Writing Style – Capitalization

Pam’s question: “Please provide a simple explanation on when federal should be capitalized and when it shouldn’t. The question applies to other modifiers like state or national.”

BizWritingTip response: Years ago, when in doubt you were told to capitalize a word. Now the guideline is when in doubt use lowercase.

When it comes to words such as federal, state, provincial, government, or national, only capitalize the word when it is part of a proper noun. A proper noun is the official name of a person, place, or thing.

He wants a job with the federal government. (general category)
She will contact the Federal Trade Commission. (proper name)
I have worked for the Ontario government. (non-official name)
I worked for the Government of Ontario. (proper name)
Is the issue subject to federal, state, or local laws? (general categories)

Grammar Tip – Possession With Two names

BizWritingTip reader: “When vacationing in Mexico last week, I went to a restaurant called Carlos’n Charlie’s. Is the name grammatically correct? I don’t think you need two apostrophes.”

BizWritingTip response: An establishment has the right to call itself anything it wishes. However, you are right. Carlos and Charlie’s would be the grammatically correct way to name this well-known bar and restaurant.

When indicating joint ownership, you place the apostrophe only on the final name. If you wrote Carlos’ and Charlie’s, it would indicate that the gentlemen had separate establishments.

However, Carlos and Charlie’s looks rather staid and doesn’t reflect the informal atmosphere of the place. They, therefore, used an apostrophe to indicate a missing letter to abbreviate the word “and.” (’n is very casual short hand. Please don’t use it in business writing.)

Carlos ‘n Charlie’s

I then assume their designer got a little carried away and adjusted the spacing so the apostrophe looks like it belongs to Carlos rather than the “and.”

Carlos’n Charlie’s

Not grammatically correct. But it has zing.

By the way, when you are enjoying the warmth of Mexico, “let it go.” Have another margarita. Don’t worry about grammar. And invite me along next time.


Worg Choice – i.e. versus e.g./ie versus eg

Pam’s question: “I am responsible for editing various financial documents. In the explanations provided, examples are often included. Can you please clarify the use of eg and ie and how to punctuate them?”

BizWritingTip response: The abbreviation i.e. stands for the Latin id est. Translated it means “that is.” Think of it as saying “in other words.”

You will be tested on computer programs, i.e., Lotus Notes, Word and Excel. (You will be tested on all three programs.)

The abbreviation e.g. is from the Latin exempli gratia. It means for example.

You will be tested on computer programs, e.g., Lotus Notes, Word and Excel. (You may be tested on some — if not all — of these programs and on others not listed.)

Note: Never use etc. after a list beginning with e.g. It would be redundant as e.g. indicates the list is not inclusive.

As for punctuation, the sources vary. The Oxford Canadian Dictionary, The Gregg Reference Manual, APA Publication Manual, and The Chicago Manual of Style all say to use periods with the abbreviation — e.g. or i.e.

However, the AMA Manual of Style recommends eg or ie — without the periods.

Regardless of whether you use periods or not, many sources recommend putting the phrase in parentheses when writing formally and adding a comma after the abbreviation.

Examples (correct for formal documents)
The researchers will include temporal characteristics (i.e., month and time of day) in their study.
The researchers will include temporal characteristics (ie, month and time of day) in their study.

When writing letters, emails and non-technical reports, omit the parentheses and place commas on both sides of the abbreviation.

Examples (correct for informal writing – letters, emails and non-technical reports)
My son claims some sports put him to sleep, e.g., curling.
She prefers a hot drink with breakfast, eg, coffee.
I can write effective business documents, i.e., letters, reports, emails and business cases.
I can write effective business documents, ie, letters, reports, emails and business cases.

Word Choice – Amount Versus Number

“Amount” and “number” are words that are often misused. “Amount” is used for money amounts and for things that cannot be physically counted.


The amount of work has increased this year.

“Number” refers to things that can be counted.


I spent the day reducing the number of emails in my inbox.


1. His report answered a (amount, number) of our questions.

2. He had only a small (amount/number) of money in his pocket, but he gave a (amount/number) of coins to the charity.

3. A large (amount, number) of managers attended the meeting.

4. That mailing killed a (amount, number) of trees needlessly.

5. The (amount, number) of time we had to complete the project was insufficient.

1) number, 2) amount/number, 3) number, 4) number, 5) amount

Trust this helps!

Writing Style – Currencies

A BizWritingTip reader wrote: “At work, I do a lot of proofreading written by various people in Canada, U.S. and even Europe. One inconsistency I have noticed is how the monetary value of each country is written. For example, when referring to Canadian dollars, I have seen it written: $C, CA and CAD. When referring to US dollars, I have seen it written: $US, US and USD. Is there a grammatically correct way to express this?”

BizWritingTip response: This is a style issue rather than a grammar one. And you are right. There is definitely a lack of consistency.

The style guide for the Government of Canada recommends:
C$20 (to be used only when other currencies are mentioned in the document — otherwise there is no need to prefix the amount)

US$20, A$20, £20 or write 20 pounds, ¥20 or write 20 yen

The style guide for the Government of Ontario and the Canadian Press Stylebook recommend:

$20 Cdn, $20 US, €20

The ISO standard, which has long been used by the banking industry, requires a currency abbreviation consisting of the two-letter country code abbreviation followed by the first letter of the currency name. There is a lack of consistency as to whether to put the abbreviation before or after the amount.

AUD – Australian dollar = AUD 20
GBP – British Pound = GBP 20
CAD – Canadian Dollar = CAD 20
USD – American Dollar = $20 USD
EUR — Euros = €10.00 EUR

Frankly, if there is no industry style, I believe in using the style of the reader so as to avoid any confusion or any distraction from my message.

Does anyone else want to weigh in on this one?

Word Choice – Centre Versus Center

Susan’s question: “I had a discussion the other day about the word ‘center/centre.’  I was under the impression that ‘centre’ was a noun and ‘to center’ something was the verb. But I was told that it was grammatically correct to use ‘centred.’ ”

BizWritingTip response: The word centre comes from the Latin centrum meaning “stationary point.” When it was adopted into English use, centrum was pronounced center but because of the spelling of the original word, the r and e were never turned around.

Nowadays, center is the spelling in American English; centre is preferred in Canadian, British, Indian, and Australian English.

Note: I have noticed in some places in the U.S. – particularly shopping malls – that the spelling centre is used. I assume it is to imply that the location is the main point in the area.

I was also taught that in the verb form, you spell it “center.” However, The Canadian Press CP CAPS and Spelling book lists “centred” and “centring.” The Oxford Dictionary also uses the same spelling but does offer “centered” as a variant.

Examples (correct)

Center the address on the middle of the envelope. (American English)
To golf well, you must remain centred. (Canadian, British, Indian and Australian English)
I recommend centring the number on the page. (Canadian, British, Indian and Australian English)

I pity anyone trying to learn English today. Next week’s BizWritingTip will explain why the spelling of some English words is different in the U.S.

Word Choice – Toward Versus Towards

BizWritingTip reader: “My pet peeve is the use of towards instead of toward. I see it all the time in business communication, e.g., ‘… progress towards our goal.’ To my knowledge, there is no such word as towards. Am I correct?”

BizWritingTip response: Towards is traditionally used in British English and toward is more traditionally used in American English. According to the Oxford Canadian Dictionarytoward and towards are equally common in Canada. The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary agrees.

I trust with these BizWritingTip that you are moving toward a greater confidence in your business writing style.

Writing Style – Saying Thank You in an Email

In our recent poll on pet peeves regarding emails, a number of respondents expressed irritation about receiving messages that contained only the words thank you.They reasoned that opening these short messages wasted their time. They were merely doing their job and didn’t need to be thanked. I understand their rationale; however, sending a thank you indicates the receipt of information and a close of the requested action.My suggestion – to keep the process short but to acknowledge the receipt of information and your appreciation – is to put the thank you on the subject line along with the indicator END. END on the subject line means there is no need to open the message as there is nothing in the body text.

(original subject line)
Figures for Annual Report

(Your response subject line)
Figures for Annual Report — Thank you — END

Receivers can read the entire message in their inbox and immediately file it or blow it away. By the way, some organizations use EOM (end of message) or NT (no text) instead of END. It doesn’t matter – whatever works for you.

Grammar Tip – Plurals With Abbreviations

A BizWritingTip reader wrote: “A colleague and I are having an argument. If you have to make an abbreviated word plural, do you include an apostrophe? For example, should I write two CEOs or two CEO’s?

BizWritingTip response: If you want to make capital letters and abbreviations ending in a capital letter plural , it is best to just add a lowercase s*


Two CEOs
Five MPs
Two Ph.D.s
Three M.D.s
Three Bs

The only time I would use an apostrophe with an abbreviation is if possession was involved.


The CEO’s salary (one CEO)
The MPs’ staff (the staff supporting more than one MP)

*A few reference books do accept the use of an apostrophe before the s (two CEO’s) to form a plural; however, the apostrophe is unnecessary in most instances.

Word Choice – Mistrust Versus Distrust

Mary’s question: “I am never quite sure when to use ‘distrust’ versus ‘mistrust.’ Are they interchangeable, or do they each have specific usages/meanings?”

BizWritingTip response: There is a fine line between these two words. Based on the Oxford Dictionary, distrust as a noun means “suspicion or lack of trust.” Mistrust means “suspicion or lack of confidence.” Therefore, when you are using them as nouns they are almost interchangeable.


I have a great mistrust of the new technology. (lack of confidence)

I have a great distrust of the new technology. (lack of trust)

However, when you are using them as verbs the difference is a little clearer. Mistrust suggests vague doubts while distrust is stronger suggesting definite suspicions and even a complete lack of trust. In other words, if I mistrust someone, I’m suspicious of them. If I distrust someone, I have a good reason why I don’t trust them.


He says he is happy with the decision, but I mistrust his statement. (I have some doubts.)

Based on my talks with the customer, I distrust his statement that he can sell more products to them this year. (I have a reason for my doubts.)

I hope you don’t mistrust this tip.