OAC Style Guide

Abbreviations, Acronyms & Shortenings

No punctuation (e.g. OUMC not O.U.M.C.)

Affect / Effect

Exhortations in the style guide had no effect (noun) on the number of mistakes; the level of mistakes was not affected (verb) by exhortations in the style guide; we hope to effect (verb) a change in this.


Affinity with or between, not to or for.


Plural aficionados.


One word.

And or But at the start of a sentence?

There is no rule of English grammar proscribing the use of And at the start of sentences; there is a ‘rule’ of English style to be sparing with it. The same applies to But.

Are or is?

See ‘Is or Are’.


1) Use apostrophes to show possession as follows:

Singular nouns and most personal names:

The mountain’s north face.

We met at Ben’s party.

Personal names that end in an S:

Use an apostrophe plus extra S when you would naturally pronounce the extra S out loud. There are certain exceptions to this for organisations – check their own guidelines.

He joined Charles’s army.

He joined Connors’ army.

Plural nouns that end in an S:

The work starts in two weeks’ time.

It was a girls’ school.

Plural nouns that do not end in an S:

The children’s father.

A men’s clothing store.

2) Apostrophes are also used to signify omission of letters, as in:

It’s been a long day.

I’m sure that I can climb this route.

This was first climbed in ‘89.

3) Apostrophes are not usually used for plurals (e.g. 1990s, MPs, Euros) apart from in the case of single letters or numbers, or grades when the ending is spoken as a number or letter:

I’ve dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s.

Find all the p’s in the word ‘appear’.

Find all the number 7’s in this list.

There are two HVS's and three 7a's on this crag, along with four Severes.


Round brackets (also called parentheses) are mainly used to separate off information that isn’t essential to the meaning of the rest of the sentence. If you removed the bracketed material the sentence would still make perfectly good sense. For example:

Mount Everest (8848m) is the highest mountain in the world.

If the sentence is logically and grammatically complete without the information contained within the parentheses (round brackets), the punctuation stays outside the brackets.

The highest mountain in the world is Mount Everest (8848m).

(A complete sentence that stands alone in parentheses starts with a capital letter and ends with a full stop.)


One word, no hyphen.


Capitalise geological, historical or cultural periods (e.g. Jurassic period, ‘Slab and Wall’ period, ‘Gully Epoch’). Note that when the period to which you refer is not in common usage then it should be enclosed in inverted commas. If the word period or epoch is ‘required’ to be inside the inverted commas then it too should be capitalised.

Do not capitalise points of the compass unless referring to a specific region (e.g. the North). See also Points of the Compass.

The Club is capitalised when it refers to the Oxford Alpine Club.


One word. (eg Follow the clifftop path).


One word if used as a noun. The verb to clip-stick is hyphenated and rather strange, but then again is the technically more correct to stick-clip...


There are three main uses of the colon:

1) Between two main clauses in cases when the second clause explains or follows from the first (e.g. That is the secret of amazing dynos: always aim beyond the hold).

2) To introduce a list (e.g. The route includes the following: thorns, chimneys, snakes and loose rock).

3) Before a quotation (e.g. The headline read: “Climber gnaws off hand to escape fallen boulder”).

Use a capital letter following a colon only if there is a change of voice, and the words following the colon make sense as a stand-alone sentence.

Remember the advice given to beginners: Don’t try to run before you can walk.

Remember the advice given to beginners: not to try to run before they can walk.


A comma marks a slight break between different parts of a sentence. They should be used:

  1. in lists;
  2. in direct speech;
  3. to separate clauses;
  4. to mark off certain parts of a sentence;
  5. to join complete sentences;
  6. and to express the passage of time within a sentence.

1) Commas should be placed between the different items in a list, as in the following sentence:

This serious route suffers from loose rock, high avalanche potential and unpredictable weather.

Oxford commas (the final comma before the and) should only be used if required for clarity (e.g. My favourite sandwiches are chicken, bacon, and ham and cheese).

In a list of adjectives a comma should be used wherever an ‘and’ would be appropriate. For example:

It is a dark, sombre cliff. (It is a dark and sombre cliff).

This superb north-facing crag is the best in the range.

2) Using commas in direct speech:

When a writer quotes a speaker’s words exactly as they were spoken, this is known as direct speech. If the piece of direct speech comes after the information about who is speaking, you need to use a comma to introduce the direct speech. The comma comes before the first quotation mark. Note that the final quotation mark follows the full stop at the end of the direct speech:

Steve replied, “No problem.”

You also need to use a comma at the end of a piece of direct speech, if the speech comes before the information about who is speaking. In this case, the comma goes inside the quotation mark:

“I don’t agree,” I replied.

“Here we are,” they said.

There are two exceptions to this rule. If a piece of direct speech takes the form of a question or an exclamation, you should end it with a question mark or an exclamation mark, rather than a comma:

“Stop him!” she shouted.

“Did you see that?” he asked. “The bolt of electricity passed right through the building!”

Direct speech is often broken up by the information about who is speaking. In these cases, you need a comma to end the first piece of speech (inside the quotation mark) and another comma before the second piece (before the quotation mark):

“Yes,” he said, “and I always keep my promises.”

3) Using commas to separate clauses:

Commas are used to separate clauses in a complex sentence (i.e. a sentence which is made up of a main clause and one or more subordinate clauses).

Having coiled the rope, we set off up the next pitch. [Subordinate clause], [main clause]

If brushed against, the spines will embed in the skin.

If the commas were removed, this sentence wouldn’t be as clear but the meaning would still be the same.

A subordinate clause beginning with ‘who’, ‘which’, ‘that’, ‘whom’, or ‘where’ is known as a relative clause. Take a look at this example:

Climbers who have short arms may struggle with this move.

This sentence contains what’s known as a restrictive relative clause. A restrictive relative clause contains information that’s essential to the meaning of the sentence as a whole. If you left it out, the sentence wouldn’t make much sense. If we removed the relative clause from the example above, then the whole point of that sentence would be lost. You should not put commas round a restrictive relative clause.

The other type of subordinate clause beginning with ‘who’, ‘which’, ‘whom’, etc. is known as a non-restrictive relative clause. A non-restrictive relative clause contains information that is not essential to the overall meaning of a sentence.

Will, who has short arms, made this move with ease.

If you remove this clause, the meaning of the sentence isn’t affected and it still makes perfect sense. You need to put a comma both before and after a non-restrictive relative clause.

4) Using commas to mark off parts of a sentence:

Commas are used to separate a part of a sentence that is an optional ‘aside’ and not part of the main statement.

Phil, of course, was still eating breakfast.

His latest route, ‘Redundancy of Courage’, was graded E5.

In these sentences, the role of the commas is similar to their function in non-restrictive relative clauses: they mark off information that isn’t essential to the overall meaning. Using commas in this way can really help to clarify the meaning of a sentence.

If the information was essential to the meaning of the sentence then commas would not be required:

His route ‘Redundancy of Courage’ was graded E5.

Indeed, if commas were added then they would imply that ‘Redundancy of Courage’ was his only route:

His route, ‘Redundancy of Courage’, was graded E5.

Now things get really confusing...

5) Using commas to join two complete sentences:

A comma should be used to join two complete sentences and should be placed before the conjunction.

Will wanted to climb the hardest route in the World, but it turned out to be far too hard for him.

Will wanted to climb the hardest route in the world. It turned out to be far too hard for him.

The cactus is weak, but the spines will embed themselves in the skin.

The cactus is weak. If brushed against, the spines will embed themselves in the skin.

Where a comma is used to join two sentences, the second of which consists of two clauses, the comma should appear before the conjunction:

The cactus is weak, but if brushed against, the spines will embed themselves in the skin.

Note that commas should not be used when the conjunction is omitted (this would need a semicolon or full stop), or when however or nevertheless are used.

This was the hardest climb in the World; nevertheless, Will went ahead and tried it.

Consider the following examples which illustrate two simultaneous uses of the comma (in this case a joining comma and a comma to mark off a non-essential part of the sentence:

Original sentences written separately:

It is the provider of water to the hundreds of settlements that outline its periphery. Not surprisingly, it is one of Tafraout’s most important tourist attractions.

Two full sentences joined by a joining comma:

It is the provider of water to the hundreds of settlements that outline its periphery, and not surprisingly, it is one of Tafraout’s most important tourist attractions.

These are not two full sentences, but the commas mark off a non-essential part:

It is the provider of water to the hundreds of settlements that outline its periphery and, not surprisingly, is one of Tafraout’s most important tourist attractions.

6) Finally, a comma can be used at your discretion to improve the clarity of a sentence by expressing the passage of time in what you are describing.

Compass directions

northeast, east-northeast, a north–south valley. In general, compass points should not be capitalised (eg. to the north of Oxford, the north side of Oxford, the north face of the mountain), unless it is used as a place name as in the North Face as the title of a specific face or buttress of a specific named mountain or route. As a rule of thumb, if ‘face’ could be replaced with ‘side’ then don’t capitalise:

This route lies on the north face of the Safinah.

The West Buttress of Safinah is a superb climb.

The route is northwest facing.

It is a northwest-facing route.

Corner crack

No hyphen.

Crack line

No hyphen.








When used as a noun, this is not hyphenated (e.g. there is a short downclimb). If required as a verb, it is best to rephrase (e.g. it is necessary to climb down a short wall). If use as a verb is required then it should be hyphenated (eg some down-climbing is required).


A drystone wall


A dynamic move. Plural is dynos.


Hyphenated when used in front of a noun (eg the easy-angled slab) but not if used after the noun (eg the slab is easy angled).


Example. No full points of commas, unlike many of the incorrect instances in this style guide.


Units of currency not capitalised.


Use fewer if you’re referring to people or things in the plural (e.g. Climbers these days are using fewer pitons; Fewer climbers are opting to place bolts on lead; Fewer than thirty climbers reach the summit each year.)

Use less when you’re referring to something that can’t be counted or doesn’t have a plural (e.g. air, time, lichen, rain) – e.g. People want to spend less time walking in to crags; There is less lichen.

Less is also used with numbers when they are on their own and with expressions of measurement or time (e.g. His weight fell from 18 stone to less than 12; Their ascent took less than two hours; The route is less than 500m from the road).

Finger crack

No hyphen.

Finger-width crack

Hyphen, since finger-width is a compound adjective.

First ascensionist
First ascent

Not hyphenated.

Flake line

Two words.

Flake crack

Two words (similarly corner crack etc).

For ever

In British English this can be one or two words when it means for evermore. It should be written as one word if it means ‘continually’ (as in he was forever banging into things). In American English it is always one word.


Not 'Forgiveable' (American).


Standard notation applies:

F7a = French sport grade; 7a = UK tech grade; f7A = Font bouldering grade.

UK adjectival grades should be capitalised and lower grades are normally written out in full (eg Difficult, Very Difficult, Severe). The exceptions are when required for space reasons (eg. VDiff or VD if absolutely necessary, but be consistent). When modifiers are used (Mild or Hard) then write in full where possible (eg Hard Difficult, Mild Severe) unless there is a tech grade present, in which case always abbreviate (eg HVD 4a, MS 4a, HS 4c). MVS and above are shortened (eg MVS, VS, HVS, E1 etc)

Try to avoid pluralising when possible, but if required then use an apostrophe to pluralise only when the ending of the grade is spoken as a number or letter:

There are many 7a routes on this buttress.

There are two 7a's and two HVS's along with three Diffs.

This is one of a trio of good E1's on this buttress. 


There are a handful of routes.

There is a handful of sand.

A handful of routes have been climbed.


A historic route. Not ‘an historic route’.


Hyphens should be used:

  1. in compound words;
  2. to join prefixes to other words;
  3. and to show word breaks.

1) Compound words:

Compound words can include cases where the component words have a combined meaning (e.g. a pick-me-up, mother-in-law, good-hearted).

Compound adjectives are made up of a noun + an adjective (e.g. ice-cold, rock-solid), a noun + a participle (e.g. north-facing, custom-built, power-driven), or an adjective + a participle (e.g. difficult-looking, quick-thinking, fair-haired).

Note that the adverb very, or adverbs ending with -ly, never get a hyphen (e.g. highly efficient). This only applies to adverbs – compound adjectives formed with a noun or adjective will be hyphenated (e.g. family-owned, friendly-looking).

With compound adjectives formed from the adverb well and a participle (e.g. well-known), or from a phrase (e.g. up-to-date), you should use a hyphen when the compound comes before the noun (e.g. well-known routes, north-side routes, an up-to-date guidebook, a multi-pitch route) but not when the compound comes after the noun (e.g. His routes are well known, climbing on the north side, their details are up to date).

It’s important to use hyphens in compound adjectives describing ages and lengths of time: leaving them out can make the meaning ambiguous. For example, 250-year-old trees clearly refers to trees that are 250 years old, while 250 year old trees could equally refer to 250 trees that are all one year old.

Compound verbs require a hyphen when two nouns are made into a verb (e.g. an ice climb, but to ice-climb; or a booby trap, but to booby-trap).

Compound verbs involving an adverb will usually have a hyphen (e.g. to down-climb).

Phrasal verbs (verbs made up of a main verb and an adverb) should not be hyphenated when used as a verb (e.g. the phrasal verb build up, as in continue to build up...).

Phrasal verbs must be hyphenated when made into a noun (e.g. there was a build-up of lactic acid).

Compound nouns can, in English grammar, be hyphenated. However, OAC style is to not hyphenate compound nouns if they can be written as one word (e.g. icefall, not ice-fall; aircrew, not air-crew). An exception is walk-in when used as a noun (not walk in). Note that first ascent and new route are not hyphenated. Downclimb is not usually hyphenated as a noun (see downclimb).

2) To join prefixes

When joining prefixes to other words a hyphen should only be used when the one-word form is not common (e.g. cooperate, not co-operate; but co-own, not coown).

Hyphens should also be used to separate a prefix from a date (e.g. pre-1900) or to avoid confusion with another word (e.g. re-cover and recover).

3) To indicate word breaks:

Hyphens can be used to indicate word breaks or to stand for a common second element in all but the last word of a list (e.g. a yield is two-, three-, or four-fold).

Miscellaneous Examples:

Second-hardest climb in the UK

a half-hour walk-in

two-thirds of the way up

a 4-pitch route

a multi-pitch route

a route of 4 pitches

a new route

an ice line / a new ice line

a first ascent / the first ascent of

This is followed by a short downclimb

It is necessary to climb down a short wall

Some down-climbing is necessary

A crack climb

The area is known for its crack climbing

He is a crack-climbing expert

It is a strength-based activity

Ice climb

The noun is two words unless a hyphen is required for clarity. The verb to ice-climb is hyphenated. Ice-climbing gear is hyphenated.


One word, no hyphen.


No full points or commas, ie like this.

Is or Are?

Use is if the first noun of the list is singular. Use are if the first noun is plural.

There is a table, a chair, and a lamp in the room.

There is a table, two chairs, and a lamp in the room.

There is a table, a chair, and two lamps in the room.

There are two tables, a chair, and a lamp in the room.

The use of are before multiple singular nouns is an Americanism.

Knee bar

The noun is two words. The adjective is hyphenated (eg a knee-bar rest)


Hyphenated when used as an adjective. (e.g. the left-hand summit).


See Fewer.


One word.


Hyphenated as a noun (eg There is no lower-off on this route). Not hyphenated as a phrasal verb (eg. Lower off from the tree).




In general, the prefix mid does not require a hyphen when it forms a commonly used word such as midday. It can be hyphenated in words that are less common in English (including many climbing terms). It is always hyphenated before numbers, capital letters or repeated letters.


Hyphenated when used as an adjective. (eg There are some low- and mid-grade routes. There are some routes in the lower and middle grades).

Mid morning

Not hyphenated unless used as an adjective. (eg The route gets sun from mid morning onwards. The route gets mid-morning sunshine).


Multi-pitch route is hyphenated. A single-pitch route is also hyphenated.

New Route

This is not hyphenated unless used to describe another noun (e.g. the new-route book).


Hyphenated, as is non-existence.

North Side

A north-side route is hyphenated. Routes on the north side are not.


Generally, write the numbers one to nine as words (except when expressing percentages or units of measurement). Write out any number starting a sentence (whether above or below 10). Where possible, rephrase a sentence to avoid spelling out long numbers at the beginning.

Compound numbers between 20 and 99 should be hyphenated if they need to be written out as words (e.g. Twenty-one or One hundred and seventy-six).

In formal language, imprecise numbers should always be written out as words (e.g. It must have happened at least twenty times). In informal (guidebook) language, however, this rule may be relaxed for brevity (eg The approach is approximately 20 minutes) - see below.

Numbers should be written as figures if they represent a statistic or a ratio.

Where there is a series of numbers some of which would normally be given as numerals and others as figures, treat them all alike within the same section of text (e.g. The participants were tested again after 3, 6, 9, 12 and 15 months).

Where series of numbers attach to different things in the same passage of text, they may be distinguished by making one set all figures and the other all words (e.g. There were four groups of 9, eleven groups of 11 and ten groups of 12).

In guidebooks it is acceptable to write times, distances or heights as numerals, even if this is in contravention of the rule on imprecise numbers (e.g. The walk-in takes 8 minutes, or Start approximately 50m right of the previous route).

When writing heights or distances, refer to paragraph on units.


The Oxford Alpine Club takes the definite article both in full and abbreviated form (e.g. The OAC is organising an expedition). It is usual to refer to the Club in the singular.


Oxford University Mountaineering Club. It is acceptable to refer to the Club as a singular or a plural: for advice on which one to use, consider whether you mean the club as an entity, or the members of the Club. Consider using OUMC members to avoid the problem.

OUMC were responsible for many new routes.

OUMC is a club for mountaineers.

It was traditionally popular to use a definite article (e.g. The OUMC is organising an expedition) but it is equally correct and more colloquial just to say OUMC is organising an expedition. Choose one and be consistent within the document.

One-move wonder

One hyphen.


Means physically above, not more than.

Power lines

Two words










See Speech Marks.

Ramp line

Two words.


Do not confuse with regard to (regarding) with regards (kind thoughts).


Hyphenated when used as an adjective (e.g. the right-hand summit).


One word as a noun. Two words as a verb.


Plural of roof. The OED single out 6 words of note ending in ‘f’ in English that do not pluralise with -ves (which is the norm). They are beliefs, chiefs, dwarfs, gulfs, proofs, and roofs.


One word as a noun. If used as an adjective then hyphenate if before the noun (eg This run-out climb is somewhat run out, involving a long runout at the top).


The seasons – spring, summer, autumn and winter – are not capitalised.



One word.


One word.


One word.


One word.

Speech Marks

For direct speech, use double inverted commas (e.g. “We reached the top together”, he said).

To mark off a word or phrase that is being discussed, or directly quoted from elsewhere, use single inverted commas (e.g. He called this the ‘Johnny Dawes phenomenon’).

Test-piece / Test piece

Hyphenated if used as an adjective ('a test-piece route'). But 'this route is a test piece'.

That or Which?

There are two types of relative clause. The first (defining clause) defines or limits what it refers to and is necessary for the sentence to make proper sense; the second merely gives additional information (non-defining clause).

Defining clauses may be introduced by which (generally referring to things) or who (generally for persons) or that (for things or persons).

The animals which frequent this crag are generally harmless.

The animals that frequent this crag are generally harmless.

Note that whichever word introduces it, a defining clause is not enclosed in commas. The inappropriate use of commas, thus making a defining clause non-defining, can have a drastic impact on meaning.

Sport climbers who fear spiders should look elsewhere.

Sport climbers, who fear spiders, should look elsewhere.

Non-defining clauses can be introduced by which or who (never that) and are always enclosed in commas.

This route, which has since been repeated many times, was first climbed in 1965.

Haskett-Smith and Pendlebury, who were early pioneers in the area, later established a number of the region’s classic climbs.


Preposition or conjunction meaning 'up to (the point of time or the event mentioned)'. The word till (with two L's) means the same thing as until but has been in common and continual usage for longer. Until can be shortened to 'til (with one L) if it matches the style of the document, but in general until or till are preferred. 

So there you have it: you will probably wish to avoid ’till, use ’til advisedly, and use both until and till freely. And if you use till in writing and someone tells you that you have made an error, simply take the extra L off the end of the word and poke them in the eye with it.

Top rope

The noun is two words unless a hyphen is required for clarity. The verb to top-rope is hyphenated. A top-roping venue is hyphenated.

Turn off

Turn off the road at the next turn-off.


This is generally not hyphenated. (e.g. Unsurfaced, unclimbed, untested...)


One word, no hyphen.


In descriptive text use abbreviations for units of distance (e.g. 1km, 500m) apart from miles, which should generally be in full. Note there is no space between numbers and units when abbreviated.

Route lengths should be in metres, summit heights should be in feet (e.g. the summit reaches 5000ft above sea level).

Note that any height above 10,000ft should normally be quoted in metres, and that equivalent heights in feet should have a comma after the ‘tens’:

The summit of Mount Everest is 8848m (28,300ft) above sea level.


One word, no hyphen.


One word, no hyphen.


Preposition or conjunction meaning 'up to (the point of time or the event mentioned)'. Note that the word till (with two L's) means the same thing and has been in common and continual usage for longer than until. Until can be shortened to 'til (with one L) if it matches the style of the document, but in general until or till are preferred. 


The V is uppercase. 


Hyphenated when used as a noun (e.g. The walk-in takes 30 minutes, or a 30-minute walk-in). No hyphen when used as a verb (e.g. It takes 30 minutes to walk in).