Word Choice – Spacecraft Versus Spacecrafts

Deane’s question: “I wonder if it’s acceptable to write spacecrafts (or aircrafts) instead of using the singular. I thought ‘craft’ was similar to the use of sheep – one word functions for both singular and plural.”

BizWritingTip response: Again, another example of our words changing. Most dictionaries, e.g., Oxford, Merriam-Webster, and Cambridge Dictionaries Online, agree with you. “Craft” refers to both singular or plural nouns – the same as the word “sheep.”

Example (most dictionaries)
The pilot turned the spacecraft toward earth.
The pilot has spent time on several spacecraft.

However, in researching this question, I found that Webster’s College Dictionary and Wiktionary accept both “spacecraft” and “spacecrafts” as the plural noun.

Seven spacecrafts were successful in landing on Mars.

Therefore, in some situations you might get away with adding an “s” to spacecraft. However, if you stick with “spacecraft” regardless of whether it is singular or plural, you will always be correct.

Grammar Tip – Hyphens With Prefixes

Sandra’s question: “In words beginning with the prefix ‘pre,’ I am having difficulty determining when to hyphenate and when to state them as one word (or two words if that’s an option), for instance, words such as ‘pre content.’ ”

BizWritingTip response: A prefix is a short word (e.g., anti-, ex-, post-, pre-) placed before another word to modify its meaning. It is attached to the following word or joined to it with a hyphen.

anti-inflammatory     pre-war     pre-content     preheat    antitrust

A prefix cannot sit by itself in a sentence, e.g., pre content. (Note: Your spell checker will not identify this error as the two words in themselves are valid. But it is an error.)

Authorities often differ on whether you need to hyphenate the words or run them together. In American English, the guideline is to avoid the hyphen if you can. British and Canadian English tend to recommend the hyphen more often.

The following are some guidelines for prefixes regardless of what form of English you are using.

1.   Use a hyphen to avoid awkward spelling.
Anti-aircraft (Antiaircraft looks awkward.)

2.   Insert a hyphen to avoid duplicating vowels.
pre-exist     co-operate      re-enter    de-emphasize

3.   Use a hyphen if the following word begins with a capital letter or is a number.
pre-Aids era       pre-Confederation      pro-American forces        post-1920 fashion

4.   Use a hyphen after a prefix when an unhyphenated word would have a different meaning.
re-treat versus retreat     coop versus co-op       re-cover versus recover

5.   Do not use a hyphen if the unhyphenated version is common.
prefix      prehistoric     postoperative   proactive    ultraviolet   nonnegotiable

Bottom Line: If these rules don’t answer your specific question, type the prefix and the following word as one word and then rely on your spell checker – set of course to the English dictionary you prefer.

Closing Lines in Business Documents

Heather’s question: “In one of your biztips, you closed with ‘Trust this helps.’ Should it not be ‘I trust this helps’?”

BizWritingTip response: You are right in your thinking. “Trust this helps” is not a complete sentence. However, in business writing, it is common practice to be a little less strict with our closing lines in electronic messages.

Examples (informal closes)
Looking forward to seeing you.
Hope you have a good weekend.

All effective business writers understand the three tones of business writing: formal, neutral, and informal. The formal tone is used for reports and for official letters. It rigidly adheres to all grammar rules, but the tone can come across as rather stiff. The emphasis is on the writer or the writer’s organization.

Example (formal close)
I trust this information helps.

When reading most letters and emails, readers tend to prefer a style that sounds more conversational. It usually increases your reader’s buy-in of the message.

Note: I am not recommending disregarding grammar rules in letters and emails. My comments relate only to the closing line.

Quotation Marks: Are you up to date?

Do you have trouble remembering whether to place the period inside or outside the quotation mark?

If so, relax. The North American rules surrounding quotation marks are now quite simple. All periods and commas go inside the quotation marks; colons and semicolons are placed outside.

Time magazine says it’s “the best ice cream in the world”. (I learned it this way when I went to school — but that was back in the days of the dinosaurs.)

Time magazine says it’s “the best ice cream in the world.”

Time magazine says it’s “the best ice cream in the world,” and we plan to use the statement in our advertising campaign.

In the minutes, she recorded, “Paul Smithers agreed to contribute $100,000 to the fund”; we were extremely grateful.

Note: I realize a number of people will be upset about this change. But grammar is not static; it changes with the time. Please, don’t shoot the messenger! I am supported by any North American grammar book published within the past ten years.

Be careful if you proofread your kids’ homework. Following your old rules may cause your kids grief. One workshop participant told me her son lost five marks when she corrected his essay and moved the periods outside the quotation marks. It would have been okay 10 years ago but not today.

Who Versus That

Theresa’s question: “I wonder if it is acceptable to use the word ‘that’ when referring to people. Usually this happens when referring to a collective noun. An example I find very jarring is the official apology about residential schools given by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.   He states, ‘It has taken extraordinary courage for the thousands of survivors that have come forward to speak publicly about the abuse they suffered.’

“It would seem to me that the word ‘who’ should be used. What are your thoughts?”

BizWritingTip response: I was taught years ago that who is used for people and that for things. But guess what? Times have changed. Now both who and that are used when referring to persons. Usewho when you are referring to specific people and that when referring to a category or type of person.

He is a manager who treats his employees well. (The manager is a specific person.)
He is the type of consultant that I would hire again. (category)*
She is the one who should be going. (specific)
Of all the people that should attend, I decided to send her. (category)
I am shocked by professionals that use improper grammar. (category)
I am shocked by one of our managers who uses improper grammar. (specific person)

Therefore, although it does sound awkward, Prime Minister Harper’s statement is correct.

*Yes, you could remove the word that from this sentence. Grammatically, that is the correct word to use. In the interest of brevity, you could – correctly – remove it: He is the type of consultant I would hire again.

Grammar – Licensing

Brenda’s question: “I understand that ‘licence’ is a noun and ‘license’ is a verb.  Our question is about the word licencing/licensing. For example, would you say ‘Microsoft will be licencing users next year’ or ‘Microsoft will be licensing users next year’?”

BizWritingTip response: The word “licensing” is always spelt with an “s.”

Example (correct)
Microsoft will be licensing users next year.

Note: You are absolutely right. All forms of English spell the word with an “s” if it is being used as a verb.

Example (correct everywhere)
Are you licensed to drive a truck?

However, when it is in the noun form — British, Canadian, and Australian English spell it with a “c.” American English spells the noun with an “s.”

You need to apply for a licence. (noun — British, Canadian, and Australian English)
You need to apply for a license. (noun — American English)

Grammar Tip – When Names Form an Adjective

Monique’s question: “I understand that hyphenation must be used between two words that form one adjective. However, if the words are a person’s name what would be the correct way of writing it, for example, Dag-Hammerskjöld-Honorary-Medal or Dag Hammerskjöld-Honorary Medal?”

BizWritingTip response: You are correct on the basic rule. If two or three words form an adjective, you must insert a hyphen.

Examples (correct)
A three-month vacation
An up-to-date report
German-Canadian relations

However, there is an exception to this rule: If a proper name is used as an adjective, you do not use any hyphens. The capitalization of the first letters shows their relationship.

Example (correct)
Dag Hammerskjöld Honorary Medal


Writing Style – He Versus They

Nicole’s question: “I recently received an email from an employee looking for clarity between he and they.  If you are not sure of the gender would you say ‘He will attend training’ or ‘They will attend training’?”

BizWritingTip response:  The answer to this question has changed over time.  In the past, writers used the pronouns he, his, him or himself when unsure of the gender.   The pronouns were considered all inclusive.   However, this is now considered outdated and sexist.

Examples  (grammatically correct but outdated)
If your child wants to attend med school, he should study hard. (What about your daughter?)
A politician should post his expenses on line.  (What about female politicians?)

There are now other options to make your writing “gender-neutral.”

1.   You could make the noun plural and rework the rest of the sentence.

If your children want to attend med school, they should study hard. (And you better start saving.)
Politicians should post their expenses on line.
They will attend training.

2.   You could use he or she or his or her or he/she or his/her.

If your child wants to attend med school, he or she should study hard.
A politician should post his/her expenses on line.
He/she will attend training.

Although awkward, this can work well — as long as you don’t have to keep repeating he or she or his /her throughout a lengthy document.*

3.   According to the Oxford Dictionaries Online, although it is not grammatically correct, the practice of using plural pronouns to refer to a singular noun is now acceptable. *

If your child wants to attend med school, they should study hard.
A politician should post their expenses on line.

*      If your organization has a style guide, naturally you would follow its advice.

Word Choice – Whoever Versus Whomever

Evelyn’s question: “Can you please describe when to use ‘whomever’ and when to use ‘whoever’?”

BizWritingTip response: If I said whoever is a pronoun in the nominative form and whomever is a pronoun in the objective form would it help?  I thought not. But let me show you a trick to help you easily determine the right word.

Mentally rearrange the part of the sentence containing the problem and try substituting the words he/she or him/her.

If he or she sounds right, then use “whoever.”
If him or her sounds better, then use “whomever.”

In the following examples, I have put the parts of the sentence you are working with in italics.

Example (whoever = he or she)

Whoever or whomever can play well in these conditions will win the golf tournament. (He can play well in these conditions; therefore, use whoever.)
Correct: Whoever can play well in these conditions will win the golf tournament.

We will give the job to whoever or whomever you think is the most qualified. (You think she is the most qualified; therefore, use whoever.)
Correct:  We will give the job to whoever you think is the most qualified.

Example (whomever = him or her)

Please call whoever or whomever you think can fix the problem.  (Please call her; therefore, use whomever.)
Correct: Please call whomever you think can fix the problem.

We will give the job to whoever or whomever submits the lowest bid.  (We will give the job to him; therefore, use whomever.)
Correct: We will give the job to whomever submits the lowest bid.

I trust this simple trick will help you get it right every time.

Grammar Tip – Colons

Danielle’s question: “We are having a debate in the office as to whether you can use a colon after the word ‘including’ in the middle of a sentence. Can you please help us?”

BizWritingTip response: A colon signals to the reader that an explanation follows.  You can only use a colon if a complete sentence precedes it.

Example (incorrect)
Our trip covers many countries including: England, France and Germany.  (The words before the colon — our trip covers many countries including — do not form a complete sentence. You cannot use a colon.)

Example (correct – without a colon)
Our trip covers many countries including England, France and Germany. (The words form a complete sentence and do not require any punctuation after including.)

Example (correct)
Our trip covers many countries: England, France and Germany. (By omitting the word including, you have a complete sentence.)