Word Choice – My wife and I/My wife and me

I have been out of the country for the past month and am still working my way through my emails. However, I am surprised at the number of readers who commented on the BizWritingTip regarding “texted” becoming a verb.

They felt that the sentence “My daughter told my wife and me …” was grammatically incorrect. It should have been “My daughter told my wife and I.”

Sorry, dear readers, but in this case “my wife and me” is correct.
“I” and “me” are personal pronouns. “I” is used when the pronoun is the subject of the sentence. “Me” is used when the pronoun is the object.

My daughter told my wife and me. (The pronoun is the object in the sentence.)
My wife and I were told by my daughter. (Now the pronoun is the subject.)
The report was written by Sam and me. (The pronoun is the object.)
Sam and wrote the report. (Now the pronoun is the subject.)

Are you still confused? If so, here’s an easy way to sort it out. Part of the confusion comes from the compound (two) subjects and objects. Therefore, drop the first part of the compound, and you’ll automatically get the correct answer. Then you can put the sentence back together.

My daughter told I. (This is incorrect.)
My daughter told me. (This sounds better.)
The report was written by I. (This is not grammatically correct and sounds pretentious.)
The report was written by me. (This is correct.)
Me wrote the report. (I hope someone else proofed it.)
wrote the report. (Correct)

The rules for personal pronouns are not new. I think some people may just have misunderstood them.

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.

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.)

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

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

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.

Word Choice – Season’s Greetings or Seasons Greetings?

According to Wikipedia, “Season’s Greetings” is a term that wishes people well over the holiday season regardless of their religious beliefs.

We tend to use the phrase more in writing than in speaking. It first appeared on winter season greeting cards along with “Merry Christmas,” “Compliments of the Season,” and “Christmas Greetings” in the late 19th century. “With the Season’s Greetings” or simply “The Season’s Greetings” was shortened to “Season’s Greetings” in the 1920s.

I love seeing the phrase. However, please remember “Seasons Greetings” – without the apostrophe – means greetings for many seasons. It is generic. And although you may like the person so well that you want to wish them good tidings for numerous seasons to come, let’s get a little more personal and take it one step at a time. Let’s wish them the best life can bring them throughout the upcoming holiday time.

Therefore, from J. Watson Associates Inc. — ? Season’s Greetings

We’ll be back with more grammar tips next year.

Thank-You Emails

Mary’s question: “Is it always appropriate to send a ‘thank you’ email as a response to any email providing information? I am receiving more and more of these. It seems to me that email senders could set up automatic receipt notices if they wanted to be sure that their emails were received.”

BizWritingTip response: I did a survey just over a year ago regarding people’s pet peeves when it comes to emails. I was surprised so many people complained about thank-you emails. It seems when people are having a busy day, they don’t want to waste their time opening non-essential messages.

However, if you don’t send a thank you how will the senders know you received the information? I don’t recommend receipt notices. When I conduct an email-writing workshop, most participants claim they dislike the receipt request. They feel the senders are checking up on them; many receivers hit the “no” button (don’t tell the sender I have read this) just out of irritation.

I recommend a practice used by many organizations in both the public and private sectors: Insert the words “thank you” in the subject line in front of the original wording. Then place one of the following abbreviations at the end of the subject, END, EOM (end of message) or NT (no text).

Example (subject lines)
Your original email: Required: Logistic Requirements for Writing Workshop
Receiver’s response: RE: Logistic Requirements for Writing Workshop
Your return email: Thank you – Logistic Requirements for Writing Workshop – END

There is no need for you to add anything else to the body of the email. The receiver can read your thank you in the subject line and then quickly delete or file the message.

Some of you may be wondering what would happen if the reader does not understand END, EOM, or NT.  Well they might go ahead and open the message.  But they will know the next time.

Note: I am not saying  every provision of information requires a thank you. This is just an effective way to do it, if you wish to thank the receiver but have nothing else to add to the message.

Writing Style – Contractions in Minutes

Marg’s question: “My manager says I can’t use contractions in my minutes. What do you think?”BizWritingTip response: First, contractions are words that are shortened by replacing a letter or letters with an apostrophe.

Cannot = can’t
It is/it has = it’s
We will = we’ll

Contractions are not wrong, but they are considered a less formal way of writing. Contracted words are fine for emails and some letters. You would not use them in reports or business cases.

Second, board minutes are considered formal documents so it would not be appropriate to use contractions in them. If you are writing informal minutes for a weekly staff meeting or for a committee that was established handle one event, e.g., planning a fund-raising activity, contractions would be fine.

To sum up, avoid contractions when preparing documents you want to come across as formal or official; use contractions when you want your writing to sound more conversational.

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.)

Writing Style – Smothered Verbs

Paul’s question: “My manager was talking about smothered verbs last week. What are they and why should we avoid them?”BizWritingTip response: Smothered verbs deal with style. There is nothing wrong with them grammatically.

Smothered verbs are created when writers take our strong English verbs and turn them into nouns. They then have to insert another verb to make the sentence make sense. Writers think it makes them sound more professional.

I have a preference for (“Have a preference for” is a smothered verb.)
I prefer (The verb is not smothered.)
The accountant conducted an analysis of the figures. (smothered verb)
The accountant analyzed the figures.

Smothered verbs make sentences lengthy, and the tone is not as strong. If you reduce your use of smothered verbs, your sentences will be clearer and more concise.

Oftentimes, you can pick out a smothered verb by the word ending. Smothered verbs frequently end in –ion (e.g, recommendation), -ment ( e.g., overpayment), -sis (e.g., analysis), and -nce (e.g., preference).

A recommendation was made by staff. (smothered verb)
Staff recommended … (better)
We made an overpayment to you of $20. (smothered verb)
We overpaid you $20.

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 – 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.)

Word Choice – Coordinate Versus Facilitate

Dee’s question: “Please provide some examples on the proper usage of the words ‘facilitates’ and ‘coordinates.’ ”

BizWritingTip response: “To facilitate” means to make something easier or less difficult. It also involves assisting or leading people to arrive at an understanding.

He was hired to facilitate a panel discussion on the economy. (He will not present his own opinions – just ensure the members of the panel explore the topic.)
Her presence will facilitate a speedy resolution to the problem. (A formal way of saying her presence will help us resolve the problem faster.)

“To co-ordinate” is to bring the various elements of an activity or organization into an agreeable or efficient relationship.

Please co-ordinate with the communications department to ensure the announcement goes out next week. (Please work with the communications department.)
He is responsible for co-ordinating the company move. (He is responsible for all the organizational elements.)

Facilitate and coordinate are not interchangeable. When in doubt, think of “assisting.” If you are assisting, you are facilitating. If you are organizing, you are coordinating.

Note: With regard to the hyphen in co-ordinate, The Canadian Press Caps and Spelling book prefers “co-ordinate.” Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary and The Chicago Manual of Style use “coordinate.” The Oxford Dictionary accepts both.