Contemporary English uses less punctuation than was traditionally used. How much internal punctuation is required in sentences is changing, so, when in doubt, check your spreadsheets and photocopied articles. The direction of change, however, is toward simplicity.

Capital Letters

English has been dropping capital letters for over a hundred years. Early in the 1900s abstract qualities such as 'love', 'nature', 'strength', 'loyalty', and 'beauty'were no longer honored by being capitalized. Soon after the seasons, 'winter', 'spring', 'summer', 'fall', lost their capital letters. Then words such as 'university', 'professor', 'doctor', 'chemistry' lost their capitals, except when used in titles, 'Kyoto University', 'Professor Dreiss', 'Dr. Lee', 'Chemistry Department'.

We can only guess which capitals will next become considered unnecessary and disappear. One can only be amazed at the singular egotism with which English capitalizes the pronoun 'I' and yet does not give this respect to any other of the personal pronouns - surely embarrassment will eventually put an end to referring to oneself as "I".

Rarely is a new discovery or technological event so astonishing that it gets gifted with a capital as did the Internet: There was a phenomenon worthy of an "I"! Although the Internet retains its capital in early 2000 CE dictionaries, if trends in capitalization continue, then soon we should see 'internet' without the capital. Similarly, the preferred punctuation of 'World Wide Web' may soon be 'world wide web'.

Chapter 4 Hyphens

The modern trend is to eliminate hyphens except when using two words to form an adjective: 'English-speaking person', 'panic-stricken person'. Old friends such as 'co-operation'/'re-unification' have become 'cooperation'/ 'reunification', and even words originally considered too odd looking or hard to pronounce, such as 'reestablish', have become correct form. The modern trend is to combine old forms into single words.


The trend has been to use fewer and fewer commas. Today a comma is required only when a clause or phrase is not in its expected place in a sentence and to separate items in a series. Most writers of science have now agreed to place a comma before 'and' in a series.

Acronyms and Abbreviations

The English language, especially in science, has moved rapidly to the acceptance of acronyms and abbreviations. This seems to be part of the move toward quicker recognition and faster comprehension. Note that the brain comprehends at a far greater speed than eyes can move over print.

Until relatively recently acronyms included the use of periods after each letter. Use of a period (full stops/dot) after each letter first became optional and now has disappeared. Instead acronyms are now correctly spelled in capital letters, without further punctuation: RSVP, UK, CIM, RAM, ROM, USA, ASAP, TV.

Abbreviations today, especially in science, are an odd mixture of correct styles. Abbreviations for single words are spelled with an ending period, for example: Dr. Abdul, Prof. Leites, no. (number), fig. (figure). Yet units of measure have no capitals and the ending period vanishes, as in: kg (kilogram), cm (centimeter), km (kilometer).

Then some units of measure are acronyms and in these the ending periods as well as the capital letters disappear, as in: ppm (parts per million), rpm (revolutions per minute), kph (kilometers per hour), bps (bits per second). Interestingly enough symbols named for people still usually take capitals: N (Newton), K (Kelvin), T (Torr, from Torricelli).

For a complete list of acceptable short forms for terms used in the sciences refer to Elsevier's Dictionary of Acronyms, Initialisms, Abbreviations, and Symbols (2003).

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