A to Z of spellings

Guidance on spelling on NHS inform

Use this page to search for guidance on spelling. Use the alphabet below to jump to the relevant section.

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

Use British English spellings throughout.

If words can end in ‘ise’ or ‘ize’ (or ‘isation’ or ‘ization’), use the ‘s’ version. But, remember that some words like capsize are only spelt with the ‘z’.

There are some exceptions to this, including proper names that have the US spelling. For example, the ‘World Health Organization’.

A

A&E (Accident & Emergency) – use the first time the phrase is mentioned and use ‘A&E’ thereafter. This doesn’t apply to care cards.

act (parliamentary) – lower case except when citing the full, correct name. For example, ‘the Health and Social Care Act 2012’, but the ‘NHS reform act’.

adviser – not advisor

ageing – not aging

AIDS – the condition

all right – not alright

among – use rather than amongst

antenatal – not ante-natal

assure – to make certain

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B

barbecue not barbeque

beta-blocker

bill (parliamentary) – see act

breast milk

breastfeeding

Breathing Space

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C

call – do not use ‘call’, it should be ‘phone’ (and not ‘telephone’) for both verb and noun

Care Information Scotland

care needs assessment – or care assessment or assessment of your care needs

carer’s assessment

carers’ centre

caesarean – note lower case and ‘ean’ (also ‘oe’ in oedema)

ChildLine – note capital L

Citizens Advice Bureau – note no apostrophe

Citizens Advice Scotland

continual – means frequently recurring throughout

continuous – means without intermission

co-operate – but uncooperative

co-ordinate – but uncoordinated

coronavirus

counsellors (medical professional) – not councillors (elected member)

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D

data – not datum. But, use the singular form of verb. For example ‘Your data is safe with us’.

degrees (temperature) – centigrade or Celsius. For example, 16C or -4C. If appropriate, give the Fahrenheit equivalent in brackets, 54F.

dental surgery

dentist

dietitian – not dietician

differ from or different from (never ‘different to’ or ‘different than’)

direct payment

disc – as in a slipped one disc (disk is in a computer)

doctor – but use GP if the person is a GP

Down’s syndrome – never ‘down’s’ on its own

drugs – make sure the context makes clear whether you mean legal or illegal ones

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E

ears – eardrops, eardrum, earlobe and earwax

email – not e-mail

Eat Better Feel Better

Edwards’ syndrome – never ‘Edwards’ on its own

eg – don’t use eg (‘for example’, with no comma after) instead

ensure – means against risk

etc – avoid and say ‘and so on’ or be more specific instead

every year – instead of each year

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F

Facebook

feedback if a noun, but feed back if using as a verb

Fit for Work Scotland

flu

focused

for example – has a comma before but not after (and don’t use eg or for instance)

fractions – spell out phrases like two-and-a-half and three-quarters

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G

GOV.UK

GP practice – not GP surgery or doctor’s surgery

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H

health board – but NHS Board

health professionals – rather than medical staff

health service – but National Health Service, NHS

healthcare – not health care

heartbeat – noun, but one’s heart beats (verb)

helpline – not phoneline

HIV

hospitals – a hospital and not ‘an’ hospital. Use ‘taken to hospital’ and never ‘rushed into hospital’. Only put a capital H if you’re writing the name of the hospital.

however – it’s not a conjunction. For example ‘However much you try, you can’t…’ or ‘He didn’t like pizza. However, he did like lasagne.’

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I

ie – don’t use ‘ie’. Use ‘for instance’ (without a comma after). But, avoid altogether if possible.

immediately – not straightaway or right away

incapacity – not ‘an’ incapacity

in order to – use ‘to’ instead

inpatient

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L

landline

leukaemia – not leukemia (this is the same with other words containing ae)

life cycle

lifelike, lifelong, lifespan

like – not such as

Living it Up

Living Life

local council – not local authority

long-term condition

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M

major – don’t use as a synonym for big or important. It’s best used to compare minor.

majority of – reads better as ‘most’

medical staff – use health professionals instead

mental health

morning-after pill – OK, and can be ’emergency contraception’

mucous – is an adjective and mucus is a noun. Mucous membranes secrete mucus, not mucous (and not mucose).

multiracial

Muslim – not Moslem

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N

National Health Service – should be in upper case. Use health service in lower case thereafter. It can be NHS at first mention.

NHS 24

NHS inform

NHS Scotland

nobody – do not use no-one, no one or noone

non-smoker

north, south, east, west, south-west, northern Europe, the west, etc.

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O

occupational health

OK – not Okay, okay, O.K., ok or Ok

one-stop shop

ongoing – but prefer continuing

online

on to or onto – both are correct depending on the context. For example ‘He travelled from Glasgow on to Edinburgh’ or ‘She jumped onto the roof’.

outpatient

over-the-counter medicine – not over the counter medicine

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P

paediatric – not pediatric

Patau’s syndrome – never ‘Patau’s’ on its own

percentage – use %. For example 85%. If something rises from 10% to 12%, it does not rise 2% but 2 percentage points, or 2 points.

pharmacy – not chemist

phone – not call or telephone (for both verb and noun)

postnatal

prognosis – prefer outlook

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R

race – don’t mention a person’s colour, country of birth, ethnicity or religion unless it is vital to the story. For example when a condition is more prevalent in a particular ethnic group. Avoid offensive and stereotyping words like coloured, half-caste and so on.

radiographer, radiologist – radiographers take X-rays, radiologists read them

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S

safe or safer – beware of referring to ‘safe drinking’, ‘safe sex’ and so on. It’s hard to know what really is ‘safe’. You can use ‘safer sex’ or ‘safer drinking’. This implies that the behaviours will lower, but not eliminate risk. If you use words such as ‘safer’ you should be telling people what is safer than what. Use ‘safer’ when you can’t avoid such phrasing altogether.

said – use said rather than explained, discussed, told, exclaimed, claimed, added

Scheduled Care Services

Scottish Centre for Telehealth and Telecare

(the) Scottish Government – never government alone, as it has to be clear which

self care – but a self-care system

self-esteem

self-help guide

sexual health clinic

side effects

small- and medium-sized businesses

Smokeline

social care – sometimes health and social care departments at councils. Not social work any more.

STD – don’t use. Use STIs or name the specific sexually transmitted infection.

STI – ‘a’ sexually transmitted infection, but ‘an’ STI. Don’t use sexually transmitted disease or STD.

straightaway

straightforward

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T

telecare – but also telehealth and telehealthcare

telephone – use phone instead for both verb and noun

that – is usually better than ‘which’ in a defining clause. For example ‘The train that I take stops at Slough’. Use ‘which’ for clauses between commas. For example ‘The train that I take, which leaves at 5.30pm, stops at Slough’.

the state – but capitalise when writing ‘State Pension’

tranquillise, tranquilliser

travel clinic

try to – not ‘try and’

Twitter

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U

UK Government – not ever government alone, as it has to be clear which

ultrasound scan – not just an ultrasound

under way – 2 words

unplanned – use rather than ‘unwanted’ in relation to pregnancy

uterus – prefer ‘womb’

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V

very – don’t use, as it almost always adds nothing

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W

webchat

website

wellbeing – not well-being

which – see ‘that’

while – not whilst

whom – avoid and use ‘who’ instead.

World Health Organization (WHO) – only proper names take non-UK spellings. For example the US Centers for Disease Control.

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X

X-ray – not x-ray

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Y

yoghurt – not yogurt

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