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Word Choice – Overblown Language

Candice’s question: “In my office, several people are now saying and writing ‘My ask of you is…’ when they are requesting action. Is this correct?  It seems to me it should be “May I ask you to…?”

BizWritingTip response: Wow! This statement is funny and is also wrong in many ways. First, it comes across as pretentious and convoluted. It is definitely not speech I would expect from an office professional of this century.

Second, the phrase is grammatically incorrect. The word “ask” is a verb. But the user has changed it to a noun. I know new words are constantly creeping into the language, but I would wait until you see them in the dictionary.

Third, today’s plain language writing requirements encourage a focus on the receiver rather than on the sender. By starting with “my ask,” the speaker/writer is placing him or herself before the receiver. Bad idea!

“May I ask you to …” is a little better but is still formal and the focus remains with the speaker/writer. In addition, you are requesting the reader’s permission to ask them to do something. What if they said, “No. You don’t have my permission to ask me”? It’s not likely, but it is possible.

I suggest you try something more direct, such as “Would you please …” or what about just saying “Please do xxx.” To make it less curt, you could precede or follow the request with “why” you need them to do it.

Word Choice – Dislike Versus Do Not Like

Jennifer’s question: “A bone of contention has arisen as to whether ‘dislike’ is synonymous with ‘do not like.’ For example, I maintain that the statements ‘We do not like tardiness’ and ‘We dislike tardiness’ are synonymous.”
BizWritingTip response: I understand your rationale. According to the dictionary, both phrases – dislike and do not like — have the same meaning. However, on an emotional level, any sentence containing the word not tends to come across as both more formal and harsher.

Therefore, if I wanted to create a strong tone, I would use the longer version.

Example
I do not like having to wait for your report. (Underlying thought: I am very annoyed.)
We do not like tardiness. (Underlying thought: We are irritated.)

If I do not want to be as emphatic, I would choose dislike.

Example
I dislike driving in the rain. (Underlying thought: I am not happy about it.)
We dislike tardiness. (Underlying thought: We are not happy about lateness.)

Word Choice – No Later Than

Delores’ question: “In many of our communications, we need to specify a response within a certain timeframe. The format currently being used is ‘Please confirm your attendance by no later than (date).’ Could you also write ‘Please confirm your attendance by (date)’?”

BizWritingTip response: Both versions are correct. It all depends on the tone you want to create.

“By no later than” indicates any time up to and including that date. It is a more formal type of speech and emphasizes you are quite serious about your request. Some readers find it dictatorial. It works well in legal situations or when a non-response within a critical timeframe could have dire results.

Simply stating “by March 1” indicates any time up until that date but is a little vague on whether the date is also included. It is a much softer approach. As today’s business readers are often overly sensitive, I prefer this technique in regular correspondence. But I do enforce the deadline with a reason for my request. That way I am treating my reader as a team player – not as a child.

Example

The restaurant requires us to commit to the number of people staying for dinner. Therefore, please confirm your attendance by Friday.

Word Choice – Continual Versus Continuous

Linden’s  question: “I’m wondering about the difference between ‘continuous’ and ‘continual.’ We’re trying to develop a mission statement and are debating whether we trying to ‘continually achieve excellence’ or are trying to ‘continuously achieve excellence.’ Or does it matter which word we use?”

BizWritingTip response: These two words are often interchanged but, according to the Oxford dictionary, they have different meanings. Continual refers to something that is constantly or frequently reoccurring. In other words, although it happens often there are intervals in between.

Example
I am continually forced to edit his reports. (It happens often.)
The weather forecasters say it will snow continually in January.  (Expect a number of snowfalls.)

On the other hand, continuous means unbroken or uninterrupted. It occurs non-stop.

Example
The continuous flickering of the lights in the boardroom drove me crazy. (constant flickering)
We are trying to continuously achieve excellence. (always)

Years ago, people had to continually (frequently) wind their watches to ensure the timepieces were running continuously (always).

Question: With regard to the mission statement, wouldn’t it be easier to just “strive for excellence”?

Word Choice – Bring Versus Take

Lisa’s question: “Yesterday I heard a co-worker telling someone that a friend was going to bring her to the movies. For some reason, that statement made me cringe as it just sounded grammatically incorrect.  Should she not have stated that a friend was going to take her to the movies?”

BizWritingTip response: Bring and take imply movement with direction. Bring means to move toward the speaker’s location. Take means to move from the speaker’s location.

Examples
Bring me the report later today. (Move the report to my location.)
Take the report to the meeting. (Move it from its location to the meeting.)
I need to take a change of clothes to the gym. (The clothes must be moved from their position to the gym.)
I will bring you a change of clothes. (The clothes will be moved to you.)

In your example, your co-worker is being moved from a position to the movies. Therefore, her friend is taking her to the movies. Once they are there, I hope the friend brings her popcorn.

Word Choice – To Versus Too

Peter’s question: “I run into problems in labelling column headers. For example, ‘Sent too’ looks wrong, but ‘Sent to’ looks grammatically incorrect. My understanding is that ‘to’ is the verb form while ‘too’ is a place.”

BizwritingTip response: I think your confusion lies in the many uses of the word “to.” As a preposition, it is used with a verb, e.g., to golf or to write.

However, when it is used as an adverb, it implies direction. I remember it as “to” being part of “toward.” Therefore, “sent to” is correct. Also correct: Where are you going to?

“Too” has several meanings. It can imply “also” or “as well,” but it is also used as a substitute for “very” or “overly.”

He is too hot. (He is overly hot.)
He is hot too. (He is hot as well.)
Would you like to come too? (Would you like to come also?)

Word Choice – Thank You or Thank-You

Rob’s question: “Is ‘thank you’ a hyphenated word? For example, should I write ‘thank you for your help’ or ‘thank-you for your help’?”

BizWritingTip response: To express gratitude use the two words thank you – without the hyphen.

Example

Thank you for your help.

If you are familiar with British English, you probably learned to write thank-you. However, several years ago, hyphens were dropped from many English words, e.g., bumble-bee, ice-cream, and thank-you.

The only time you should use a hyphen with the word is when you are using it as an adjective.

Example

I need to send them a thank-you gift.
Did you send a thank-you card?

Thank you for reading.

Word Choice – Multiple Versus Numerous

Klaus’s question: “Please comment on the use of multiple and numerous. Are they interchangeable? Is it correct to say that multiple people attended the meeting?”

BizWritingTip response: According to the Oxford dictionary, “multiple” means “having many parts, elements, or individual components; many and various.”

Therefore, if I had to make a choice between the two words, I would definitely use numerous. (Frankly, I have never seen “multiple” used in terms of people.) On the other hand, The Chicago Manual of Style says “numerous” is “typically a bloated word for many.” In other words, you can use it, but it is overly fancy.

Examples (better)
Many people attended the meeting.
A large number of people attended the meeting.

Word Choice – License Versus Licence

Paty’s question: “I have a question about the proper use of ‘License’ vs. ‘Licence’ as I’m writing a policy.”

BizWritingTip response:  The spelling of these two words varies according to country.  In Britain and Canada, licence is the noun and license is the verb. In other words, if there is a piece of paper to hold use the “c” word: licence.

Examples (British and Canadian English)
I need to renew my licence. (Licence is a noun.)
He is not licensed to work here. (Licensed is a verb.)

Note: According to the Oxford Dictionary, when it comes to adjectives, licenced may be used. But licensed is more common.

Examples
Licensed practical nurse
Licensed mechanic
Licensed restaurant

In American English, license is both a noun and a verb. Licence is not used at all.

Examples (American English)
I need to renew my license.
She is not licensed to do cosmetic injections but is working on getting her license.

Word Choice – Good Versus Well

Pam’s question: “Can you please clarify the appropriate response to ‘How are you?’  Is it ‘Good’ or ‘Well’? ”

BizWritingTip response: According to The Gregg Reference Manual, to feel well means “to be in good health.” To feel good is “to be in good spirits.” In other words, you are referring to your mental outlook.

Examples
It is a beautiful morning. I feel good.
I have been sick. Today, I feel well.

However, many of us have been taught that good is always an adjective and well is an adverb. What this means is that good modifies nouns and well modifies verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs.

Examples
He wrote a good report. (The adjective good is modifying the noun report.)
You wrote well. (The adverb well is modifying the verb wrote.)

Now here’s the exception to the rules.  “Well” may also be used as an adjective when describing something that is proper, healthy, or suitable. Therefore, “I am well (healthy)” is grammatically correct today.