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dangling modifiers. Avoid modifiers that do not refer clearly and logically to some word in the sentence. Dangling: Taking their seats, the bus began its trip to Seattle. (Taking does not refer to the subject of the sentence, bus, nor to any other word in the sentence.) Correct: Taking their seats, they began their bus trip to Seattle.

dash (--). Long dashes, called em dashes, have three main uses. In these uses, em dashes are usually less formal but more emphatic substitutes for other typical punctuation marks. To maintain the impact of dashes, avoid overusing them.

First, use an em dash to amplify, justify or emphasize in the second part of a sentence something in the first part: Riders filled all the buses--the game was over. The road will open Tuesday--if the paving is complete. The project was completed on time, within scope--and under budget. The manager was new to the agency--brand new.

Second, use a pair of em dashes to make an emphatic pause or abrupt, parenthetic change in thought within a sentence: The rate increase--coming after 10 months of public discussion--is effective Sept. 1. If you'd prefer to play down such a phrase, consider placing it between parentheses instead, or between commas.

Third, use a pair of em dashes to set off a phrase that contains a series of words separated by commas: Leif Hansen described the qualities--intelligence, initiative and assertiveness--that he wanted in a manager.

As shown in the examples above, do not put a space on both sides of an em dash. Avoid using more than one pair of em dashes in a sentence.

A short dash, called en dash, may be used to mean "up to and including" when placed between numbers, times, dates and other uses that show range: 1993-96, $20-40, $340,000-$370,000 (but $20 million to $35 million), 55-65 years, 1:30-4 p.m. (but 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.), ages 25-30, pages 145-63. It also may be used to replace to and versus in capitalized names: the Seattle-Spokane train, the Huskies-Cougars game. Do not put spaces before and after the en dash. See between ... and, from ... to, dates, ranges.

Note: A hyphen (-) is not a dash. Most current word processing and design software can create em dashes and en dashes. If not possible, use two hyphens to create an em dash, and substitute a hyphen for an en dash. In Microsoft Word, if you don't space after the second hyphen, the two hyphens become an em dash. See hyphen.

data. Normally a plural noun, it takes plural verbs and pronouns when referring to individual items: The data have been collected carefully. Data may take singular verbs when the group or quantity is regarded as a unit: The data is sound. Use data to refer to evidence, measurements, records and statistics from which conclusions can be inferred, not as a simple synonym for facts, knowledge, reports or information.

database. One word.

data processing (n. and adj.). Do not hyphenate the adjective.

dates. In newsletters, brochures, reports, news releases, Web pages and other King County materials for broad distribution, abbreviate Jan., Feb., Aug., Sept., Oct., Nov., Dec. when used with a specific date: We began operating the pump station Feb. 11, 1994, after 11 months of construction. Spell out those months in correspondence and direct quotations. Spell out the names of months when using a month alone or with a year alone: We began operating the pump station in November 1994. Also, avoid using virgules (or hyphens) with numerals to give dates, especially if your readers could confuse the order of the day and month: 2/11/94, 11-16-1993. See correspondence

When not including a specific date, do not separate the month and year with a comma. Including the year is not always necessary in documents with a limited shelf life; however, noting the month and year of publication in an inconspicuous location may be useful. Do not follow numerals used with dates by st, nd, rd or th. See century, comma, days of the week, decades, months, time, years.

Here are examples of the preferred styles for punctuating times and dates (in formal business correspondence, spell out the names of months):

  • Classes begin Monday, Sept. 2, 2003, in King County. [Note commas after the day of the week and the year.]
  • Classes begin Sept. 2 in King County.
  • Classes begin Monday in King County.
  • Classes begin in September countywide.
  • The most recent changes took place in September 2002 in King County. [No commas separating the year from the month and the rest of the sentence.]
  • The road closure begins at 10 a.m. Monday, June 16, 2003, near Covington. [No comma after the time, but note commas after the day of the week and the year.]
  • The road closure begins at 10 a.m. Monday near Covington.
  • The road closure begins at 10 a.m. June 16 near Covington.
  • The road closure will run from Monday through Friday, June 16-20, except during rush hours. [If possible, use an en dash instead of a hyphen when giving a range.]
  • The road closure from June 16-20, 2003, did not disrupt rush-hour traffic.
  • The road closure in June 2003 did not disrupt rush-hour traffic.
  • The open house will run from 7:30-9 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 28, in the White Center Library. [If possible, use an en dash instead of a hyphen when giving a range.]

day care, day-care. Hyphenate as an adjective: He uses a day-care agency in downtown Seattle. Don't hyphenate as a noun: She searched carefully for day care.

daylight saving time. Not savings. Always lowercase.

days of the week. Always capitalize days of the week. Do not abbreviate unless needed in a chart or table: Sun, Mon, Tue, Wed, Thu, Fri, Sat (no periods). See dates.

daytime. One word, no hyphen.

dead end (n.), dead-end (adj. and v.). The street is a dead end. He lives on a dead-end street. The street dead-ends at the plant.

deboard Not a word. Use exit, get off or leave instead.

decades. Use numerals. Use an apostrophe to show numerals are left out. Add the letter s (with no apostrophe) to show plural: the '60s, the 1980s, the mid-1920s. See century, millennium.

decimals. Avoid going beyond two places after the decimal point. For amounts less than 1 percent, put the numeral zero before the decimal point: 0.07. See fractions.

decision-maker (n.), decision-making (n., adj.).

deductible. Commonly misspelled.

deem. Overstated and formal. Simplify. Try consider or treat as.

definite, definitely. Commonly misspelled. Definitely is overused. Avoid using.

definitions. See spelling.

degrees. See academic degrees, titles; Celsius; Fahrenheit; temperatures.

delete. Consider replacing with simpler cut or drop.

democrat, Democratic Party. See party affiliation; political parties and philosophies.

demolish, destroy. Both mean to do away with something completely. Totally demolished and totally destroyed are redundant.

demonstrate. Overstated. Use form of prove, show, describe or explain.

denote. Consider replacing with simpler show or say.

depart. Formal word. Consider using leave or go instead. But if you use depart, follow it with a preposition: She will depart from Seattle-Tacoma Airport. He will depart at noon.

department. See capitalization, director.

dependent. Commonly misspelled.

depth. See dimensions.

deputy. Capitalize as part of a official title before a name: Deputy Director Brian Watts, King County Sheriff's Deputy Matt Earp. See titles.

derogatory terms. See profanity, other offensive language.

design. See graphic design.

designate. Consider replacing with simpler appoint or set.

desirable. Commonly misspelled.

desire. Consider simpler, more direct need or want.

desirous of. Jargon. Simplify. Use a form of the verb want.

desist. Overstated and formal. Simplify. Try stop.

destroy. See demolish.

detain. Overstated and formal. Simplify. Try hold.

detective. Don't abbreviate. Capitalize before a name if it is a formal rank: police Detective Molly Earp.

determination of significance. Lowercase. Avoid use of abbreviation DNS in public documents.

determine. Overstated. Simplify. Try figure out, learn, find out, fit or decide.

deterrent. Commonly misspelled.

diacritical mark. See accent marks.

diagonal mark (/). See virgule. for punctuation mark.

dialogue. Not dialog. Can be pompous and overstated if you simply mean talk, chat, speak, converse or exchange ideas. Meaningful dialogue is a cliché.

dictionaries. See spelling.

different from, different than. Different from is almost always the correct choice--particularly before nouns and pronouns: My car is different from hers. Dogs are different from cats. Different than is usually wrong. But either phrase can be used before a clause (a group of words with both a subject and a verb): How different things appear in Seattle than they appear in Miami. How different things appear in Seattle from how they appear in Miami.

differ from, differ with. When you mean two items are unlike, use differ from. One thing differs from another. When people disagree or are in conflict, they differ with one another. Edgar insisted that his left eye differed from his right. His wife, however, differed with him.

dilemma. Commonly misspelled. Also, a dilemma is a choice between two unpleasant or difficult alternatives, not a problem, plight or predicament. See alternate, alternative.

dimensions. Use numerals and spell out inches, feet and yards to show depth, height, length and width. Also use numerals and spell out the descriptive word for area, size, volume and other units of measurement: 3 acres, 9 gallons. Hyphenate when used as adjectives before a noun: The fish is 9 inches long. The 5-by-8-foot room. The division is building a 13,000-square-foot building. The stream is 2 inches below normal. Use an apostrophe to show feet and quotation marks to show inches (5'8") only in technical material. See distances, hyphen.

directions and regions. Lowercase east, north, southwest, eastern, etc., when they show compass direction. Capitalize the words when they specify well-defined regions: He walked east toward the sunrise. More people are moving to the Northwest. The committee included members from throughout Western Washington.

Lowercase directions when combined with a proper name unless used to designate a politically divided nation: western United States, eastern Canada, North Korea.

Lowercase compass points when they describe a section of a state, county or city: eastern Idaho, north King County, south Bellevue, southern Oregon. But capitalize compass points when part of a proper name: North Dakota. Or when used to show widely known sections: Eastern Washington, Southern California, the Lower East Side of New York. When in doubt, lowercase, or be more precise in naming the geographic area.

See capitalization, cities and towns.

director. Capitalize as an official title before a name, but lowercase when it stands alone or comes after a name between commas: Development and Environmental Services Director Brian Jardine; Brian Jardine, director of development and environmental services, said. ... Capitalize the full names of departments and divisions when used with the job title: Brian Jardine, director of the Development and Environmental Services Department. See correspondence, titles.

King County titles for division manager and assistant division manager were changed to division director and assistant division director, respectively, in March 2003. To avoid confusion with the department director and assistant department director titles, the division reference must always be used in public identification. Correct: Brad Crowe, division director, Community Services Division; incorrect: Brad Crowe, director, Community Services Division.

dis-. Do not use a hyphen with this prefix: disservice, disassemble, dismember. See prefixes.

Avoid mentioning a person's disability when it's not pertinent.disabled. Recognize that people with disabilities have rights, among them the right to privacy. Treat them as you would treat other people. If in doubt about mentioning their disabilities, ask them. People who are blind, for example, may prefer to be called blind instead of partially sighted or visually impaired.

Avoid mentioning a person's disability when it's not pertinent.

Avoid mentioning a disability when it is not pertinent. When necessary to mention a disability, put the person first, not the disability: The man who is blind. The woman who is paralyzed. The child with a mental illness. Also, instead of using broad terms like a person with a mental [or cognitive] disability or a person with a physical [or mobility] disability, consider using a useful phrase that describes the effect of the disability, if appropriate: He has a disability that makes it easy for him to become lost. Don't use the paraplegic, the schizophrenic, the arthritic, the brain-damaged person.

Disability and disabled are preferred to handicap, handicapped, impairment and impaired. Avoid impersonal phrasing such as the handicapped or the disabled. Instead, say people with disabilities, using person-first language. Avoid condescending euphemisms when writing or talking about people with disabilities: handicapable, physically challenged and special, for example.

Avoid the use of disabled or crippled when mentioning inanimate objects such as disabled vehicle. Try stalled vehicle or change the sentence structure: The vehicle with mechanical problems blocked traffic for an hour.

Treat people with disabilities with respect. Here are some reminders when writing about people with disabilities:

  • confined to a wheelchair. People with disabilities are not confined to wheelchairs or wheelchair-bound; rather, wheelchairs are "tools" for freedom of movement and independence. Instead, say a person uses a wheelchair or gets around by wheelchair. Emphasize abilities, not limitations.
  • cripple. Considered offensive when used to describe a person who has a disability.
  • deaf and dumb, deaf mute. These archaic terms are disrespectful and inaccurate because deaf individuals generally do have functional vocal cords. Say a person who is deaf, a person with a hearing disability.
  • disease Most people with disabilities are healthy. Use condition.
  • handicapped parking Use accessible parking or disability parking instead.
  • invalid. Do not use. It means not valid.
  • suffers from Don't say a person with a disability suffers from the disability. Say the person has a disability. Suffers reflects a judgment and pity.
  • unfortunate. An adjective that describes someone with bad luck, not a person with a disability. Like suffers, this term reflects pity.
  • victim. Having a disability does not make a person a victim. Also, a person with AIDS is not an AIDS victim. See AIDS.

Also see this manual's Plain-language writing guide for advice on making documents easier to read as well as Disability Language and Etiquette (PDF, internal link), maintained by the King County Office of Civil Rights. See Americans with Disabilities Act. for guidelines on the required statement about publications in alternative or accessible formats.

disc, disk. Use disc for phonograph records and a type of farm tool. Use disk for most other uses and to mean hard disk, fixed disk or magnetic disk storage device. Not an abbreviation for diskette.

disinterested, uninterested. Commonly confused. Disinterested means neutral, objective or impartial. Uninterested means not interested: A disinterested person has no stake in the outcome of an event. An uninterested person doesn't care.

diskette. A generic term that means floppy diskette. Not synonymous with disk.

disseminate. Overstated. Simplify. Replace with send out or distribute.

distances. Use numerals for 10 and above. Spell out one through nine: The coach traveled four miles. She ran 11 miles. See dimensions, hyphen.

districts. When referring to congressional, council and legislative districts, capitalize district when joined with a number: the 4th Congressional District, the 21st Legislative District, the 2nd District, County Council District 5. If needed for limited space in charts, tables and maps, abbreviate as Dist. Lowercase district whenever it stands alone. Do not spell out the numeral in this usage. See legislative titles.

ditto marks. They are made with quotation marks, but their use in publications can be confusing to readers. Don't use them.

division. See capitalization, director.

division director. See director.

DNS. See determination of nonsignificance.

doctor. Readers often identify doctor and Dr. with physicians. Use Dr. on first reference as a formal title before the name of a person with a medical or dental degree. Drop the title before the name in later references. Avoid using Dr. before the names of people who hold other types of doctoral degrees, unless the context is clear, such as in academic settings or references to an academic specialty or position. See academic degrees, titles; titles.

document titles. See composition titles.

dollars. Lowercase this word. Beware of accidentally using the word dollars and the dollar sign with the same amount: $465 dollars. Except for casual references or amounts without a figure, use the $ sign instead: The book cost $20. Dollars stopped flowing into King County.

The style for amounts less than $1 million: $5, $36, $731, $3,830, $539,501. For amounts more than $1 million, use the $ and numbers up to two decimal places; don't link the numbers and the word with a hyphen: The project will cost about $5.25 million. It is worth exactly $5,248,739. He proposed a $125 million project. See cents, numbers.

For specific amounts of money, use a singular verb: They said $450,580 is needed. For vague sums of money, use a plural verb: Millions of dollars were wasted.

. Overstated and formal. Simplify. Try give.

DOS. An acronym for disk operating system. Spell out (all caps, no periods).

do's and don'ts.

double-click. Hyphenate.

double negative. See negative.

Douglas fir. See plants.

download. One word.

down payment. Two words.

downriver, downstream. One word.

downtown. Lowercase unless part of a formal name: downtown Seattle, downtown Bellevue, Downtown Seattle Association. See central business district.

Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel. Spell out and capitalize on first refgerence. For later references, transit tunnel or tunnel (if the meaning is clear) are acceptable. It has five stations: International District/Chinatown Station, Pioneer Square Station, University Street Station, Westlake Station and Convention Place Station.

-drive, drive. Use two hyphens when describing a type of vehicle: two-wheel-drive cars, front-wheel-drive van, all-wheel-drive vehicles. But use one hyphen when using the term as a noun: Many drivers prefer four-wheel drive to two-wheel drive.

drive-in (n.).

driver license. In Washington, the state Department of Licensing calls this document the Washington State driver license and driver license (lowercase and no 's or s'). Similarly, commercial driver license is also lowercase with no apostrophe. After spelling it out the first time, CDL may be used in later references.

dry dock (n.), dry-dock (v.).

due to Avoid using to mean because of, through or for: He fell because of [not due to] the icy sidewalk. We closed the sidewalk for [not due to] construction. Usage hint: If a sentence begins with due to, try changing it, like this one: Due to bad weather, service was canceled. Improved: Because of bad weather, service was canceled. Use due to as an alternative to caused by or resulting from. Those phrases are usually preceded by a be verb such as was or is: His fall was caused by the icy sidewalk. The route cancellation was due to low ridership. See because.

during the time, during the course of. Wordy. Simplify. Use during, while or when instead.

Duwamish industrial area. Capitalize only the proper name.

Duwamish Waterway. Preferred name, instead of Duwamish River.

DVD. Acronym for digital video disk (or digital versatile disk). Acronym is acceptable on first use.

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