Word Choice – Multiple Versus Numerous

Klaus’s question: “Please comment on the use of multiple and numerous. Are they interchangeable? Is it correct to say that multiple people attended the meeting?”

BizWritingTip response: According to the Oxford dictionary, “multiple” means “having many parts, elements, or individual components; many and various.”

Therefore, if I had to make a choice between the two words, I would definitely use numerous. (Frankly, I have never seen “multiple” used in terms of people.) On the other hand, The Chicago Manual of Style says “numerous” is “typically a bloated word for many.” In other words, you can use it, but it is overly fancy.

Examples (better)
Many people attended the meeting.
A large number of people attended the meeting.

Word Choice – License Versus Licence

Paty’s question: “I have a question about the proper use of ‘License’ vs. ‘Licence’ as I’m writing a policy.”

BizWritingTip response:  The spelling of these two words varies according to country.  In Britain and Canada, licence is the noun and license is the verb. In other words, if there is a piece of paper to hold use the “c” word: licence.

Examples (British and Canadian English)
I need to renew my licence. (Licence is a noun.)
He is not licensed to work here. (Licensed is a verb.)

Note: According to the Oxford Dictionary, when it comes to adjectives, licenced may be used. But licensed is more common.

Licensed practical nurse
Licensed mechanic
Licensed restaurant

In American English, license is both a noun and a verb. Licence is not used at all.

Examples (American English)
I need to renew my license.
She is not licensed to do cosmetic injections but is working on getting her license.

Word Choice – Good Versus Well

Pam’s question: “Can you please clarify the appropriate response to ‘How are you?’  Is it ‘Good’ or ‘Well’? ”

BizWritingTip response: According to The Gregg Reference Manual, to feel well means “to be in good health.” To feel good is “to be in good spirits.” In other words, you are referring to your mental outlook.

It is a beautiful morning. I feel good.
I have been sick. Today, I feel well.

However, many of us have been taught that good is always an adjective and well is an adverb. What this means is that good modifies nouns and well modifies verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs.

He wrote a good report. (The adjective good is modifying the noun report.)
You wrote well. (The adverb well is modifying the verb wrote.)

Now here’s the exception to the rules.  “Well” may also be used as an adjective when describing something that is proper, healthy, or suitable. Therefore, “I am well (healthy)” is grammatically correct today.

Word Choice – Disorganized Versus Unorganized

Tracey’s question: “What is the difference between ‘disorganized’ and ‘unorganized’ and when do you properly use them?”

BizWritingTip response: The Old English prefix on- (now spelled un-) was added to words to indicate a reversal of action. The Oxford Dictionary defines organize as “give an orderly structure to, systematize.” Therefore, unorganized means the opposite — not organized or not orderly.

Disorganized has a stronger connotation. It means to “destroy the system or order; throw into confusion.” It indicates a chaotic mode.

My desk may appear unorganized, but I can find anything I want. (My desk does not seem orderly.)
Her purse is disorganized. It is crammed with receipts, credit cards, snacks, jewellery, paint chips, train schedules, cosmetics, lottery tickets, and the morning paper.

Word Choice – Try to Versus Try and

Ketta’s question: “Could you please provide some examples of the proper usage for ‘try to’ and ‘try and’?”

BizWritingTip response: According to the Oxford Dictionary, try means to “make an effort with a view of success.” Traditionally, when the first verb is a strong request, it is followed by the word “to” and the verb.

Please try to arrive on time.
I would like you to try to complete the work this afternoon.

However, the dictionary does go on to say that when communicating informally try and is now acceptable.

Example (for informal communication)
Please try and respond this afternoon.
I will try and run 5 km today.

I use “try to” when writing technical reports or speeches. When writing emails and most letters, I may use “try and.” However, if you stick with “try to” on all occasions, you will always be correct. 

Word Choice – This Versus Next

Doug’s question: “Will you please explain the difference between ‘this’ and ‘next’ as it relates to time?  When someone refers to this Friday, I think it is the upcoming Friday. But if someone refers to next Friday, I think it is the following Friday. Is this correct?”

BizWritingTip response: I agree with you, Doug. My preference is to use “this” plus the day when referring to the current week. And “next” plus the day to refer to the following week.

I’d like to discuss your promotion next Wednesday. (next week’s Wednesday)
I’d like to discuss your promotion this Wednesday. (this week’s Wednesday)

However, this is my interpretation. People and dictionaries often differ on how they use “next,” and there is no standard worldwide pattern.

In the U.K., they use “next Tuesday” as the one coming up. And “Tuesday week” means Tuesday of next week. Very simple. They also tend to do this in the U.S. South.

The American Heritage Dictionary defines “next” simply as the time immediately following. So on a Tuesday, next Friday is three days away. However, The Oxford Dictionary, says next Friday can be either three or 10 days away.

When the date is important, I recommend being as precise as possible and adding the date.

I’d like to meet with you to discuss this further. Are you free next Tuesday (the 19th)?

Word Choice – Ran Versus Had Run

Teri’s question: “I occasionally hear someone (namely my husband) say ‘had ran’ instead of simply ‘ran.’ I am at a loss to explain the error to him so the correction sticks.  Any advice?”

BizWritingTip response: This question deals with the tenses of verbs. “Had ran” is the past perfect tense. “Ran” is the simple past tense.

The past tense is used when referring to an action completed in the past.


He submitted his expense account.
I was tired all day yesterday.
I ran 5 km.

Use the past perfect tense when (1) you are indicating two things completed in the past, and (2) you want to be clear as to which one happened first.


Before he left for the day, he had submitted his expense account.
I was tired all day yesterday. I think it was because I had not gotten a good night’s sleep.
I had run 5 km before he passed me.

When writing in the North American business world, many writers use just the past tense.

Word Choice – On Behalf of

Graham’s question: “Can you shed some light on the the usage of ‘on behalf of’? For example, if I am acknowledging someone, is it correct for me to say ‘on behalf of myself and the group, I would like to thank you for …’ If I am the one delivering, is it not redundant to state it is on behalf of myself?”

BizWritingTip response: This question deals with a number of grammar issues. First, although you often see and hear the phrase “on behalf of myself,” it is a grammar error. “Of” is a preposition; it must always be followed by an objective pronoun. This means you can only say “on behalf of me.”

Second, it has always been considered poor etiquette to put “me” or “I” before the other person or group. Parents are always telling their children never to say, “Me and Susan went to the store.” The same thing applies here. It should be “on behalf of the group and me.”

Now let’s get down to the thought process surrounding the phrase.”Behalf” comes from “bi-halve” meaning “on the part of.”

If you say, “On behalf of the group and me, I would like to thank you for … ,” it emphasizes that you are part of the group and that you agree wholeheartedly with the consensus. It is fine to use it this way.

However, I think it is unnecessary. I much prefer “On behalf of the group, I would like to thank you for ….” It is much cleaner. The underlying assumption is that you are part of the group.

On behalf of my readers, I would like to thank Graham for this question.

Word Choice – Try To Versus Try And

Ketta’s question: “Can you please provide some examples of the proper usage of ‘try to’ and ‘try and?’ ”

BizWritingTip response: I was taught that when the first verb is a strong request the second verb should be in the infinitive form (to + a verb). Therefore, the phrase should be “try to.”

However, according to the Oxford Dictionary, “try to” is considered formal and “try and” is the informal version. Both are now correct.

Please try to complete the report by Friday. (considered formal)
Please try and complete the report by Friday. (informal)

Remember, grammar rules are not written in stone. They are temporary conventions that help us to communicate. They change with custom or style.

Word Choice – You Versus Yourself

Pat’s question: “Could you please discuss the grammatical misuse of the word ‘yourself.’ For example, I have heard people answer the question ‘How are you?’ by saying ‘Fine. And yourself?’ Shouldn’t it be ‘Fine. And you?’ ”

BizwritingTip response: You are correct. “Yourself” is a reflexive pronoun. Reflexive pronouns are those that end in –self or –selves. (Myself, yourself, himself, herself, itself, themselves, and ourselves are all reflexive pronouns.) There are two reasons for using them.

First, use them when the action expressed by the verb is directed back to the subject.

I taught myself how to use the new software package.
They found themselves in the middle of a major disagreement.
We should try to put ourselves in our customers’ shoes.

The second reason for using reflexive pronouns is for emphasis. Writers often remove them as they appear redundant. But there is nothing wrong with inserting them when you want to be emphatic.

You should complete the form yourself.
I myself am confused.
We want to talk to the manager ourselves.

To conclude, polite and grammatically correct people — when asked the question — would say “Fine. And you?”

This rule also applies to me, myself and I.