Grammar Tip – Names Ending in “S”

PubI am just back from England where one of my favourite restaurants is Mr. Thomas’s Chop House. Note the apostrophe plus the “s.” This is the latest British rule for making a name ending in “s” possessive is to simply add an apostrophe plus an additional “s” — on everything.

North American rules, however, differ. We add an apostrophe plus “s” only on words that are one syllable.

Examples (correct for names of one syllable — North American and British styles)
St James’s Pub
Bridget Jones’s Diary
Russ’s report
Chris’s proposal

If the names are two syllables or more, we add only the apostrophe.

Examples (correct for names of two or more syllables — North American style)
Thomas’ Chop House
Jamie Waters’ trophy

I am looking forward to when this North American rule catches up with the British. It will make things easier.



Grammar Tip – His/Her or Their

Jane’s Question: “Having to use she/he or his/her or even s/he throughout a long document is often cumbersome, but changing it to they or their when we are still referring to the singular person is just wrong, isn’t it? What do you say?”

BizWritingTip response: This is a frequently debated question.

Language purists say a pronoun must always agree with its antecedent. Therefore, you should write “Everyone must hang his coat in the closet.” (The word everyone always takes a singular pronoun.) His is considered a gender neutral pronoun and covers both men and women.

However, proponents of popular language usage claim this is sexist. And they believe: “Everyone must hang his or her coat in the closet” is tedious. They recommend writing “Everyone must hang their coats in the closet.”

Note: Until the early 1800s, their was used as a gender-neutral pronoun. Then grammarians in trying to apply the rules of Latin to English decided it was bad grammar to use theirHis was the only acceptable pronoun.

Yes, you can avoid the debate by making everything plural.

All people should hang their coats in the closet.

But what happens when the pronoun definitely has to be singular? Can you write “The winner of the contest must permit his picture to be released to the media”? Yes, but this will upset some women. Remember the recent outcry regarding O Canada and the words “in all our sons command.”

Can you write “The winner of the contest must permit his or her photo to be released to the media”? Yes, but the sentence seems boring and long. The same would be true if you used the “his/her” construction. Never use “s/he.” If you can’t say a phrase comfortably, never write it.

You could write “The winner of the contest must permit their photo to be released to the media.” But now you are going to upset the language purists.

Frankly, I don’t have the answer. My own guideline is to make everything plural. If I can’t, then I use “his” (“her” if it definitely requires a feminine pronoun) when I am working with someone who is a stickler for grammar.

If I am working for someone who wants the copy to sound the way people speak, I use “their.”



Grammar Tip – Hyphens with Adjectives

Bonnie’s question: “In one of your biztips, would you please explain how to write terms such as ‘up to date’ and ‘cost effective’ as adjectives?”

BIzWritingTip response: Sometimes, words change the way they are written because of their order in a sentence. When two or more words form one unit and are placed before a noun, they are called a compound adjective. You need to use a hyphen to join these words.

This is a cost-effective program. (Cost-effective has become one thought modifying the noun program.)
The up-to-date manual is on my desk. (Up-to-date expresses one thought and is followed by the noun mauual.)
I would like a three-week vacation.
We need more high-tech equipment.

But there must be a noun after these words. When compound phrases are not immediately followed by a noun, do not hyphenate them.

This program is cost effective. (Cost effective is not hyphenated because it is not followed by a noun.)
The manual is up to date. (There is no noun following up to date so the words are not hyphenated.)
I want a vacation of three weeks.
Our equipment is high tech.

Exceptions: There are some combinations of words so well known that they do not require a hyphen. A few examples follow:
branch office reports                high school diploma            life insurance policy
money market funds                income tax returns                real estate sign
accounts payable office          nuclear energy plant            public relations plan

When in doubt about whether to add hyphens, check a dictionary.

Grammar Tip – Commas with “And”

Annabelle’s question: “I want to know if I am placing my commas correctly when I list several items or people. For example: Jim, David, and I denotes 3 different people. But Jim, David and I could imply David and I are a couple. I always tend to put commas before ‘and.’ However, several of my colleagues disagree.”

BizWritingTip response: Years ago, there was a rule about never putting a comma before “and” in a series within a sentence. But current grammar books don’t agree.

For example, The Gregg Reference Manual states: “When three or more items are listed in a series and the last item is preceded by and, or, or nor, place a comma before the conjunction as well as between the other items.”

Examples (correct)
There are many rules for apostrophes, commas, and semicolons.
She is professional, educated, and skilled at customer service.
Let’s organize a meeting for our indoor and outdoor staff, customers, and service providers.

You’ll also find the same rule in the APA Publication Manual. However, the CP StyleBook says to only add the comma when there is a possibility of confusion. For example, the American flag is red, white and blue. There is no need for a comma as this is common knowledge. Following the CP StyleBook rule involves more thinking on your part.

Now back to the original question, you could go either way. However, I prefer Jim, David, and I to emphasize three individuals. If you do not place a comma before the “and,” it may imply more of a group.

If you want to be reminded of the rule, personalize your computer. Then, whenever you miss the comma, you will see a green squiggle. You can then decide what to do about it.

To personalize your computer …

If you are using a version of Microsoft Office pre 2007 …
Click on Tools → Options → Spelling and Grammar → Settings
You will then see Comma required before last list item. Use the pull-down box to set “always.”

If you are using a version of Microsoft Office 2007 …
Click on Microsoft Icon (at top) → Word Options → Proofing → Settings
You will then see Comma required before last list item. Use the pull-down box to set “always.”

Grammar Tip – Quotation Marks and Usage

Carol’s question: “I see a lot of people using quotes to highlight info. For example, all sports teams are encouraged to adopt a “tobacco-free” policy. I am under the impression quotes and single quotes are to be used sparingly, if at all, for anything that is not a direct quotation. But can you clarify?”

BizWritingTip response: First, let me say that one of my pet peeves is the incorrect use of single quotation marks. Single quotation marks are for material inside quoted material.

He said, “My favourite poem is ‘The Raven.’ ”
The project manager said, “Put the schedules inside the folder marked ‘May’ and send the entire report to the participants.”

Note: The exception to this rule is headlines in newspapers or magazines when spacing does not permit the use of double quotes.

Second, in addition to using these marks to indicate quoted material, you can use double quotation marks for terms your reader may not be familiar with.

Please send me your address as I want to send you the material by “snail” mail. (“Snail” is being used to indicate surface or non-electronic mail – not the “creepy-crawly.”)

Double quotes may also imply humour or irony, words used as words, and a deliberate misspelling.

Her great grandmother was on the “unsinkable” Titanic. (We all know the Titanic sank but, before it set sail, this was how the ship was described.)

Britain dropped the hyphen from “thank-you” about 18 months ago. (“Thank-you” is not being used in its regular sense.)

He wrote that his “grammer” is not a problem. (This is an indirect quote but, as we all know, the correct spelling of the word is “grammar.”)

Back to the original question, I am not sure why “tobacco-free” has quotation marks around it – unless the writer was trying to indicate something not right with the policy.

Another thought: There is a trend towards using italics instead of quotation marks to indicate unusual words. But this is a personal style issue – not a grammar one. Personally, I prefer quotation marks because I believe they are easier to read and make a stronger point.

Grammar Tip – Punctuation With Brackets

Bill’s question: “I have seen parentheses with the period both inside and outside the brackets. Which is correct?”

BizWritingTip response: The rules for punctuation with brackets — or parentheses — are actually quite simple. If the material inside the brackets is a sentence fragment or an acronym, place the period outside the bracket.

I am an employee of North Bay General Hospital (NBGH). Correct
I am an employee of North Bay General Hospital (NBGH.) Incorrect
This is our best year yet (in terms of sales). Correct

If the information inside the bracket forms a complete sentence, place the period inside the bracket.  Don’t forget to insert a period before the “bracketed” material begins.

This is the best year we have had in terms of sales. (I am sure we all agree on this.)
Would you like to attend the upcoming conference? (I am not sure where it will be held.)

Some readers may now be asking why even put sentences in brackets. It is a style option. It implies that the bracketed thought is an aside. It is not relevant to the main thought.

Personally, I find bracketed remarks distracting. I do not recommend you overuse this style option.

Grammar Tip – However and Punctuation

BizWritingTip reader: “I am confused about the punctuation with the word ‘however.’ I know that I must always place a comma after it. But when do I use a comma before it and when do I use a period?”

BizWritingTip response: Most people do not know how to punctuate the word “however.” If you understand this point, you will be the grammar guru of your office. The problem occurs because sometimes the word is used as an interrupting word within a sentence and, at other times, it is used to connect two sentences.

When you are using it as an interrupting word within a sentence — use commas on both sides.

Examples (correct)
Computers, however, break down. (There is only one sentence.)
The problem, however, needs to be dealt with at a board level (one sentence).

When you are using “however” to connect two sentences — place a period or a semicolon in front and a comma after.

Examples (correct)
Computers break down; however, you can call the help desk (two sentences).
Computers break down. However, you can call the help desk (two sentences).
I read the report; however, it did not answer all my questions (two sentences).
I read the report. However, it did not answer all my questions (two sentences).

It is up to you whether you use a period or a semicolon. However, some people find semicolons difficult to see on an electronic document.

And, yes, instead of using “however” as an interrupting word in the middle of the sentence, you could begin your sentence with it. It all depends on what you want to emphasize.

However, computers break down.
However, the problem needs to be dealt with at a board level.



Grammar Tip – Parentheses or Dashes

Jean’s question: “Just wondering if you could clarify the use of parentheses. I have a colleague who uses parentheses because she finds them ‘cleaner.’  I beg to differ.”

BizWritingTip response: When you have material within a sentence that is not essential to the meaning of the sentence, you must set this material off. You could use commas, dashes or parentheses.

However, if there is already a comma within the non-essential material, choose dashes or parentheses.

Examples (correct)
I will visit my favourite cities, Rome and Barcelona, while on the cruise. (I can use commas for the non-essential material because there is no comma within this information.)
I will visit my favourite cities — Rome and Barcelona — while on the cruise.
I will visit my favourite cities (Rome and Barcelona) while on the cruise.
I will visit my favourite cities — Rome, Barcelona and Casablanca — while on the cruise.
I will visit my favourite cities (Rome, Barcelona and Casablanca) while on the cruise.

Either dashes or parentheses are acceptable, but the dashes tend to create emphasis. The parentheses make the details seem less important. Therefore, it is not a matter of appearing “cleaner.” It’s about the amount of stress you wish to place on additional information.

Note: When I provide additional information for an example, I place the explanation in parentheses because I want to emphasize the example — not the explanation.

Grammar Tip – Who Versus That

BizWritingTip reader: “I am getting frustrated when I hear ‘that’ instead of ‘who.’ Am I wrong? For example, ‘I know the people that are in the English class.’ Is this correct?”

BizWritingTip response: This is one of those subjective grammar points that has also become debatable. Back in the days of the dinosaurs, I learned “who” and “that” can both be used when referring to persons. However, you use “who” when you mean an individual and “that” when you mean a group or a type.

He is the only person who can handle this situation. (We are talking about an individual.)
She is the writer who pointed out the error. (An individual)
He is the type of manager that believes everyone should work overtime. (We are referring to a group of people that don’t have lives.)
He is on a team that never wins. (A group)
He works for an organization that is highly regarded. (A group)

However, more and more writers are using these words interchangeably. When you use the grammar check in Microsoft Word, it accepts both versions:

He is the only person that can handle this situation.
He is the only person who can handle this situation.

Frankly, I intend to stick to the original rule. Therefore, I would say if you are referring to the individuals who are in the English class, write it this way: “I know the people who are in the English class.”

However, if you mean the group of people in the class, write: “I know the people that are in the English class.”

Grammar Tip – Punctuation with i.e. and e.g.

BizWritingTip reader: “Regarding ‘i.e.’ and ‘e.g.,’ my understanding is that they should be followed by a comma. I see these appearing in all different forms. Is my own understanding correct, i.e., with a comma following the abbreviation?”

BizWritingTip response: You are absolutely correct. Writers often ignore the necessary punctuation. The abbreviations “i.e.” and “e.g.” are considered interrupting words within a sentence and require punctuation on both sides to indicate this. You must put a comma or a bracket (parentheses) before the abbreviation and a comma after.

The abbreviation “i.e.” (from the Latin “id est” meaning “that is”) means everything that follows.

Examples (correct)
My business plans involve trips to several cities, i.e., Toronto, Montreal, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, and Calgary.
My business plans involve trips to several cities (i.e., Toronto, Montreal, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, and Calgary).

Your plans include trips to five cities. As you are including everything, you could have also written the sentence this way: My business plans involve trips to several cities: Toronto, Montreal, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, and Calgary.

The abbreviation “e.g.” (Latin for “exempli gratia” meaning “for example”) means some of what follows and perhaps other things as well.

Examples (correct)
My business plans involve trips to several cities, e.g., Toronto, Montreal, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, and Calgary.
My business plans involve trips to several cities (e.g., Toronto, Montreal, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, and Calgary).

Your plans include trips to some cities, but you are not sure exactly which ones yet. And you may also go to cities not listed.

But back to the original point. Remember, if you are going to use these abbreviations, punctuate them correctly.