Usage and spelling tips for the Fourth of July weekend

Because we’d hate for you to embarrass yourself around friends and family this long Fourth of July weekend, we’ve compiled the following list of usage and spelling rules about words and phrases you’re likely to use and hear over the coming days. Have fun, stay safe, and practice proper usage!

Quick tips:

Hot dog is two words if you’re talking about the food. If you’re talking about the verb hotdog, meaning “to perform fancy stunts and maneuvers (as while surfing or skiing),” it’s one word.

The Star-Spangled Banner” takes a hyphen because “star” and “spangled” both modify the word banner. It should also be capitalized as it’s a proper noun. And it should be in quotation marks, because it’s a song title.

Cookout is one word, no hyphen.

Don’t let anyone give you grief over your spelling of the delicious, tomato-based condiment ketchup. Ketchup, catchup, and catsup are all accepted spellings for this most perfect food.

The Stars and Stripes is an acceptable term for the US flag and should be capitalized.

United States should be spelled out if used as a noun. If used as an adjective, as it is in the above sentence in which it is modifying “flag,” it is acceptable, but not necessary, to abbreviate it. The Chicago Manual of Style says not to use periods (US not U.S.), but other guides, such as the AP Stylebook, suggest periods.

TNT, as in the explosive, is an initialism of the word trinitrotoluene. An initialism is when you say each distinct, initial letter of an abbreviation. Other common initialisms are FBI, CIA, and USA. By contrast, acronyms are abbreviations formed by the initial letters of a compound term that you speak as one word, such as NATO and NASA.

Be sure to write “red, white, and blue” instead of “red, white and blue” if you’re a fan of the Oxford comma, which we are.

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