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UpWrite Press understands the importance of writing skills in business: We're business people just like you. On this blog you'll find tips to improve your writing, along with topics of interest to our staff.

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    Stylists Aren’t Rulers

    Friday, November 21, 2014
    The world is waiting for your fabulousness, don't forget your crown! (CC)

    In language, there are grammar rules, and then there are styles. Let’s consider, for example, using a series in a sentence.

    English grammar says that a series ought to be parallel.

    Don’t write this: Laine signed the contracts, the time sheets, and wrote his name on the paychecks.

    Do write this: Laine signed the contracts, the time sheets, and the paychecks.

    Then style comes into play. Oxford style says a comma should come before the last item in a series.

    Laine signed the contracts, the time sheets, and the paychecks.

    Associated Press style says that the final comma is unnecessary.

    Laine signed the contracts, the time sheets and the paychecks.

    So certain rules change according to which style you are following. Easy enough, you might say. Just use the right manual.

    The trouble is, however, that grammar itself doesn’t have a rule for every situation. At the very least, some rules are obscure.

    Consider, for example, the situation described in “My Big Fat Greek Blog Post.” Never in my education as an English major did anyone ever teach that adjectives are placed in order of opinion, size, age, shape, color, origin, material, and purpose. Nor does the possessive adjective “my” fit any of those categories.

    Such gaps become most evident when teaching a language to non-native speakers. One of my daughters teaches English to adults in Belgium. Recently, her students asked which of these is correct: “A friend of Mary’s” or “A friend of Mary.” She suggested that both are correct and mean the same thing, but the first puts a slightly greater emphasis on Mary.

    Then the students changed one word. What about “A photo of Mary’s” versus “A photo of Mary”? In this case, of course, the meanings are entirely different. Depending on what they wanted to say, the students would have to choose one phrase or the other.

    At times like these, grammarians are forced to invent a rule to describe (or fit) the situation. In a way, such scenarios define grammar—a set of rules describing how people use language. The language comes first; the description comes second. And style trails along after that.

    —Lester Smith

    When Less Is Not More

    Wednesday, November 12, 2014
    Due Mani Due Generazioni - Two Hands Two Generations - by Dino Olivieri 

    Maybe your pet grammar peeve (like mine) is a misplaced apostrophe, or maybe seeing a blatant error in agreement sends you up the wall. One of the biggest complaints of many is mixing up words that describe amounts: less and fewer, or more than and over.

    The difference lies in what the words describe. There is a clear delineation between the words fewer and less. Fewer describes things that can be counted (“count nouns”) while less applies to things that cannot be divided up (“mass nouns”).

                We counted fewer than a hundred people in the audience.

                The size of the audience was less than we had anticipated.

    But the decision between more than or over is not as clear-cut. It used to be the rule that more than was used for count nouns, while over was for noncount nouns. However editors were divided on that rule and tended to disregard it whenever they wished.

    Now, an announcement by the Associated Press, that bastion of journalistic style, has rocked the world of words by declaring that it is now acceptable AP style to use more than and over interchangeably.

                There were more than three dozen applicants for the job.

                There were over three dozen applicants for the job.

    Reaction to the announcement was strong, both positive and negative. One wag (RT@TheSlot) Tweeted “More than my dead body!” Meanwhile, others blithely noted that the argument was moot, as there had never been any hard-and-fast rule about interchanging these words.

    For your own use, either common sense or your editor’s choice should rule. Stylistcally, however, it sounds odd to my ear to say:

                That building will require more than a million dollars in repairs.

    I’d argue it sounds better to say:

                That building will require over a million dollars in repairs.

    English is a living language, which means there will be changes in usage over time, and this is just one of them. Also, bear in mind that language “rules” and language “style” are not coequal. Change in style usually comes about to enhance communication, so know the rules, but, as indicated by RT@TheSlot, use common sense in your style. 

    —Joyce Lee


    Among and Between

    Friday, April 18, 2014

    Creative Commons photo by berr.e on Flickr

    English is called a living language because the words and rules are constantly changing to fit a changing world. The words among and between are good examples of this flux. The simple rule has been to “use between when referring to only two things, and among when referring to more than two.” But following this rule unswervingly results in awkward constructions.

    It is correct to use between when considering one-to-one relationships, no matter the number of individuals or things, and no matter if that number is unspecified (see third example here):

    The choice for vice president is between Raynar and Kimberlie.

    We must decide between New Orleans, Galveston, and Tampa for our vacation destination.

    In this global economy, cooperation between nations is paramount.

    On the other hand, it is correct to use among to portray meanings such as these—in the midst of, in a group, or to distribute:

    The guests felt at ease because they were among friends.

    Marcia is among the elite when it comes to her management skills.

    The will divided the property among Kris, Linette, and Vaughn.

    Here is an example sentence that uses both words correctly:

    Traveling on the roads that stretched between the small towns, the reporter wandered among the field hands and asked questions.

    It’s important to stay abreast of changes in the language. Be careful, though, to avoid trendy phrases that quickly become dated. Our blog and our mid-month eTips newsletter can help.

    —Joyce Lee

    Big Trouble in Little Commas

    Tuesday, September 25, 2012

    Consider the little things that often cause trouble—the speck in your eye, the pebble in your shoe, the drip in your sink, and so on. In writing, one such trouble is the omission or misplacement of commas. Here are quick reminders of three places commas should be used.

    • Following introductory clauses and phrases: Commas are needed to set these off from the rest of a sentence.

      Example introductory clause: Although we had gone over the company’s requirements, the advertising campaign fell woefully short of our needs.

      Example introductory Phrase: By my reckoning, we needed to obtain at least three more sales to finish the year in the black.
    • Between independent clauses: A comma is needed to separate two or more complete thoughts in one sentence. Place the comma before the coordinating conjunction.

      Example 1: Madeleine spoke about making the office more environmentally friendly, and then she introduced our new energy plan.

      Example 2: You can elect to go with the company insurance plan, or you can select the HMA option.
    • Around nonrestrictive modifiers: Use commas to separate modifying phrases that aren’t critical to understanding the sentence.

      Example 1: Chris introduced the new hire, a recent college graduate, to the rest of the team.

      Example 2: The contract, which had been extensively revised, was finally signed.

    Want more? Check out page 258 of Write for Business for more information on using commas to set off different elements in sentences.

    —Joyce Lee

    Image by Brett Jordan

    Avoid Sentence Agreement Errors

    Friday, September 14, 2012

    Nothing makes writing look amateurish and unprofessional like basic sentence errors. This week we look at errors in pronoun-antecedent agreement and subject-verb agreement.

    Pronoun-Antecedent Agreement
    First, let’s define some terms. A pronoun is a word that stands in for a noun (or noun phrase). An antecedent is the noun (or noun phrase) it stands in for. Pronouns and antecedents must agree in number, person, and gender.

    Number: Use singular pronouns for singular antecedents and plural pronouns for plural antecedents.

    • Everyone on the committee took his or her [not their] seat.
    • All the committee members cast their [not his or her] vote.

    Person: Pronouns may be first person, referring to the speaker(s), second person, referring to the listener(s), or third person, referring to something being spoken about. Always match the person of the pronoun to its antecedent.

    • Survey responders are asked to include an email address with their [not your] submissions.

    Gender: Pronouns may be masculine (he, his, etc.), feminine (she, hers, etc.), or neutral (it, its). Make sure to match the correct gender between pronoun and antecedent.   

    • The tugboat broke loose from its (not her) moorings.

    For more information about pronoun-antecedent agreement, see pages 325-326 in Write for Business and pages 366-367 in Write for Work.

    Subject-Verb Agreement
    The verb of a sentence must agree with the subject in number (singular or plural). Here are two basic examples.

    • Our manager happily agrees to order pizza for everyone. (singular subject and verb)
    • We certainly agree about that great idea. (plural subject and verb)

    Many things can make subject-verb agreement a bit tricky. Here are three examples.

    • Two subjects joined with and call for a plural verb.
    • When two subjects are joined with or, the verb must match the last subject.
    • Collective nouns (class, family, team, and so on) may be singular or plural, depending upon how they are used.

    See pages 323-324 in Write for Business or 363-365 in Write for Work for more explanations and examples.

    —Les

    Photo by Orin Zebest