3 Nagging Grammar Questions Answered


Writers know how to use grammar and punctuation, but there are always those nagging grammar questions that make us wonder if we’re correct.

[Top Tip: If you need practical help with your grammar, buy The Complete Grammar Workbook.]

3 Nagging Grammar Questions Answered

1. When do you capitalise an academic degree?

Have you ever wondered when to capitalise the name of an academic degree?

Here are two guidelines:

a.) For general usage, don’t capitalise the degree.

Example: She received her bachelor’s degree in English.
The words ‘bachelor’s degree’ aren’t capitalised. ‘English’ is capitalised, because it’s a proper noun – the name of a language.

b) Capitalise it when:

  1. abbreviating a degree,
  2. writing the formal name of a degree,
  3. or when the name of the degree is part of a person’s official title.
Example 1: I’m starting my BCom next year.
Example 2: Her degree in Bachelor of Arts Visual Studies was well deserved.
Example 3: Our guest speaker for the Legal-Eyes conference is Dr Bryan Vernum, PhD Procedural Law.

2. Do you use ‘shall’ or ‘will’?

Whenever I say ‘I will’ instead of ‘I shall’, I get a nervous tic, probably instilled in me by my high school English teacher. In an attempt to put my nagging grammar guilt to rest once and for all, I looked at what Oxford Dictionaries has to say about the matter:

The traditional rule in standard British English is that shall is used with first person pronouns (I and we) to form the future tense, while will is used with second and third person forms (you, he, she, it, they). For example:
  1. I shall be late.
  2. They will not have enough food.
However, when it comes to expressing a strong determination to do something, the roles are reversed: will is used with the first person, and shall with the second and third. For example:
  1. I will not tolerate such behaviour.
  2. You shall go to the ball!
In practice, though, the two words are used more or less interchangeably, and this is now an acceptable part of standard British and US English.

3. Do you use double or single quotation marks/inverted commas?

Single quotation marks look like ‘this’. Double quotation marks look like “this”. There is no rule that dictates whether you should use single or double quotation marks. However, British English tends to favour single quotation marks (‘x’), while US English tends to favour double quotation marks (“x”). There are two rules you’ll need to observe, though:

a.) Whatever you use, use it consistently throughout your writing.

b.) When you enclose a separate quotation inside your quoted speech, use the opposite style to what you’ve already used.

  1. Alex said, ‘I believe that “our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter”, to quote Martin Luther King.’
  2. Magdalene said, “C.S. Lewis wrote, ‘Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point,’ and I think he lived a life that proved this.”

Good luck!

[Editor’s note: Please note that we use UK English at Writers Write. Some rules may differ if you use American English. Usage may also depend on the style guide you use. We suggest you read What Is A Style Guide And Why Do I Need One?]

This article has 3 comments

  1. Marianna Radley

    Good. I always learn something from your posts. Thanks.

  2. Rebecca

    The commas( or periods) should always come before the end quotation marks according to the MLA rules!

  3. Rick St Thomas

    people are saying “is is” together like a stutter.
    “ask” is not a noun. As in I have a big ask of you. stop it.

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