Grammar Tip – When Names Form an Adjective

Monique’s question: “I understand that hyphenation must be used between two words that form one adjective. However, if the words are a person’s name what would be the correct way of writing it, for example, Dag-Hammerskjöld-Honorary-Medal or Dag Hammerskjöld-Honorary Medal?”

BizWritingTip response: You are correct on the basic rule. If two or three words form an adjective, you must insert a hyphen.

Examples (correct)
A three-month vacation
An up-to-date report
German-Canadian relations

However, there is an exception to this rule: If a proper name is used as an adjective, you do not use any hyphens. The capitalization of the first letters shows their relationship.

Example (correct)
Dag Hammerskjöld Honorary Medal


Grammar Tip – Colons

Danielle’s question: “We are having a debate in the office as to whether you can use a colon after the word ‘including’ in the middle of a sentence. Can you please help us?”

BizWritingTip response: A colon signals to the reader that an explanation follows.  You can only use a colon if a complete sentence precedes it.

Example (incorrect)
Our trip covers many countries including: England, France and Germany.  (The words before the colon — our trip covers many countries including — do not form a complete sentence. You cannot use a colon.)

Example (correct – without a colon)
Our trip covers many countries including England, France and Germany. (The words form a complete sentence and do not require any punctuation after including.)

Example (correct)
Our trip covers many countries: England, France and Germany. (By omitting the word including, you have a complete sentence.)

Grammar Tip – Hers Versus Her’s

Barb’s question: “I was in a store recently and saw two signs: ‘his’ and ‘her’s.’ Is this correct?”

BizWritingTip response: We have all been taught to use an apostrophe to show possession. However, as I keep saying, there is always an exception to every rule. And, in this case, it relates to personal pronouns.

The following personal pronouns never require an apostrophe to show possession because they are already possessive: my, mine, your, yours, his, her, hers, its, our, ours, their, theirs and whose.

Examples (correct)

The proposal is his. The business plan is hers.
My passport arrived ten days ago, so she should get hers this week.
Our two cars look alike so it’s hard to tell ours from theirs.

Note: Her’s is never correct.

Grammar Tip – Apostrophes

Russ’s question: “My manager just told me I am not using apostrophes in the right place. I believe I was taught to add them whenever a word ends in ‘s.’ But she says this is wrong.”

BizWritingTip’s response: I have noticed this grammar problem a lot lately: apostrophes being misused and abused. Apostrophes have two uses. First, they indicate a missing letter or letters.

Can’t versus cannot
It’s versus it is

Second, they replace the word “of” thereby showing possession.

In today’s business world (the business world of today)
Over 15 years’ experience (the experience of 15 years)
The firm’s assets (the assets of the firm)

The trick is where you place the apostrophe. It changes depending on what you are trying to say. Inside the “s” means there is only one item — outside the “s” means there are several items.

The firm’s assets (the assets of one firm)
The firms’ assets (the assets of more than one firm)

Note: Do not use an apostrophe if there is no possession involved.

Example (incorrect)
I have designed websites for all the clubs’ I have managed. (An apostrophe after clubs is wrong because no letters have been omitted and there is no possession.)

Example (correct)
I have designed websites for all the clubs I have managed.

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.

Grammar Tip – Apostrophes With Abbreviations

Anne’s question: “We would like to ask you for the proper punctuation. In the sentence, ‘We have talked to other CCAC’s about their experience,’ should it be CCAC’s or CCACs?”

BizWritingTip response: This is a great question dealing with a common error. To pluralize capital letters and abbreviations ending in capital letters, just add a lower case “s.”

Examples (Plural words)

Correct: We have talked to other CCACs about their experience.

You would only use an apostrophe if you were indicating possession or a missing letter.

Our CCAC’s going to fill two new positions. (missing letter — Our CCAC is going to fill two new positions.)
Would you like to see the CEO’s office? (possession — the office belonging to one CEO)
Would you like to visit the MPs’ offices? (possession – the offices of many MPs)

Grammar Tip – Abbreviations That End a Sentence

Linden’s question: “Must the abbreviation ‘Ltd’ have a period after it? If you do use a period after it, how do you deal with the end of the sentence? Are there two periods, one for the abbreviation and one for the sentence?”

BizWritingTip response:  Any abbreviation composed of upper and lower case letters should have a period after it. Therefore, Ltd. is correct.

Never put two periods at the end of a sentence. The period at the end of the abbreviation serves also as the period at the end of the sentence.

Examples (correct)
I work at Sleeman Breweries Ltd. Before that, I worked in the automotive industry.
I work at Sleeman Breweries Ltd., which is a great company.

For more information on abbreviations, please type the word abbreviations in the search box.

Grammar Tip – Apostrophes With Family Names

Jenny’s question: “Would you please comment on the use of apostrophes in names on plaques outside family homes. I see many of these signs that use the family name with an apostrophe as in The Wilson’s. Is this correct? This usage makes me think that the house belongs to The Wilson.

BizWritingTip response: You are absolutely right. The Wilson’s is wrong. It indicates that one person – the top Wilson of all Wilsons – possesses the house.

If you wanted to indicate it was a residence belonging to the Wilson family, it would be The Wilsons’. This indicates more than one person named Wilson possesses the residence.

If you wanted to simply indicate that a family named Wilson lives at this location, the plaque would read The Wilsons.

If the family name already ends in “s” (e.g., Thomas), then add an “es“ to make it plural.

The Thomases (A family with the last name of Thomas resides here.)
The Thomases’ (This residence belongs to two or more people who all have the family name of Thomas.)

If Wilson lived by him- or herself, the plaque would read Wilson’s (owns it) or just Wilson (resides there) depending on the interpretation you wanted to provide.

Wow — so many things to consider when you are driving down a cottage road or standing on a front porch.

Grammar Tip – More Information Regarding Apostrophes and “S”

Grant’s question: “When does one place the apostrophe before the ‘s’ and when is it placed after the ‘s’?”

BizWritingTip response: An apostrophe with a noun indicates both possession and the number involved. In other words, if the apostrophe is placed inside the “s,” there is only one item that possesses something. If the apostrophe is placed outside the “s,” there is more than one entity possessing the next word.

Department’s computers (one department has computers)
Departments’ computers (many departments have computers)

Alison’s comment: “What I am noticing more and more, is people using apostrophes incorrectly. For example, they add apostrophes with plural nouns, e.g., ‘Fee’s will be increased in 2013.’  It is so wrong.”

BizWritingTip response: I have noticed this also. Never put an apostrophe with a word unless you wish to indicate possession or a missing letter or letters.

Examples (correct)
Fees will be increased in 2013. (There would not be an apostrophe here. “Fees” is merely a plural word. There are no missing letters nor is the word possessive.)
The company’s fees will be increased in 2013. (Company has an apostrophe because it possesses the fees.)
It’s time we left. (The apostrophe appears with “it” to indicate the missing letter “i.” The sentence really reads it is time we left.

Note: The pronoun Its is “born possessive.” Never place an apostrophe with this word to indicate possession. The word itself indicates possession.

Example (correct)
The company must protect its assets.

Grammar Tip – Possession With Names Ending in S

Be Your Boss’ Boss

I was on the Go Train last week and cringed to see this slogan on a poster from a well known association.

It’s a grammatical error. When you make a one-syllable word ending in “s,” “x,” or “z” possessive, you must add an apostrophe plus an additional “s.”

Examples (correct – one-syllable words ending in “s”)
Bridget Jones’s Diary
Marx’s theories
St. James’s Pub

Boss’ boss cannot even be pronounced correctly. It should read Be Your Boss’s Boss.