Word Choice – Prioritize Versus Priorize

Chantal’s question: “Lately, I’ve heard people say ‘priorize’ instead of ‘prioritze.’ Will you please confirm the correct usage.”

BizWritingTip response: Yes, I’ve heard people use both forms. However, according to the Oxford Canadian Dictionary, the correct word is “prioritize” – meaning to rank in order of importance.

“Priorize” is not listed.

“Prioritize” is another example of a noun that has been changed into a verb. Until the late ‘60s or early ‘70s, people only used the noun “priority.” Then someone turned it into a verb. And the trend caught on.

“Priorize” is a shorter, cuter version of “prioritize,” but it is not yet recognized by most dictionaries.

Language is organic. In other words, it changes and grows over time. Words are added and dropped as they come and go from common usage. Yes, “priorize” may eventually end up in dictionaries. However, I believe that enriching our language with new words is the role of creative writers. You can also be more inventive with your words when writing to family and friends.

But when writing for the business world, I recommend using the everyday, accepted words — ones found in the dictionary. Then your reader is not distracted from the message. Stick to “prioritize.”

Grammar Tip – Children’s Services

BizWritingTip question: “In our organization, we have a department called Children’s Services. Is this correct? I thought the apostrophe indicates ownership. In this case, the children do not own the services. The department provides the services for children.”

BizWritingTip response: Your question is not a simple one to answer. There are a couple of points that come into play. First, you are right. One of the uses of an apostrophe is to show possession.

Examples showing possession
The manager’s meeting (one manager is hosting a meeting)
The managers’ meeting (more than one manager is hosting a meeting)

Second, sometimes a word is used to describe rather than to show possession. In this case, you would not use an apostrophe.

Examples that describe
Managers meeting (meeting for managers)
Savings account (account for savings)
Sales call (call for the purpose of sales)

Based on this, you would assume that as you are talking about services for children it should be Children Services.

However — hold on — remember the “exceptions to the rules” I often talk about.

Children is an irregular plural noun. In other words, although the word is plural, it does not end in s.

Examples of irregular plural nouns

With these nouns, you add an apostrophe even though you are using the word as a descriptor – not to show possession.

Examples that describe with irregular plural nouns
Women’s Club (club for women)
Men’s room (room for men)
Alumni’s reunion (reunion for alumni)

Therefore, the name of your department is correct: Children’s Services




Word Choice – Who Versus Whom

BizWritingTip reader: “I struggle with the use of ‘who’ vs. ‘whom.’ Please send me a foolproof explanation with lots of examples.”

BizWritingTip response: The rules for “who” and “whom” are the same as for “I” and “me.” If it is used as the subject in a sentence, you use “I” or “who.” If it is used as the object, use “me” or “whom.”

I will arrive tomorrow.
Who will arrive tomorrow?
Send the report to me.
To whom should I send the report?
Do you want it simpler?

Whom is always the right choice after a preposition. (A preposition is a word such as in, on, of, with, to, for, by, about, and between.)

With whom should I meet?
On whom can I rely?
For whom did you vote?
With whom do you want to go? (more casually — Whom do you want to go with?)
Whom should I sent the report to? (more formally — To whom should I send the report?)

Do you want it even simpler? Here’s a neat trick. All you have to do is to answer your question or restate the sentence using “he” or “she” or “him” or “her.”Who always replaces he or she. Whom always replaces him or her.


Who/whom is calling? The answer is “She is calling.” Therefore, you know to write “Who is calling?”

She is a person who/whom is highly educated. Restated it becomes “She is highly educated.” Therefore, you would write “She is a person who is highly educated.”

I want to find an assistant who/whom I can depend on. Restated it becomes “I can depend on him.” Therefore you would write: “I want to find an assistant whom I can depend on.

The same trick works with “whoever” and “whomever.”

Now, test your knowledge:
1. Who/whom is the best salesperson?
2. I will hire whoever/whomever I like.
3. Research shows that a person who/whom reads a lot is a better writer than someone who/whom does not read.
4. Who/whom did you say you wanted to see?
5. Who/whom are you going to call?
6. Susan, who/whom is a great proofreader, is not available to work on your report.
7. Whomever/whoever said this project would be easy?

8. Is she the vice president who/whom you told me about?


1. Who 2. Whomever 3. Who, who 4. Whom 5. Whom 6. Who 7. Whoever 8. Whom

Who got all eight correct?



Word Choice – Must or Should: Policies and Procedures

Phil’s question: “I have been asked to write a policy for our department. I am not sure when to use ‘should’ or ‘must.’ Can you please explain the difference?”

BizWritingTip response: A number of organizations seem to be writing or rewriting their policies and procedures nowadays, and this is a common question. The two words imply different things. Most organizations use the following definitions:

Must = mandates
Should = ought to

Employees who are absent for two days or more must provide a doctor’s note. (This rule must be followed.)
Employees who are absent for two days or more should provide a doctor’s note. (It is recommended that they do so, but employees may get away without the note.)

“Should” is considered a hedging word in policies and procedures. But it is not always bad. It can help you make your policy flexible and reduces your need to spell out everything.

Employees should make every attempt to solve the problem on their own. If they are unable to do so and the problem appears to be escalating, they may refer the issue to their supervisor.
(The writer does not describe what attempts or how many are to be made before going for help. He or she has left it to the discretion of the employee.)

We have conducted several workshops on policy and procedures over the past few months. Every participant receives a detailed workbook plus a laminated tip sheet. You can download your own copy of our handy tip sheet for Policies and Procedures if you wish.

Word Choice – Premise Versus Premises

Pam’s question: “I am curious about the appropriate use of ‘premise’ and ‘premises.’ I never see ‘premise,’ but I understand it is the singular form of ‘premises.’However, I continue to see ‘premises,’ e.g., people refer to premises lease rather than premise lease.”

BizWritingTip response: When I teach a grammar course, I tell people that for every English grammar rule there is an exception. Premise and premises are prime examples.

Normally, when we add an “s” to a noun, we make it plural. When we remove the “s,” we make the word singular. However, in this instance, the “s” actually changes the meaning of the word.

The singular word “premise” when used as a noun means “a statement assumed to be true and from which a conclusion can be drawn.” It can also be used as “the basic plot or circumstances on which a play, film, etc. is based.”


The project was started on the premise that it had to be completed by the end of the quarter.
The books are based on the premise that magic is possible.

On the other hand, the plural word “premises” means a “house, building, etc., with any nearby buildings or property belonging to it.” Therefore, the “premises lease” would be correct.


Smoking is not permitted on these premises.
We checked the premises for the source of the noise.

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.


Grammar Tip – Quotation Marks

I have noticed that some business writers have still not updated themselves with regard to the rules for North American quotation marks. The rule in Canada and the U.S. is that all periods and commas are placed inside quotation marks. (Changing the placement of periods and commas according to what is being quoted is the British style.)


Please mark the report “Confidential.” (North American style)

Please mark the report “Confidential”. (British style)

The article says it’s “the best ice cream in the world.” (North American style)

My latest article, “Communicating With Customers,” will be placed on the website next week.

“Smart,” “professional,” and “articulate” are words that should be added to the job description.??On the other hand, semicolons are always placed outside quotation marks.

Example (North American style)

He said, “I will pay the bill”; this really surprised us.

With question marks and exclamation points, place the punctuation inside the closing quotation mark, when it applies to the quoted material only; place it outside the closing quotation mark when it applies to the whole sentence.

Examples (The question/exclamation applies to quoted material only.)

He asked, “May I work from home on Friday?”? If you win the lottery, will you enter her office and yell “I quit!” Examples (The question/exclamation applies to the whole sentence.)

Did you hear him say, “You did a great job”?

Don’t anyone say “I’m bored”!

I know this information may shake some readers, but these are the North American rules.

Word Choice – To Versus Too

BizWritingTip reader: “When do you use `to’ or ‘too?’ ”

BizWritingTip response: Using “too” when it should be “to” is a common mistake today particularly among email writers who don’t always check what they have written.?“To” is one of the more widely used words in the English language, and it has many purposes and definitions. Most often, you see it as part of infinitive verb phrases, such as in “to write” or “to sell.”


I would like you to return the file tomorrow.

It is important to proofread carefully.

Note: The word “to” is normally omitted after the words to see and to help.


I need you to help me welcome the new members. (Don’t write: I need you to help me to welcome the new members.)

I would like you to see him. (Don’t write: I would like you to see to him.)

“To” is also used to imply movement or position in time or space.


Let’s go to the conference.?To this day, I have trouble remembering her name.?The meeting will last from 6 to 9 p.m.

“Too,” on the other hand, means “in addition,” “also,” or “to an excessive degree.”


I want to go too. (I want to go also.)?You are too busy to take on the new project. (You are excessively busy.)

We aren’t too happy with the low sales. (We aren’t very happy.)

When in doubt, use “to,” but remember that if you want to indicate “in addition” or “to an excessive degree,” use “too.”