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Grammar Tip – Pronouns With Gerunds

Marie’s question: “Is the following sentence correct? I appreciate your helping me. I have been told by a colleague that it should be ‘you’ not ‘your.’ I think I am right but I don’t know why.”

BizWritingTip response: Yes, you are definitely right. This grammar rule involves gerunds, a term many people are unfamiliar with. A gerund is a word that is normally a verb but is being used as a noun. Gerunds always end in “ing.”  In your example, helping is a gerund.

The trick with a gerund is that when you place a noun or pronoun in front of it, you must make the word possessive. (The possessive pronouns are my, your, his, her, our, and their.)

Examples (correct)
I appreciate your helping me.
Does anyone object to my smoking? (Smoking is a gerund preceded by a possessive pronoun.)
Your complaining about the assignment will not change anything. (Complaining is a gerund preceded by a possessive pronoun.)
The plane’s arriving on time surprised me. (Arriving is a gerund preceded by a noun.)
Our success with this event depends on Roger’s taking charge of the finances. (Taking is a gerund preceded by a noun.)

Isn’t grammar fun?

Grammar Tip – Its Versus Their

Susan’s question: “Please tell me the difference between its and their. For example, would I write ‘ABC Enterprises offered all its employees a bonus’ or ‘ABC Enterprises offered all their employees a bonus?”

BizWritingTip response: As ABC Enterprises is considered a singular noun, you would have to use the personal pronoun “its.”

Example

ABC Enterprises offered all its employees a bonus. (Its is replacing the company’s name.)

You would only use “their” when the noun it is replacing is plural.

Example

The managers offered all their employees a bonus. (Their is replacing the managers.)

Word Choice – Although Versus Though

Irfan’s question: “Please help me understand the use of ‘though’ and ‘although’ and when to add a comma with these words. Here are two examples: 2) Although(,) I have finished your assignment, it was not difficult. 2) I have finished your assignment. It was not difficult though.”

BizWritingTip response:  “Although” and “though” when used as conjunctions are interchangeable. (Conjunctions are words that join two separate thoughts.) Although is generally considered more formal than though. (If you wanted to be emphatic, you could also say “even though.”)

The words indicate a condition with an unexpected outcome. One way to ensure you are using the words correctly is to try to replace them with the phrase “despite the fact that.”

Therefore, neither of these words works with your first example. It would be odd to say “Despite the fact that I finished your assignment, it was not difficult.” You would expect to be able to finish an assignment that was not difficult.

Examples (correct)
Despite the fact that I finished your assignment, it was difficult. (wordy but correct)
Although I finished your assignment, it was difficult. (formal)
Though I finished your assignment, it was not easy. (informal)

Note: The comma is inserted only after the “although” or “though” phrase. It is never placed directly after the word.

Though can also be used an adverb meaning however. (In this usage, though is not interchangeable with although.) Do not insert any commas with the word.

Examples
I finished your assignment. It was not difficult however.
I finished your assignment. It was not difficult though.

There is nothing wrong in using “though” as an adverb. Personally, I would have omitted the word as I believe it is not necessary: I finished your assignment. It was not difficult.

Word Choice – Spacecraft Versus Spacecrafts

Deane’s question: “I wonder if it’s acceptable to write spacecrafts (or aircrafts) instead of using the singular. I thought ‘craft’ was similar to the use of sheep – one word functions for both singular and plural.”

BizWritingTip response: Again, another example of our words changing. Most dictionaries, e.g., Oxford, Merriam-Webster, and Cambridge Dictionaries Online, agree with you. “Craft” refers to both singular or plural nouns – the same as the word “sheep.”

Example (most dictionaries)
The pilot turned the spacecraft toward earth.
The pilot has spent time on several spacecraft.

However, in researching this question, I found that Webster’s College Dictionary and Wiktionary accept both “spacecraft” and “spacecrafts” as the plural noun.

Example
Seven spacecrafts were successful in landing on Mars.

Therefore, in some situations you might get away with adding an “s” to spacecraft. However, if you stick with “spacecraft” regardless of whether it is singular or plural, you will always be correct.

Grammar Tip – Hyphens With Prefixes

Sandra’s question: “In words beginning with the prefix ‘pre,’ I am having difficulty determining when to hyphenate and when to state them as one word (or two words if that’s an option), for instance, words such as ‘pre content.’ ”

BizWritingTip response: A prefix is a short word (e.g., anti-, ex-, post-, pre-) placed before another word to modify its meaning. It is attached to the following word or joined to it with a hyphen.

Examples
anti-inflammatory     pre-war     pre-content     preheat    antitrust

A prefix cannot sit by itself in a sentence, e.g., pre content. (Note: Your spell checker will not identify this error as the two words in themselves are valid. But it is an error.)

Authorities often differ on whether you need to hyphenate the words or run them together. In American English, the guideline is to avoid the hyphen if you can. British and Canadian English tend to recommend the hyphen more often.

The following are some guidelines for prefixes regardless of what form of English you are using.

1.   Use a hyphen to avoid awkward spelling.
Example
Anti-aircraft (Antiaircraft looks awkward.)

2.   Insert a hyphen to avoid duplicating vowels.
Examples
pre-exist     co-operate      re-enter    de-emphasize

3.   Use a hyphen if the following word begins with a capital letter or is a number.
Examples
pre-Aids era       pre-Confederation      pro-American forces        post-1920 fashion

4.   Use a hyphen after a prefix when an unhyphenated word would have a different meaning.
Examples
re-treat versus retreat     coop versus co-op       re-cover versus recover

5.   Do not use a hyphen if the unhyphenated version is common.
Examples
prefix      prehistoric     postoperative   proactive    ultraviolet   nonnegotiable

Bottom Line: If these rules don’t answer your specific question, type the prefix and the following word as one word and then rely on your spell checker – set of course to the English dictionary you prefer.

Word Choice – Further Versus Farther

Sharon’s question: “I am always confused over the use of ‘farther’ vs. ‘further.’ Which would be correct in the following sentence? If these dates do not work, we can look further (or farther?) into the year.”

BizWritingTip response: This question is quite interesting. My initial response was to recommend the use of “further.” Further is used for an abstract distance and indicates “to a greater degree” or “to a greater extent.”

Examples

If these dates do not work, we can look further into the year.
I wish I was further along in writing the proposal.
What further proof do you need?

Farther refers to actual distance.

Examples
The new office location is farther from my home than I would like.
How much farther do we have to travel?

But, in doing an additional check with my dictionary and grammar books, I found that some reference books now consider these words interchangeable.

The Oxford Canadian Dictionary states that “farther” is a variant of “further.”

Frankly, I intend to stick with the traditional way of writing farther and further. However, if you can’t keep them straight, I don’t imagine many readers will call you on it.

Closing Lines in Business Documents

Heather’s question: “In one of your biztips, you closed with ‘Trust this helps.’ Should it not be ‘I trust this helps’?”

BizWritingTip response: You are right in your thinking. “Trust this helps” is not a complete sentence. However, in business writing, it is common practice to be a little less strict with our closing lines in electronic messages.

Examples (informal closes)
Looking forward to seeing you.
Hope you have a good weekend.

All effective business writers understand the three tones of business writing: formal, neutral, and informal. The formal tone is used for reports and for official letters. It rigidly adheres to all grammar rules, but the tone can come across as rather stiff. The emphasis is on the writer or the writer’s organization.

Example (formal close)
I trust this information helps.

When reading most letters and emails, readers tend to prefer a style that sounds more conversational. It usually increases your reader’s buy-in of the message.

Note: I am not recommending disregarding grammar rules in letters and emails. My comments relate only to the closing line.

Quotation Marks: Are you up to date?

Do you have trouble remembering whether to place the period inside or outside the quotation mark?

If so, relax. The North American rules surrounding quotation marks are now quite simple. All periods and commas go inside the quotation marks; colons and semicolons are placed outside.

Incorrect
Time magazine says it’s “the best ice cream in the world”. (I learned it this way when I went to school — but that was back in the days of the dinosaurs.)

Correct
Time magazine says it’s “the best ice cream in the world.”

Correct
Time magazine says it’s “the best ice cream in the world,” and we plan to use the statement in our advertising campaign.

Correct
In the minutes, she recorded, “Paul Smithers agreed to contribute $100,000 to the fund”; we were extremely grateful.

Note: I realize a number of people will be upset about this change. But grammar is not static; it changes with the time. Please, don’t shoot the messenger! I am supported by any North American grammar book published within the past ten years.

Be careful if you proofread your kids’ homework. Following your old rules may cause your kids grief. One workshop participant told me her son lost five marks when she corrected his essay and moved the periods outside the quotation marks. It would have been okay 10 years ago but not today.

Who Versus That

Theresa’s question: “I wonder if it is acceptable to use the word ‘that’ when referring to people. Usually this happens when referring to a collective noun. An example I find very jarring is the official apology about residential schools given by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.   He states, ‘It has taken extraordinary courage for the thousands of survivors that have come forward to speak publicly about the abuse they suffered.’

“It would seem to me that the word ‘who’ should be used. What are your thoughts?”

BizWritingTip response: I was taught years ago that who is used for people and that for things. But guess what? Times have changed. Now both who and that are used when referring to persons. Usewho when you are referring to specific people and that when referring to a category or type of person.

Examples
He is a manager who treats his employees well. (The manager is a specific person.)
He is the type of consultant that I would hire again. (category)*
She is the one who should be going. (specific)
Of all the people that should attend, I decided to send her. (category)
I am shocked by professionals that use improper grammar. (category)
I am shocked by one of our managers who uses improper grammar. (specific person)

Therefore, although it does sound awkward, Prime Minister Harper’s statement is correct.

*Yes, you could remove the word that from this sentence. Grammatically, that is the correct word to use. In the interest of brevity, you could – correctly – remove it: He is the type of consultant I would hire again.

Grammar – Licensing

Brenda’s question: “I understand that ‘licence’ is a noun and ‘license’ is a verb.  Our question is about the word licencing/licensing. For example, would you say ‘Microsoft will be licencing users next year’ or ‘Microsoft will be licensing users next year’?”

BizWritingTip response: The word “licensing” is always spelt with an “s.”

Example (correct)
Microsoft will be licensing users next year.

Note: You are absolutely right. All forms of English spell the word with an “s” if it is being used as a verb.

Example (correct everywhere)
Are you licensed to drive a truck?

However, when it is in the noun form — British, Canadian, and Australian English spell it with a “c.” American English spells the noun with an “s.”

Examples
You need to apply for a licence. (noun — British, Canadian, and Australian English)
You need to apply for a license. (noun — American English)