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 the power of seven in writing with bulleted lists. Long lists are difficult to read and the information can often be grouped into smaller chunks.

Three is also a useful number, for example, when giving options. Too many options are overwhelming, but three are manageable.

I am not sure how to work four into writing rules. Any suggestions?


On a similar topic, another article looks at how the brain processes information when we read and gives five lessons for brain-friendly writing.

ESL Grammar

Online Writing Training’s latest e-learning program, ESL Grammar, is now available.

It covers agreement issues, definite and indefinite articles, prepositions, tenses and sentences.

Normally $79 GST incl, it’s only $39.50 GST incl until the end of January with the promo code: owt010dbi (discount shows on the PayPal page).

ESL grammar questions

Question: Which sentence sounds better and why?

If the powerful people of the world wanted to wipe out as much suffering as possible, they could do it.
If powerful people of the world wanted to wipe out as much suffering as possible, they could do it.

Answer: You could use either, but the first sentence with the definite article sounds stronger because the sentence is referring to a specific group of people.

Read more about the definite article at this BBC site:

Question: Which of the following sentences is correct?

I have no rule to explain my choice.
I have no rules to explain my choice.

Some people say that you can only use a plural count noun after no. Is this true?

Answer: You can use singular or plural count nouns after no. Your choice will depend on the context.

I have no child under the age of 18.
I have no children under the age of 18.

There’s no herb like tarragon for flavour.
There are no herbs like tarragon for flavour.

Your examples
I have no rule to explain my choice – the implication is that there may be rules but I personally don’t have one.
I have no rules to explain my choice – the implication is that there may not even be rules.

Effective communication through emails

As part of SilkRoad’s compliance series, Gina Frampton will be presenting a webinar on effective email communication.

Gina Frampton is a lawyer, editor and journalist whose spectrum of work has extended from a legal office in a squatter camp to a large law firm. She runs workshops in the legal, banking, insurance and accounting sectors, as well as in government and the not-for-profit sectors.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012
9–10am (SG/PH/HK)
12–1pm (SYD/MEL)
2–3pm (NZ)

Register now at

Readers’ peeves

  • The  overuse use of in terms of – often the sentence reads much better without it.  Another phrase in this category is with regard to.
  • Apostrophes to make words that end in o plural, e.g. video’s.


From ‘app’ to ‘tea’
An interview with David Crystal about his book The Story of the English Language in 100 Words.

What is business diplomacy?
This article and podcast by Lisa B. Marshall use the example of how to handle someone being late to a meeting.

Can copywriting really make people prefer Ryanair to British Airways?
This article looks at how writing can influence brands.

Quote of the month

Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man.
Francis Bacon
English philosopher and author (1561–1626)

PS By ‘ready’, Bacon meant ‘prompt or quick in speech, discourse or writing’ (OED).

Words of the year

Oxford’s (UK) word of the year


I have never seen this word used, but I like it. Have you used it?

Oxford’s (US) word of the year

gif (used as a verb)

I have never noticed this word used as a verb. Have you?


online grammar
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