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 – 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.)

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)

Grammar Tip – Apostrophes With Family Names

Jenny’s question: “Would you please comment on the use of apostrophes in names on plaques outside family homes. I see many of these signs that use the family name with an apostrophe as in The Wilson’s. Is this correct? This usage makes me think that the house belongs to The Wilson.

BizWritingTip response: You are absolutely right. The Wilson’s is wrong. It indicates that one person – the top Wilson of all Wilsons – possesses the house.

If you wanted to indicate it was a residence belonging to the Wilson family, it would be The Wilsons’. This indicates more than one person named Wilson possesses the residence.

If you wanted to simply indicate that a family named Wilson lives at this location, the plaque would read The Wilsons.

If the family name already ends in “s” (e.g., Thomas), then add an “es“ to make it plural.

The Thomases (A family with the last name of Thomas resides here.)
The Thomases’ (This residence belongs to two or more people who all have the family name of Thomas.)

If Wilson lived by him- or herself, the plaque would read Wilson’s (owns it) or just Wilson (resides there) depending on the interpretation you wanted to provide.

Wow — so many things to consider when you are driving down a cottage road or standing on a front porch.

Word Choice – Dislike Versus Do Not Like

Jennifer’s question: “A bone of contention has arisen as to whether ‘dislike’ is synonymous with ‘do not like.’ For example, I maintain that the statements ‘We do not like tardiness’ and ‘We dislike tardiness’ are synonymous.”
BizWritingTip response: I understand your rationale. According to the dictionary, both phrases – dislike and do not like — have the same meaning. However, on an emotional level, any sentence containing the word not tends to come across as both more formal and harsher.

Therefore, if I wanted to create a strong tone, I would use the longer version.

I do not like having to wait for your report. (Underlying thought: I am very annoyed.)
We do not like tardiness. (Underlying thought: We are irritated.)

If I do not want to be as emphatic, I would choose dislike.

I dislike driving in the rain. (Underlying thought: I am not happy about it.)
We dislike tardiness. (Underlying thought: We are not happy about lateness.)

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. 

Information/Fun – Wonderful English from Around the World

We thought you might enjoy the following poem sent to us by one of our readers. Thank you Debbie!

Wonderful English from Around the World

Only the English could have invented this language…

We’ll begin with a box, and the plural is boxes,

But the plural of ox becomes oxen, not oxes.

One fowl is a goose, but two are called geese,

Yet the plural of moose should never be meese.

You may find a lone mouse or a nest full of mice,

Yet the plural of house is houses, not hice.

If the plural of man is always called men,

Then shouldn’t the plural of pan be called pen?

If I speak of my foot and show you my feet,

And I give you a boot, would a pair be called beet?

If one is a tooth and a whole set are teeth,

Why shouldn’t the plural of booth be called beeth?

Then one may be that, and three would be those,

Yet hat in the plural would never be hose,

And the plural of cat is cats, not cose.

We speak of a brother and also of brethren,

But though we say mother, we never say methren.

Then the masculine pronouns are he, his and him,

But imagine the feminine: she, shis and shim!

Let’s face it – English is a crazy language.

There is no egg in eggplant nor ham in hamburger;

neither apple nor pine in pineapple.

English muffins weren’t invented in England ..

We take English for granted, but if we explore its paradoxes,

we find that quicksand can work slowly, boxing rings are square,

and a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig.

And why is it that writers write but fingers don’t fing,

grocers don’t groce and hammers don’t ham?

Doesn’t it seem crazy that you can make amends but not one amend.

If you have a bunch of odds and ends
and get rid of all but one of them, what do you call it?

If teachers taught, why didn’t preachers praught?

If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat?

Sometimes I think all the folks who grew up speaking

should be committed to an asylum for the verbally insane.

In what other language do people recite at a play and play at a recital?

We ship by truck but send cargo by ship.

We have noses that run and feet that smell.

We park in a driveway and drive in a parkway.

And how can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same,

while a wise man and a wise guy are opposites?

You have to marvel at the unique lunacy of a language

in which your house can burn up as it burns down,

in which you fill in a form by filling it out,

and in which an alarm goes off by going on.

And, in closing, if Father is Pop, how come Mother’s not Mop?

Writing Style – Business Writing: By the Numbers

Here are a few reminders to ensure your documents are clear and concise:

  1. Keep your average sentence length to 18 words.
  2. Avoid sentences that require more than four pieces of punctuation.
  3. Keep opening paragraphs under four lines in a print document and under three lines in a screen document.
  4. Keep body paragraphs under eight lines in a print document and under five lines in a screen document.
  5. Insert a connecting word every other sentence.
  6. Place a subhead after every five paragraphs.
  7. Ensure your Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level is under 12, when using the readability statistics feature on your computer.
  8. Keep the percentage of passive voice sentences in your documents under 30 per cent.
  9. Be aware that the average person can hold only seven key ideas in their heads. Therefore, avoid lengthy lists.
  10. Choose the appropriate tone for the reader and the message. There are three to choose from: formal, neutral and informal.

The secret to effective business writing: answer all the reader’s questions.