Posts

Grammar – The Changing Rules

Although they may not like it, people are now aware that nothing remains the same. Everything changes. That’s why I find it amazing when some people appear stunned to hear grammar rules and writing styles change.

But why shouldn’t they?  Grammar and writing style rules were invented to meet a specific need. When the need changes or no longer works, shouldn’t the rule?

For instance, periods did not exist until the 4th century. At that point, St. Jerome decided he needed them to make his translations of the scriptures easier to understand. I am sure he probably got complaints about the strange mark in his writing style.

Read more

Grammar Tip – Explaining Colons

The colon (:) is an important punctuation mark in that it signals to your readers that an explanation follows. Unfortunately, many readers tend to overuse it.

If you are staying on the same line, you must have a complete sentence before you use a colon.

Correct

Our client list includes many companies from the automotive sector: GM, Chrysler, Ford and Nissan. (The words before the colon form a complete sentence.)

Incorrect

Our client list includes: GM, Chrysler, Ford and Nissan.?(The words before the colon do not form a complete sentence.)

Correct

Our client list includes GM, Chrysler, Ford and Nissan.??The colon is also used when introducing a list.

Correct

The following information is enclosed:

  • A handbook including an overview of the association
  • A calendar of the year’s events
  • A members’ directory
  • Your membership number

Word Choice – Organize or Organise

Gail’s question: “It is becoming more difficult to remember the correct Canadian spelling of words, especially since Microsoft software only references American grammar and spelling.  For example, I would spell “organisation” with an ‘s.’ Is this correct?”

BizWritingTip response: My favourite reference books for Canadian spelling are The Canadian Press Caps and Spelling and the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. Both books claim that organize is spelled with a “z.”  This is also the American spelling.

Organise and organize are both accepted in British spelling.  However, a 2004 UK survey stated that 60% of the respondents favoured the –ise ending.

If you want more information on the differences between Canadian, British and American spelling, check out the earlier BizWritingTip Blog: How should I spell it?

By the way, you might want to ask your IT department how to set up a Canadian English dictionary in your version of Word.

Word Choice – First Versus Firstly

Dominique’s question: “Which sentence is correct: ‘Firstly, I would like to let you know that …’ or ‘First of all, I would like to let you know …’ I wrote to a colleague in the States who claims she has never heard of the word ‘firstly.’ ”

Bizwritingtip response: This is a writing style issue rather than a grammar one. First of all, firstly and first are all acceptable words. However, I don’t like to use words just “to pad” my sentences. Therefore, I would never use first of all. I don’t see the need for “of all.”

For the past 150 years, people have hotly debated the use of “first” versus “firstly.” Which word is the more appropriate?”  First appeared in the English language around 1200, and firstly showed up in the early 16th century.

Modern dictionaries accept both words as interchangeable. Just remember, if you start with “first,” you must continue with “second” and “third.”  If you begin with “firstly,” continue with “secondly,” and “thirdly.” (The same holds true with the words “last” and “lastly.”)

Personally, I prefer the shorter version, first. E.B. White said it well in the chapter he added to Strunk’s book The Elements of Style: “Do not dress words up by adding ‘ly’ to them, as though putting a hat on a horse.”

(The Elements of Style was first written by William Strunk, Jr. in 1918 and updated in 1935. E. B. White, a pupil of Strunk, revised the book in 1959 after Strunk’s death. This book serves as the basis for business writing today, focusing on clearly written English prose.)