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.

Word Choice – Have or Got

Jason’s Question: “My question is regarding the usage of the word ‘got.’ My wife constantly corrects anyone that uses the word ‘got’ in a sentence because she believes this is bad grammar.”

BizWritingTip response: Years ago, “have got” and “have gotten” were commonly used in English. About 300 years ago, the British dropped the “got” or “gotten.” However, in North America these phrases are considered acceptable, informal phrases.

You have mail (British).
You have got mail (North American style).
You’ve got mail (contracted North American style).

In North America, it is felt that using “got,” “have got,” or “have gotten” places additional emphasis on the thought being conveyed.

I have your report. (I am in possession of a copy.)
I got your report. (Your report was sent to me, and I have it now.)
He has the answer to your question. (He has it.)
He has gotten the answer to your question. (He has taken the trouble to acquire the answer.)

“Have got” also has another meaning. It is considered a stronger way of saying “must.”

I must leave by 3:00 to catch my train (correct).
I have got to leave by 3:00 to catch my train (correct but stronger).

Frankly, unless I am concerned about the emphasis, I prefer the British way. But I wouldn’t consider the other wrong – just wordy. I have to go now. I have got to go now.

Word Choice – Different From Versus Different Than

BizWritingTip reader: “I often hear people make the following statement: ‘This one is different than that one.’ I think it should be ‘from’ and not ‘than.’ Please clarify this when you can.”

BizWritingTip response: You are correct. Different from is the way to contrast two items.

My findings are different from hers.
Vancouver is different from Montreal.
This one is different from that one.

In most cases, different from is correct and different than is not. However, there is an exception.

Different than is acceptable when an elliptical clause is involved. (An elliptical clause is an expression that has key words omitted because they will be obvious to the reader.)

I interpreted the message in a different way than you. (This sentence could also be written as “I interpreted the message in a different way from the way you interpreted it.”)

If you think this is confusing, stick with different from. There is more likelihood of your being correct.

Word Choice – Former Versus Latter

BizWritingTip reader: “Are ‘former’ and ‘latter’ still good words to use in the business world?”

BizWritingTip response: Former and latter are both adjectives. They should only be used when referring to two people or things. Former refers to the first of the two things mentioned. Latter is used for the last item.

I can meet you at the main or the branch office, but I prefer the former. (I want to meet at the main office.)
I can meet you at the main or the branch office, but I prefer the latter. (I really want to meet at the branch office.)

Note: These words can only be used for two items. If you are discussing more than two, use first or last.

The conference can be held in Montreal, Toronto or Vancouver. I recommend the first. (Montreal is recommended.)
I recommend the last. (Vancouver is preferred.)

Note: In my own writing, I avoid these words. Although they are acceptable and well recognized, they force the reader to go back over the sentence to interpret the message. I would rather repeat the word so the reader can scan the information quickly and get a clear message.

I can meet you at the main or the branch office, but I prefer the main office.

Grammar Tip – Apostrophes With Place Names

Several BizWritingTip readers have commented on the news story regarding the decision of a city in England to ban apostrophes from street signs. Apparently, the politicians in Birmingham have decided apostrophes on signs are dated and confusing.

The decision was the result of decades of debate and confusion surrounding punctuation on signs for local landmarks, such as St. Pauls Square or Acocks Green.

A number of grammarians are not pleased. They feel the resolution is a “dumbing down” of the English language.

However, other language experts — such as Katherine Barber, founding editor of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary — claim that because a place name is not really possessive, you can do without the apostrophe, if you wish.

For example, Queens Quay, in Toronto, is not really owned by the Queen. Therefore, omitting the apostrophe is acceptable. Think about the City of St. Catharines in Ontario or the Rural Municipality of St. Andrews in Manitoba – no apostrophes. And I don’t think St. Catharine or St. Andrew is particularly bothered.

Now, there are places in Canada that have kept the apostrophe, e.g., Peggy’s Cove in Nova Scotia and St. John’s in Newfoundland.

So Canadians can’t criticize Birmingham. We’re equally guilty of using or ignoring the apostrophe to suit the place.

Anyone been to Tim Hortons lately?

Grammar Tip – Whose Versus Who’s

BizWritingTip reader: “I never know when it is correct to use the word ‘whose.’ Can you please clarify this word’s proper usage?”

BizWritingTip response: “Whose” is the possessive form for the word “who.” It will always be followed by a noun (person, place or thing).

Whose proposal was chosen?
Whose idea was it?

In addition, when combining thoughts, you would also use “whose” to replace a possessive noun or a possessive pronoun (his, her, your, its, their, etc.).

The vice president presented the plan to the board. His background is quite impressive.
The vice president, whose background is quite impressive, presented his plan to the board.

Note: I have noticed some writers confuse “whose” with “who’s.” “Who’s” is a contraction for “who is” or “who has.”

Who’s been hired? (Who has been hired?)
Who’s the most trained person? (Who is the most trained person?)

If you are ever confused as to whether to use “whose” or “who’s,” mentally insert the words “who is.” If you can, then you know to use the contraction “who’s.” If you can’t, then use “whose.”

I trust everyone, whose knowledge of this rule was limited, now understands its usage.



Worg Choice – i.e. versus e.g./ie versus eg

Pam’s question: “I am responsible for editing various financial documents. In the explanations provided, examples are often included. Can you please clarify the use of eg and ie and how to punctuate them?”

BizWritingTip response: The abbreviation i.e. stands for the Latin id est. Translated it means “that is.” Think of it as saying “in other words.”

You will be tested on computer programs, i.e., Lotus Notes, Word and Excel. (You will be tested on all three programs.)

The abbreviation e.g. is from the Latin exempli gratia. It means for example.

You will be tested on computer programs, e.g., Lotus Notes, Word and Excel. (You may be tested on some — if not all — of these programs and on others not listed.)

Note: Never use etc. after a list beginning with e.g. It would be redundant as e.g. indicates the list is not inclusive.

As for punctuation, the sources vary. The Oxford Canadian Dictionary, The Gregg Reference Manual, APA Publication Manual, and The Chicago Manual of Style all say to use periods with the abbreviation — e.g. or i.e.

However, the AMA Manual of Style recommends eg or ie — without the periods.

Regardless of whether you use periods or not, many sources recommend putting the phrase in parentheses when writing formally and adding a comma after the abbreviation.

Examples (correct for formal documents)
The researchers will include temporal characteristics (i.e., month and time of day) in their study.
The researchers will include temporal characteristics (ie, month and time of day) in their study.

When writing letters, emails and non-technical reports, omit the parentheses and place commas on both sides of the abbreviation.

Examples (correct for informal writing – letters, emails and non-technical reports)
My son claims some sports put him to sleep, e.g., curling.
She prefers a hot drink with breakfast, eg, coffee.
I can write effective business documents, i.e., letters, reports, emails and business cases.
I can write effective business documents, ie, letters, reports, emails and business cases.

Grammar Tip – Let’s Versus Lets

Contractions can cause problems for some writers. Here’s a common error: let’s versus letsLet’s is the contraction for “let us.” Lets is a form of the verb to let, meaning “to allow to.”

Example (Incorrect)

The new software program let’s us collect more data on our customers. (This sentence would, therefore, mean “The new software program let us us to collect more data on our customers.” It makes no sense.)

Lets win the tournament. (Who should win?)

Example (correct)

The new software program lets us collect more data on our customers. (The new software program allows us to collect more data on our customers.)

Let’s win the tournament. (Us guys want to win — only kidding! We want to win!)

Try this exercise.

1. This procedure lets/let’s me work more efficiently.

2. Lets/let’s leave early for the meeting.

3. She lets/let’s us borrow her dictionary frequently.

4. Lets/let’s organize an event for Earth Day.

5. Lets/let’s make sure the manager lets/let’s us attend.


1) lets, 2) Let’s, 3) lets, 4) Let’s, 5) Let’s and lets

Word Choice – Compliment Versus Complement

BizWritingTip reader: “I wonder if you could write one about the use of ‘complement’ and ‘compliment.’ It seems the misuse of these words, in my opinion, is increasing. Is there an American variation influencing this or perhaps both can now be used interchangeably?”

BizWritingTip response: You are right. These words are often confused. However, “complement” and “compliment” are not interchangeable. They have different meanings.

“Complement” and “complementary” means something that completes or fills. But a “compliment” is a spoken or written expression of praise. When we add ary, the word “complimentary” has two meanings: praising and free of charge.


His tie complements his suit. (The tie completes the look.)

We have a full complement of staff. (All positions are filled.)

We serve complementary wine with our entrées. (The wine suits the meal.)

We serve complimentary wine with our entrées. (The wine is free with an entrée.)

Always check menus in a restaurant. Has the management unwittingly offered you free wine?


Writing Style – Dates

BizWritingTip reader: “People write dates as Jan 12th, 2011, and others write Jan 12, 2011 or 12th Jan, 2011. Under what circumstances do we need the ‘th’ after the date and is the comma always needed before the year?”

BizWritingTip response: For standard business writing in Canada, a semi-formal approach to writing dates is recommended. Here are some guidelines:

First, months should be written out in full as using an abbreviation for a month is considered casual. The abbreviation should be used only in an informal email, text messaging, or charts.

Second, use two commas to set off the year when it follows the month and day.


On June 3, 2011, we will hold our annual meeting.

Third, if a day of the week precedes the month, you will also need to insert a comma after the day.


We will meet on Friday, January 14, 2011.

Fourth, if only the month and year are given, do not use a comma to separate them.


In March 2011, I plan to take a vacation. (The comma is placed after the year because the date is an introductory phrase.)
The figures will be ready for January 2011.

In legal documents and formal invitations, dates are written more formally.

Examples (all are acceptable)

November twentieth
The twentieth of November
The twentieth day of November

In British usage, a date is written day-month-year (Monday the 14th, January 2008), while Canadian and American usage is month-day-year. Therefore, the British write 4 May, while Canadians and Americans write May 4.

Examples (British date)

Monday the 14th, January 2008?4 May

Examples (North American date)

Friday, January 14, 2011
May 4

If you use the numbered style for dates, you could get into a serious problem: 05/04/11. Is this May or April? British or North American? Write out the dates, and you won’t have a problem.