The Grammar Factor: Write to Govern, dependent/dependant, spelling

Write to Govern The second edition of my book Write to Govern: How to write effective board papers is now available on my website, Amazon and Kindle. Governance consultant and non-executive director Julie Garland-McLellan says: ‘I reviewed the first edition of this book and loved it. Now it is back in a much improved newContinue reading

The Grammar Factor: simply, mondegreens, question marks and quotes

Simply I was reminded last week of one of my pet peeves – the use of the word ‘simply’. This word is often best deleted for two reasons:  When used in instructions, ‘simply’ is often not true! When I read ‘simply’ in instructions, my immediate reaction is that the instructions will be difficult. My preconceptionsContinue reading

The Grammar Factor: e-newsletters on writing, under the pump

e-newsletters about writing  I read recently that e-newsletters are passé and that blogs are much more ‘in’. I enjoy reading blogs too, but what I like about e-newsletters is their chatty format covering a range of topics. The e-newsletters I enjoy are: ‘The Better Writing Skills’ by Tim North ‘Better Writing at Work’ by LynnContinue reading

The Grammar Factor – what grammar rules do you break?

What grammar rules do you think it is OK to break? In an article in The Guardian, linguist Steven Pinker looks at 10 ‘grammar rules’ it’s OK to break (sometimes). Before I read the article, I thought about what rules I see ignored these days. Three that came to mind are: Fewer and less –Continue reading

The Grammar Factor – words we dislike, hyphens in titles, numbers

Words we dislike   A reader’s pet peeve this month about ‘got’ made me think about this little word. Whenever I write ‘got’, I stop and wonder if I should choose another word because I know a lot of people dislike it. The only reason I can think of is that in formal writing thereContinue reading

The Grammar Factor: words, words, words, farthest/furthest

Words, words, words As new words creep into the language or old words are used differently, we react to them in different ways. Many new usages just make good sense and we use them without a second thought – ‘google’ as a verb and ‘invite’ as a noun. Some pass us by completely – IContinue reading

The Grammar Factor – initial capitals, apostrophes, quotation marks

Initial capital letters   Initial capital letters are used more sparingly today than in the past, in keeping with the modern trend towards using less punctuation. the Bank, the Company, the Board. Although some capitals are still used for respect (e.g. Indigenous), their use has declined. The other use of initial capitals that is declining isContinue reading

The Grammar Factor – overloaded sentences, loose and lose

What happens when we overload sentences? I recently read the fine print of the Westpac brochure that came with my new credit card. (I received a new card because I was the victim of credit card fraud!) I found this sentence: ‘A cardholder becomes eligible for this Overseas travel insurance when, before leaving Australia onContinue reading

The Grammar Factor – irregular verbs, dive/dove, practice/practise

Irregular verbs A reader’s question below about ‘dived’ and ‘dove’ got me thinking about irregular verbs and why they still exist. Why don’t we all use the regular ‘-ed’ ending for past tense verbs? For example, ‘dived’ instead of ‘dove’ and ‘bringed’ instead of ‘brought’. But ‘dived’ looks fine because I am used to it,Continue reading

The Grammar Factor – pronouns, beef and beeves, disconnect

Who uses I more? Ages ago, I recommended The Secret Life of Pronouns by James Pennebaker. I thought you might find his quiz interesting. Who uses I, me or my more in daily speech? 1. Men or women? 2. George W. Bush or Barack Obama (during the first 6 months as president)? 3. Leaders orContinue reading

The Grammar Factor – dose/dosage, apostrophes, apostrofly

 Changing meaning and function Last month I mentioned how ‘nerd’ had changed meaning. According to Jeremy Butterfield (Damp Squid: the English language laid bare), about 15 per cent of new words are created by language having a makeover. Sometimes the meaning changes: Nice – previous meanings of coy, shy, reluctant, wanton, foolish and precise (TheContinue reading

The Grammar Factor – why learn grammar?

Why learn grammar? When extolling the virtues of learning grammar, some people take a ‘shame’ approach. ‘If you use poor grammar,’ they say, ‘you damage your own reputation and, if you’re writing on behalf of your organisation, you damage the brand.’ And today with social media, mistakes linger even if they are quickly removed inContinue reading

The Grammar Factor – as and because, defined terms, titles, than I

‘because’ and ‘as’ Be careful when using ‘because’ and ‘as’ – they can be ambiguous. With ‘as’ you need to be clear about whether you are referring to time (when) or reason (since, because). We drove into the garage as the rain started. This could be interpreted as: We drove into the garage when theContinue reading

The Grammar Factor – dates, apostrophes, translation glitches

DATES IN NUMERALS Several readers pointed out that last month I didn’t mention how to write dates in numerals. Because I see so many numeral variants, I turned to the Australian government style guide (Style manual), which says: ‘Dates expressed entirely in numerals have the potential to create ambiguity because different countries have different conventions. In AustraliaContinue reading

The Grammar Factor – MOOCs, learnt/learned, truncated sentences

The future of MOOCs? I was interested to read in an article in The New York Times (http://nyti.ms/12fve8h) that Georgia Tech, which has one of the top computer science programs in the US, plans to offer a MOOC-based online master’s degree that will be much cheaper than the campus course. Free MOOCs (massive open onlineContinue reading

The Grammar Factor – & & ?, position of adverbs, hyphenation

& & ? In a newsletter from Winston Marsh (www.winstonmarsh.com.au), I learned that Melbourne restaurateur Paul Mathis is on a mission to introduce a new symbol for ‘the’ into the language. Paul Mathis argues that as ‘and’ (the fifth most used word in the English language) has the ampersand (&), then ‘the’ as the most used wordContinue reading

The Grammar Factor – word choice, options/alternatives, relations/relatives

Choosing the right word Both questions I received this month were about word choice (see below), and I received a contract letter from my accountant that informed me his services would not detect ‘defalcation’. I had to reach for a dictionary to discover he was writing about misappropriation of money. Even ‘misappropriation’ is a mouthful, butContinue reading

The Grammar Factor – and/or, agreement and overuse of ‘the’

June 2013 And/or I recently read an American grammarian who said that style books frown on the use of and/or. I don’t use and/or often, but since I don’t see a problem with it, I turned to the Chicago Manual of Style. Sure enough, it said: ‘Avoid this Janus-faced term. It can often be replacedContinue reading

The Grammar Factor – commonly confused words, commas with ‘and’

Commonly confused words A few weeks ago, Richard Nordquist (http://grammar.about.com/) had a quiz on some commonly confused words. Here are five of the words he covered. The answers are at the bottom of this newsletter. Climactic or climatic ‘A zoo director might, for practical purposes, choose to classify organisms by size (as a convenience forContinue reading

The Grammar Factor – who/whom, direct/indirect questions, tone, email signoffs

April 2013 Strike the right tone in your writing The Harvard Business Review ‘Management Tip of the Day’ on 2 April was about striking the right tone in your writing. The tip, which was adapted from Bryan A. Garner’s HBR Guide to Better Business Writing, said: ‘Getting tone right takes work – but it’s critical toContinue reading

The Grammar Factor – hyphens, plurals of distances and areas

Hyphens Many people regard hyphens as unattractive punctuation marks. One communications manager I worked with called them ‘bird poop on a page’. I think hyphens are useful to indicate that two or more words are acting as a single concept to describe the following noun (full-time worker). Occasionally, a hyphen adds clarity. Compare: Three monthlyContinue reading

The Grammar Factor – exclamation marks, ranges, oral vs verbal

Exclamation marks When I was rewriting my online programs and e-books over Christmas, I wrote that an exclamation mark in an email could sometimes soften the tone and make the message less aggressive. My editor strongly disagreed with me, sending me an email laden with exclamation marks to make her point. I removed the offendingContinue reading

The Grammar Factor – who and that, typos, grammar jargon

Who and that I have always thought that we should use who for people and that for things. I knew there were exceptions, such as if you were talking about a group of people. Tradespeople that don’t turn up on time are infuriating. But doing some further research, I had my golden rule busted. Apparently,Continue reading

The Grammar Factor – Mother’s Day, break in or break-in, plural of status

May, 2012 Apostrophe online program To celebrate the launch of my new online apostrophe program, I am offering a discount with a promo code (owt010dbi) until the end of June. Normally, $19.95 GST incl, the program with the promo code is $9.95 GST incl. (The discount appears on the PayPal page.) Why not give thisContinue reading

The Grammar Factor: power of four, email webinar, ESL Grammar

The power of four? In 1956, American psychologist George Miller wrote a famous paper, ‘The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two. Some Limits on Our Capacity for Processing Information’. But new analysis by an Australian psychiatrist, Professor Parker, suggests that humans can best store only four chunks in short-term memory tasks. I’ve used theContinue reading

The Grammar Factor – prescriptive/descriptive grammar, styles, quotation marks

The writing revolution I read an interesting article last month about a school in the US that taught traditional writing skills – as a result, grades improved in all subjects. The school adopted the Hochman Program, developed by Judith Hochman. Students were taught how to turn ideas into simple sentences and how to construct complexContinue reading

Commas, typos, confused words, text alignment

Commas can cost money I have always known that commas in the wrong place can cost money, but didn’t have an example. Then I found the following case, which though not new (2006) illustrates the power of the comma. Question: What difference does the second comma make in the following sentence? Answer: About one millionContinue reading

However, introductory ESL offer, advisor/adviser

However – meanings and punctuation The word however is overused in business writing and the punctuation that goes with it is often incorrect. Part of the confusion occurs because of the different meanings of however. A couple of common meanings are ‘in spite of’ and ‘in whatever way’. She did, however, manage to pass herContinue reading

The Grammar Factor – just three dots, anticipate and expect, different from

August 2012 Just three dots The topic of ellipses (singular = ellipsis) came up at a workshop recently. An ellipsis is the three dots ( … ) we use to indicate we’ve left something out of what we’re quoting from. We also use them informally to trail off our thoughts and indicate we could tellContinue reading

The Grammar Factor – such as, a or an with acronyms

July 2012 Commas Reader’s question: Should you use a comma before such as or including? Answer: Use commas before such as or including if these words indicate that extra information is to follow, but not if what follows is essential to the meaning of the sentence. I’m talking about restrictive and nonrestrictive elements here (restrictive =Continue reading

The Grammar Factor – serial commas, apostrophes in place names

June 2012 Readers’ questions Comma splice Question: What is a comma splice? Answer: A comma splice, sometimes known as a comma error, is when you use a comma, instead of a semicolon, conjunction or full stop, between two independent clauses. The garden is beautiful, it has lots of flowering plants. That sentence would be moreContinue reading

The Grammar Factor – as versus like, annexure and appendix

April 2012 As versus like A reader pointed out a grammar error in The Sydney Morning Herald. The sentence read: ‘Like any market in oversupply, price competition has taken hold…’ Many of you probably read that sentence and thought, ‘What’s wrong with it?’ The problem is that many people say like is a preposition, notContinue reading

The Grammar Factor – apostrophes, pole position, squeezed middle

March 2012 Readers’ questions Apostrophes Question: Do I need an apostrophe in the following phrase because the ‘needs’ belong (possessive) to the developments? … servicing the needs of industry and urban development’s. Answer: You don’t need an apostrophe because ‘of’ has indicated the possessive and developments is just a plural. I wonder if the sentenceContinue reading

The Grammar Factor, February 2012 – when to use I and me

I and me A couple of readers emailed me about when to use I and me. If you listen closely to people speaking, you’ll realise that many people use pronouns incorrectly and most listeners don’t notice or care. But when we write, even in emails, we should take more care. So here are some rules.Continue reading

The Grammar Factor, January 2012 – a and an with historic

a or an with historic, singular or plural with expressions of quantity, Arts and Letters Daily, occupy – hot word for 2011Continue reading

The Grammar Factor – December 2011

Licence or license, learnt or learned, singular or plural verbs with quantityContinue reading

The Grammar Factor, November 2011

Proofreading is a dying art, ‘Computer mouses’ or ‘mices’? Should you start a sentence with ‘So’?Continue reading

The Grammar Factor – November 2011 (first edition)

Irregular verbs, semicolons and conjunctions, the future of punctuation, copyrightContinue reading

The Grammar Factor – October, 2011

Past tenses – texted, forecasted, appreciate itContinue reading

Factorial – September 2011

Sentences are getting shorter, word game, writing resources, how long people stay on your websiteContinue reading

The Grammar Factor – September 2011

Collective noun agreement, hyphens, full stops and URLs, initial capitals, growleryContinue reading

The Grammar Factor, August 2011

Agreement issues, I and me, Google as a verb, Punctuation with titles and descriptors, Parentheses and bracketsContinue reading

Factorial, August 2011

Spelling mistakes are costly for online businesses, Is the semicolon dying? 2011 Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, use and abuse of acronymsContinue reading

The Grammar Factor – July 2011

Proofreading tips, that, single spaces between sentences, practice and practise, in or with respect to, there’s and there are, each other and one anotherContinue reading

Factorial – June 2011

Social media, spelling poem, anagrams, ASIC prospectus disclosureContinue reading

The Grammar Factor – June 2011

etc. and commas, e.g. and commas, indenting quotations, punctuation with greetings, subject-verb agreement, freemiumContinue reading

The Grammar Factor – May 2011

Disorientate and disorient, first, secondly thirdly, money or monies, state of the art, not what you say but how you say it, OK againContinue reading

Factorial – April 2011

Writing for non-readers, vagueness, adjective for integrity, leveraging your dialogueContinue reading

The Grammar Factor – April 2011

Northern Australia or northern Australia, singular or plural verb with ‘number of’, reading ages, year end or year-end, OMGContinue reading

Factorial – March 2011

Sentence structure, OK, email marketing, date formatContinue reading

The Grammar Factor – March 2011

Breakdown versus breakup, franchised versus franchise, into and in to, masters or master’s degree, googlegangerContinue reading

Factorial – February 2011

Me first, the philosophy of ambiguity, ancient textingContinue reading

The Grammar Factor – February 2011

maybe and may be, question marks with rhetorical questions, 2010 top words, fakecationContinue reading

Factorial – January 2011

Golden Bull winners, top 10 PR blunders in Australia, genteelismsContinue reading

The Grammar Factor – January 2011

people and persons, a and an, killed or died, ABC Radio National Style Guide, cuts to the quickContinue reading


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