Word Choice – Come Versus Go

Roger’s question: “I hear and see people misusing ‘come’ and ‘go.’ Can you please explain the differences?”

BizWritingTip response: When choosing between these words, you must consider your location and your receiver’s location. Come means move toward. Go means away from.

Examples (when communicating with someone at your location)
I hope the server comes soon. (The destination is toward you.)
I will go to the airport to pick her up. (The destination is away from your location.)
I would have gone to their open house if I had known about it. (The destination was away from your location.)

Exception: If you are communicating with someone who is at your destination — not your location — use their location to choose the word. Therefore, the word would be come.

Examples (when someone is at your destination)
I will come to your office tomorrow. (The receiver is at your destination.)
I should have come to your open house. (The destination would have been at the receiver’s location.)

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.

Word Choice – Staff or Staffs

Donna’s question: “Here’s something I struggle with – the plural use of ‘Staffs were…’ versus ‘Staff were…’ Staffs just sounds odd to me and doesn’t easily roll of my tongue. Am I wrong to say ‘Staff were very appreciative of…’?”
BizWritingTip response: The plural of staff is staffs. However, it is not a common word. It refers to bodies of people working for different organizations. Example: Staffs of all health-related agencies in the area were invited to a meeting.

Staff can be used as a singular or as a collective noun. “Staff were very appreciative” implies that some members were grateful. “Staff was very appreciative” implies everyone was grateful.

Word Choice – On-site Versus Onsite

Pamela’s question: “I often see ‘onsite’ used as one word. Shouldn’t ‘on site’ be two words with the hyphen inserted if you are using the word as an adjective, such as on-site meeting? Is ‘onsite’ ever one word?”

BizWritingTip response: There is a tendency now to drop hyphens from words. But according to the Merriam Webster and Oxford dictionaries and The Chicago Manual of Style, the correct spelling — no matter how you use it in a sentence — is on-site.
Examples (correct)
We are waiting for the on-site inspection.
The meeting will be held on-site.

It is interesting that the spell check on my computer accepts both onsite and on-site. I am going to stick with on-site, but I can see how onsite will become accepted usage.

Word Choice – If Versus Whether

Pam’s question: “Please do a future issue on ‘if’ versus ‘whether.’  When asked to review documents, I often see my associates using ‘if’’ incorrectly. I would like to be able to give them a simple explanation.”

BizWritingTip response: There are several rules regarding “if” and “whether.” I have tried to simplify them as much as possible. The first rule is the easiest.

1.   If you are expressing a simple condition, use “if.” (This is a good example.)
If you can’t attend, please let us know.  (Contact us only if you can’t attend.)
If you are going to attend, do you want to carpool? (We won’t expect to carpool, if you are not going.)

2.   Use “whether” if there are two alternatives – even if the alternative is only implied.
Please let us know whether you can attend. (You should let us know your plans either way.)
Let’s discuss whether this is the right thing to do – or not.

3.   Use “whether” after the infinitive form of a verb. (These are the verbs beginning with “to.”)
I am trying to decide whether I should work overtime.
I need to know whether we can hire a part-time person for the summer.

4.   “Whether” and “if” are interchangeable if the answer would be yes or no.
Examples (correct)
She tried to remember whether she had replied to his email. (Yes, she did.)
She tried to remember if she had replied to his email. (Yes, she did.)

5.   “Whether” and “if” are interchangeable in whether/or or if/or constructions.
I would like to know if the figures are accurate or they are estimates.
I would like to know whether the figures are accurate or they are estimates.

Note: “Whether” is considered the more formal word. If you are writing a report or a formal letter and have the option of using “whether” or “if” (rules 4 and 5), I would use “whether.” If you are writing an email or an informal letter and have the option, then use “if.”

Word Choice – Safety Versus Security

Paulo’s question: “In the sense of protection from danger, are the words ‘security’ and ‘safety’ interchangeable?”

BizWritingTip response: People often confuse these words. Although the thought process is close, the words are not interchangeable. Safe comes from the Latin word salvus meaning “uninjured, healthy.” Secure comes from Latin securus, “free from care.”

“Security” refers to a condition used to ensure safety or protection from outside sources. It deals with external factors. “Safety” has more of an emotional context and relates to protection of self or property. It is internal.

Another way of looking at it is that safety involves feelings and security involves conditions.

Security measures must be in place to protect your possessions. (to protect from thieves)
We have installed additional lighting in the parking lot for employee safety. (physical protection)
We are concerned about the safety of the staff. (physical protection)
We are concerned about the security of the event. (protection from outside threats or danger)
The streets are safe because of the security measures we have instigated. (measures taken to  protect from outside sources)

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)

Word Choice – Assistance In Versus Assistance With

Christina’s question: “Which sentence is correct — Thank you for your assistance in this matter or Thank you for your assistance on this matter?”

BizWritingTip response: Unfortunately, neither sentence is correct. “Assistance on” is incorrect. The prepositions following assistance are “in,” “with,” or “to.”Although many writers interchange them, “assistance with” is used to indicate helping someone with someone or something. “Assistance in” indicates helping to do something.
Here’s another way to determine the correct word: If there is only a noun following, use “assistance with.” If there is a verb following, use “assistance in.”

Examples (with before a noun)
Can you provide assistance with the room set-up?
Thank you for your assistance with this matter.

Examples (in before a verb)
She will be giving us some assistance in preparing the report.
We are looking for someone to provide assistance in planning the event.