straight (adjective): free from curves, bends, angles, or irregularities
straight (adverb): in a straight manner
strait (noun): 1) a comparatively narrow passageway connecting two large bodies of water; 2) a situation of perplexity or distress
When determining whether to use straight or strait, remember: strait is usually a noun, but straight can be an adjective or an adverb. This means straight works with nouns and verbs to describe them.
Examples of straight:
1. Morris has straight teeth.
2. Morris walks straight to the dentist.
In the first example, straight is an adjective that works with the noun teeth. In the second example, straight is an adverb that works with the verb walks.
Examples of strait:
1. The boat barely fit through the strait.
2. The crew was in dire straits when the boat started to sink.
In both examples, strait is a noun. The first example uses the first definition of the word. The second example uses the second definition of the word.
A note about jackets
The word for the white, strappy device used to restrain people is commonly misspelled. It is spelled: straitjacket. Also note that it is one word.
Fill in the blank with either straight or strait. The answers are at the bottom.
1. The negative balance in Liz’s checking account showed she was in desperate financial _______s.
2. It took less time to run the _______ path than the curvy one.
3. Liz ran ______ to the candy shop.
4. The ship sailed _______ through the _______.
5. The men forced the patient into a _______jacket.
1. strait (second definition) 2. straight (adjective) 3. straight (adverb) 4. straight (adverb), strait (first definition) 5. strait
Some people prefer to capitalize each word of a title. But, if you need to learn the rules of the “up and down” style of titles, here is a guide.
Section 8.157 of The Chicago Manual of Style lays out rules:
- Capitalize first and last words
- Capitalize nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs
- Lowercase articles the, a, and an
- Lowercase prepositions (of, in, to, for, with, on, at, over, between, around, etc.)
- Lowercase conjunctions and, but, for, or, and nor
Note: These are only the basic rules. However, these are likely the only ones you’ll need.
Preposition list: For a longer list of English prepositions, click here.
Let’s run through some examples. I’ll explain why I capitalized or lowercased each word.
1. Vampires Suck Blood from a Young Woman.
- I capitalized Vampires and Woman because they are the first and last words. (rule 1)
- I capitalized Suck because it’s a verb. (rule 2)
- I capitalized Young because it’s an adjective. (rule 2)
- I lowercased a because it’s an article. (rule 3)
- I lowercased from because it’s a preposition. (rule 4)
2. The Mating Habits of Mutants
- I capitalized The and Mutants because they are the first and last words. (rule 1)
- I capitalized Mating it’s an adjective. (rule 2)
- I capitalized Habits because it’s a noun. (rule 2)
- I lowercased of because it’s a preposition. (rule 4)
3. The Unicorn Who Forgot His Knife
- I capitalized The and Knife because they are the first and last words. (rule 1)
- I capitalized Unicorn because it’s a noun. (rule 2)
- I capitalized Forgot because it’s a verb. (rule 2)
- I capitalized Who and His because they are pronouns. (rule 2)
4. Four Snakes and Rats Played Nicely Together
- I capitalized Four and Together because they are the first and last words. (rule 1)
- I capitalized Snakes and Rats because they’re nouns. (rule 2)
- I capitalized Played because it’s a verb. (rule 2)
- I capitalized Nicely because it’s an adverb. (rule 2)
- I lowercased and because it’s a conjunction. (rule 5)
Test your skills with a quiz. Below you will see titles with every word lowercased. Rewrite each title with the correct words capitalized. The answers are below.
1. young boy caught farting in class
2. crazy cat and the dumb dog
3. swarm of grandmothers brazenly pinch cheeks at noon
4. ten clouds turn pink
5. the curious way the sea monster eats her food in the ocean
Answers: 1. Young Boy Caught Farting in Class 2. Crazy Cat and the Dumb Dog 3. Swarm of Grandmothers Brazenly Pinch Cheeks at Noon 4. Ten Clouds Turn Pink 5. The Curious Way the Sea Monster Eats Her Food in the Ocean
I rarely go a day without seeing this mistake. So, if you have problems mixing up breathe and breath, don’t feel bad; you have lots of company.
Luckily there’s an easy way to remember the difference.
If you are doing the action (verb) of taking in and letting out air, use breathe with an e at the end.
If you are referring to the air (noun) you are taking in and letting out, use breath—no e at the end.
Breathe is a verb (because it’s an action). Breath is a noun (because it’s a thing).
Here are some sample sentences:
Martin was thankful he could breathe deeply when he recovered from his cold.
Francis took a deep breath before he jumped in the pool.
Test your skills with a quiz. Fill in either breathe or breath in the blanks. The answers are at the bottom.
1. Fish ________ in water.
2. Marcy hated her boss because he had bad _______.
3. Do you think there is alien life who _______ something other than oxygen?
4. The doctors put Uncle George on a respirator because he couldn’t _______ well on his own.
5. Sally couldn’t take a good _______ because the air was filled with smoke.
1. breathe 2. breath 3. breathe 4. breathe 5. breath.
Erin Servais is the founder of Dot and Dash, LLC, an author-services company focusing on women writers and offering a range of editing, coaching, and social media packages.
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