Write for Business - Blog

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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    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.


    Photo by Orin Zebest

    S or ES? Plurals of Nouns Ending in O

    Friday, August 03, 2012

    Sometimes things that appear to be the most confusing…are really the simplest.

    Take, for example, spelling the plural form of nouns ending in “o.” We are often stuck in the “s or es” quandary, wondering, “Is adding s enough, or should I add es?”  

    Don’t overthink it.

    The fact is, for most nouns ending in “o,” you simply add s. These include cases in which…

    • the letter before the final “o” is a vowel—studios, videos, kangaroos;
    • the letter before the final “o” is a consonant, but the word is a shortened version of another word—typos (short for “typographical errors”), photos (short for “photographs”), autos (short for “automobiles”);
    • the letter before the final “o” is a consonant, but the word is a proper noun—Navahos, Picassos;
    • or the word has come into American English from another language—burritos and tangos (from Spanish), kimonos (from Japanese).

    So when do you add es instead? Actually, there are very few nouns ending in “o” that need an es to make them plural, and you can just memorize them. The most common are potatoes, echoes, heroes, torpedoes, vetoes, and embargoes.

    Finally, many nouns ending in “o” can be spelled either way; for example, tornados/tornadoes, zeros/zeroes, and mosquitos/mosquitoes. Check your dictionary for the preferred spelling, but know that either is correct. 

    —Joyce Lee

    Photo by Jeremy Keith

    One Word, Many Meanings: interest

    Friday, June 01, 2012

    The word interest has several different uses, both as a noun and as a verb:

    As a noun…
    interest has two clearly different meanings.

    • It can refer to curiosity about something, or to the thing that draws such attention:
      The boy showed a keen interest in learning about stocks.
      Birding has always been a favorite interest of Missy's.
    • Interest can also refer to a monetary gain on an investment or to the percentage charged on a loan:
      The interest we are paying on our new mortgage is nice and low.
      We put the interest we had earned on one of our accounts toward our down payment.

    As a verb…
    interest means "to attract and hold attention":

    • Does this class interest you?
    • Through careful promotion, we will interest employees in our self-help programs.

    In idioms…
    interest may be used in the following ways.

    • In the interest of suggests an advancement or improvement:
      In the interest of saving time, let's take a vote now.
    • Having a vested interest in something means that a person faces financial gain or political privilege through some activity.
      Considering that our CEO has a vested interest in the outcome, he will recuse himself from voting.

    The more you absorb the richness of the English language, the better you will be able to hold your own reader's interest and achieve your writing goals.

    Photo by "the bridge"

    One Word, Many Meanings: bound

    Thursday, May 03, 2012

    The word bound is another term that can have many different uses in English.

    As a verb…
    bound can mean

    • tied or wrapped (past tense of bind).
      She bound her hair with a ribbon.
      The nurse bound
      the wound tightly.
    • leap or bounce. 
      We watched the dog bound across the field.
      (The past tense of bound is bounded.)

    As an adjective…
    bound can mean

    • connected or fastened.
      She was bound to her ailing sister by love and by guilt.
      Her long hair was bound with ribbons of red satin.
    • headed for a destination.
      The train was Seattle bound.
    • very likely.
      The storm was bound to hit soon.

    As a noun…
    bound can be

    • a leap or a bounce.
      The victory put a bound in his step.
    • a limit or a boundary (used in plural form).
      The action was outside the bounds of decency.

    In idioms…
    bound is frequently used in the following ways.

    • Out of bounds points to a metaphorical limit.
      That line of questioning was out of bounds.
    • Bound up, similar to caught up, indicates preoccupation.
      She was so bound up in the music that she didn't hear us arrive.

    The more you immerse yourself in the English language, the more your writing will positively impact your readers. So take some time now and then to explore a dictionary or a thesaurus—just for fun. You're bound to enjoy it.

    —Joyce Lee

    Photo by Emery Way

    One Word, Many Meanings: table

    Monday, April 16, 2012

    Even simple English words can have several different meanings, table being a perfect example.

    As a noun…
    a table might be

    • a piece of furniture with a flat surface supported by several legs or a pedestal, usually used for serving food or playing a game;
    • any flat or level geographical feature, including a plateau or the level below which water wholly saturates the ground (a water table);
    • an abbreviated list or an arrangement of related words or numbers in columns and rows, such as a table of contents in a book, a mathematical table displaying related data, or the periodic table of elements.

    As a verb…
    table is usually transitive, needing an object, and it has three separate meanings:

    • to postpone discussion or consideration, as in The committee will table that proposal until the research results are finalized.
    • to lay something on a table, as in Table your books so the staff can mop the floor.
    • to enter in a list or table, as in After Dr. Ian tables his data, we can compare our findings.

    As an adjective…
    table describes whatever may be placed on a table:

    • a table setting, for example, refers to a set of eating utensils for one person, and
    • a table cover refers to a cloth placed over a table.

    In idioms…
    table appears in the following phrases:

    • To turn the tables means "to cause a reversal that gains the advantage."
    • Under the table has two meanings, the first being a secret transaction, as in They made the offer under the table, and the second describing inebriation, as in He drank his competitor under the table.
    • On the table refers to an offer submitted for approval, as in Our proposal was on the table, awaiting the board's decision.

    The simple word table, for its versatility, enriches the English language. What other such words can you think of?

    —Joyce Becker Lee

    Photo by dalbera