Writing Style – Split Infinitives

BizWritingTip reader: “In a previous BizWritingTip, you wrote: ‘He said he liked to only read in his native language.’ I believe its placement should appear as follows: ‘He said he liked to read only in his native language.’ ”

BizWritingTip response: Thank you for the feedback. However, I really liked splitting my infinitive in this sentence.

An infinitive is a verb with the word “to” in front of it.

Examplesof an infinitive
To read
To write
To excel

The rules for English were based on Latin. In Latin, the infinitive is a single word. So when the monks were establishing the rules for written language, they came up with the idea that it was bad form to split an infinitive when translating Latin into English.

Examplesof split infinitives
To only read
To quickly write
To easily excel

This rule — not to split an infinitive — is now considered out of date although there are many people who still defend it. In fact, some GMAT, SAT, and TOEFL tests still check for it.

However, in business writing, splitting an infinitive is permitted as it sounds conversational. I know when I speak I would normally say, “to only read,” rather than “to read only.” That’s why I chose to write it that way.

By the way, do you remember the most famous example of a split infinitive? Think back to the opening credits of the old television show Star Trek: These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission — to boldly go where no man has gone before.

Would Captain James Tiberius Kirk have been as triumphant if he had been told “to go boldly”?

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.”

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 (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.)




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.


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.