Grammar and punctuation

How we use apostrophes, capitals, commas, hyphens, quotation marks, em dashes, plurals, numbers and abbreviations.

Capital letters

We use:

  • sentence case which is the first letter capped and then lower case
  • capital letters sparingly: proper nouns.

Examples of when we us capital letters:

  • Annual Report 2018/19
  • Care Standards
  • Chief Executive Grainne Moss

Examples of when we don’t use capital letters:

  • youth justice
  • family group conferences (also referred to as FGC)
  • care and protection


We sometimes hyphenate words to make sure their meaning is clear.


'8 year old children' could mean children who are all aged 8, or 8 children who are 1 year old.

'8-year-old children' means children who are all aged 8.

Em dash

Oranga Tamariki—Ministry for Children uses an ‘Em dash’ for the hyphen between the two words.

The Em dash is created by using the keys ‘Alt, 0,1,5,1’ – hold down the Alt key then type 0,1,5,1. There are no spaces.

You can also use an em dash to separate two thoughts in a sentence - this time use spaces.


Your application may be denied — you won’t get a refund if it is.


We use acronyms only after the name is spelt out in full on the page. Example: Ministry of Justice (MOJ) is one of our partner agencies.

Some exceptions are those with high or common usage eg NGOs.

We don’t use OT, always Oranga Tamariki.

Quotation marks

We use single quotation marks for short quotations from research or practice guidance.

For direct speech we use double quotation marks. For example, in news stories.

We don't use quotation marks or italics for titles of documents or publications.


Don’t use brackets or ‘/s’ to refer to something that could be either singular or plural, like ‘Send your completed document(s) to us’.

Instead, use the plural, as this covers both possibilities: ‘Send your completed documents to Inland Revenue’.

Punctuation we don’t use

We don't use:

  • exclamation marks
  • semi-colons.


Avoid using bold. Too much bold makes it difficult for users to know which content they need to pay the most attention to.

To emphasize words or phrases:

  • put key information at the start of sentences
  • use headings
  • use bullets.


Generally, use one to nine and then numerals from 10 onwards.  But we spell out numbers at the start of a sentence. For example:  Ten people have enrolled in the course.  

The exception to this is when writing headings. Always use numerals whatever the number as these are much more likely to be picked up by Google. 


We use:

  • for example or such as, not eg or e.g.
  • that is, not i.e
  • and so on, not etc.

Published: April 9, 2021