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K Abbreviation for kilobyte. It means 1,024 bytes. Leave no space between K and the preceding number: 128K of storage. Don't use K to mean 1,000 as in $25k.

karat See carat, caret, carrot, karat.

ketchup Preferred spelling. Not catchup or catsup.

kidnapped, kidnapping Preferred spelling, with two p's. Not kidnaped and kidnaping.

kilowatt-hour A kilowatt-hour is the electrical energy consumed when 1,000 watts are used for one hour. Use kilowatt-hour to measure production or consumption. The abbreviation kwh is acceptable on second reference.

kindergarten Often misspelled; not kindergarden. Also, kindergartner is preferred to kindergartener.

kind of, sort of Wordy and vague. Delete. If you must qualify (weaken) your writing, replace those phrases with rather, slightly or somehow: It's kind of (slightly) cloudy today. I'm sort of (rather) tired. Kind of and short of are acceptable to mean "a species of" or "subcategory of": That is the kind of development our region needs.

King Jr., Martin Luther; Martin Luther King Jr. Don't include commas before or after Jr., and don't drop Jr. when giving his complete name. Use King on second reference. Including the titles before King's name is optional. The federal holiday honoring the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is on the third Monday in January.

knickknack Preferred spelling. No hyphen.

know-how Hyphenate.

kombucha Lowercase. I had never heard of this fermented, slightly effervescent tea beverage until I moved to Port Townsend, Washington, in September 2015. For my tastebuds, the jury's still out.

kudos It means "credit or praise for an achievement. The word is singular and takes singular verbs. There's no such thing as a kudo. Praise is simpler, less pretentious synonym.

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lackadaisical Sometimes misspelled. Not laxadaisical. Also, consider using simpler words like indifferent, lazy or uninterested.

laconic See concise.

lady Don't use this word as a synonym for woman or when it would sound outdated or patronizing. Reserve for writing about nobility. See gentleman.

laid, lain See lay, lie.

laid off, lay off (v.), layoff (n., adj.) Use these terms when writing about reductions in work force to cut costs, not for dismissals because of job performance. See fire, fired.

lake Capitalize as part of a proper name: Lake Washington, Green Lake. Lowercase in plural form: The report included lakes Washington and Sammamish.

laptop (n., adj.) One word.

LAN Acronym for local area network. Spell out (lowercased) on first use.

large size(d) Usually redundant. Drop size(d).

last, latest, past Avoid using last to mean "most recent"; use latest instead. Use last to mean "after all others, after everyone or everything else." OK: The last time it rained, I forgot my umbrella. But: He made the last announcement at noon today may leave readers wondering whether the announcement was the final announcement or whether others will follow. Substitute latest for last. Other times, past may be a better word. Change: They worked together the last five months. To: They worked together the past five months. Also see past, previous, prior.

The word last can also be confusing to mean "most recent" when using the name of a month or day; does last April mean April this year or April last year? Preferred: It happened in April. It happened Wednesday. Or: It happened last week. It happened last month. Redundant: It happened last Wednesday.

(the) late Think of the late as meaning "recently dead." If you think readers will no longer feel a person's death is recent -- or if you think most readers will know a person is dead -- don't use the late. And don't use the late to describe the former wife or husband of someone who's still alive! Use former or ex- (hyphenated) instead.

later, latter Sometimes confused or misused. Use the adverb later to describe when: after a particular time, after the present time, or after the time being discussed: I will see you later today. As a noun and adjective, latter is "the second of two people or things that have been mentioned." Also see former, latter.

Latino See Hispanic, Latino.

latte See espresso.

laxadaisical See lackadaisical above.

lay, lie Often confused. The action word is lay, which means "to place, put or deposit." It is followed by a direct object: I will lay the agenda on the desk. I laid the agenda on the desk. I have laid the agenda on the desk. I am laying the agenda on the desk. Use lay, laid or laying if place, placed or placing would substitute correctly.

Lie means "to be in a reclining position." It does not take a direct object. It is often followed by down or a prepositional phrase: The mechanic decided to lie down. The wrench lies on the workbench. The wrench lay on the workbench all day. The wrench has lain on the workbench all day. The wrench is lying on the workbench.

When lie means to make an untrue statement, the verb forms are lie, lied and lying.

lay off, layoff See laid off, lay off, layoff.

layover (n.), lay over (v.)

lay the groundwork (for) Wordy cliche. Simplify. Try prepare, arrange, plan or ready. See set the stage.

law Capitalize legislative acts but not bills or laws: the Taft-Hartley Act, the Kennedy bill. See motion, ordinance.

lawyer See attorney, lawyer.

lead (n.) The first paragraph or sentences of a news article, infrequently spelled as lede. Used by journalists to capture the attention of readers and listeners, leads contain the most important, interesting or essential details of the article. An effective method for other types of writing. Pronounced "leed." See inverted pyramid.

lead, led Often confused and misspelled. Pronounced as "led" (like "head"), lead is a noun for the marking substance in a pencil and the metal a pipe may be made of. But pronounced as "leed" (like "heed"), lead is both a noun and a verb with the broad meaning of "being in front or in charge": She will lead the investigation. His favorite horse has taken the lead in the race. The reporter quickly wrote a lead for the article. Led, pronounced as it's spelled (like "head"), is the past tense of the verb lead: She led the investigation. Don't confuse spelling and pronunciation of lead with verb forms of read. It follows different rules. See lead above.

least, less See more, most.

leave, let Sometimes confused. Leave means "to go away from a place or person." It has other meanings, but don't use it to mean "allow" or "permit." Use let instead. Let means "to allow someone to do something; to allow something to happen." Leave alone is OK for telling someone "to go away" or "to stop bothering another person." Use let alone to mean "not to mention or much less": She isn't old enough to crawl yet, let alone reach the counter. See allow, enable, permit; lets, let's below.

lectern, podium Often confused. A speaker stands behind a lectern on a podium.

left off Informal. Consider rephrasing with a form of stop.

legislative districts See districts.

legislative titles In texts, on first reference use Rep., Reps., Sen. and Sens. as formal titles before one or more names. Spell out and lowercase representative and senator in other uses. Add U.S. or state before a title if necessary to avoid confusion: U.S. Rep. Warren Jackson spoke with state Sen. Henry Magnuson. Do not use legislative titles before a name on second reference unless they are part of a direct quotation. Also, lowercase legislative. See councilmember, party affiliation.

legislature Capitalize when the name of a state comes before it: the Washington Legislature. Keep capitalization when the state name is dropped, but the reference to the state's legislature is clear: the state Legislature, the Legislature today.

legitimate Commonly misspelled.

leisure Commonly misspelled.

lend, loan Sometimes misused. Use lend and its verb forms, lent and lending when writing about lending things. Avoid using loan as a verb unless it's about loaning money. Use loan as a noun. Correct: Key Bank gave me a $10,000 loan. Key Bank loaned me $10,000. I lent her my car. Avoid: I loaned her my car.

length See dimensions.

lens Often misspelled as lense. Add es to make lens plural: lenses.

lesbian See gay, lesbian; sexual orientation.

less See fewer, less.

less, least See more, most.

less than, under If you mean a lesser quantity or amount, use less than. Use under to mean physically underneath. See fewer, less; over, more than.

lets, let's Both are correct, depending on how you're using the word. If you mean let us, the correct spelling for the contraction is let's: Let's finish the job. But lets is correct as a present tense form of the verb let: He lets them get away with murder. See leave, let above.

leverage Business jargon used by financial consultants to increase their return on the time they're investing in you by making you feel indebted to them for their understanding of the jargon they're using. For everyday, clear use, influence is a powerful word.

LGBT, LGBTQ Acceptable in all references for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender or lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning and/or queer. Queer is acceptable when people and organizations use the term to identify themselves. Don't use it when intended as a slur. See gay, lesbian; sexual orientation; transgender.

liable, libel, likely Sometimes confused. Both liable and likely express probability of something happening, but liable suggests exposure to something undesirable or unpleasant. See libel, slander below for definitions of the noun and verb libel. See apt, likely; likelihood, likely.

liaison Commonly misspelled. Not liason or laison. Also, the verb liaise (with) is jargon. Though wordier, act as a liaison, exchange information, work together or even communicate is clearer.

libel, slander Sometimes confused and misused. Both involve defamation, or an attack on or injury to the reputation or honor of another. But libel is written (or printed), and slander is spoken. Court decisions and varying state laws in the United States further define each term concerning truth, opinion, fault, public figures, private individuals, and other constitutional and legal issues.

liberal, liberalism Ignore misleading uses of these honorable words. Used accurately, liberal implies tolerance of others' views and open-mindedness to ideas that challenge tradition and established institutions. To be liberal means to be willing to understand or respect the different, even unorthodox behavior and ideas of other people. A liberal person supports changes and reform in political, social or religious systems that promote democracy and individual freedom. To be liberal is to be generous and plentiful. Be liberal proudly. Also, lowercase liberal as a political philosophy. See conservation, conservative; progressive.

lie See lay, lie.

license Commonly misspelled.

lieu Commonly misspelled.

life cycle Two words.

life-size Hyphenate.

lifestyle One word.

lift-equipped Hyphenate.

lighted, lit Both lighted and lit are acceptable as past-tense verbs, though lit is more often used: The mourners lighted 100 candles for the vigil. The mourners lit 100 candles for the vigil. Lighted is preferred for the adjective form: The intersection is well-lighted. A well-lighted intersection. A lighted candle.

lightning, lightening Commonly misspelled or confused. Lightning is an electrical discharge in the sky. Lightening is making something less serious, less heavy or less dark.

light rail Two words. Hyphenate when used as a compound adjective: They considered two light-rail alternatives for the region.

likable Commonly misspelled. Not likeable.

like See as if; as, like; including, like, such as.

likelihood, likely Commonly misspelled. Also, when using likely as an adverb to modify a verb, precede it with most, quite, rather or very: The council will very likely approve the plan. Those qualifying words aren't needed with probably, in all likelihood and is likely to: The council will probably approve the plan. The council is likely to approve the plan. See apt, likely; liable, likely.

limited (adj.) Formal and vague. Simplify. Consider using few, little, rare, scarce or small instead.

link together See join together, link together.

liquefy Commonly misspelled. Not liquify.

liqueur, liquor Often confused or misspelled. Liquor is usually a distilled alcoholic beverage. Liqueur is a type of liquor, usually sweet and flavored, typically served after dinner. Memory aid for liqueur: It has two u's separated by an e, one after the q and one before the r.

Listserv, listserv Don't use this registered trademark for a brand of software when writing about an email list, internet mailing list, email forum or internet discussion group. Use a version of those terms instead.

lists Lists are useful in texts to save space and improve readability. To use this technique most effectively, follow these guidelines:

  • Put words and ideas common to all items in the lead-in, introductory sentence.
  • List only comparable items; choose list items that form a logical group.
  • Present only one idea in each item.
  • Keep the list items grammatically parallel.
  • Use only words, phrases or short sentences.
  • Provide adequate transitions before and after lists.
  • Do not overuse lists or make them too long.
  • Use consistent punctuation and capitalization in list items.

When listing information in paragraph form, use commas to separate items in the list if the items are brief and have little or no internal punctuation. If the items are complex, separate them with semicolons. To stress sequence, order or chronology of list items, begin each item with a number or letter enclosed in parentheses or followed by a period.

Use a colon to introduce a list only if a full sentence or clause comes before it. That introductory statement should end with the following: or as follows: or like this: or other similar phrases. The first paragraph of this lists item is also an example of when a colon should be used. Or simply use an introductory sentence like this one (followed by a colon): Here are some examples:

Do not use a colon after phrases like The problems include ... or The members of the task force are .... The previous sentence also shows when a colon is not needed.

Here are two examples:

  • We think he should (1) increase his administrative skills, (2) get more education and (3) increase his production.
  • You should expect your vendor to do the following: train you in the care of your system; offer regular maintenance, with parts replacement when necessary; and respond quickly to service requests.

When listing information in a column (a vertical list), follow these guidelines:

  • End the introduction to the list with a colon if it is a complete sentence, as described and shown above for a list within a paragraph.
  • Capitalize the first word in each item if one or more of the items are complete sentences. Preferably, all or none of the items should be a complete sentence.
  • Don't end list items with a semicolon. And don't use periods or other ending punctuation on items in the list unless one or more of the items are complete sentences.
  • Put a period after the final item in all lists.

Avoid ending the introductory phrase with a verb. If you can't avoid that, you should:

  • end the introductory phrase with a colon (as shown above).
  • treat each item in the list as the end of sentence.
  • begin each item with a lowercase letter.
  • end each item with a period.

In that list format, don't put a conjunction like and or or after the second-to-last item.

Here are some guidelines for using bullets, numbers or other punctuation marks in a vertical list:

  • Use bullets before each item in the list when rank or sequence is not important.
  • Avoid using an asterisk (*) or dash (--) to stand for bullets; most word processing and graphic design programs create bullets easily.
  • If using numbers to introduce items in a vertical list, don't enclose the numbers in parentheses but follow each with a period and a space.

Here are some guidelines for indenting a list:

  • Indent each item in the list if one or more of them develop a complete thought or contain more than one sentence.
  • If an item extends beyond one line, align the beginning of each line with the first word of the item after the number or bullet.

Here are some more examples:

The team is studying three alternatives:

  • expanding the existing plant
  • building a new facility
  • improving all facilities.

Here's the procedure for typing a three-column table:

  1. Clear tab stops.
  2. Remove margin stops.
  3. Find the precise center of the page.
    Set a tab stop at center.

The vendor for your system should

  • train you in the care of your system.
  • offer regular maintenance, with parts replacement when necessary.
  • respond quickly to service requests.

lit See lighted, lit.

literally Overused and misused. It means "actually or in fact," not "figuratively." No politician, rock band or cult, for example, can literally sweep the Earth. In other words, use literally only when describing reality, or consider dropping the word.

livable Not liveable.

loan See lend, loan.

loath, loathe Often confused or misspelled. Use the adjective loath (pronounced like "both") to describe someone who's reluctant to do something. The verb loathe means "to dislike something or somebody intensely."

local area network See LAN.

locality Formal and overstated. Simplify or be more specific. Replace with area, place, neighborhood, site or district.

local of a union Always use a figure and capitalize local when giving the name of a union subdivision: Local 587 of the Amalgamated Transit Union. Lowercase local standing alone or in plural uses: The local will vote Tuesday. Many employees are members of locals 17, 77, 117, 174 and 587.

located Usually unnecessary when giving a location: The plant is in Renton. Not: The plant is located in Renton. Or: Their office is on Bourbon Street. Not: Their office is located on Bourbon Street. For other uses, consider using simpler verbs place or find.

login/log in, logon/log on, log off, log out Use one word as nouns, two words as verbs: Have you been told your login yet? She was told to log on to her computer. He logged in to the database program. Everyone was logging off the network. Verb use is more common. Log in and log on are interchangeable; so are log off and log out. Don't log into or log onto.

long distance, long-distance Always use a hyphen when writing about telephone calls: We keep in touch by long-distance. He called long-distance. She took the long-distance call. In other uses, use a hyphen only when used as a compound modifier: She made a long-distance trip. He traveled a long distance.

long range, long-range Hyphenate when used as a compound adjective before a noun: long-range plan.

long shot Two words. Informal for any venture with only a slight chance of success but offering great rewards if successful.

long-term, short-term Hyphenate when used as compound adjectives: The team developed a long-term regional plan.

long-standing Always hyphenated.

longtime, long time One word (with no hyphen) as an adjective modifying a noun or pronoun: longtime companion. Two words when long modifies time: He's worked in Hawaii a long time.

long-winded See concise.

loose, lose Sometimes confused or misspelled. Use loose (pronounced "looss") to describe things that aren't attached firmly (loose buttons), that aren't tied tightly (loose shoelaces), that are too big (loose clothes), that are out of control (loose prisoners). Use lose (pronounced "looz") to say someone no longer has something (lose a job), can't find something (lose car keys), doesn't win something (lose a game), has less of something (lose weight) or wastes something (lose time). Some common, correct phrases: loose translation, loose ends, loose cannon, on the loose, loose-leaf, loosen up, have nothing to lose, lose touch, lose it, lose your head.

lose out (on) Wordy. Simplify. Drop out and out on.

low- Hyphenate compound adjectives using low- before a noun: low-density district, low-frequency speaker, low-impact aerobics, low-income housing, low-water mark. See high-.

lowercase One word. It refers to letters and words that are not capitalized.

luncheon Formal. Simplify. Try lunch instead.

-ly A hyphen is unnecessary and redundant between an adverb ending in ly and the adjective it modifies: an easily remembered rule, randomly selected addresses. See hyphen.

lying See lay, lie.

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Maintained by Gary B. Larson of Port Townsend, Washington,

Updated April 12, 2019.