Chapter 12
Punctuation, Mechanics, Style

This chapter sets out preferences in matters such as choosing between two possible correct spellings of a word, deciding whether to hyphenate, and knowing what to capitalize. In some cases, this chapter refers the reader to another part of the manual or to more extensive reference works:

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, second college edition edited by William Morris, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1992) for usage questions.

The Chicago Manual of Style, 13th ed., rev. (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1993) for capitalization, punctuation, and hyphenation questions.

Webster's Third New International Dictionary. (Springfield, Massachusetts: Merriam-Webster Inc., 1986) for spelling and hyphenation questions.

This chapter contains the following entries in alphabetical order:

official titles
quotation marks
time of day
word division

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Avoid abbreviations. When in doubt about whether to abbreviate a word, spell it out or check with the revisor's office.

In particular, avoid using initials as a substitute for an official name. For example, write "Environmental Protection Agency" or "the agency." Do not write "the EPA." Full names are especially important for publications being incorporated by reference. For examples, see chapter 11, References.

Do not use the abbreviations e.g., i.e., et al., et seq., and etc. Do not abbreviate any part of a citation to Minnesota Statutes or Minnesota Rules.

The following are exceptions to the general rules:

  1. Proper names. An abbreviation may be used if it is part of a proper name, as in "Cargill, Inc."

  2. a.m. and p.m. The abbreviations a.m. and p.m. may be used to express time, as in "1:00 a.m." or "2:34 p.m." See Numbers.

  3. Special materials. Abbreviations may be used in tables, illustrations, and similar material.

  4. Compass points in street names. The names of the compass points may be abbreviated after a street name as in "821 Fifth Avenue SE." The names of the compass points are written without periods.

  5. Land descriptions. In legal land descriptions, names of the compass points should remain exactly as they are in the legal instrument the drafter is working from. Whether the points of the compass are abbreviated with periods, abbreviated without periods, or written out, they should not be changed.


within the S.W. 1/4 of section 19, township 105N, range 32W

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Write addresses in paragraph form. Do not put quotation marks around the address. Capitalize as you would on the front of an envelope. (This is an exception to the rule that the titles of offices are lowercased.) Abbreviate only the points of the compass and the state name.


Mail applications to: Director, State Building Construction Division, Department of Administration, Administration Building, 50 Sherburne Avenue, Saint Paul, MN 55155.

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Use apostrophes to mark singular and plural possessive forms.


the court's intention (singular)
children's television
farmers' cooperative associations (plural)

However, some possessives are "frozen"; that is, the apostrophe is omitted. These include:

  1. names of countries and organized bodies ending in s, as in "United States laws," "House of Representatives session," "United Nations meeting"; and

  2. words more descriptive than possessive, that is, words not indicating ownership, as in "teachers college," "the Editorial Experts, Inc., Proofreaders Manual."

If an existing name is usually written without an apostrophe, don't add one.

Use apostrophes to pluralize abbreviations, single letters, or figures used as nouns, such as "Btu's," "x's," or "4's."

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Put brackets around headnotes and proposed coding.


Section 1. [222.02] [RETURNS AND RECORDS.]

Brackets show that the enclosed material is not part of the law.

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The rules set out here apply to bills. For resolutions, see the example pages in chapter 6. To answer a question not addressed here, refer to The Chicago Manual of Style.

Capitalized words.

(1) Headnote for sections and subdivisions are shown in full capitals.


Section 1. [222.02] [RETURNS AND RECORDS.]

Subdivision 1. [SALES AND USE TAX RETURN.]

(2) In references, capitalize only the words "Minnesota Rules," "Minnesota Statutes," "Laws," and names of other publications.


Minnesota Statutes, section _____, subdivision _____, clause _____
Minnesota Rules, part _____, subpart _____, item _____, subitem _____
Laws 1978, chapter 785, section 4, subdivision 8.

In the layout of each section, capitalize "Subdivision" and "Subd."




(3) Capitalize the important words in titles of books, government documents, periodicals, or serials and in the titles of chapters or sections of these publications. See References for more information.

(4) Capitalize proper names. These include the names of political subdivisions, as well as the names of people, places, institutions and bodies of law with formally enacted names. They do not include titles of individual civic offices except when the titles precede names. They do not include agency names.


Hennepin county
Floyd B. Olson Memorial Highway
Governor Rudy Perpich
University of Minnesota
Houghton Mifflin Company
Uniform Commercial Code

Uncapitalized words.

(1) Do not capitalize words referring to a civic office or agency.


the commissioner of agriculture, the department of agriculture, the senate

(2) Do not capitalize words referring to a political subdivision, law, person, institution, or place if they are not part of a proper name. Do not capitalize them when they refer back to a capitalized proper noun. "University of Minnesota" in line 1 will be "the university" in lines 2 and 3. See Addresses for one exception to this rule.


the state
the department
the department of revenue
the county
Ramsey county
the highway
the governor
the university
the company
the act
the rules
the state board of chiropractors

(3) If you are not sure whether something is a proper name, do not capitalize it. Names of forms (like "certificate of live birth") or programs (like "home improvement loan program") should not be capitalized. Neither should funds, grants, types of aid, or other state administrative creations. If an act is given a proper name by law, capitalize it, for example, the "Uniform Fiduciaries Act."

(4) Lowercase "state" in the phrase "state of Minnesota" and elsewhere. Do not capitalize the words "federal" or "legislature."

(5) Do not capitalize initial words in numbered clauses unless each is a complete sentence.

Example: a list of phrases

A certification by the director under Minnesota Statutes, section 179.69, subdivision 3 or 5, must contain:
  1. the petition requesting arbitration;

  2. a concise written statement by the director indicating that an impasse has been reached and that further mediation efforts would serve no purpose;

  3. a determination by the director of matters not agreed upon based upon the director's effort to mediate the dispute;

  4. the final positions submitted by the parties; and

  5. those agreed-upon items to be excluded from arbitration.

Example: a list of sentences

Instructions must be printed on the ballot envelope and must include the directions printed below:
  1. After you have voted, check your ballot to be sure your vote is recorded for the candidate or question of your choice.

  2. Put your ballot in this envelope, leaving the stub exposed.

  3. Return this envelope with the ballot enclosed to the election judge.

  4. If you make a mistake in voting or if you spoil your ballot, return it to the election judge and get another ballot.

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A section, subdivision, or paragraph may be divided into grammatical or legal clauses and marked (1), (2), and so on or (a), (b), and so on. Every clause but the last should end in a semicolon.

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Coded sections are given decimal section numbers.


Section 100.01. Sections are ordered decimally, not numerically, so that new sections can be inserted between existing sections. For example, a new section numbered 100.125 would follow section 100.12 and precede section 100.13.

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(1) Place a colon after the enacting clause of a bill.



(2) Place a colon after the introductory citation in a section of a bill.


Minnesota Statutes 1996, section 100.01, subdivision 1, is amended to read:

(3) Place a colon after an expression that introduces a series of items.


The petition must contain the following information: the name and address of petitioner, the names and addresses of adverse parties, a concise statement of the grievance, and references to all the relevant documents.

For further examples, see Series.

(4) Place a colon between the place of publication and the publisher's name in a citation. See the chapter on References.

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If you wonder whether or not to use a comma, consult The Chicago Manual of Style. Here are the most important rules regarding the use of the comma in drafting:

(1) Use a comma to set off a nonrestrictive dependent clause that follows or falls within a main clause. A nonrestrictive clause is one that can be omitted without altering the meaning of the main clause.


The application, which may be obtained from the department of education, must be submitted by June 30, 1992.

(2) Use a comma to separate words, phrases, or clauses in a simple series. When a conjunction joins the last two elements in a series, use a comma before the conjunction.


The members of the commission are the commissioner of education, the commissioner of administration, and the commissioner of transportation.

(3) Use a comma to set off the year following the month and day.


Before June 30, 1992, ...

Omit the commas around the year when no day is given


The exemption expires in March 1992 unless the agency reapplies.

(4) Use commas to separate the parts of references. For examples, see References.

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Compound Words

See Hyphens.

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Avoid the use of dashes in text material. It is nearly impossible to show that a dash has been stricken in the amendment process.

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Express complete dates in month-day-year sequence. Spell out the month of the year. Do not abbreviate the month, and do not use the numerical symbol for it. If only the month and year are used, do not insert a comma after the month or after the year. See Commas.


Before September 2, 1992, the commissioner ....

In September 1992 and every month after that ....

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See Numbers.

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Do not hyphenate to divide a word at the end of a line. Only hyphenate when a word's proper spelling includes a hyphen.

In amendments, keep hyphenation consistent with existing text.

In new language, to answer questions about hyphenation, first consult Webster's Third New International Dictionary. If that gives no answer, consult The Chicago Manual of Style, table 6-1. Most hyphenation questions concern compounds like "part-time" and "60-day." These compounds are hyphenated when they precede nouns, as in "part-time job" or "60-day license."

With four classes of exceptions, words beginning with the following prefixes are spelled without hyphens: ante, anti, co, extra, infra, intra, non, over, post, pre, pro, pseudo, re, semi, sub, super, supra, ultra, un, and under.

Here are the exceptions to the general rule:

(1) Hyphenate if the second element of the word is capitalized or a figure.


anti-Semitic, pre-1914

(2) Hyphenate to distinguish certain homographs.


re-cover, un-ionized

(3) Hyphenate if the second element has more than one word.


pre-Civil war, non-English-speaking people

(4) Hyphenate some compounds in which the last letter of the prefix is the same as the first letter of the word following.


semi-independent, non-native

Use hyphens in compound numbers (like "thirty-three"), in fractions (like "one-half"), in mixed numbers (like "4-3/4"). See Numbers to learn when these should be spelled out. Use hyphens in dates representing periods extending over more than one year (like "1991-1992").

Do not use a hyphen in any other case as a substitute for the word to.

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See Abbreviations.

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Italics cannot be used in bills.

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See sections 14, 15, and 17 of Chapter 10.

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Treat quantities such as distance, length, area, and volume according to the rules for spelling out numbers:


45 miles
ten degrees Celsius
three cubic feet
240 volts

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Use figures to express dollar amounts.


$5, $300, $750

Express a dollar amount that begins a sentence as a figure.


$100 may be paid ....

Express an even dollar money amount with a dollar sign and the dollar amount, omitting the decimal and zeros.


$5, $700

In running text, express money amounts with dollar signs, omitting the decimal and zeros for figures which represent even dollar amounts.


$4, $9.50, $23.35, and $50

However, in tables that include at least one figure with cents, show the decimal point and zeros for even dollar amounts.



For amounts under a dollar in text, spell out the word cent or cents. Avoid the cents symbol. In tables, use dollar signs, decimal points, and zeros. Include the dollar sign only once, with the first figure in the column.


50 cents

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Numbers used as designators. Use figures for numbers used to refer to specific entities: grades K to 8, independent school district No. 24.


Write numbers ten and under in words; write numbers 11 and over in figures.


two sheets and one towel
at least 24 hours
Write a number that begins a sentence in words (but see also Money, above, and Fractions, below).


Thirty days after the commission has received the report, the commissioner shall....


Write out the ordinal numbers one to ten. Write ordinal numbers greater than ten in numbers and letters.


first, second, fifth
11th, 15th, 81st

Do not use an abbreviation or period following an ordinal figure.

Fractions and decimals.

When the denominator is ten or less, write the fraction in words. When it is over ten, express the fraction with figures.


three-tenths, one-half
5/16, 3/25, .04, .007

Express mixed numbers in figures, except at the beginning of a sentence.


1-1/2, 9-15/16
"One and one-half" at the beginning of a sentence.

Fractions expressed in figures should not be followed by endings like sts as in "21sts," rds as in "23rds," nds as in "32nds," ths as in "64ths," or by an "of" phrase as in "1/2 of one."

Inclusive numbers.

Use the word "to" to link two figures that represent a continuous sequence. The only exceptions are references to school years, tax years, and the like. In these references, do not abbreviate the second figure.


the 1998-1999 school year

Do not use:

the 1998-99 school year


In text, spell out the word "percent" and write the number according to the other rules here.


12 percent, three percent, 2-1/2 percent, .04 percent

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Official Titles

When referring to a public officer, agency, or organization, use the official title of the officer, agency, or organization. The official titles for state officers or agencies are usually found in the constitutional or statutory sections that create them. For rules on capitalization in official titles see Capitalization.

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A section or subdivision may be divided into paragraphs (a), (b), and so on.

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Use parentheses to set off place of publication, publisher, and date in references. See the chapter on References.

Generally, avoid parentheses in text.

Commas or rephrasing will usually do as well to separate a parenthetical expression.

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See Numbers.

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Use a period after a section or subdivision headnote.


Section 1. [999.09] [RECORDS AND SAMPLES.]

Use periods at the ends of complete sentences. Do not use periods after phrases or clauses in a tabulated list; use semicolons. See Series and Capitalization for examples of this rule.

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See individual marks. To answer questions about punctuation that are not addressed in this manual, see The Chicago Manual of Style.

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Quotation Marks

(1) Use quotation marks for definitions.


"Commissioner" means ....

(2) Short titles or citations are discouraged, but if you must use them, put them in quotation marks when you first assign them to a group of sections. Do not use quotation marks in later references to the short title.


Sections 1 to 20 may be cited as the "Tax Reform Act."

(3) Use quotation marks to enclose words and phrases following terms such as "marked," "designated," "named," or "entitled."

(4) Use quotation marks around titles of published and unpublished works.

(5) Do not use quotation marks in text to indicate words used in a special sense. If you must use a word in a special sense, define it so that it will not need quotation marks.

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(1) Use a semicolon after every phrase in a bill's title.


An act relating to children; providing for review of foster care of certain developmentally disabled children; permitting Ramsey and Hennepin county juvenile court referees to hear certain contested cases; amending Minnesota Statutes 1996, section 257.071, subdivision 3, and by adding a subdivision.

(2) Use a semicolon to separate closely related independent clauses not connected by a conjunction. Be careful not to overuse this construction. Separate sentences are better than needlessly connected ones.


The commission may call a meeting of the board whenever necessary; it may require all members to be present.

(3) Use a semicolon between independent clauses joined by a transitional connective such as also, furthermore, moreover, however, nevertheless, namely, that is, for example, hence, therefore, thus, then, later, finally. Again, don't overuse this construction.


Applications must be submitted before January 1, 1992; however, the board may grant an extension for good cause.

(4) Use a semicolon to separate equal elements that contain commas.


For the purpose of this part, "surety" means any note; stock; bond; assumption of any obligation or liability as a guarantor, endorser, or surety; or collateral trust certificate.

(5) Use semicolons to separate references when one or more of the references contain internal commas.


Minnesota Statutes, sections 325.01, subdivision 2; 468.01; and 524.03, subdivision 5.

(6) Use semicolons after clauses or phrases in a list, except after the last item in the list. If the listed items are complete sentences, use periods. See Capitalization and the chapter on clear drafting for examples of this rule.

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Use the slash between the numerator and denominator of fractions.


5/6, a/b

Do not use slashed alternatives such as and/or, she/he, or federal/state.

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In amendments, keep spelling consistent with existing text.

In new text, use Webster's Third New International Dictionary to decide spelling questions. When you have found the entry that is the right part of speech and has the right meaning, use the main spelling (first spelling) for that entry. Do not use a variant (second or third spelling). For example, if you find labeling and the note says "or labelling," use the form with the single l.

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In amendments, strike out material that is intended to be removed from the text of existing statutes or laws.


one year.

See Underscoring.

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A subdivision is the largest division of a section. The first subdivision is always spelled out as "Subdivision 1." but the second and later subdivisions are abbreviated "Subd. 2." and so on. In references, always write the word "subdivision" in full.

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Do not use symbols such as or %

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In tables, capitalize every important word in a column heading. See materials on appropriations for examples.

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Treat temperature numbers according to the ordinary rules for numbers. Write out "degree" and "Fahrenheit" or "Celsius."

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Time of Day

In designations of time with a.m. or p.m., always use figures.


"eight o'clock," but "2:00 p.m."

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Underline new material to be inserted or substituted for old material in the text of existing laws.


two years

See Strikeouts.

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Word Division

See Hyphens.

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