Guidelines for English texts and translations

Academic titles

In English-speaking environments it is not common to include a person’s full title in a text. Only the highest title is used: 

  • Professor J. Smith (Not: John Smith) 

Certain Dutch titles are not understood outside the Netherlands (drs., mr.) This is usually resolved by adding the equivalent qualification after the person’s name: 

  • Mary Smith, LL.M. (rather than mr. M. Smith) 
  • Wendy Williams, M.A. / M.Sc. (rather than drs. Wendy Williams)


Use an apostrophe to indicate possession:

  • John’s house
  • The girl’s book (one girl)
  • The girls’ mother (more than one girl)

Never use an apostrophe with ‘it’ to indicate possession. ‘It’s’ can only ever mean ‘it is’ or ‘it has’.

Use an apostrophe to indicate omission:

  • It’s been raining (It has)
  • It’s time to go. (It is )
  • I don’t know where to go. (I do not…)
  • He hasn’t been in class this week (He has not…)

Don't use an apostrophe to indicate plural. Unlike Dutch, an apostrophe is not used to indicate plural:




Dutch often uses lower case for abbreviations, whereas English uses upper case:


Boards, councils and organisations

Use capital letters for the full name of boards, councils and organisations:

  • The Executive Board held a meeting last week
  • The University Council published its recommendations
  • The Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences

Use lower case when not using their full name:

  • The board met last week
  • The council published its recommendations
  • The academy has lots of members

Use lower case when referring to boards, councils and organisations in general:

  • There are lots of different research councils in the Netherlands

Degree programmes

Use capital letters when referring to a specific degree programme:

  • The Bachelor's in International Studies is a popular programme

Use lower case for bachelor's and master's unless referring to a particular programme:

  • Leiden University has a wide range of bachelor's and master's programmes

Use lower case when referring to a field of study/research when it is not part of a programme title:

  • She is studying law

Departments, faculties, institutes and teams

Use capital letters when referring to specific departments and institutes:

  • The Department of Physics
  • The Psychology Institute
Use capital letters for the team's title but not the word team:
  • The Internal Communication team

Use lower case when referring to generic departments, institutes and teams or when not using their full name:

  • Many departments are looking for new staff
  • The institute has moved to its new building
  • The department has hired lots of new staff members


Capital letters for headings are becoming less common, particularly online. Often it is enough to just capitalise the first word and any proper nouns:

  • Researchers publish study of Dutch eating habits

If you do decide to capitalise, then use capitals for all the important words (not for words such as articles (a, the, etc.), prepositions (in, on, at, etc.) or conjunctions (and, but, etc.). 

  • Researchers Publish Study of Dutch Eating Habits 

Job titles

Use capitals as part of a formal title or in combination with a name:

  • Professor John Smith
  • She is Professor of Human Biology
  • The university has a Diversity Officer

Use lower case for non-specific job titles:

  • She is a professor at Leiden University
  • The librarian explained how to find a book
  • He works as a lab technician


Use a capital letter for the official name of a university:

  • Leiden University
  • The University of Oxford

Use lower case when not using the full name of a university:

  • The university has opened a new faculty

Use lower case to refer to universities in general

  • The world needs universities now more than ever
  • It's advisable to go to a university open day

Compound words

Compound words are formed when two or more words are combined. We can distinguish between compound nouns and compound adjectives.

Compound nouns

Compound nouns are fixed combinations, which may be:

  • open: blood pressure, living room;
  • hyphenated: daughter-in-law; or 
  • closed: bedroom, shoelace. 

The spelling of compound nouns is a matter of convention and may evolve over time (e.g., well-being vs. wellbeing). Check the Oxford English Dictionary for the correct spelling.

Compound adjectives

In compound adjectives, hyphens are used to link words that together form a single adjective. These are adhoc combinations, which are only hyphenated when they have this modifying function. 

If the compound adjective appears before the noun, it is hyphenated:

  • State-of-the-art equipment 
  • He is a well-known author.

If the compound adjective appears after the noun, it is not hyphenated:

  • This equipment is really state of the art 
  • This author is well known.

A compound adjective that is made up of an adverb (ending in -ly) and an adjective is not hyphenated:

  • A happily married man

When two or more hyphenated compound adjectives have a common base, this base is sometimes omitted in all except the last adjective, but the hyphens are retained:

  • Long- and short-term memory

Currencies and sums of money

Plural of euro:

  • He was awarded a grant of 500,000 euros (not euro)

Dutch tends to add numbers after the decimal, even where this is zero, whereas English would not:

  • The book costs €300 from Amazon. (Dutch: Het boek kost € 300,- van Amazon)


Write the date as follows: 

  • Monday 23 January 2023


Hyphens are used less in English than in Dutch:

CT-scanCT scan
PhD-candidatenPhD candidates


student assistants
tv-programmaTV programme

Also see the section on compound words


Write out numbers 1 to 10 in full in a running text:

  • The university has seven faculties
  • She works in a team of ten

Write numbers above 10 as numerals:

  • There are 15 people on the board

Try to avoid beginning a sentence with a number. If you cannot avoid this and the number is not too complex, write the number out in full:

  • Sixty-three people took part in the study

If the number is too complex, rewrite the sentence:

  • The study had 6,542 participants

Use a comma to separate numbers greater than 999:

  • 1,632 
  • 10,000 

Use a full stop for decimals:

  • 10.3

Programme titles

  • bachelor’s programmes
  • master’s programmes
  • PhD programmes

Quotation marks

Use single quotation marks at the start and end of a quoted section:

  • ‘It’s time to get down to work’, my lecturer said.

Use double quotation marks to enclose a quoted section within another quotation:

  • ‘When I arrived at the lecture’, she said, ‘my lecturer said, “It’s time to get down to work.”’

Use single quotation marks to indicate that you are using someone else's term:

  • The PhD student is writing about a technique they call 'sub-immersive language learning'
  • Russia has launched a 'special military operation'

Place the punctuation outside the quotation marks if it does not belong to the quoted matter:

  • She said that punctuation was 'a real pain'. 

Place the punctuation inside the quotation marks if it does belong to the quoted matter:

  • She said, 'Punctuation is a real pain.'


British English

The Executive Board has decided in favour of British English for university communications. Here are a few examples of American and British English spelling differences:

British EnglishAmerican English
licence (noun)

license (noun)

license (verb)license (verb)
-our (behaviour)-or (behavior)
practice (noun)practice (noun)
practise (verb)practice (verb)

Some institutions, such as Leiden University Medical Center, use American English spelling in their title. Always use the spelling on the institution’s own English-language website.

-ise or -ize? -isation or ization?

Use -ise not -ize at end of a verb:

  • analyse, emphasise, organise

Use -isation not -ization at the end of a noun:

  • industrialisation, organisation, realisation

The time

Use the 24-hour clock, with a full stop between the numbers and no a.m./p.m./o’clock:

  • The lecture starts at 16.00. 

Use hrs. to avoid confusion:

  • The course on trade unions from 1800 to today is from 16.00 to 18.00 hrs.