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Effect as a Verb

John’s question: “A colleague and I are having a dispute. Is there ever a time when you can use the word ‘effect’ as a verb?”

BizWritingTip response: Normally, effect is a noun meaning “result” or “consequence.”

Examples (correct)
What effect (result) will the holiday schedule have on staffing?
We need to assess the effects (consequences) of the decision on workload.

However, effect can also be used as a verb meaning “to bring about.”

Example (correct but used infrequently)
The manager effected (brought about) a change in the hiring policy.
When it comes to verbs, most people use affect. Affect means to “influence,” “change,” or “assume.”

Examples (correct)
The change will not affect  (change) his salary.
The decision affects (influences) hiring policy.
She affects (assumes) a disinterested air.

Other examples (correct)
There are a number of holidays that don’t affect (influence) trash collection schedules.
There are a number of holidays that don’t effect (bring about) changes in trash collection schedules.

Opening Lines in Emails

Ildar’s question: “I have been noticing emails from some of my colleagues and clients that start with ‘Hope all is good and you are doing well.’ Is this an appropriate start of a business inquiry?”

BizWritingTip response: Thank you for bringing this up. I dislike this opening and so do many of the people who attend my email classes. It reminds me of those annoying calls you get from telemarketers during dinner. “Hello. How are you? I hope you are doing well. We are in your neighbourhood cleaning ducts this week.”

There are other reasons why this is not a good opening for business emails.

First, although some writers think it will make their emails sound warm and friendly, it often backfires. If the writer is not close to the reader, it comes across as insincere. Does the writer truly care or is the writer just lazy and using it as a start to all emails?

Second, business people are busy. They prioritize when they will read their correspondence. In fact, they often have their messages set up in preview mode so they can read the first few lines without opening the email. The hope-you-are-well opening does nothing to help the reader decide whether they actually need to read the message.

The best business emails start with the action request and then “the why” the request was made. Any social niceties, such as “hope you are well” or “hope you had a good weekend” should be left to the last paragraph. Personal emails can be handled any way you wish.

Grammar Tip – Commas With Introductory Phrases

Robert’s question: “My manager has told me to insert a comma after the first few words in a sentence. However, I was taught to use commas wherever I would take a breath. I don’t often take a breath at the beginning of a sentence. What do you think?”

BizWritingTip response: The comma-with-a-breath rule is outdated. As people have different breathing/speaking patterns, it really doesn’t work. There are now very firm rules on when to use commas.

The first rule is to insert them after introductory phrases in a sentence. Think of an introductory phrase as one that sets the stage for the upcoming message.

Examples
Based on our findings, we decided to proceed with the project.
As you requested, I checked our files.
At the June 2 meeting, the board requested staff to …

It makes you, the writer, look lazy when people omit the commas.

Grammar Tip – Pronouns With Gerunds

Marie’s question: “Is the following sentence correct? I appreciate your helping me. I have been told by a colleague that it should be ‘you’ not ‘your.’ I think I am right but I don’t know why.”

BizWritingTip response: Yes, you are definitely right. This grammar rule involves gerunds, a term many people are unfamiliar with. A gerund is a word that is normally a verb but is being used as a noun. Gerunds always end in “ing.”  In your example, helping is a gerund.

The trick with a gerund is that when you place a noun or pronoun in front of it, you must make the word possessive. (The possessive pronouns are my, your, his, her, our, and their.)

Examples (correct)
I appreciate your helping me.
Does anyone object to my smoking? (Smoking is a gerund preceded by a possessive pronoun.)
Your complaining about the assignment will not change anything. (Complaining is a gerund preceded by a possessive pronoun.)
The plane’s arriving on time surprised me. (Arriving is a gerund preceded by a noun.)
Our success with this event depends on Roger’s taking charge of the finances. (Taking is a gerund preceded by a noun.)

Isn’t grammar fun?

Word Choice – Although Versus Though

Irfan’s question: “Please help me understand the use of ‘though’ and ‘although’ and when to add a comma with these words. Here are two examples: 2) Although(,) I have finished your assignment, it was not difficult. 2) I have finished your assignment. It was not difficult though.”

BizWritingTip response:  “Although” and “though” when used as conjunctions are interchangeable. (Conjunctions are words that join two separate thoughts.) Although is generally considered more formal than though. (If you wanted to be emphatic, you could also say “even though.”)

The words indicate a condition with an unexpected outcome. One way to ensure you are using the words correctly is to try to replace them with the phrase “despite the fact that.”

Therefore, neither of these words works with your first example. It would be odd to say “Despite the fact that I finished your assignment, it was not difficult.” You would expect to be able to finish an assignment that was not difficult.

Examples (correct)
Despite the fact that I finished your assignment, it was difficult. (wordy but correct)
Although I finished your assignment, it was difficult. (formal)
Though I finished your assignment, it was not easy. (informal)

Note: The comma is inserted only after the “although” or “though” phrase. It is never placed directly after the word.

Though can also be used an adverb meaning however. (In this usage, though is not interchangeable with although.) Do not insert any commas with the word.

Examples
I finished your assignment. It was not difficult however.
I finished your assignment. It was not difficult though.

There is nothing wrong in using “though” as an adverb. Personally, I would have omitted the word as I believe it is not necessary: I finished your assignment. It was not difficult.

Grammar Tip – Hyphens With Prefixes

Sandra’s question: “In words beginning with the prefix ‘pre,’ I am having difficulty determining when to hyphenate and when to state them as one word (or two words if that’s an option), for instance, words such as ‘pre content.’ ”

BizWritingTip response: A prefix is a short word (e.g., anti-, ex-, post-, pre-) placed before another word to modify its meaning. It is attached to the following word or joined to it with a hyphen.

Examples
anti-inflammatory     pre-war     pre-content     preheat    antitrust

A prefix cannot sit by itself in a sentence, e.g., pre content. (Note: Your spell checker will not identify this error as the two words in themselves are valid. But it is an error.)

Authorities often differ on whether you need to hyphenate the words or run them together. In American English, the guideline is to avoid the hyphen if you can. British and Canadian English tend to recommend the hyphen more often.

The following are some guidelines for prefixes regardless of what form of English you are using.

1.   Use a hyphen to avoid awkward spelling.
Example
Anti-aircraft (Antiaircraft looks awkward.)

2.   Insert a hyphen to avoid duplicating vowels.
Examples
pre-exist     co-operate      re-enter    de-emphasize

3.   Use a hyphen if the following word begins with a capital letter or is a number.
Examples
pre-Aids era       pre-Confederation      pro-American forces        post-1920 fashion

4.   Use a hyphen after a prefix when an unhyphenated word would have a different meaning.
Examples
re-treat versus retreat     coop versus co-op       re-cover versus recover

5.   Do not use a hyphen if the unhyphenated version is common.
Examples
prefix      prehistoric     postoperative   proactive    ultraviolet   nonnegotiable

Bottom Line: If these rules don’t answer your specific question, type the prefix and the following word as one word and then rely on your spell checker – set of course to the English dictionary you prefer.

Word Choice – Further Versus Farther

Sharon’s question: “I am always confused over the use of ‘farther’ vs. ‘further.’ Which would be correct in the following sentence? If these dates do not work, we can look further (or farther?) into the year.”

BizWritingTip response: This question is quite interesting. My initial response was to recommend the use of “further.” Further is used for an abstract distance and indicates “to a greater degree” or “to a greater extent.”

Examples

If these dates do not work, we can look further into the year.
I wish I was further along in writing the proposal.
What further proof do you need?

Farther refers to actual distance.

Examples
The new office location is farther from my home than I would like.
How much farther do we have to travel?

But, in doing an additional check with my dictionary and grammar books, I found that some reference books now consider these words interchangeable.

The Oxford Canadian Dictionary states that “farther” is a variant of “further.”

Frankly, I intend to stick with the traditional way of writing farther and further. However, if you can’t keep them straight, I don’t imagine many readers will call you on it.

Word Choice – Season’s Greetings or Seasons Greetings?

According to Wikipedia, “Season’s Greetings” is a term that wishes people well over the holiday season regardless of their religious beliefs.

We tend to use the phrase more in writing than in speaking. It first appeared on winter season greeting cards along with “Merry Christmas,” “Compliments of the Season,” and “Christmas Greetings” in the late 19th century. “With the Season’s Greetings” or simply “The Season’s Greetings” was shortened to “Season’s Greetings” in the 1920s.

I love seeing the phrase. However, please remember “Seasons Greetings” – without the apostrophe – means greetings for many seasons. It is generic. And although you may like the person so well that you want to wish them good tidings for numerous seasons to come, let’s get a little more personal and take it one step at a time. Let’s wish them the best life can bring them throughout the upcoming holiday time.

Therefore, from J. Watson Associates Inc. — ? Season’s Greetings

We’ll be back with more grammar tips next year.

Grammar Tip – Hyphens with Adjectives

Todd’s question: “Would you hyphenate ‘cost effective’ in the following sentence? ‘He has designed cost effective training and consulting programs.’”

BizWritingTip response: Words change according to their use in sentences. Normally, you would consider the word “cost” as a noun or as a verb.

In the sentence provided, “cost” is now serving as an adjective – along with the word “effective” – to describe the type of “training.” I would, therefore, place a hyphen between “cost” and “effective” turning them into one word. After all, it is not “cost training” nor “effective training.” It is “cost-effective training.”

Correct: He has designed cost-effective training and consulting programs.

Word Choice – Beat Versus Beaten

Paulo’s question: “A famous supermarket announces that ‘We won’t be beat’ when referring to their unbeatable prices. Why beat and not beaten?”

BizWritingTip response: Beat is more commonly used in conversational English. However, a grammatical purist would say the phrase “can’t be …” must be followed by the past participle beaten. Therefore, the supermarket should say its prices “can’t be beaten.”

But as our language evolves, some of the things that would have caused red marks on our school essays are now acceptable.

One of these is a store’s right to brag its “prices can’t be beat.” It does have a nice ring to it.

In addition, “beaten” is now often used to denote a physical action or to imply defeat.

Examples
The victim was beaten about the head and shoulders.
Our team was beaten in the final game.