Business Grammar

Comparison of Adjectives

28 Jun 2020

When you were at school you were probably drilled in the comparison of adjectives: interesting, more interesting, most interesting; fair, fairer, fairest, etc.

The two examples above are of regular comparative forms. However, a common problem is not knowing when to use -er-, -est- or -more- + adj., -most- + adj.

Actually, there is a very simple rule to help you remember which comparative form to use. Count the number of syllables in an adjective. Syllables are the sounds which make up a word. For example:

big has one sound or syllable,
cle ver
has two syllables,
a rro gant
has three syllables and
in tell i gent
has four syllables.

Adjectives which contain one or two syllables follow the -er-, -est-, form. For example: big, bigger, biggest; and clever, cleverer, cleverest.

Adjectives which contain more than two syllables follow the -more-, -most- form. For example: arrogant, more arrogant, most arrogant; intelligent, more intelligent, most intelligent.

That's an easy rule to remember!

 

Avoid Using Too Many Negatives

14 Jun 2020

If you want to annoy a reader, use negative words. Not only are negative words annoying, but research shows that it takes the brain longer to understand a negative statement than a positive one. They cause confusion!

In writing, negatives include 'un-' words like 'unnecessary' and 'unless'; verbs with negative associations like 'avoid' and 'cease'; as well as the obvious ones like 'not', 'no', 'except', 'less than' and 'not more than'. When readers are faced with a negative, they must first imagine the positive alternative then mentally cancel it out.

A single negative is unlikely to cause problems, though many an election voter has paused confronted with the polling booth challenge:

Vote for not more than one candidate. (unclear)
Vote for one candidate only. (clear)

But when two, three or more negatives are gathered together in the same sentence, meaning may become unclear, as in this note from a lawyer to his client, an underwriter:

Underwriters are, we consider, free to form the view that James Brothers have not yet proved to their satisfaction that the short-landed bags were not discharged from the ship, and were not lost in transit between Hong Kong and Singapore, when they were not covered by this insurance policy.

The above sentence is very confusing due to the number of negative words!

Here are some examples of how to rewrite negative sentences more positively:

We will not help unless you give us a special mention.
We will help if you give us a special mention

The corporation will not pay unless employees also contribute.
The corporation will pay only if employees contribute.

Your credit will not be extended until you pay us what you owe.
We will extend you credit if you pay what you owe.
We would be happy to extend your credit once we receive payment for what you owe.

We are not open on Saturdays or Sundays.
We are open from Monday to Friday.

We were not prepared for your request.
Your request caught us by surprise.

 

Use of Pronouns to Avoid Sexist Writing

26 Apr 2020

Pronouns like he, she, it, we, they, and you stand in for nouns and must therefore match the nouns they are replacing in number (singular or plural) and gender (male or female). If the noun is singular, the pronoun must be too.

incorrect Everyone needs to remove their belongings. (Everyone is singular; their is plural.)
tick1 Everyone needs to remove his or her belongings.

  • Don't use only 'his' to refer to a noun - this is regarded as sexist language!
  • In a short document with a single pronoun reference, we recommend that you use his or her in place of the noun.
  • In a longer document with multiple pronoun references, you could alternate between his and her throughout the document to avoid constant repetition. If that doesn't work for you, simply rewrite the sentence so you don't need to make the choice.

The above sentence could also be rewritten as:

tick1 You need to remove your belongings.
 
Changing the subject to a plural also works:
tick1 Employees need to remove their belongings.
 
 

Three Common Punctuation Problems

29 Mar 2020

Punctuation is important because those little marks are like signs along a roadway, helping your reader navigate your document. When you put punctuation in the wrong place, it can change the intended meaning of your sentence and send your reader in the wrong direction.

Here are three common punctuation problems.

1) Putting a Comma Before 'and' in a Series (or Omitting the Comma)

The company makes pocket calculators, electronic keypads, and pocket translators.
or
The company makes pocket calculators, electronic keypads and pocket translators.
 

Which is correct? Both are. Whether you use the serial comma is entirely up to you. The key is to be consistent. Make a decision and stick to it throughout your document. Inconsistency is the grammar mistake.

2) Using Two Spaces after a Period or Colon

The two-space rule is a hold-over from the days when printing presses and typewriters used letters that were all the same width. Today, computers compensate for the varying widths of letters and only one space after end punctuation is the preference.

3) Putting a Comma Between the Subject and the Verb

incorrect I suggest that Billy, Pete and Mary, attend the conference.
 
In this sentence, a comma splits the clause's subject Billy, Peter and Mary, from the verb attend.
 
tick1 I suggest that Billy, Peter and Mary attend the conference.
 
A comma after Peter would also be OK in the above sentence.
 

A Little" vs "Little" vs "A Few" vs "Few

15 Mar 2020


A Little

Use a little with uncountable nouns, e.g. a little help, a little progress, a little information, a little advice, etc.

A Few

Use a few with plural countable nouns, e.g. a few days, a few meetings, a few employees, a few sales, etc.

Little and Few

Little and few tend to be rather negative because they mean not much or not many, while a little and a few are more positive and mean some. For example:

incorrect We have few clients. (sounds negative)
tick1 We have a few clients (sounds more positive)

incorrect There is little time to complete this. (sounds negative)
tick1 We have a little time to complete this. (sounds more positive)

 

When you are speaking to someone, it is better to use not much/not many or only a little/few instead of little and fewLittle and few tend to sound more formal and are better used in writing. For example:

We haven't had many enquiries about our new product. (not many/informal/spoken)
We have had few enquiries about our new product.
(few/formal/written)

We haven't sold many properties in the past month. (not many/informal/spoken)
We have sold few properties in the past month.
(few/formal/written)

 

General Grammar and Writing Tips

01 Mar 2020

Subject Headings and Titles

Regarding titles and subject headings for business documents, remember that the first and last words are always capitalized, as are all nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs.

Prepositions of four or more letters (or five, depending on the style guide you use) are also capitalized.

"A," "an," and "the" are not capitalized unless they are the first word or follow a colon.

The coordinating conjunctions: "and," "or," "nor," "but," "for," "so," and "yet" are not capitalized unless they are the first word or follow a colon, but other "little" words, like "it," "be," and "is," are capitalized.

Comparative Adjectives

To make the comparative forms of one-syllable adjectives, add "-er" and "-est" rather than using the words "more" and "most." Examples: "purer" and "purest," not "more pure" and "most pure."

Phrases Starting with 'Including'

A phrase beginning with "including," which usually appears at the end of a sentence, is almost always set off from the rest of the sentence by a comma. Example: "Provide a detailed explanation, including projected costs and schedule."

Whether....or Not

Most of the time, the words "or not" are useless after the word "whether," as in the sentence "I can't tell whether or not the coast is clear." The sentence is perfectly clear without "or not." However, in the following sentence, "or not" is grammatically necessary: "The goal is to ensure that all participants benefit from the workshop— whether or not they attend all sessions."

A Lot

"A lot" is always written as two words. Many people write it as one word, perhaps because of words like "among," "about," and "along." As a subject, "a lot" is plural when it refers to a plural word ("A lot of people are waiting in line"), but it is singular when it refers to a singular word ("A lot of information was lost when the computer crashed").

Only

The word "only" should be placed immediately before the word it modifies. In speech, we rarely pay attention to this rule. In writing, we should. Example: "The chairman was given only one week to come up with a plan" (not "The chairman was only given one week to come up with a plan"). "Only" clearly emphasizes "one week."

 

Should vs Ought to vs Must vs Have to

02 Feb 2020

The modal verbs should, ought to, have to and must are all used to show obligation. The tone and strength of the obligation can vary based upon which modal is being used.

Should vs Ought to (for mild obligation / strong advice)

Look at the following sentences:

You should go to hospital with that wound.
You ought to go to hospital with that wound.

In these two sentences the function of should and ought to are interchangeable. Both focus on a strong advisability, or in other words a mild obligation. You are obligated to care of yourself. Nowadays, the use of ought to has lessened and should is commonly used in its place.

Have to vs Must (for strong obligation / necessity)

Here are the same sentences using the modal verbs have to and must:

You have to go to hospital with that wound.
You must go to hospital with that wound.

Have to and must are considered stronger than should and ought to. Both modals carry the function of necessity, obligation or even advice, but mustHave to, is normally reserved for expressions related to the law. For example: If you own a car, you have to pay an annual road tax. On the other hand, must is normally reserved for giving orders that people are obligated to follow. Here are some further examples of more typical usage of have to and must: is considered the strongest modal.

You have to pay income tax.
You have to pass your driving test before you can drive alone.
You have to show your passport when you pass through immigration.

You must get to work by 9am.
You must get this report finished by 30 June.
You must attend the meeting.

 

Using Prepositions with Times and Dates

22 Dec 2019

Prepositions are used to relate things or people to various ways of time, place, direction and distance. It is difficult to use prepositions correctly as most of them have a variety of uses and meanings.

Reading through the examples below will help you to become more familiar with the uses and meanings of prepositions of time and dates.

Use at + a particular time

at ten o'clock
at half-past eleven
at 2.30 p.m.
at the time of his resignation at that moment

(But not in the following: 'What time is it?' 'It's eight fifteen.')

Periods of the day

No preposition with this ... or tonight

I'm busy this morning / this afternoon / this evening / tonight.

No preposition with yesterday ... or last/next ...

She spoke to me yesterday afternoon.
I had a call from him last week.
The meeting has been rescheduled for next Tuesday.

But notice: at night

The power supply is switched off at night.

Use on + a particular day/date

I sent the information on Monday morning.
Our new office opens on the 15th.
Deborah works late on Wednesdays and Fridays.
We close the office early on Christmas Eve.

On time, in time, by the time; at the end of, by the end of, in the end

These phrases seem similar but have different meanings. Look at the examples below:

My plane to Beijing arrived on time. (It came at the scheduled time.)
I was in time for my meeting. (I arrived before the meeting started.)
The report was finished by the time the clients arrived in Hong Kong. (Finished before something else happened.)
Gerald is leaving at the end of May. (Around 30 or 31 May.)
Gerald is leaving by the end of May. (Any date before 31 May.)

In the end means 'finally/as a final result'

There were a lot of problems with the contract, so in the end we didn't sign it.
 
 

Using Tag Questions

24 Nov 2019

Tag questions are small questions added to the end of a statement, for example:

That is a dog, isn't it?

The Structure of Tags

Here are a range of tag questions:

..., won't you?
..., can't you?
..., shouldn't you?
..., don't they?
..., isn't it?
..., won't it?

Note the structural elements:

  • The first element contains a verb, often 'to be' or 'to do', and is often a repetition of the verb used in the statement.
  • The verb is made negative, in the short form.
  • The second element is a pronoun.

Using Tag Questions

Use tag questions to emphasize and encourage the other person to agree with you. They turn a strong statement into a question that is difficult to disagree with.

Gaining Agreement

Make a strong statement and add a tag question:

They will finish, won't they?
I am the best person for the job, aren't I?
This is the best way to do it, isn't it?
She's the best person for the job, isn't she?
There aren't enough seats for the meeting, are there?
We should buy this equipment as soon as possible, shouldn't we?

Gaining Compliance

Start with what you want the other person to do, and then end with a tag such as 'won't you' or 'can't you'.

You won't let me know, will you?
You will come to the dance, won't you?
You can do this today, can't you?
You can't force him to do it, can you?
 

Using Articles (a/an/the)

07 Jul 2019

The following tips provide the basic rules for using articles (a/an/the). Over the next week, refer to the tips whenever you read a business document, a magazine article, a web page, etc. Locate a few nouns in the reading and use the tips to analyze the article usage.

Using articles correctly is a skill that develops over time through lots of reading, writing, speaking and listening. Think about the rules below and bear them in mind when reading and listening to the language around you. Soon you will find you don’t have to think about the rules anymore. Usage will become natural to you.

General Usage Rules

Noun

a/an

the

no article

countable
& plural

a letter
an invoice

the letter
the invoice

NOT
ALLOWED

countable
& plural

NOT
ALLOWED

the letters
the invoices

letters
invoices

uncountable

NOT ALLOWED

the information

information

Use of the Indefinite Article (a/an)

  • Use a or an when it is the first time we mention or talk about something.
  • Use a or an with singular, countable nouns.

Could you let me have an envelope?

I purchased a fax machine yesterday.

There is a letter for you.

Use of the Definite Article (the)

  • Use the when the reader is clear about what is being referred to.

Please close the door.

Further to the meeting of 4 December……

We sent the file you requested to the Sales Department.

  • Use the when the noun has been mentioned already.
I have received a letter from a customer complaining about a sales person in our Mongkok branch. The customer said that the salesperson was rude to her when she tried to ask a question. I will pass the letter onto you.
  • Use the when it is clear there is only one of something.
The General Manager came to our office yesterday.

Zero Article

We can omit articles when generalising about plural countable nouns and also with uncountable nouns.

The Customer Service Department handles complaints. (all and any complaints)

Staff who do not observe company regulations will receive warnings. (all staff; all company regulations)

Production will begin in May. (uncountable noun)

 

Using Precise Active Verbs

05 May 2019

Strengthen word choice at the word and sentence level by adding precise verbs. Avoid non-specific verbs and the overuse of is, are, was, were, I or we. Always look for verbs that are masked as nouns. Convert the noun back to a verb by using its root and rewrite the sentence.

Example

John Smith will contact you at 11.30 p.m.

Revised

John smith will send you an e-mail at 11.30 p.m.

Revised

John Smith will visit you at 11.30 p.m.

 

Example

We must consider this problem.

Revised

We must resolve this problem.

 

Example

The report is a summary of previous research on drinking.

Revised

The report summarises research on drinking.

 

Example

The copy editor made an improvement to the draft.

Revised

The copy editor improved the draft.

 

Example

John is responsible for the distribution of the daily marketing report.

Revised

John distributes the daily marketing report.

 

Example

Improvement of the invoicing system will be performed by Jane Smith.

Revised

Jane Smith will improve the invoicing system.

 

Example

Candidate interviewing and employment is done by Human Resources.

Revised

Human Resources interviews and employs all candidates.

 

Example

All credit card approval is done by Jane Smith.

Revised

Jane Smith approves credit cards.

 

Using Prepositions of Place

10 Mar 2019

Prepositions are used to relate things or people to various ways of time, place, direction and distance. It is difficult to use prepositions correctly as most of them have a variety of uses and meaning.

Reading through the examples below will help you to become more familiar with the uses and meanings of prepositions of place.

About (approximate position)

I have left the file lying about somewhere.

Around

The accounts department is around the corner.

At (place)

He spent Saturday afternoon at work.
He's staying at the Sheraton Hotel.
I'll meet you at the airport.

At (direction)

We have aimed our campaign at young professionals.

By (close to)

The warehouse is by the main post-office.
The new airport is located by the harbour.

From (source)

This car was imported from Japan.
Where did you get this software from?

In (three-dimensional space)

Los Angeles is in California
The money is kept in the safe.

On (two-dimensional line or surface)

The file is on the desk.
The notice is on the wall.
California is on the Pacific coast.

Through (direction between two points in space)

It can take a long time to clear goods through customs.
Once we're through the city, we'll be able to drive faster.

To (movement, destination)

I have to go to Singapore next week.
The taxi will take you to the airport.
I will bring you to the conference tomorrow.
 

"For" vs. "Since" vs. "Ago"

10 Feb 2019

FOR

We use for when we are talking about the duration of an action or state, i.e. how long something takes:

I have lived in London for seven years. (This tells us how long I have lived in London.)

For is a preposition here. Although generally used with the present perfect tense, for is also used with other tenses.

SINCE

We use since when we are talking about the time the action or state started:

I have lived in London since 1997. (This tells us when I started living in London.)

Since can be a preposition (since five o'clock) or a conjunction (since I met her). Since is usually used with the present perfect tenses.

AGO

Ago is used to say when past events happened, going back from today to the past:

I came to Japan seven years ago.
I passed my driving test two months ago.

Ago is an adverb and is used with the past tense.

 

Vertical Lists: Using Bullets or Numbers

13 Jan 2019

Use numbered lists when working with instructions that are to be carried out in sequence. If the sequence of items is not essential, use bullets.

Example of a Numbered List:

Follow these general steps when you plan a database:

  1. Decide on which categories of information you want to work with, and plan a separate database file for each category.
  2. Analyze your current information management system to determine the tasks to perform.
  3. Decide on the data you want the file to contain, and plan the fields to hold the data.
  4. Determine the relationship between your file and other files containing useful data.

Example of a Bulleted List:

Keep these points in mind:

  • Merge fields by typing the field name with symbols.
  • Use a text field to set data in the browser.
  • Add symbols among merged fields on the layout.
  • Format merged fields with the formatting option.
 

Removing Unnecessary Verb-Noun Combinations

30 Dec 2018

There is something about writing that makes us express ourselves more formally than we would do in speech. For example, you might chat with a co-worker about how you are going to evaluate a marketing campaign. But when you sit down to write a report about it, for some reason you find yourself writing about "the evaluation of the marketing campaign".

This habit, which we call nominalisation, is very common in all areas of government and the business world. What happens is that instead of using a verb, for example, to evaluate, the writer uses the related noun, evaluation.

You're probably thinking that there's nothing wrong with that, but nominalisations appear all over our writing. They lengthen our sentences and make the writing less lively, less human and more official. They prevent our writing being clear as actions are hidden in the nouns.

Here's an example:

Example: The programmer will be a new addition to our staff's expertise.
Revised:
The programmer will add to our staff's expertise.

Example: On this site you will learn how to find solutions to your writing problems.
Revised:
AdminWriting.com helps you solve your writing problems.

Of the verb-noun problems the "made" trap stands out as the most common:

  • made a suggestion (suggested)
  • made a recommendation (recommended)
  • made a choice (chose)
  • made an agreement (agreed)
  • made a presentation (presented)
  • made a proposition (proposed)
  • made a decision (decided)
  • made a revision (revised)

Other common verb-noun problems include:

  • gave an explanation (explained)
  • submitted a resignation (resigned)
  • expressed opposition (opposed)
  • took under consideration (considered)
  • provided maintenance (maintained)
  • reached a conclusion (concluded)
  • provided information (informed)
  • provided a quotation (quoted)
  • came to a realization (realized)
  • conducted an investigation (investigated)
  • put on a performance (performed)
  • led to a reduction (reduced)
  • had a suspicion (suspected)
  • had an expectation (expected)
  • used exaggeration (exaggerated)
  • gave authorization (authorized)

 

 
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