Grammar Tip – When it’s improper to use “where”

A word I frequently see misused is “where.” Writers often use it instead of the more appropriate “that” or “when.”

“Where” refers to a place or location. Be careful not to use when it does not have this meaning.


Last week, there were two occasions where the photocopier malfunctioned.


Last week, there were two occasions when the photocopier malfunctioned.


I saw in the report where our shipments arrived late three times last month.


I saw in the report that our shipments arrived late three times last month.

Again, “where” refers to a location.



Grammar Tip – How should I spell it?

I am often asked which spelling to use? There are three styles: Canadian, British or American.

My answer is to use the spelling of the reader. After all, the role of a writer is to ensure the reader gets the message quickly. If I spell a word in a different manner than the reader is used to, he or she may be distracted and focus on the word rather than the message.

Therefore, if I am writing someone in the U.S., I will use American spelling. However, if I am writing to a Canadian I will use that spelling.

What is the Canadian style?

The Canadian style borrows from both the Americans and the British. Like the Americans, we use ize/yze endings for words such as organize, criticize and rationalize. The one exception is analyse.

Like the British, we prefer –ce endings instead of –se endings on nouns such as defence and offence. In addition, we double the l at the ends of words when adding a suffix: travelled, enrolled, and counsellor.

Canadians also use –our endings for words such as colour, honour, favour, and harbour.

The Canadian Oxford Dictionary is the authority for the Canadian Press spelling.

Grammar Tip – Sentences: fragments or run-ons

There is nothing that ruins a writer’s professional image faster than grammatically-poor sentences. A sentence must contain a subject and a verb and must express a complete thought.


The report was written.

I wrote the report.

Both of these examples contain a subject and a verb and state a complete thought. A sentence may also include several subjects and/or verbs and may express more than one thought.


The report analyzes the results, and the recommendations will be presented to the board. (This is a compound sentence {two subjects, two verbs and two thoughts}. That is why there is a comma before the “and.”)

Writers get themselves into trouble when they ignore the conditions for a sentence. They may then produce sentence fragments or run-on sentences.

A sentence fragment is a group of words that lacks a subject and/or verb or does not express a complete thought.

Original example

As you required.

(There is a subject and a verb but it does not express a complete thought.)

Correct example

As you required, we revised our estimates.

A run-on sentence consists of two or more sentences joined without the appropriate punctuation.

Original example

Computers break down, however, you can call the help desk.?(There are two sentences.)

Revised example

Computers break down. However, you can call the help desk

Can you identify whether the following sentences are fragments, run-ons or are correct?

  1. In response to your correspondence of March 27 regarding the funding for your project.
  2. We have only two days until the annual meeting I don’t have the annual report completed and that will take at least two days to finalize.
  3. You edited your document from the computer screen instead of in print format as a result you did not catch all the errors.
  4. Head office wants all managers to be present when the client arrives next week for our first project management meeting.
  5. I saw in the paper last week that Starbrite is going to move its head office to Winnipeg although it may upset many employees.
  6. Although clarity and conciseness are an important part of the writing process in business documents, which are sent to impatient readers.


1. fragment, 2. run-on, 3. run-on, 4. correct, 5. correct, 6. fragment.

Grammar Tip – In regard to …

In regard to and with regard to are two very common phrases in business communication. Yet why do so many people get them wrong? Why do so many writers want to add an “s” to regard?

With regards to compiling the binders …

The correct phrases are with regard to … and in regard to …

With regard to compiling the binders …

The phrase as regards is correct. But there is no preposition after it. Therefore, it often sounds a little odd.


As regards the meeting on Monday, I will be late.

If you don’t want to bother remembering whether to add an “s” or not, skip the phrase entirely and just write regarding. You can’t go wrong!


Regarding the meeting on Monday, I will be late.

Grammar Tip – i.e. Versus e.g.

Some business people are confused about when to use i.e. as opposed to e.g. The abbreviation i.e. is from the Latin phrase id est. It means that is. On the other hand, ?e.g. is from the Latin phrase exempli gratia, meaning for example.

When deciding which one to use, think in terms of inclusiveness. If you want to indicate everything following, use i.e. If you mean just some of the items, use e.g.


You must be tested in computer programs, i.e., Lotus Notes, Word and Excel (all the programs).


You must be tested in computer programs, e.g., Lotus Notes, Word and Excel ?(some of these programs).

Punctuation: The Canadian Press Stylebook requires periods between the letters. Also, note that there must be commas before and after the abbreviations.

Grammar Tip – Rules for Capitals

The North American trend for capitalizing words is now “modified down.” What this means is that if you can’t decide whether to capitalize a word or not, you should probably leave it in lower case.

A good guideline is if you are using the official name of the organization, use capital letters. If you are shortening the name, choose the lower case for the common noun.

Government of Ontario

Ontario government

Words such as city, town, bank, committee, department, company, staff, board and administration are always lowercased.

Only the articles (a, an, the) that are part of an organization’s proper name should be capitalized.

I am going to visit The Hospital for Sick Children.

There is a regional cancer centre at the Credit Valley Hospital.

If you are not sure that an article is part of an organization’s proper name, then check their letterhead or website.

Formal titles directly preceding a name are capitalized: Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Mayor McCallion, Sgt. Fournier.

Occupations or job descriptions are lowercased: doctors, nurses, lawyers, auditors, chairman John Roberts.

* These rules are based on The Canadian Press book Caps and Spelling, 19th Edition.

Grammar Tip – Dot, Dot, Dot the Ellipsis

People often want to know about the punctuation they refer to as dot, dot, dot. It is actually called an ellipsis. It is formed by using three spaced periods and indicates there are missing words.

As one of my workshop participants said, “It is really saying yada, yada, yada.”

Correct – As usual, the weekly meeting was boring, irrelevant, a waste of time … . I don’t know why we keep having it.

Incorrect – As usual, the weekly meeting was boring, irrelevant, a waste of time… I don’t know why we keep having it.

Note: According to grammar books, there should be spaces before, during and after the periods. If the ellipsis ends the sentence, there is no need to add a fourth period.

Be careful when using an ellipsis. At times, it could make you look lazy, particularly if the reader is not sure what the missing words are. Some email writers use it instead of periods. They believe it emphasizes their points. It doesn’t. Most readers find it distracting.

Another way of adding an ellipsis is to go to the Insert menu on your Word program and select Symbol. The ellipsis produced by the font designers has shrunk the spacing between the periods, but as long as you put the spaces before and after it is acceptable.

Grammar Tip – What intimidates today’s readers?

When people take a writing course, they expect to hear a lot about the importance of clarity and conciseness. However, in my mind they are out of date on their emphasis.

Fifteen years ago, everyone was concerned about plain language and getting a message completely on one page. And often times to do this, they merely reduced the type font, decreased the margins and collapsed the paragraphs. But this is the one way to guarantee your ideas will not get read.

Today’s business readers are easily intimidated by a busy-looking page – whether it be a paper or screen document. They glance at the first paragraph and, if it appears lengthy, they immediately decide the document is going to be difficult to read so they skim it or put it aside for when they have more time. (And “more time” seldom happens.)

Now don’t get me wrong – clarity and conciseness are important in a business document. But if your document does not have visual appeal, readers will not take the time to find out you can write clearly and concisely.

Grammar Tip – Which Versus That

Many people are confused about when to use “which” and when to use “that.” Often times, it is a subjective call on the part of the writer.

“Which” means the words following are not essential to the meaning of the sentence. In other words, the information adds a new element the reader may not need.

Example: We published the information, which was required by law, in the annual report.

Note: There is always a comma in front of “which” and always a comma at the end of the idea it is introducing. (Your grammar check – if it is turned on – will put a green squiggle under “which” to remind you to insert the comma in front, if you haven’t done so. Unfortunately, it cannot tell you where to place the second comma. Don’t forget to add it.)

“That” is used when the information following is essential to the meaning and to the reader.

Example: We published the information that is required by law in the annual report.

Note: There is no comma in front of “that.”

Some editors believe a sentence will be smoother if you remove “that” when it is not needed. ?Example: We published the information required by law in the annual report.

Personally, I delete ”that” whenever I can. It is usually just fluff. If you are uncertain, I suggest you read the sentence to yourself. If it sounds better with the word omitted, remove it. If you need it for rhythm or clarity, let it remain.

Grammar Tip – Articles With Acronyms

Terry’s question: “I tend to not use the word ‘the’ in front of acronyms, but I see this used in documents more and more.  Which is correct:  ‘REIP provides regional outreach services to Northeastern Ontario’ or ‘The REIP provides regional outreach services to Northeastern Ontario’?  If the word ‘program’ is added after REIP, I would use ‘the.’ ”

BizWritingTip response: Grammatically, the word “the” is termed a definite article. (“A” or “an” are indefinite articles.) Most of us have been taught to use an article in front of nouns.

However, remember “the exceptions to the rules” I often talk about.

When using an acronym as a noun, do not put an article before the abbreviation. (An acronym is an abbreviated word pronounced as a word.)

Examples (Correct: The acronym is serving as a noun.)

REIP provides regional outreach services to Northeastern Ontario.

I know we need them, but PINs are driving me crazy.

On the other hand, when you are using the acronym as an adjective, you then add “the.”

Examples (Correct: The acronym is an adjective.)

The NAFTA Secretariat is comprised of a Canadian Section, a Mexican Section and a United States Section.

The REIP assessment was carried out last week.

Note: When using acronyms, avoid redundancy. Don’t spell out the final letter in your acronym.

Examples (Incorrect — redundant)

The NAFTA agreement (NAFTA stands for North American Free Trade Agreement)

The PIN number (PIN stands for Personal Identification Number)

And yes. I do recommend defining any acronym before using it — if you suspect the reader is not familiar with the term.