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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.

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BizWritingTip response: The comma-with-a-breath rule is outdated.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.

Fingers Crossed

Tracey’s question: “Is it fingers crossed or finger’s crossed or fingers’ crossed?”

BizWritingTip response: This idiom describes a hand gesture in which the middle finger of either hand is crossed over the top of the index finger of the same hand. When we cross our fingers, we are hoping or wishing that things will happen the way we want them to.

Apostrophes indicate either possession or a missing letter or letters. In this phrase, neither possession nor missing letters occur. Therefore, it would be incorrect to insert an apostrophe.

Examples (correct)
Are your fingers crossed for the return of good weather?
I’ll cross my fingers that it stops raining.

Grammar Tip – Proper Adjectives

Pam’s question: “What is a proper adjective and should you capitalize it?”

BizWritingTip response: A proper adjective is a word derived from a proper noun. For example, Canadian and American are proper adjectives because they are derived from the proper nouns Canada and America. Proper adjectives are always capitalized.

Examples
I love Italian desserts. (Italy)
We are going to see a Shakespearean play. (Shakespeare)
He employs Machiavellian tactics. (Machiavelli)

Note: In some cases, the suffix (end of the word) does not change when it becomes a proper adjective. You still capitalize the word.

Examples
I like to play Texas poker. (Texas is a proper adjective.)
She is a recognized Hollywood star. (Hollywood is a proper adjective.)

Writing Style – Capitalization

Pam’s question: “Please provide a simple explanation on when federal should be capitalized and when it shouldn’t. The question applies to other modifiers like state or national.”

BizWritingTip response: Years ago, when in doubt you were told to capitalize a word. Now the guideline is when in doubt use lowercase.

When it comes to words such as federal, state, provincial, government, or national, only capitalize the word when it is part of a proper noun. A proper noun is the official name of a person, place, or thing.

Examples
He wants a job with the federal government. (general category)
She will contact the Federal Trade Commission. (proper name)
I have worked for the Ontario government. (non-official name)
I worked for the Government of Ontario. (proper name)
Is the issue subject to federal, state, or local laws? (general categories)

Checking Your Grammar Knowledge

Rob’s question: I believe my grammar is fairly good. Is there a way I can check if I am as good as I think?”

BizWritingTip response: I am impressed with your interest. Too many writers weaken their professional image through poor grammar. I even had a workshop participant tell me recently that he did not bother with grammar for internal emails as it didn’t matter.

But if managers see sloppy writing in documents sent to them, they automatically assume the writer uses the same style for the public, customers, and clients. This does not go over well – particularly if an organization prides itself in being a leader in its field.

If you want to check your grammar knowledge, try the exercises on these three sites:

https://twitter.com/StaplesCanada/status/398970716605128705
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-22512744

Canadian clients can request Ontario Training Network to visit their place of business to deliver either of these workshops:

Grammar Essentials

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Grammar Tip – Verb Agreement With Per Cent

Louise’s question: “After a % sign should the verb be singular or plural? For example, is it 95% of the population live or lives less than 10 minutes away?”

BizWritingTip response: First, using the % sign in a narrative sentence is considered informal wtiting, e.g., emails. And you would use it in charts and tables. Spelling out the word is formal and more common for letters and reports.

Second, the % sign and the word per cent are exceptions to the standard subject and verb agreement rules. Whether you use the sign or the word, the verb agrees with the “of phrase” that follows.

Examples (Correct)
Ninety-five per cent of the population lives less than 10 miles away. (Population is a collective noun and takes a singular verb.)
Twenty percent of the voters are not happy with the candidate. (The verb are agrees with the plural noun voters.)
Approximately 30% of the mailing list is out of date. (The noun list takes the singular verb is.)

Note:

  • Numbers starting a sentence should be written out.
  • Per cent can be written as one word or two.

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?

Grammar Tip – Its Versus Their

Susan’s question: “Please tell me the difference between its and their. For example, would I write ‘ABC Enterprises offered all its employees a bonus’ or ‘ABC Enterprises offered all their employees a bonus?”

BizWritingTip response: As ABC Enterprises is considered a singular noun, you would have to use the personal pronoun “its.”

Example

ABC Enterprises offered all its employees a bonus. (Its is replacing the company’s name.)

You would only use “their” when the noun it is replacing is plural.

Example

The managers offered all their employees a bonus. (Their is replacing the managers.)

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.