
Peddle v. to travel about selling wares; to sell; to give out or disseminate
Petal n. on a flower, a separate, often brightly colored segment of a corolla
Perfunctory done or acting routinely, with little interest or care
Peremptory putting an end to all debate or action; dictatorial; imperative
Personal private; done to or for, or directed toward a particular person
Personnel collective noun referring to people employed by or active in an organization
Perspective a specific point of view in understanding or judging things or events
Prospective looking toward the future; expected
Perspicacious having or showing insight; having a ready understanding of things
Perspicuous easily understood; lucid; expressing things clearly
Populace noun, meaning the population, the common people, the masses
Populous adjective, meaning containing many people, thickly settled, numerous
Precede go ahead of; be before
Proceed continue with an action
Principal leader or top person (noun); foremost or highest ranking (adjective)
Principle fundamental truth; a rule or tenet or precept or policy (noun)
Prescribe to set down as a rule or direction; to order or advise, as a medicine or treatment.
Proscribe to deprive of the protection of the law; to outlaw, banish, exile; to denounce or forbid the practice or use of.
Prodigy a person with exceptional talents or powers
Progeny children or descendants; offspring
Protégé a person whose training or career is promoted by an influential person
Prophecy a prediction; inspired utterance of a prophet ("y" is pronounced "e")
Prophesy to predict; to reveal by divine inspiration ("y" is pronounced "i")
Purposely by design, intentionally; not by accident
Purposefully with a specific goal in mind
Raise to make higher, to build, or to nurture and cause to grow
Rise to get up, to become elevated
Raise to make higher, to build, or to nurture and cause to grow
Raze to tear down or demolish; level to the ground; to scrape or shave off
Recipe set of directions and ingredients for cooking something; formula for or means to a desired end
Receipt the act of receiving something; to mark a bill as having been paid
Remuneration compensation, payment; act of payment or compensation
Renumeration NOT a word
Sarcastic expressing a sharply mocking or contemptuously ironic remark intended to wound another
Sardonic scornfully mocking and derisive
Septic of, pertaining to, or having pathogenic organisms or their toxins in the blood or tissues
Skeptic one who instinctively or habitually doubts, questions or disagrees with generally accepted conclusions
Shear to remove by cutting or clipping; to use a cutting tool such as shears
Sheer to swerve from a course; thin, fine and transparent
Stanch to restrain a flow
Staunch firm in attitude, opinion or loyalty (both words pronounced the same)
Stationary unmoving (adj.)
Stationery nice writing paper (n.)
Than a conjunction, used to compare things
Then an adverb, used with descriptions of time
That restricts the reader's thought, directing attention to a specific bit of information to complete a message's meaning. (Example: "We have several cars. The car that is in the garage is my son's.”)
Which is non-restrictive and introduces subsidiary rather than essential information to the meaning of the sentence; always preceded by a comma. (Example: We have one car. "The car, which is in the garage, is my son's.")
Tortuous winding or crooked; or tricky to handle
Torturous causing torture; or painful in a cruel way
Translucent transmitting light, but causing sufficient diffusion to prevent perception of distinct images
Transparent capable of transmitting light so that objects or images can be seen clearly
Turbid having sediment or foreign particles stirred up or suspended; in turmoil
Turgid swollen or distended; excessively ornate in style or language
Unsociable not congenial; not disposed to seek the company of others
Antisocial opposed or hostile to the established social order; engaging in behavior that violates accepted mores
Venal open to bribery; corruptible; influenced by bribery
Venial pardonable (referring to a fault or sin); trifling, not serious (referring to misconduct)
Who's contraction of who is
Whose belonging to someone (possessive adj.)
Yea old-fashioned way to say yes; aye; an affirmative statement or vote (rhymes with "nay")
Yeah informal way to say yes
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