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)

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.

Word Choice – Beat Versus Beaten

Paulo’s question: “A famous supermarket announces that ‘We won’t be beat’ when referring to their unbeatable prices. Why beat and not beaten?”

BizWritingTip response: Beat is more commonly used in conversational English. However, a grammatical purist would say the phrase “can’t be …” must be followed by the past participle beaten. Therefore, the supermarket should say its prices “can’t be beaten.”

But as our language evolves, some of the things that would have caused red marks on our school essays are now acceptable.

One of these is a store’s right to brag its “prices can’t be beat.” It does have a nice ring to it.

In addition, “beaten” is now often used to denote a physical action or to imply defeat.

The victim was beaten about the head and shoulders.
Our team was beaten in the final game.

Word Choice – Recur Versus Reoccur

Paul’s question: “What is the difference between ‘recur’ and ‘reoccur’?”

BizWritingTip response: If you say something recurs you are saying the event happens repeatedly – at regular intervals.

We see a recurrence of flu symptoms in our patients beginning in December. (Flu happens every year.)
How should we handle the recurring problem of all staff wanting to take their vacations during the March break? (Happens every year.)

When you say something reoccurs, you are indicating it has happened before but not at a regular interval. In other words, the timing is unpredictable.

He has reoccurring back pain. (It comes at the most inconvenient times.)
Complaints about the cleanliness of the staff kitchen have reoccurred. (Although the problem was thought to be solved, it has resurfaced.)

Word Choice – Between Versus Among

Joanna’s question: “When do you use ‘among’ and when do you use ‘between’?”

BizWritingTip response: The basic rule is to use between when referring to two persons or things andamong when you are referring to more than two.

I divided the workload between Gerry and Susan.
I divided the workload between the two new staff members.
I divided the workload among Gerry, Susan, and Bill.
I divided the workload among the staff members. (more than two)

Let’s look at the exceptions.

When you are referring to geographical locations, use the preposition between regardless of the number.

The VIA Train travels between Montreal, Kingston and Toronto.
I lost my mobile phone somewhere between the parking lot, the lobby, and the parking lot.

When you are referring to an entity that is made up of parts, use among.

The consensus among the voters was to replace him.

Note: In British English, amongst  is often used.

Word Choice – Plead Versus Pled

Kelly’s question: “Can you please comment on ‘plead’ versus ‘pled’?”

BizWritingTip response: According to the Oxford dictionary, to plead is to “make an earnest appeal; to maintain (a cause) esp. in a law court.”

She will plead not guilty of the charges.

The past tense of plead is either pled or pleaded. Pled is American English and pleaded is British English.

She pleaded guilty of the charges at last week’s trial. (British English)
She pled not guilty of the charges at last week’s trial. (American English)

Word Choice – Per Cent Versus Percentage

Terry’s question: “I am wondering about the use of per cent and percentage. For instance, should it be ‘Early Development Instrument: Percent Vulnerable by Domain’ or should it be ‘Percentage Vulnerable by Domain’?”

BizWritingTip response: According to the AMA Manual of Style, deciding on whether to use per cent or percentage is simple. “The term percent and symbol % should be used with a specific number.” Percentage is used when there is no number.

He requested a ten per cent pay increase.
There was an 18% drop in the fan base.
By what percentage did the fan base drop?
A large percentage of the community was exposed to the flu.
Early Development Instrument: Percentage Vulnerable by Domain

At the beginning of the sentence, spell out both the number and the word percent.

Twenty-five percent of the people visiting hospital emergency rooms over Christmas had influenza.
The symbol % should be placed close to the number and should be repeated with each number.

Examples (correct)
Twenty-five per cent to 35% of people visiting hospital emergency rooms over Christmas had flu symptoms.
Better: Flu symptoms were reported in 25% to 35% of people visiting hospital emergency rooms over Christmas.

Many style books say that if you are using the symbol % always use the number – never the word – with it.

You only missed 5% of the movie.

Note: The Oxford Canadian Dictionary accepts both per cent and percent. I purposely used both variations in this BizWritingTip, but you should be consistent. Choose one style and stick to it.

Word Choice – As Versus Because

Phil’s question: “I often find sentences written like this ‘project delivery will not proceed as there has been no approval to date.’ It bothers me because I would expect to read ‘project delivery will not proceed because there has been no approval to date.’ Which form is more acceptable or correct.”

BizWritingTip response: As, since, and because are used to join two complete thoughts. They answer the question “why.” For example, the project delivery will not proceed. Why? There has been no approval to date.

The word (or conjunction) you use to join the two sentences is a subjective choice. If you want to emphasize the reason over the result, use “because.”

Examples (When you want to emphasize the reason)
The project delivery will not proceed because there has been no approval to date.
Because there has been no approval to date, the project delivery will not proceed.

If the reason is already well-known or is not as important, use “as” or “since.”

Examples (When you want to emphasize the result)
The project delivery will not proceed as there has been no approval to date.
As there has been no approval to date, the project delivery will not proceed.
Since there has been no approval to date, the project delivery will not proceed.

Grammar Note: If the “as,” “since,” or “because” clause is placed at the beginning of the sentence, the clause must be followed by a comma. If the clause comes at the end of the sentence, there is no need for a comma.

Examples (correct punctuation with clauses)
I wish you success in the upcoming year as I am sure there will be a number of exciting opportunities. (As clause is at the end = no punctuation.)
As I am sure there will be a number of exciting opportunities, I wish you success in the upcoming year. (As clause is at the beginning = a comma.)