Usage Notes for Writers

When one is unfamiliar with a particular field, it can be difficult to get your writing to "sound" right - and all too easy to make some embarrassing faux pas! The goal of this page is to present a few of the basics - as always, contributions are very welcome.


HMS are the initials for "His (or Her) Majesty's Ship" - for the ships of the Royal Navy. Obviously the gender is dependant upon that of the reigning Sovereign. Depending upon the period, other nations in the British Commonwealth use/used similar ones: among others.

Note the article His. That is why it is completely wrong to use the expression "the HMS"! Simply "HMS Warspite" is the correct form. Many writers, particularly American ones, often get confused, because for US Navy warships, "the United States Ship Enterprise", is perfectly ok. When in doubt, spell out the words in full, and it will become clear.

Dave Shirlaw maintains a list of modern prefixes for most nations.

"In" vs "On"

Strictly speaking, particularly when discussing Commonwealth sailors, the preferred usage is in:
eg When Captain Ley was serving in HMS Canada...

It may have something to do with the fact that to a sailor, his ship is his home.

Kaiserliche Marine

"Kaiserliche Marine" is the German term for the Imperial German Navy. In a post which originally appeared on MARHST-L in December 1999 (reproduced here by permission), Maxwell Mulholland (BlauerMax@AOL.COM) explains:

The rules of German grammar can be bewildering and frustrating to students and casual translators. As has been mentioned, the German word for "navy" is "Marine", which takes the feminine "die" gender article. The correct term for Imperial Navy is "die Kaiserliche Marine" (nominative case), which is often shortened simply to "Kaiserliche Marine".

The insertion of the letter "n" in the title of the official book (Signalbook of the Imperial Navy or "Signalbuch der Kaiserlichen Marine") stems from the fact that "Imperial Navy" is being used here in a possessive sense, which requires transition to the genitive case. Under these circumstances the nominative article "die" becomes the genitive article "der", and the adjectival modifier adds an "n". Thus "Signalbuch der Kaiserlichen Marine". However, this usage shift in no way changes the fact of the matter that the true expression is "die KaiserlichE Marine".

German is not an easy language for beginners. Keeping gender, number, and case straight is essential. There are three genders (masculine, feminine, and neuter), two numbers (singular and plural), and four cases (nominative, genitive, accusative, and dative). This can make for multiple pitfalls in comprehension and understanding. It no longer surprises me to see horribly botched translations of German words and phrases sprinkled throughout naval history textbooks and magazine articles...many authors writing on the German Navy assume they possess a level of fluency and competence in the language, which is sadly misplaced.

I hope this clears up a question many of you might have -- remember, it is "die Kaiserliche Marine".

Pronunciation of the Word "Lieutenant"

The correct pronunciation of "lieutenant", at least in the Commonwealth nations, remains "lef-tenant", not the American "loo-tenant" -- regardless of the influence of television! The Archives and Collections Society have a page which shows that the latter pronuncation is actually a 20th century aberation!

Last Updated: 24 January, 2004.

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