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Writing Style – Telephone Numbers

BizWritingTip reader: “I have started to see phone numbers written with periods rather than hyphens. Which is correct? In addition, do you still put parentheses around the area code?”

BizWritingTip response: The elements in a telephone number may be divided by hyphens, diagonal lines, spaces, periods, parentheses or a combination of these. Your choice.

Examples (correct)

(519) 820-9909

905-820-9908

905-8209908

905.820.9909

905/820-9908

905 820 9908 (When using spaces, separate each group of numbers with one space only.)

Parentheses are placed around an area code to indicate its use is not always required. For example, if the call is a local one, you do not have to dial the area code.

Example (Correct—The area code is not needed if you are calling locally.)

(519) 820-9909

However, in some areas, (i.e., Toronto and the surrounding area) all the available seven-digit numbers have run out. Therefore, even if it is a local call, you need to dial the area code. As a result, you would not put the area code in parentheses. It is not an option; it is essential.

Examples (Correct – The area code cannot be omitted even with a local call.)

416.820.9909

905-820-9909

905-8209909

Grammar Tip – Than I Versus Than Me

BizWritingTip reader: “I have a question for you. Which is right — he is taller than I or he is taller than me? I see both versions a lot.”

BizWritingTip response: Whenever a pronoun follows the words than or as in a comparison, the right pronoun is determined by mentally adding the remaining words. He is taller than I am. Therefore, I is the right pronoun.

(The following words are personal pronouns: I, you, he, she, it, we, or they.)

Example (Incorrect)

I think you would make a better manager than him.

Example(Correct)

I think you would make a better manager than he. (You could say “I think you would make a better manager than he would make.”)

Check your knowledge!

1. She edits better than I/me.

2. Roger is not as skilled as he/him.

3. They said they could handle the account better than us/we.

4. He is as able as her/she.

5. I have more confidence in the delivery date than him/he.

Answers:  (1) I, (2) he, (3) we, (4) she, (5) he

I realize that the phrase than I — although grammatically correct — sounds stuffy. And many people feel he is taller than me sounds better. So what should you do? Frankly, I prefer people stick with the grammatically correct version. However, a good argument can be made for the fact that if your audience is more familiar with the standard usage than me, then stick with that version. But watch out if you are writing to a purist.

This is how language changes!

Word Choice – Until versus till versus ’til

BizWritingTip reader: “I have seen ‘till and ‘til. Which is correct?”

BizWritingTip response: First of all, ‘till is incorrect.

According to the Oxford Canadian Dictionary, the correct word is till (no apostrophe); it is an accepted variant of until and “may be used interchangeably with it except at the beginning of a sentence.” The decision as to whether to use till or until is often decided by the way the sentence sounds.

Examples (all correct)

He worked until dawn.
He worked till dawn.
It was agreed to postpone the vote until all members could be present.
It was agreed to postpone the vote till all members could be present.

For those readers who like the history behind a word, “till” is actually the older word. It can be found as far back as the year 800 in the Old Norse language. “Until” only started to show up in the English language in about the 1300s.

In the 18th century, it became fashionable to spell the word as ’till, as if it was a shortened version of until. Nowadays, ’till is considered incorrect; however, ’til is accepted as an informal way of expressing until, e.g., shop ’til you drop, or ‘til we meet again.

Frankly, I feel ‘til looks a little too casual. I would never recommend using it in a report or proposal.

Writing Style – As per

BizWritingTip reader: Would you please clarify if “as per” should be used in reports and business letters, and — if the response is no — please identify the correct wording.

BizWritingTip response: “As per” means “in accordance with” or “in response to the request made.” However, the phrase is rarely used today when speaking in the business world. Therefore, it is considered old fashioned and pretentious when used in writing.

Examples (outdated expressions)

As per our discussion last week,

As per your request,

As per the policy,

So what should you use instead? First, decide on the tone you want. If you want a warm tone, add a personal pronoun; if you want a cool tone, omit the pronoun. Then, choose the words you would use when speaking.

BetterExamples (neutral tone)

As discussed last week,

As requested,

According to the policy,

As stated in the policy,

BetterExamples (warm tone)

As we discussed last week,

As you requested,

I believe this provides the information you requested.

Grammar Tip – The Slash

The slash (also called a virgule, diagonal, solidus, oblique, or slant) is a punctuation mark that is often overused. And it often creates the impression of a lazy thinker, particularly when used to imply and/or. Most readers and editors dislike this usage.

Example

We need to get a copy of the presentation in print/electronic form. (This is ambiguous. Can the copy be sent in one form only or are both forms required?)

Revised Examples

We need to get a copy of the presentation in either print or electronic form.?We need to get a copy of the presentation in both print and electronic forms.

Slashes can also be hard on the eye. It is usually preferable to write the alternatives in full. My guideline is that if it sounds strange when you read it, change it.

Examples

Everyone must submit his/her vacation request by Friday. (This sounds odd when you read it aloud.)

Revised Example

Everyone must submit his or her vacation request by Friday.

Here are examples of when slashes can be used in business writing:

To create an abbreviation or to replace the word “per”

Examples

w/ = with

c/o = care of

fiscal year 2007/08

km/hr = kilometres per hour

To show that a person has two functions or a thing has two components

Examples

Owner/operator

Commercial/residential property

Secretary/treasurer

AM/FM radio

On/off switch

Note: There is no spacing on either side of the diagonal.

By the way, this / is a slash; this is a backslash. Backslashes are used only in computer language. Don’t confuse them.

 

Word Choice – Lay Versus Lie

Linden’s question: “The verb I always have trouble with is ‘lay’ and its past tense and past participle. Can you provide some guidance?”

BizwritingTip response: “Lay” and “lie” are two verbs that fall into the irregular category. In other words, the normal rules for changing their tenses do not apply.

But let’s start with their definitions.

According to dictionaries, lay means “to place.” Lie means to “be at rest on something ” or to “be in a certain position or relation.”

The simplest way to remember the difference is to try substituting the word “place” for the verb. If it makes sense, go with lay (and its variations). If it doesn’t make sense, use lie (and its variations).

Examples

Lay the food on the counter.  (Place the food on the counter – makes sense. Lay is correct.)
If you are not well, lie down on the couch. (Place down on the couch – makes no sense. Lie is correct.)
My loyalty lies with my supervisor. (My loyalty places with my supervisor – makes no sense. Lie is correct.)

Now for the confusing part. Both the past tense and past participle forms of lay are “laid.”

Examples

I laid my cell phone here yesterday.
We have laid copies of the minutes on the boardroom table.

However, the past tense of lie is “lay” and the past participle is “lain.”

Examples

As she was not well, she lay down on the couch.
Before the merger, my loyalty lay with my supervisor.
The reports have lain untouched on his desk.

Frankly, I avoid lay and lie whenever I can. And that’s not a lie.

Note: These rules do not come into play when you are using the word “lie” in terms of telling a falsehood. It is a regular verb — lie and lied.

Word Choice – None

BizWritingTip reader: “In a prior BizWritingTip, you wrote: ‘None of these mechanisms have the ability to improve our reading skills.’ Isn’t this an error in subject and verb agreement? Shouldn’t it be: none of these mechanisms has the ability”?

BizWritingTip response: In very formal writing, “none” takes a singular verb. However, in business writing, “none” is considered singular or plural, depending on the number of the noun to which it refers.

Because the word “mechanisms” is plural, I had to go with a plural verb.

Other Examples (Correct)

None of us want to attend.
None of his ideas were accepted.
None of her mail was answered.
None were hurt in the accident (meaning none of the drivers).

Other words that fall into the same category are some, more, most, any, and all. Again, these words may be considered singular or plural.

Examples

Most of the work is complete.
Some of the documents are ready for signature.

Isn’t English fun!

Writing Style – Preposition Placement

A BizWritingTip reader wrote: “In a recent tip, you wrote the sentence ‘Whom should I send the report to?’ In my years of taking English, I would consider re-writing the sentence to read ‘To whom should I send the report?’ If you are so inclined, I would love to know if you have a different opinion about this.”

BizWritingTip response: The word “to” is a preposition. (Some other prepositions are on, in, by, with, from, and at.)

English purists insist that a sentence should never end in a preposition. They would recommend writing “To whom should I send the report?”

Examples (correct from a purist’s standpoint)

I would like to know on what floor he works.

About what were you talking?

On the other hand, if you want to write a business document (a letter or an email) that sounds like a human being has sent it – rather than a computer – it is better to frame your sentences in the same way as you would when speaking. And very few people can mentally reorganize their sentences when they speak so that the preposition doesn’t fall at the end.

Examples (correct in speech and in business writing)

I would like to know what floor he works on.

What were you talking about?

Whom should I send the report to?

One of the prime movers in permitting the use of a preposition at the end of a sentence was Winston Churchill. Frequently criticized for ending sentences this way, he said, “This is the sort of thing up with which I will not put.” It is correct grammatically. But it makes little sense.

Grammar Tip – Hyphens

A BizWritingTip reader wrote to tell me about an article she had just received titled Thousands of Hyphens Perish as English Marches On. I really appreciated it as I try to keep as up to date as possible.

The article discussed why the latest edition of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary has removed the hyphens from about 16,000 words. After exhaustive research, the authors decided to write some compound nouns as two words or to combine them into one, e.g., bumble-bee is written as bumblebee, and ice-cream is spelled ice cream.

The reason given is that hyphens look messy and old fashioned. As printed writing is appearance driven, it seemed more appealing to remove them. Interesting. I love to see when changes are made. Then I went to my Oxford Canadian Dictionary.

I was surprised to note that all the changes mentioned in the article already exist in the Canadian edition. In fact, they are also in the 2000 edition. Is Britain following Canada in terms of the English language?

Note: When a word is serving as an adjective and you want to avoid confusion, you will still need a hyphen: up-to-date report, long-term care and environment-friendly packaging. However, when it comes to nouns refer to your dictionary.

All offices should have at least one current dictionary available to staff. If your office dictionary does not contain the word email, buy a new one!

Grammar Tip – Names of Sports Teams and Verbs

Judy’s question: “When writing about a sports team, such as the North Stars, is the accompanying verb singular or plural? Should it be ‘the North Stars consists’ or ‘the North Stars consist’?”

BizWritingTip response: When referring to a collective noun, such as a team, use a singular verb.

Example (correct)

The team is playing tonight.

However, the rules are different when referring to the names of sports teams. According to the CP Stylebook, team names, even singular ones, require plural verbs.

Examples (correct)

The North Stars consist of 34 players.

The Tampa Bay Lightning are a professional ice hockey team based in Tampa, Florida.

But if a city’s name is used as the team name, use a singular verb.

Examples (correct)

Sudbury is first in the standings.

Tampa played its first game.

Don’t you just love English!