A quick guide

to some elements of writing style

for senior students

This is a brief introduction to over 40 elements of writing style. It is not a complete explanation.

Some items are too complicated to explain in detail in one small table.

Please check with your wise helper, grammar book, English textbook, or style guide for more details.


An abbreviation in the form of a set of initials which can be pronounced as a word.

If it cannot be pronounced as a word, it is called an initialism

Acronym: UNESCO = United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation. ANZAC = Australia and New Zealand Army Corps.

Laser and radar are also acronyms.

Initialism: DVD = digital video disk. EEC = European Economic Community.


A word which helps to describe a noun.

The adjectives are underlined: A black dog followed us down the long road.


A word which helps to describe a verb.

The adverbs are underlined: We ran quickly when we heard the dog barking furiously.


Using the same initial letter for several words in one phrase.

See also onomatopoeia.

Poetic examples: wild west wind, lake water lapping, darker days.

You can also repeat sounds within words, e.g., a noise annoys an oyster.

Beware of accidental alliteration which might sound rather odd or clumsy  when it is read aloud.


An indirect reference to something.

Alluding to something is not as clear as referring to it. You might, for example, allude to a passage from literature without saying where it comes from, in a statement such as: I’ve been ill but I managed to do a lot of work; sweet are the uses of adversity. The second part is a quotation from Shakespeare, but in this allusion, no direct reference to the source is given.


The punctuation mark

Used in contracted words and also to show possessives, i.e., ownership.

It is not used in plurals such as tomatoes and potatoes.

It can be used in initialised plurals such as PC’s (personal computers) and DVD’s.

The dog’s lead (for one dog).

The dogs’ leads (for more than one dog.)

The dog likes its lead (possessive)

It’s the dog’s lead = It is the dog’s lead.

You’re coming with us = You are coming with us.


I’ll feel ill = I will feel ill.

capital letters

The correct term is upper case letters but most people call them capitals.

Small letters are called lower case letters.

Always use one at the beginning of a sentence and for a name. Do not use them for words you want to emphasise unless you are writing in a whimsical personal style


Words and phrases which are over-used and consequently have become meaningless and annoying

Examples: you guys, hopefully, a roller-coaster ride, a steep learning curve, amazing, incredible.


Words and phrases used when people are speaking informally or using slang.

See Figures of Speech here


The punctuation mark :

This is not ‘half way between a semicolon and a full stop’. It is used when the first part of the sentence is a direct introduction to the second part, e.g.,

I received three gifts: a computer, a football, a bunch of flowers.

There was only one thing we could do: run away.

Check a reliable grammar book or style manual for other examples.


The punctuation mark ,

Used to make sentences clearer, sometimes where you might pause if saying the sentence aloud. In a long sentence, too few commas might make it ambiguous but too many might make it confusing. Be careful. Examples:

Sharon who turned eighteen last month has started a university. Sharon, who turned eighteen last month, has started at university. Put a comma before and after the middle part.

While we were swimming in the river shouting children warned us of the crocodile. Who was shouting? Try While we were swimming in the river, shouting children warned us of the crocodile.


A class of word which joins phrases

Examples: and, but, if, or, as. Words like either and neither are also used as conjunctions


A shortened form of a pair of words.

Examples: I’m, can’t, they’re. Do not use them if you a writing in a formal style. Some contractions, like ain't, are slang. See slang, below.


Short dash and long dash. The correct names of these two punctuations marks are

1 en rule

1 em rule

On a PC, you can find them by pressing these keys, using the Numeric Keypad on your keyboard:

ALT 0150

ALT 0151

These are not hyphens. The have different uses. The short dash is used in dates and numbers, e.g., March 26–April 10, pages 114–119. A long dash is used to separate parts of a sentence. A pair can be used in the place of parentheses (brackets). A single 1 em rule can be used to clarify the second half of a long or complex sentence.

Your school textbooks might not give you more examples. Check a style manual.

See also hyphen, below.


A word or phrase used as a substitute for another which might be difficult, embarrassing or offensive.

See Figures of Speech here

exclamation mark

The punctuation mark !

Used at the end of a sentence or speech to express surprise or excitement. Important: (a) Never use more than one at the end of a sentence. (b) Use as few as possible in your story. Too many will make your writing look like a Christmas tree.

full stop

The punctuation mark .

Also called a full point and a period.

A full stop is used at the end of a sentence, or in abbreviations such as a.m. (morning). Check your local rules about using it in abbreviations such as P.C. (personal computer). It is sometimes acceptable to type PC. DVD, VCR, ID, EEC, etc., and even am and pm.


The style or type of writing you choose for a piece.


Expository: detailed explanation and presentation of a case.

Instruction: telling how to do something.

Narrative: fiction.

Personal: about yourself and your experiences.

Persuasion: argument in favour of one side of several in an issue.

Recount: writing about actual experiences.

Report: writing about actual events.

Review: of a film, book, play, theatre show, etc.


A word which sound the same but have different meanings.

Examples: for, fore, four; to, too, two; their, there; witch, which; rain, rein, reign.

More information here: 120 pairs of words that sound the same


Words with identical spellings and sounds but different meanings.


bear (noun) = an animal; bear (verb) = carry.

palm (noun) = part of your hand or a type of tree. More information here: 90 Words with Multiple Meanings


Exaggeration or over-emphasis, using too many words.

Examples: Incredibly amazing. A huge gigantic tower.


The punctuation mark -

It is used for joining parts of a word and for dividing a word between lines. Examples: habit-forming drugs, on-the-spot investigation, middle-aged woman, twenty-sixth. A hyphen is not used between numbers or to separate parts of a sentence. See dash above.


Common phrases or words used in a particular region or area.

Idiom overlaps with colloquialism.

See Figures of Speech here


Humorous use of language in which the words meaning the opposite of what they usually mean.

Examples: That’s a lovely mess you got me into. How nice of you not to invite me!


Words and phrase used by a specialist group of people, or used by others to pad out and impress.

See Figures of Speech here


A word which sounds a bit like the word the speaker intended to use, but creates a humorous result.

Examples: I have a runny nose because I’m suffering from an allegory. That picture is an optical allusion. The speaker was heckled by a noisome crowd.

Check your dictionary to find where malapropism came from.


Using a phrase as a ‘word picture’ to describe something else, without making a direct comparison.

Examples: A storm in a tea-cup. Raining cats and dogs.

See also simile below.

See also Figures of Speech here


A ‘naming word’.

Concrete nouns refer to people, places and tangible objects.

Proper nouns are names with capital initials.

Abstract nouns are used for qualities or states.


Words which are coined to imitate the sounds they represent. Also called imitative words or echo words.

Examples: bang, buzz, cuckoo, fizz.


A phrase which uses contradictory words for effect or exaggeration.

Examples: A deafening silence. Terribly kind. Awfully good. Seriously funny.


Copying a piece of writing in a similar style and structure but with different words, to make fun of it.

This also applies to stories and plays. There isn’t room for examples here. Do a careful search in your reference books or on the Net.


A word which denotes place or position.

Examples: at, behind, like, off, on. Check your grammar book or style manual for a more detailed explanation


A personal word used in place of a noun.

Examples: I, me, you, them, you, your.



A humorous statement or joke based on words that are in some way similar. They usually work better in speech than in writing.

Someone said that punning is the lowest form of wit. The worst puns are sometimes the best because they are so bad.


‘My sister has gone to the Caribbean.’ ‘Jamaica?’ ‘No, she went because she wanted to go.’ (Jamaica sounds like ‘did you make her’ spoken quickly.)

‘Why is a thought like a sea?’ ‘Because it’s a notion.’ (A notion sounds like an ocean.)

question mark

The punctuation mark ?

Also called a query.

Use it at the end of a question. Do not use more than one at a time.

quotation marks

The punctuation marks ‘ ’ and " "

also called inverted commas or speech marks.

These are used to enclose direct speech, i.e., what a person actually says. They can also be used around the titles of books, films, etc. Publishers or books, magazines and newspapers in different countries have different rules about the use of single ‘ ’ and double " " quotation marks.


Using mocking language to make fun of someone or something or to express scorn.

You can write satire by using irony and parody. The aim is to express ridicule. It is difficult to write and it can be offensive. Be careful. Many people do not understand satire. Look for more information in your library or on the Internet.


The punctuation mark ;

This is something like halfway between a comma and a full stop. It is used to break up long and complicated sentences.


A figure of speech which expresses similarities between two different things.

Examples: As good as gold. Like a bat out of hell. As pleased as Punch. Like water off a duck’s back.

See  metaphor above.

See also Figures of Speech here


Very informal and sometimes vulgar language used in conversation.

Slang includes idioms, colloquialisms, lazy speech, and sometimes swear-words. If it fits a particular character in your story, you might write their direct speech using slang, but be careful about using swear-words.

solecisms Examples of the incorrect or ungrammatical use of language. Examples: I don't know nothing. We's not comin' 'ere no more. You's looking awful. That one is more better than the other one. She is the most tallest girl.


Repetition. The use of a series of words with the same meaning.

Examples: 7 a.m. in the morning. (If it’s in the morning, you know it’s a.m.) 10.15 p.m. in the evening. Continue on. Early beginnings. A young boy who was still a lad.


An action word or ‘doing word’.

Examples: have, had, has, sing, talk, write. Some words can be used as nouns as well as verbs, e.g., drink, fight, shout.


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