Grammar, spelling and tone

Last updated: June 27, 2022

Write content that is easy to understand by focusing on grammar, spelling and tone.

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Replace passive voice with active

Use the active voice (subject-verb-object). It’s more natural and easier to read. The passive voice (object-verb-subject) is more difficult to understand. For example:

  • Do not write: As required under Section B
  • Write: Section B requires you to

Use action verbs

Action verbs give clear direction. For example:

  • Find a hospital near you

Verbs that end with '-ing'

Be clear when using verbs that end with '-ing'. Words ending in '-ing' can be verbs, nouns or adjectives, which can create confusion over who is doing what, especially when providing instructions. For example:

  • Do not write: When paying for
  • Write: When you pay for

Remove extra adjectives and adverbs

Remove words that do not improve the reader's understanding, such as adjectives and adverbs

Positive form

Whenever possible, tell people what they may or must do instead of what they may not or must not do. Avoid negatives, double negatives and exceptions to exceptions.

If something has serious consequences, use the negative form to explain that it's not possible or should not be done. For example:

  • Do not try to locate the source of carbon monoxide. Leave your home immediately and move to fresh air

Present tense

Use the present tense. It makes sentences short and engaging.


Contractions (it’s, we’re, you’re) make content easier to read by imitating the way we talk.

Avoid negative contractions (shouldn't, can’t, don’t). Many users find them difficult to read and may misread them as the opposite of what they say.


Use gender-neutral pronouns such as ‘you’, ‘they’, ‘them’ or ‘their’. For example:

  • You can order copies
  • They can register online
  • Applicants can see their results

Compound words

Compound words are created when two words are combined to make one word, such as:

  • Bylaw
  • Northeast

If you're unsure, refer to the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. See punctuation and symbols for information on hyphens.

Spelling and word choice


The B.C. government uses Canadian spelling in all publications and on websites. Make sure your Microsoft Word is set to ‘Canadian English’. If you're unsure, refer to the Canadian Oxford Dictionary.

Check for common mistakes, such as:

  • Adviser (not advisor)
  • Defence (not defense), but defensive
  • Fulfil (not fulfill)
  • Licence (noun), license (verb)
  • Offence (not offense), but offensive
  • Practice (noun or adjective), practise (verb)

Ministries and organizations

Avoid using ministry, organization or program names in web content. Names change often and are not plain language.

See capitalization and names for more information.


See inclusive language and terms for more information.


Write in a conversational tone that is polite but direct. When possible, use first and second person (you, we, us) instead of third person (he, she, they).

Biased language

Content on must never be promotional or politicized.

Limit policy information

Our content must be accurate, accessible and easy to understand. Only include critical information. Limit policy information unless necessary.

Starting a sentence

You can start sentences with:

  • But
  • However
  • Or
  • Otherwise

But do not use furthermore, therefore and heretofore.