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

July 2012


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 = essential to the meaning, nonrestrictive = extra information).

The Chicago Manual of Style Online gives the following examples:
‘Restrictive: I love moments such as those. (I don’t love all moments; this tells which moments I do love.)
Unrestrictive: Don’t you love that lucky, jazzy feeling, such as when you meet someone cute or find money in your pocket? (I love that feeling, unrestricted; here are some examples of it.)’

A or an with acronyms

Reader’s question: Should you use a or an before an acronym. For example:

It is anticipated that a SPV…
It is anticipated that an SPV…

Answer: Your choice depends on the sound. If the acronym starts with a vowel sound, irrespective of whether it is a vowel, use an.

With the example given, I would say ‘an SPV’.

More reader contributions of Americanisms

Lay, lady, lay, across my big brass bed. (Australians would say ‘Lie lady lie…’.)
He laid down on the bed and cried. (Australians would say ‘He lay down…’.)

In English (and Australian and NZ) English, lie is an intransitive verb, i.e. doesn’t take an object (you can’t lie something) and its past tense is lay: ‘we lay down an hour ago’. (When lie means to tell an untruth, the past tense is lied.)

The verb lay in the present tense is transitive, i.e. takes an object, ‘please lay the table’, and its past tense is laid: ‘she laid the table an hour ago’.

Also, Americans say ‘the lay of the land’ whereas Australians say ‘the lie of the land’, though lay has always been permissible and is creeping in more and more.

  • American: a half hour; Australian/NZ: half an hour
  • American: toward; Australian/NZ: towards
  • American: use to; Australian/NZ: used to

Place names

A reader supplied the following link on Australian place names.

Another reader informed me that it used to be a rule that land-based features used an apostrophe, but sea features did not. Based on that rule:

Hawke Bay – off the east coast of the North Island in New Zealand.
Hawke’s Bay – the district in the hinterland. 

Articles of interest

Executive summaries and recommendations in board papers
Email me if you’d like a copy of an article I wrote for Chartered Secretaries Australia’s journal, Keeping good companies.

Social media and business
An interesting McKinseyQuarterly article on how senior leaders can harness social media to shape consumer decision making in predictable ways.

Test your writing style
Write about a bottle for five minutes to learn more about your personality and writing style. It’s interesting to see what you focus on.

Developed by James W. Pennebaker, author of The Secret Life of Pronouns.

My blogs this month

  • Hyphens
  • Bullet points in executive summaries
  • Beyond words for iPads

Quote of the month

‘The English language is a dreadful mess. It always has been and always will be. That is its great splendour.’
Matthew Parris, introduction to The King’s English by H.W. & F.G. Fowler


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