Monthly Grammar Tips: December 2016

Opus is a full-service marketing agency. As such, we consider each and every member of the Opus team to have a direct hand in marketing. Every point of contact with customers, prospects, and partners presents an opportunity to further our brand. We take pride in the quantity and quality of our communication—no matter the medium—which makes it even more important for our writing to be strong and free of errors. To that end, Opus sends out weekly “Friday Grammar Notes” with the aim of raising the bar of the written word across the entire agency. Our notes should provide utility to everyone, whether you’re a fledgling scribbler or a confirmed word nerd. 

This month we differentiate traveling and travelling, count the ways to pluralize proper nouns, reflect on the importance of me, myself, and I, and give readers the gist on whilst, amidst, and amongst.

WHAT A TRIP: TRAVELING vs. TRAVELLING

A month full of trips away from the office got us thinking about an all-too-common (especially in our line of work!) spelling conundrum: was the office quiet this week because so many of us were traveling (one L) or travelling (two L’s)?

The decision is even trickier because both spellings typically pass muster with spell-check programs, but traveling is the correct American English spelling, while travelling is the accepted norm with English varieties from outside the U.S. Here’s a simple mnemonic device:

Traveling, the shorter spelling, is accepted closer to home.

Travelling, the longer spelling, has an extra letter to represent the extra distance traversed to find it in use.

Note that this same rule applies to traveled/travelled and traveler/traveller.

CHRISTMAS CARD CONUNDRUMS: PLURALIZING PROPER NOUNS

’Tis the Season to send Christmas cards, so we’re bracing ourselves for the inevitable and egregious use of apostrophes to form plurals. We’re hoping you won’t be among the offenders. Here’s a quick guide for turning your surname into a plural.

An apostrophe should never be used to make names plural. Go back and read that part again.

CORRECT: Merry Christmas from the McClellans.

WRONG: Merry Christmas from the McClellan’s.

Like common nouns, some names need an es to make them plural. Add es to most names ending in s, x, z, ch, and sh (with some exceptions).

EXAMPLE: Happy Holidays from the Waterses.

EXAMPLE: Holiday Greetings from the Hutchingses.

EXAMPLE: Season’s Greetings from the Marquezes.

EXCEPTION: Merry Christmas from the Reichs. [This name is spelled with a ch but is pronounced with a k sound.]

Yeah, we agree, that can be a little awkward even though it is correct.

ALTERNATIVE: Happy Holidays from the Waters Family.

ALTERNATIVE: Holiday Greetings from the Hutchings Family.

ALTERNATIVE: Season’s Greetings from the Marquez Family.

Proper nouns that end in y don’t require the ies that you use for plural common nouns.

CORRECT: Happy New Year from the McCoys.

CORRECT: Merry Christmas from the Lowerys.

WRONG: Happy New Year from the McCoies.

WRONG: Merry Christmas from the Loweries.

Hyphenated surnames should just pluralize the second part, but families that use multiple surnames can pluralize both and throw in a hyphen or an ampersand. There are lots of special cases where families come together, so you can get creative—as long as you don’t use an apostrophe!

HYPHENATED SURNAME: Best Wishes from the Gordon-Burgesses.

MULTIPLE SURNAMES: Merry Christmas from the Woods & Ellmans.

ALTERNATIVE: Merry Christmas from the Wood-Ellman Family.

LOOKING OUT FOR NUMBER ONE: ME, MYSELF, AND I

It’s time someone stands up for me, an oft-maligned but perfectly respectable pronoun. I suspect that many of us were scolded as children when we said things like this:

INCORRECT: David and me are going to the playground.

CORRECTION: “No, dear, you mean to say ‘David and I.’”

CORRECT: David and I are going to the playground.

And, of course, they are correct; in this example, the pronoun is used as the subject of the sentence, so I is appropriate. Unfortunately, what sticks in your mind after this experience is that I is more correct than me. The reality is that I is used as a subject, and me is used as the object—the recipient of the action.

INCORRECT: Liz sent the meeting invitation to David and I.

CORRECTION I NEVER REMEMBER HEARING: “No, dear, you mean to say ‘David and me.’”

CORRECT: Liz sent the meeting invitation to David and me.

That gets us through two of the three first-person pronouns: me, myself, and I. Myself is a “reflexive” pronoun, so think of your own reflection in a mirror. Use myself as the recipient (the object) of the action when you are also the subject.

EXAMPLE: I had to remind myself that Brian was setting up the meeting with Spencer and me.

What you need to avoid is thinking of myself as a more proper or formal form of me. It is not that.

INCORRECT: The client requested a meeting with Dana, Mary, and myself.

CORRECT: The client requested a meeting with Dana, Mary, and me.

Myself can also be used for emphasis; in this usage it’s called an “intensive pronoun”. You’re using myself to emphasize that it was, indeed, you who was involved.

INTENSIVE PRONOUN: I myself ate twenty-three chicken wings. [or] I ate twenty-three chicken wings, all by myself!

CUT THE PRETENSE: DROP ARCHAIC SPELLINGS

According to legend, Santa is constantly on the lookout for bad grammar. While using the wrong they’re/their/there will warrant coal in your stocking, this minor grammatical wrongdoing will only get you a few half-dead batteries and a handful of busted candy canes: archaic alternative spellings whilst, amidst, and amongst.

These spellings are technically correct, and don’t change the meaning of the common words they replace, though they are often seen as pretentious affectations, and are wholly unnecessary in almost all writing.

These words aren’t actually wrong—they just work against an approachable, down-to-earth voice in your writing.

Whilst and amongst can always be replaced by their more common equivalents while and among, which are clearer and less flowery. For amidst, even replacing it with amid can sometimes be read as unnecessarily fussy, so replacing with in or among is typically preferable.

Do you like what you read? Whether you’re a fellow grammar nerd or you’re pretty sure a diphthong is a type of sandal, we’ve got plenty more grammar tips to go around. Until next month: good writing!

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