A, an

Use “a” before words or abbreviations/acronyms that start with a consonant sound.


a Simon Fraser student, a historic event, a one-way flight, a union, a European, a 19th-century play.

Use “an” before words that start with a vowel sound:

Examples: an accident, an honours student, an 18th-century play, an SFU event, an MBA

Affect, effect

In most cases, use "affect" as a verb.

Use “effect” as a noun except when you mean “to bring about."


  • The Burnaby campus is not affected by the closure.(verb)
  • The closure affects the Surrey campus. (verb)
  • The closure could effect a change in class size. (verb)
  • The closure will have the same effect as increasing class sizes. (noun)
  • The effect of increasing class size is not well understood. (noun)

But, And to start a sentence

This is acceptable, but shouldn’t be overdone.

Data – singular or plural?

Data can be singular or plural. It is plural in academic writing, but usually singular in other cases.


  • The data was persuasive.
  • They tabulate the data, which arrive from computers across campus.

Less, fewer

Use fewer for things you can count.


  • I have fewer classes than you do. You have five and I have four.

Use less for things you cannot count.

Example: I have less tolerance for cheating than you do.


In general, don't use "over" or "under" when describing money or amounts. Instead, use "more than" or "less than."

"Over" may be used in instances where there are several references to money or amounts. 


  • SFU has more than 150,000 alumni. 
  • SFU has more than 150,000 alumni who have earned over 195,000 credentials from SFU.

Such, like

CP style calls for ‘such’ in instances where it is to mean ‘as for example’, but the New York Times recommends ‘like’ as it is less stilted, eg. “Anyone else with an earned doctorate, like a PhD degree, may request ….”. The preference for SFU institutional communications and marketing is ‘such as’ or ‘for example’.

That, which

Use “that” to introduce an essential clause—one that can’t be removed without changing the meaning.

Example: Go to the third house that has a blue door. (In this sentence, the house with the blue door is not necessarily the third house on the street.)

Use “which” to introduce a nonessential clause. In this usage, it is always preceded by a comma.


Go to the third house, which has a blue door. (The “blue door” is additional information that could be removed without changing the meaning. In this sentence, the house with the blue door is, in fact, the third house on the street.)

Unlike essential clauses, nonessential clauses must be set off from the rest of a sentence by commas.

That, who

Use “that” when referring to animals or inanimate objects.

Use “who” when referring to people.

Example: Bob is the one who rescued the dog from the river.