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issue 26

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David Crystal – Rediscover Grammar

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Training Bulletin Issue 26

How to lose credibility and alienate people

You read a report or an email and you’re undecided about what the writer is trying to tell you. Now imagine that you also spot a few grammatical mistakes in that email or report. Which way are those mistakes going to push you—towards or away from what the writer wants?

Our natural instinct when we read something is to make a quick appraisal of a person’s professional competence. This, unfortunately, is where graduates of the As-Long-As-They-Know-What-I-Mean school are going to be in trouble. No employer will, all else being equal, choose the CV with mistakes in it over the one without.

There are common mistakes that instantly mark out the writer as someone who is careless or ignorant. Read on to see if you’re making any of them.

If you’re writing this You should be writing this And this is why
Whose coming to the meeting?
Who’s keys are those?
Who’s coming to the meeting?
Whose keys are those?
“Who’s” is short for “who is”.
“Whose” is the possessive of “who”.
Please let my colleague or I know… Please let my colleague or me know… Take the other person out of the sentence:
“Please let me know…” or
“Please let I know…”
This makes the right answer obvious.
“I” is the subject pronoun;
“me” is the object pronoun.
I would of known…
You should of done…
He could of said…
They might of gone…
I would have known…
You should have done…
He could have said…
They might have gone…
We abbreviate these to “should’ve”, “could’ve” and so on and some people mistake what the “’ve” sound is short for.
Its being launched next week.
It’s battery is flat.
It’s being launched next week.
Its battery is flat.
If you can replace the word with “it is” or “it has”, then you need an apostrophe.
The form should be returned to myself… The form should be returned to me… “Myself” is the reflexive pronoun and should only be used when the subject of the sentence is “I”.
I pacifically need to know… I specifically need to know… This just comes from poor pronunciation. “Pacifically” means “in a peaceful way” and “specifically” means “in a way that is distinct from others”.
A criteria for selection… A criterion for selection… “Criterion” is singular; “criteria” is plural. The same rule applies to “phenomenon” and “phenomena”.
It was laying on the floor.
Lie the cover over the contents…
It was lying on the floor.
Lay the cover over the contents…
“Lie” is something that the subject of the sentence does.
“Lay” is something you can do to something else eg lay eggs, lay bricks.
I bought some samples with me. I brought some samples with me. “Bought” is the past tense of “buy,” “brought” is the past tense of “bring”.
I will wait till she calls me. I will wait ’til she calls me. “’til” is short for “until”. “Till” is a cash register or a verb meaning “to plough”.
The staff member that I spoke to… The staff member who I spoke to…
The staff member to whom I spoke…
Use “who,” not “that,” if you’re referring to a person. “To whom I spoke” is more correct but it can be considered overly formal.

And you can’t rely on the Word™ grammar checker either. There are seventeen ungrammatical sentences in the first column of the table above. The grammar checker missed five of them.

Now, you may think that, as a trainer of business writing, I notice things that others wouldn’t. But you’d be surprised how strongly people feel about grammatical mistakes. Every now and then, I meet someone who can out-pedant even me, and sees mistakes that I missed.

These people are out there. They’re usually in fairly senior positions, and they’re judging our competence through our writing.

If you think you could do with a refresher, take a look at Brush Up Your English!, the outline of our course on grammar,

If you cope well with the basics but would like to go over your writing and fine-tune your grasp of some of the more obscure points, consider a one-to-one consultancy for half or a whole day with one of our trainers. We will review a sample of writing that you send before we meet you and then on the day we’ll spend the time concentrating exclusively on the things that you need to know to take your business writing to the next level.

Call 01235 60 30 22 or email to find out more, or check our website.

Editor recommends

It’s hard to find books on grammar that aren’t either too basic or entirely academic. A good compromise is “Rediscover Grammar”, by David Crystal.
It will help you clear up most of the grammatical questions likely to arise from normal business writing.

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We also offer private courses at your premises. Please call 01235 60 30 22 for details.

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Kind Regards
The Plain Words Training Team

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