S

Sabra and Shatila - (refugee camps in Lebanon where hundreds of Palestinians were killed in 1982) ie both words begin with an ‘S’. We do not use the spelling ‘Chatila’...

Sabra and Shatila

(refugee camps in Lebanon where hundreds of Palestinians were killed in 1982) ie both words begin with an ‘S’. We do not use the spelling ‘Chatila’.

Saddam Hussein

Second reference can be to the former Iraqi president or the former Iraqi leader - or even Saddam Hussein again. But ‘Saddam’ is acceptable only in headlines.

Sainsbury’s

ie with an apostrophe before the ‘s’ (the company being J Sainsbury plc).

St Catharine’s College/St Catherine’s College

The one in Cambridge has the ‘a’ in the middle (ie St Catharine’s). The one in Oxford is spelt with an ‘e’ in the middle (ie St Catherine’s). 

St James Park, St James’ Park, St James’s Park

The football ground in Newcastle is St James’ Park and in Exeter it is St James Park. The open space in London is St James’s Park (also St James’s Palace).

St John Ambulance Brigade

ie not ‘St John’s’.

St Peter’s

(in Rome) is not a cathedral - it is a basilica. The cathedral in Rome is St John Lateran.

St Thomas’ Hospital 

(London) ie just one ‘s’.

Salary/wages

salary is a fixed sum paid regularly, usually for non-manual work. Wages are usually paid weekly or monthly for the labour or service of an employee.

Sat-nav

is acceptable shorthand for satellite navigation system.

Sats

is the abbreviation for standardised assessment tasks - but better to call them national curriculum tests, often known as Sats. For headlines, Sats is fine; initial cap only as it is pronounced as a word. In the American education system, SATs are ‘scholastic aptitude tests’ (pronounced as separate letters).

Schoolchildren

ie one word, no hyphen.

Schoolteacher

ie one word, no hyphen. Similarly, schoolmaster and schoolmistress.

Scilly Isles

They are properly called either the Scilly Isles or the Isles of Scilly. Do not say ‘the Scillies’.

Scottish National Party

ie not ‘Nationalist’.

Scottish Parliament

The word ‘parliament’ is capped up if prefaced by ‘Scottish’ (eg: A report will be laid before the Scottish Parliament). But it is lower case if you are not giving the full title (eg: He announced his resignation to parliament in Edinburgh). Its members are MSPs.

Scottish Power 

ie two words - in line with its company registration, Scottish Power plc (and despite its rebranding as ‘ScottishPower’).

scouts

(lower case) is correct for all those who are part of the Scout Association. They are no longer ‘boy scouts’.

SDLP

(ie all caps) is acceptable even at first reference to the Social Democratic and Labour Party. In a story likely to be placed on indexes other than Northern Ireland, you should note in the first four pars that it draws most of its support from the nationalist community (or... from the Catholic community). But do not call it ‘the mainly Catholic’ SDLP.

Sea of Japan

is the term we use to describe the body of water between Japan and the Korean peninsula, and not ‘East Sea’ or any other variant.

Seasonal Affective Disorder/SAD  

It must be spelt out in full at first reference. Subsequently, it can be abbreviated to SAD ieall caps - despite our usual style with acronyms (because the alternative carries the potential for confusion).

Seasons

are lower case (spring, summer, autumn, winter). But references to the seasons should be kept to a minimum because many of our readers live outside the UK. We should not say eg: ‘An election will be held in the spring’ - say instead An election will be held in five months’ time, or similar.

Second half, second-half          

There is no hyphen in the noun (eg: Germany were on the defensive throughout the second half). There is a hyphen in the adjective (eg: England scored three second-half goals).

Semi-colons

are best avoided. They are difficult to read on screen.

Semi-final

ie hyphenated.

Senior

In distinguishing between two family members with the same names, our favoured form is Sr with an initial cap for the older (and Jr for the younger party).

Sepa 

is the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, not Environmental.

Sephardim

(collective noun, upper case ‘S’) These are Jewish people of Middle Eastern or North African origin. Adjective: Sephardi.

Serial killer

Whether in the context of Harold Shipman or anyone else, avoid the phrase ‘the world’s worst serial killer’. It could be taken to mean someone who is uniquely unsuccessful.

7/7

is acceptable shorthand for the attacks in London on 7 July 2005. It may be used in headlines, but not in copy unless within direct quotes. Separate the digits with a slash, not a hyphen.

Sewage/sewerage  

The nasty stuff called sewage is treated in a sewerage system.

Sexism

Unless you are sure only males are involved, avoid words such as ‘newsmen’, ‘businessmen’ and ‘policemen’. Substitute journalistsbusiness leaderspolice officers etc, as appropriate.

Sexual offences

Our policy is dictated by the need to protect the identity of victims of sexual offences. A frequent problem has been ‘jigsaw identification’ in cases of offences within the family - where the victim’s identity can be deduced, because some of the media name the accused, and others specify the offence. In line with most of the media, our usual practice is to name the accused, but not the specific charge - instead, saying ‘a serious sexual offence’. This means we do not refer to specific cases of incest, or of rape or sexual assault within the family. If in doubt over a specific case, refer to the Editorial Policy Unit.

sex offenders register

ie lower case, no apostrophe.

shadow

In a political context, the word shadow is always lower case - whether the reference is to the shadow cabinet or to an individual politician, with or without the name (eg: The shadow health secretary backed the proposal. The shadow chancellor, Michael Mitchell, begged to differ).

Shankill Road  

is in Belfast (ie not ‘Shankhill’, which is an area of Dublin).

Sharia

Islamic religious law - capital ‘S’ no ‘h’ at the end. (‘Sharia law’ is tautologous).

Sheikh

Informal honorific, sometimes for a religious figure or leader, but can also be a family name.

Shetland

The name Shetland applies to a group of islands. So you can properly say Shetland, or the Shetland Islands or the Shetland Isles - but not ‘the Shetlands’.

Shia

(one of the two main denominations of Islam) ie no apostrophe, and not ‘Shiite’ or ‘Shi’ite’. Shia should be used for both the noun and the adjective.

Ships

Ships should not be treated as feminine (eg: A US aircraft-carrier has disappeared in the Atlantic. It was carrying 400 men - and not ‘She was carrying...’). Ships are unloaded - and not ‘offloaded’. Naval ships and liners generally have captains. Cargo ships, including tankers, have masters (although, if a name is used, they too are referred to as Capt). Trawlers have skippers.

Short-term, short term 

as an adjective, it takes a hyphen (eg: Experts see this as a short-term investment). But there is no need for a hyphen for the noun (eg: Big gains can be expected in the short term).

Showbiz

is acceptable as an abbreviation of showbusiness only in informal contexts.

Silicon Valley

(Californian centre of the US hi-tech industry) ie both words capped.

Sim card

It stands for subscriber identity module or subscriber identification module and, like most acronyms, we cap the first letter and put the rest in lower case.

Singulars and plurals

Treat collective nouns - companies, governments and other bodies - as singular. There are some exceptions:

  • Family, couple or pair, where using the singular can sound odd
  • Sports teams - although they are singular in their role as business concerns (eg: Arsenal has declared an increase in profits)
  • Rock/pop groups
  • The police, as in Police say they are looking for three men. But individual forces are singular (eg The Metropolitan Police says there is no need to panic).

Press and public should be treated as singular, but rewording may be advisable (replacing eg: ‘The press arrived soon afterwards. It had lots of questions.’ with Journalists arrived soon afterwards. They had lots of questions.) 

Be consistent within a story (eg: don’t say ‘The jury has retired to consider its verdict’ followed by ‘The jury are spending the night at a hotel’). 

Some words remain the same even as plurals, such as aircraftcannonsheep and fish (although you would use fishes when referring to different kinds of fish, eg He studied freshwater fishes of the UK). Be careful with some words that are plural but often mistakenly used as singular: criteria (criterion), bacteria (bacterium), phenomena (phenomenon). Data is strictly a plural, but we follow common usage and treat it as singular, as we do with agenda. Our preference for words ending in -ium, such as stadium, is stadiums. For index, our favoured plural form (as in stock markets) is indexes. The plural is indices only in a mathematical/scientific context.

Watch names when using the plural. If you were writing about a family called Phelps, you would say: The Phelpses were going for a day at the seaside.

For words ending in ‘o’, there are no hard and fast rules, though the principle is that most words just add an ‘s’, but there are exceptions. However, there are a few general patterns. If a word is a short version of a longer word, just add an 's': memosphotos, demos. The same applies to words that clearly have their roots in another language, such as stilettoscalypsoschinosbistros, casinos. And where a word ends with two vowels, just add an 's' as in videos and cameos.

The best way of checking is to take the first version offered by the Oxford English Dictionary, so we would use: avocadosbanjosflamingosghettos,manifestos,mementos. Those taking an 'e' include: buffaloes, cargoesdominoesechoesembargoeshaloesheroes, mangoesmottoespotatoestomatoestorpedoesvetoesvolcanoestornadoes and mosquitoes (though Tornados and Mosquitos when talking about the planes).

Sky marshal

(undercover anti-terrorist agent on commercial aircraft) ie spelt with single ‘l’.

Slam

A word to be avoided in headlines - use criticise, condemn, dismiss etc.

Slate

is a word that is liable to cause confusion. In the UK, it usually means ‘heavily criticised’; in the US it tends to mean ‘nominated’. Best avoided.

Smithsonian Institution

(research organisation based in Washington) ie not ‘Institute’.

Snowdon

(the highest peak in England and Wales) - not ‘Mount Snowdon’.

Soccer

is not a word we use - except in official titles (eg: Soccer Australia). Stick to football. 

Social networking 

When using tweets (from Twitter), comments from Facebook etc in our reports, it’s important to use judgement in deciding how to deal with any literals or grammatical errors. Our aim should be to facilitate understanding by removing minor mistakes while retaining the general flavour of the message. We should tolerate spellings that do not conform to our style as long as they are legitimate, and should in general avoid the use of (sic) to point to an error. Sometimes, when a tweet is full of mistakes it may be best to leave it as it is. It will be obvious to the reader that the errors are the writer's and not ours: eg This trust are my employees, but whatthey are tryong to do is sickening, and they need to be fired, and repairations need made.

If the incoherence of the message makes it hard to understand, paraphrase or put into indirect speech.

Also, when talking about someone liking something in a social networking sense, our style is ‘like’.

Solar System

ie both words capped up.

Sotheby’s

(the auction house) ie with an apostrophe before the ‘s’.

Sources

Good sourcing is critical. News agencies often run with a partial account because they are trying to beat the opposition. In such circumstances, tell the readers who is saying what. Some stories, particularly from Africa, will never be covered by more than one agency - in which case, ensure the attribution comes in the first four paragraphs. If in doubt, consult the relevant BBC bureau. BBC correspondents may be used as a single source. The broader phrase correspondents say is a useful one for injecting analysis or opinion - but should not appear more than twice in a story.

South Asia

ie both words are always capped.

South East Asia

ie all three words capped - and no hyphen.

southern hemisphere

ie lower case.

South Pole

ie initial caps.

Speaker

The parliamentary title Speaker should be capped up - whether or not accompanied by a name. This rule applies to any parliament or assembly where the office exists. But it's a lower case 'd' for deputy Speaker.

Special hospitals

is for psychiatric patients who need treatment in conditions of special security. Inmates include criminal psychopaths who are judged to be a danger to the public.

There are three in England - at Ashworth on Merseyside, Broadmoor in Berkshire and Rampton in Nottinghamshire - and one in Scotland at Carstairs in south Lanarkshire. They may be described as high-security hospitals or high-security psychiatric hospitals - but under no circumstances as ‘lunatic asylums’ or similar.

Specialty

is acceptable in medical/scientific contexts - otherwise ‘speciality’ is preferable.

Speeds

Our style is: 2.5km/h and 60mph - ie with no gap after the number.

Spelling

As a general rule, refer to the Oxford English Dictionary - and where there is an option choose the first use - hence, say protester and not ‘protestor’, medieval and not ‘mediaeval’, focused/focusing and not ‘focussed/focussing’).

One exception is that we use ...’ise rather than ‘...’ize’ - hence, recognise and not ‘recognize’; specialise and not ‘specialize’. It is also our style not to use ‘x’ in the middle of a word where there is an alternative spelling of ‘ct’ - hence, inflection and not ‘inflexion’; reflection - and not ‘reflexion’; connection - and not ‘connexion’.

Take care not to pick up American spelling from the agencies (‘color’, ‘TV program’ etc). This policy also covers job titles (eg: American Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld - and not ‘Defense’). However, US spelling will be retained when we are using the official name of a place, an organisation, building etc (eg Pearl HarborUS Department of DefenseAustralian Labor PartyWorld Trade CenterWorld Health Organization). Take special care with proper names - including those of our own correspondents.

Split infinitives

are not banned. By all means, split the infinitive if the alternative looks ugly - eg: He said his wages were going to more than double.

Spokesperson

is an ugly word we should try to avoid. Spokesman and spokeswoman are possible alternatives. Where it is not obvious, consider rephrasing the sentence - eg: The company said... or A company statement said... or A company representative said... etc.

Sponsored events

If the name of the sponsor is the only way of identifying an event (eg: The Carling Cup), it must be used - though the number of mentions should be kept to a minimum. Where the sponsor’s name is not necessary for identification (eg: Barclays Premier League), the sponsor need not be mentioned as a matter of course - and there is never any need to include it in a summary. But it should be included occasionally: eg in a round-up of results. It should never feature more than once in a single story (unless the sponsorship is itself the subject). Be aware that sometimes different rules apply as a result of audio and video contracts.

Sports scores 

Scorelines at the top of match reports in football, rugby etc are always in the form of Luton 0-4 Watford (and never ‘Luton 0 Watford 4’). Within copy, too, always use digits eg: 4-0 (and never ‘4-nil’, or ‘four-nil’).

Cricket uses digits for all numbers, both in stories and in summaries eg: Anderson took 3-42.

Tennis scores use digits for all numbers, without commas between sets eg: Smith beat Jones 6-4 6-7 (2-7) 7-6 (7-4). Note that tiebreak scores are inside brackets and separated by dashes.

Winning margins in matchplay golf are written in digits with an ampersand eg: Morris beat Rose 4&3.

Golf holes are referred to as the 3rd, 4th etc (not ‘the third’, ‘the fourth’ etc).

In athletics events such as the 100m, where times below 10 seconds are regularly achieved, all numbers should be written as digits - and the word ‘seconds’ need not be used throughout - eg: Hare took gold with a time of 9.93 seconds. In second place was Rabbit, on 9.94. And the bronze medal went to Mole, on 9.96.

Elsewhere, the first reference to a time in athletics should spell it out in full, following the usual convention with numbers below 10 - eg: one hour two minutes 23.34 seconds (with no commas between units). After that, switch to a more compact style - eg: 1:03:25.67.

Insert commas into numbers of four digits and above - eg: The race attracted a crowd of 65,000 - but not necessarily in athletics events - eg: A smaller crowd watched the final of the men’s 1500m - where the figure is pronounced ‘fifteen hundred’).

The ‘One’ in Formula One is written as a digit eg: Formula 1 or F1.

Spree

is often misused. The Oxford English Dictionary definition is ‘a lively or boisterous frolic’. Killing spree and shopping spree are cliches best avoided.

Square brackets

Can be used for interpolations Eg: Reacting to the news, Mr Jones said: ‘He [President Brown] must not back down.’ BUT: if an explanation is required, it is probably not worth a direct quote anyway!

Stalemate

Is not synonymous with ‘deadlock’ - since stalemate is the end of a game (in chess) and so cannot be resolved.

Standfirsts

Standfirsts should be short and snappy, ideally a single paragraph - in bold - of one or two sentences to introduce readers to the story. On bylined pieces, the standfirst appears below the byline and should not repeat the name of the writer. A standfirst should notrefer to the BBC, as in ‘BBC News examines...’ or ‘The BBC News website considers...’ as this is self-evident.

State visits

By definition, these are carried out only by heads of state. But not all visits by heads of state are state visits.

Stealth bomber

ie lower case, because it refers to a type of weapon, rather than a specific one.

Stigma

Whether in the sense of a mark of disgrace, or part of a flower, the plural is stigmas. (The plural stigmata refers only to wounds on the body said to resemble those of Jesus on the Cross.)

stock exchange

ie lower case unless it is part of a name (eg: Shares fell sharply on the London Stock Exchange).

Stock market  

always two words

Stop Online Piracy Act

is written as Sopa, just as the Protect Intellectual Property Act is Pipa.

Storms

When talking about the strength of storms, the word category should be lower case and followed by the number written out (unless it is 10 or higher) eg: The storm weakened to a category one hurricane.

Strasbourg

is our favoured spelling (and not ‘Strasburg’).

Stratford-upon-Avon

ie with two hyphens, and upon rather than ‘on’.

Substation

ie one word, no hyphen.

Sudan

In July 2011, following a referendum, the southern part became a separate country, known as South Sudan. We should continue to refer to the remaining territory as Sudan (and not ‘the Sudan’). However, when reporting on any issues involving both countries, avoid describing it as North Sudan, which could offend. Options are ‘the Republic of Sudan’ (its correct name) or ‘the Khartoum government’ or similar. Or, when appropriate, it's OK to talk about ‘the north and the south’ or ‘northern and southern forces’ - but use lower case.

sudoku

ie lower case.

Suicide

Some people are offended by the use of the term ‘commits suicide’, as they say it implies a criminal action. It's not banned by us, but the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines say that ‘kills oneself’ or ‘takes one's life’ are preferable options. At inquests, say: The coroner recorded a verdict of suicide. The Editorial Guidelines stress that detailed descriptions of the method of suicide should be avoided, as it could lead to copycat behaviour.

Sultan of Brunei

is one of the few who retain the initial cap, even in the absence of the name or the full title (eg: Among the guests were the Sultan of Brunei and his eldest son. The Sultan is spending a month in London).

Summaries

Do not repeat the headline in the summary as the two appear together on the site. One sentence is enough, and it should be in the present tense. A summary should be enticing - without giving too much away. The aim is to persuade the reader to click on the full story. So, rather than simply repeating the first paragraph, it should try to tell the story in a wider sense.

Sun/sun

ie upper case, if it is our one; lower case when referring to the thousands of suns in other galaxies.

Super-casino

ie hyphenated.

Super-nanny

ie hyphenated.

Superlatives

Do not use ‘biggest’, ‘tallest’ etc, unless you are absolutely sure it is true.

Super League/Superleague

It depends on the sport: rugby league has a Super League, while ice hockey has a Superleague.

Supporters of Shariah

(radical Islamic group) Our policy is to run stories about this group and others like it (eg: al Muhajirounonly if we can make it clear that they are regarded by the majority of British Muslims as unrepresentative - ideally, through a quote to that effect from a leading mainstream Muslim group, such as the Muslim Council of Britain. Preachers associated with these groups should not be described simply as ‘Muslim clerics’, but should be labelled asradicalfringe, or something similar. Do not confuse the mainstream Muslim Council of Britain with the more radical Islamic Council of Britain - which should be labelled as self-styled.

Surgeons

All surgeons, even trainees, are normally referred to as Mr/Ms (Miss/Mrs if you know their status). There is a misconception that all consultants can be referred to in this way, but it is only appropriate if they are surgically qualified. However, someone who is a professor of surgery may well prefer to use Prof.

Surrogate

means ‘substitute’ - so it is the mothers who are surrogate, not the children.

Surveys

With opinion polls or any other kind of survey, do not say they ‘show’, ‘prove’ or anything else so definite. They do no more than indicatesuggest etc.

Suu Kyi

is the abbreviated form of the Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, for second reference, or headlines. She is Ms Suu Kyi - never Mrs (her husband, now dead, had a different name).

Sven-Goran Eriksson

ie with a hyphen.

Swear words

should generally be avoided unless considered integral to the story. We do not adopt the convention of using asterisks. If possible, omit the offending term from a direct quote or use indirect speech. You may include some swear words, if you think their omission seriously undermines the impact of the story - but this is subject to the approval of a senior editor. Swear words should be clearly signposted, either by saying early in the story that strong language is involved or by having a standalone warning at the top. There is no ‘Top 10’ list of swear words, but do bear in mind that racial and religious terms may be considered very offensive. If in doubt - leave it out.

Swoop  

Birds swoop - and it is acceptable to talk about a police swoop - but alternatives such asraid are preferable.