May 2014  
UpWrite Press Writing eTips

Test Your Writing Acumen

As you know, forming plurals is not always as easy as adding an “s” to the end of the word. The sentences below contain compound nouns and a few other special-case nouns. In each example, choose the correct plural spelling of the two given in parentheses.

  1. The box contained several (handfuls/handsful) of antique silver coins.
  2. I couldn’t believe it when Art hit two (hole in ones/holes in one) yesterday.
  3. All three of my (sisters-in-law/sister-in-laws) are attorneys.
  4. We have two main (rule of thumbs/rules of thumb) regarding sick leave.
  5. Two (ten-year-olds/ten-years-old) won our company’s poster contest.
  6. The two main (stimuluses/stimuli) driving our success will be discussed at the seminar.
  7. When he fell, he cracked two (vertebrae, vertebras).
  8. The store windows displayed a series of historical (tableaus, tableaux) honoring women in history.

You can check your answers at the end of this newsletter.

Tricky Subject-Verb Agreement
Part 1

Good writing takes dedication and effort, along with a keen eye for potential problem areas such as subject-verb agreement. While you can usually sense whether a subject needs a singular or a plural verb, some instances are not immediately clear. This month and next, we will present specific types of subject-verb issues that require special care:

  • Delayed subjects. In an inverted sentence, the verb precedes the subject. In that case, another word before the verb may appear to be the subject. Switching the word order in your mind can help you match the true subject to the verb:

    Here are the plans for the addition.
    (The plans for the addition are here.)
  • Compound subjects. Subjects connected with “and” are usually plural and so take a plural verb:

    The concert and the meeting are scheduled for the same night.
    Both the memos and the email were emphatic about the way to handle the situation.

    Subjects connected with “or” or “nor” require closer scrutiny. The simple rule states that if both subjects are singular, they take a singular verb, and if both are plural, they take a plural verb:

    Neither the receptionist nor the office manager is responsible for the file.
    Either the pens or the bookmarks are good gift ideas.

    The more complicated rule states that if one subject is singular and the other is plural, the verb must agree with the subject closest to it:

    Neither his singing nor her jokes were on pitch.
    Either the memos or the email contains the phone numbers we need.
  • “Be” verbs. The number (singular/plural) of the predicate noun following a be verb does not affect the number of the verb, which must agree with its subject in any case.

    The most useful part of the convention is the seminars.
    The seminars are the most useful part of the convention.

Next month we’ll continue our examination of subject-verb agreement.

You can find more information about subject-verb agreement beginning on page 323 in Write for Business: A Compact Guide to Writing and Communicating in the Workplace.

Trainer Tip

Make training a regular occurrence, one small dose at a time. Work it into the day by offering a “training tip” in a morning email, or by sharing it during a short, spontaneous meeting. Pack the information into a manageable bite that people can incorporate easily into their daily routine.

That Little Extra

Got something important or exciting to say? Use words rather than punctuation to be emphatic. Exclamation points smack of teen angst, so avoid them at all costs. Instead, choose words that express your excitement or concern.

   

May Writers' Forum Topic

Here’s your chance to tell us how your work environment operates. Send us your responses to the forum question below, and we’ll print the most interesting in our eTips Mid-Month Mini.

This month’s forum goes out to all employees who work for a manager or team leader. What are your manager’s best traits? Share with us the actions or qualities that especially drive your loyalty.

Email your response to writersforum@upwritepress.com. Write “May Writers’ Forum” in the subject line, and you could see your reply in the eTips Mid-Month Mini.

Answers to This Month’s Quiz

  1. The box contained several (handfuls/handsful) of antique silver coins.
    (The preferred plural spelling of handful, which means as much or as many as the hand can hold, simply adds an “s” to the end of the word.)
  2. I couldn’t believe it when Art hit two (hole in ones/holes in one) yesterday.
    (Compound nouns spelled as separate words form plurals by adding an “s” to the most important word in the compound.)
  3. All three of my (sisters-in-law/sister-in-laws) are attorneys.
    (The compound word adds an “s” to its main word, “sister,” to form the plural.)
  4. We have two main (rule of thumbs/rules of thumb) regarding sick leave.
    (Again, an “s” is added to the most important word in the compound. Notice a pattern?)
  5. Two (ten-year-olds/ten-years-old) won our company’s poster contest.
    (Here’s where the rule changes. This compound noun does not have a main word; all three words are equally important to the meaning, “a boy or a girl who is ten years old.” So the “s” is correctly added to the end of the compound.)
  6. The two main (stimuluses/stimuli) driving our success will be discussed at the seminar.
    (This English word, taken from Latin, has an irregular plural spelling, which changes the “us” to “i.” Another example is alumnus-alumni.)
  7. When he fell, he cracked two (vertebrae, vertebras).
    (This Latin word ending in “a,” vertebra, adds an “e” to form its plural. Another example is vita-vitae.)
  8. The store windows displayed a series of historical (tableaus, tableaux) honoring women in history.
    (Both plural forms are correct. Certain words of French origin that end in “eau” can take either an “x” or an “s” in the plural form. Other examples include beau- beaus/beaux and bureau-bureaus/bureaux.)

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Coming in June

Tricky Subject-Verb Agreement Part 2

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