Grammar Tip – Which Versus That

BizWritingTip reader: “Will you please clarify the correct use of ‘that’ versus ‘which’ in qualifying sentences? It seems to me people often use ‘which’ when they should be using ‘that.’ ”

BizWritingTip response: It’s interesting that I have received three separate requests for this information in the past two weeks. So although I have dealt with this question before, I will discuss it again.

Basically, the use of “which” versus “that” is subjective. It’s all about what the writer wants to emphasize.

“Which” indicates that the thought following is not essential to the meaning of the sentence. The word “which” is preceded by a comma. That’s why you often get a green squiggle under the word. It’s to remind you to insert a comma before “which” (or to change the word to “that”). Unfortunately, your computer cannot tell you where to place the second comma if the non-essential thought is in the middle of the sentence. But you do have to add it.

Examples (correct)

The manager referred to a document, which is often quoted by others, to strengthen his argument. (Two commas must be added as the non-essential phrase — beginning with “which” — is in the middle of the sentence.)
I have enclosed a brochure, which will answer many of your questions. (Only one comma is needed because the non-essential phrase ends the sentence. The emphasis is on the brochure.)

“That” indicates the thought following is essential to the sentence. Never put a comma before or after “that.”

Examples (correct)

The manager referred to a document that was written some years ago.
The proposed legislation will affect all services that involve food distribution.
I have enclosed a brochure that will answer many of your questions. (The emphasis is on the brochure’s purpose.)

Note: Many people consider “that” a useless word. You can often tighten your sentence by deleting it.

Examples (correct)

The manager referred to a document written some years ago.
The proposed legislation will affect all services involving food distribution.

To summarize, “which” and “that” are often interchangeable depending on the point you want to emphasize. Just remember to always put a comma before “which.” Never put a comma before “that.”

Grammar Tip – Myself

BizWritingTip reader: “One of my pet peeves around the office is when people refer to themselves as ‘myself’ in a sentence, as in this example, ‘The list was put together by myself.’ I would use ‘me’ here; am I correct?”

BizWritingTip response: You have just hit on one of my pet peeves also: me versus myself. I grind my teeth whenever I see or hear “Please contact myself.”

“Myself” is a reflexive pronoun (a pronoun that ends in –self or –selves). Reflexive pronouns are used for two reasons: to direct action back to the subject or for emphasis.

Examples of reflexive pronouns (when directing action back to the subject)

He believed himself to be the only one supporting the recommendation.
They have booked themselves on a Mediterranean cruise.
We found ourselves agreeing with the decision.
I taught myself how to use the new computer program.

Examples of reflexive pronouns (when emphasizing a pronoun already expressed)

You should have checked the figures yourself.
myself am confused about the goal.
We should check out the site ourselves.

Note: These examples may seem redundant, but they are grammatically correct. And they create additional emphasis.

Let’s get back to the original question. “The list was put together by myself” is wrong. There is no need for a reflexive pronoun here. You need an objective pronoun.

Examples (correct)
The list was put together by me.
Please contact me.
When you have finished your phone call, please come and see me.
Send the report to Harry or me.

Let’s make a conscious effort this week to use “myself” correctly.

Writing Style – Rules for Numbers

BizWritingTip reader: “I was recently told that in a written document numbers should be displayed in written form for values of nine or less and numerically for values of 10 or larger; is this correct?”

BizWritingTip response: Yes, this is Canadian style. Spell out whole numbers below 10 and use figures for 10 and above.

Example (correct)
Each team has six players on the ice in hockey, but 12 players on the field in football.

But, naturally, there are exceptions to the rule.

Use figures for the following information:

1. Addresses: 2 Queen Street

2. Ages when used alone: Rosemary, 9, was not hurt in the accident.

3. Dates and years: July 1, 2009

4. Decisions, scores, rulings, votes, and odds: The score was 3-1. The odds are 2-1.

5. Page and figure numbers: See figure 3 on page 9.

6. Sequential designations: Chapter 8, RR 3, Grade 4, Highway 9

7. Clock times: We will meet at 6 p.m.

8. Latitude and longitude: 33 degrees south

9. Money amounts when accompanied by a dollar sign: $5, $3 billion (but five dollars)

Are you sorry you asked?

 

Grammar Tip – Commas in a Series

BizWritingTip reader: “I have heard that it is now acceptable to place a comma before the ‘and’ in a list in a sentence. Is this something that was changed recently? Can you help me out?”

BizWritingTip response: When a sentence contains three or more items in a series, place a comma before the “and” to avoid confusion or to make a clear separation.

Examples
She is educated, experienced, and highly professional. (There are three reasons we should hire her.)
It is important that writers understand the rules for commas, dashes, and colons. (There are three separate areas writers should be clear on.)

But if the separation is clear because the reader already knows the information or the information is self evident, you do not need a comma before the “and.”

Examples
The American flag is red, white and blue. (The reader understands there are three colours here.)
The train stops at Toronto, Chatham and Windsor. (The reader knows these are three separate cities.)

I trust this BizWritingTip is timely, helpful, and easy to follow.

 

Grammar Tip – Commas in a Series

BizWritingTip reader: “I have heard that it is now acceptable to place a comma before the ‘and’ in a list in a sentence. Is this something that was changed recently? Can you help me out?”

BizWritingTip response: When a sentence contains three or more items in a series, place a comma before the “and” to avoid confusion or to make a clear separation.

Examples

She is educated, experienced, and highly professional. (There are three reasons we should hire her.)

It is important that writers understand the rules for commas, dashes, and colons. (There are three separate areas writers should be clear on.)

But if the separation is clear because the reader already knows the information or the information is self evident, you do not need a comma before the “and.”

Examples

The American flag is red, white and blue. (The reader understands there are three colours here.)

The train stops at Toronto, Chatham and Windsor. (The reader knows these are three separate cities.)

I trust this BizWritingTip is timely, helpful, and easy to follow.

 

Grammar Tip – Possessive With Names

BizWritingTip reader: “Can you explain the use of apostrophes with words ending in ‘s’? I often forget, e.g., Louis Braille’s system of writing or Louis’ system.”

BizWritingTip response: This is a grammar issue that has many writers baffled. But you are correct with your suggestions.

To make singular or plural nouns that do not already end in an “s” possessive, you add an apostrophe and an “s.” If the word is singular, the apostrophe goes inside the “s.” If the word is plural, then the apostrophe goes outside the “s.”

Examples (Correct)

Manager’s meeting (one manager is hosting a meeting)

Managers’ meeting (more than one manager is hosting a meeting)

Louis Braille’s system of writing (the system of one Mr. Braille)

However, to form the possessive of a singular noun that ends in an “s” sound, you must listen to the pronunciation.

If you hear yourself adding a new syllable when you form the possessive, then add an apostrophe plus “s.”

Examples (correct)

Boss’s report

Chris’s computer

Jones’s diary

But if the word is hard to pronounce when you add the extra syllable, then just add the apostrophe by itself.

Examples (correct)

Thomas’ report

Louis’ system

Unfortunately, individual differences in pronunciation can cause confusion with this rule.

I generally find if the word is one syllable and ends in an “s” sound (e.g., boss, Chris, and Jones), then you add ‘s. If the word is composed of two syllables or more and ends in an “s” sound (e.g., Thomas or Louis), then add the apostrophe only.

And you thought knowing grammar rules would make things less confusing!

Grammar Tip – a.m. and p.m.

BizWritingTip reader: “I noticed in your last tip that you used a.m. instead of AM. Was there a reason for this?”

BizWritingTip response: According to both the Oxford Canadian Dictionary and The Canadian Press Stylebook, the designations for morning and afternoon are written in the lowercase with periods between each letter.

Examples

10 a.m.

3:15 p.m.

Note: There is a space between the number and the abbreviation.

In some print documents, you can use small capitals (small caps) – A.M. and P.M. – if you have that option. However, avoid the use of all-capital letters.

Examples

10 A.M. (incorrect — large caps)

10 A.M. (correct – small caps)

3:15 P.M. (incorrect – large caps)

3:15 P.M. (correct —small caps)

Don’t use AM. This is the abbreviation for “amplitude modulation.” Its most common use is with radio stations.

I trust this BizWritingTip provides you with timely information.

Grammar Tip – I or Me: Use and Placement

Antonio’s question: “Do you think you could help me in my personal battle against the wrong use of ‘me,’ both in how it’s used and where it’s placed? I am sure you hear ‘me and my cousin went to the movies,’ ‘me and my friend had lunch together’ and on and on… and you want to scream as loud as me.”

BizWritingTip response: Yes, I definitely will support you in your fight. “I” and “me” are personal pronouns. When using them, you have to be mindful of two issues. The first is which pronoun to use. “I” is used for the subject in a sentence. “Me” is the object.

Note: There is no way the pronoun me can ever start a sentence.

Examples (correct)

I wrote the report. (I is the subject.)
The report was written by me. (Me is the object.)
She told me to attend the meeting. (Me is the object.)

The second issue is placement when the subject or object appears in pairs. If you have a compound subject (two or more subjects) or a compound object (two or more objects) that includes I or me, you must always put the I or me pronoun last. As an old teacher used to say, “Never put yourself first.”

Examples (correct)

My cousin and I went to the movies. (I is part of a compound subject.)
My friend and I had lunch together. (I is part of a compound subject.)
The report was written by her and me. (Me is part of a compound object.)
Invitations came for the manager and me. (Me is part of a compound object.)

If you want more information on I or me, please search for our blog for me, myself or I.

Keep on fighting!

Grammar Tip – Apostrophes With Place Names

Several BizWritingTip readers have commented on the news story regarding the decision of a city in England to ban apostrophes from street signs. Apparently, the politicians in Birmingham have decided apostrophes on signs are dated and confusing.

The decision was the result of decades of debate and confusion surrounding punctuation on signs for local landmarks, such as St. Pauls Square or Acocks Green.

A number of grammarians are not pleased. They feel the resolution is a “dumbing down” of the English language.

However, other language experts — such as Katherine Barber, founding editor of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary — claim that because a place name is not really possessive, you can do without the apostrophe, if you wish.

For example, Queens Quay, in Toronto, is not really owned by the Queen. Therefore, omitting the apostrophe is acceptable. Think about the City of St. Catharines in Ontario or the Rural Municipality of St. Andrews in Manitoba – no apostrophes. And I don’t think St. Catharine or St. Andrew is particularly bothered.

Now, there are places in Canada that have kept the apostrophe, e.g., Peggy’s Cove in Nova Scotia and St. John’s in Newfoundland.

So Canadians can’t criticize Birmingham. We’re equally guilty of using or ignoring the apostrophe to suit the place.

Anyone been to Tim Hortons lately?

Grammar Tip – Children’s Services

BizWritingTip question: “In our organization, we have a department called Children’s Services. Is this correct? I thought the apostrophe indicates ownership. In this case, the children do not own the services. The department provides the services for children.”

BizWritingTip response: Your question is not a simple one to answer. There are a couple of points that come into play. First, you are right. One of the uses of an apostrophe is to show possession.

Examples showing possession
The manager’s meeting (one manager is hosting a meeting)
The managers’ meeting (more than one manager is hosting a meeting)

Second, sometimes a word is used to describe rather than to show possession. In this case, you would not use an apostrophe.

Examples that describe
Managers meeting (meeting for managers)
Savings account (account for savings)
Sales call (call for the purpose of sales)

Based on this, you would assume that as you are talking about services for children it should be Children Services.

However — hold on — remember the “exceptions to the rules” I often talk about.

Children is an irregular plural noun. In other words, although the word is plural, it does not end in s.

Examples of irregular plural nouns
Women
Men
Alumni

With these nouns, you add an apostrophe even though you are using the word as a descriptor – not to show possession.

Examples that describe with irregular plural nouns
Women’s Club (club for women)
Men’s room (room for men)
Alumni’s reunion (reunion for alumni)

Therefore, the name of your department is correct: Children’s Services