Monthly Grammar Tips: September 2015
Building a brand depends on every point of contact that each employee has with customers, prospects, and partners. And despite being experts within respective disciplines, everyone is still occasionally bedeviled by a common high school nemesis: GRAMMAR! To help with the challenge, Opus sends out weekly “Friday Grammar Notes,” addressing misspellings, misuses, and misnomers in everyday communication. This quickly became the source of much dialogue around the proverbial water cooler, so we decided to make it a recurring feature on our blog. We hope you find it as useful as we do!
The apostrophe in a contraction denotes an omitted letter or letters; can’t = cannot, she’s = she is, etc. Pretty straightforward stuff, and we previously covered the most problematic contractions, it’s and they’re, in July.
So let’s consider three rather unusual contractions: could’ve, would’ve, and should’ve. While these are common in speech, you don’t see them as much in written form. You should generally avoid using them in professional communications, but be careful when “un-contracting”—the apostrophe + ve is short for have, not of.
- CORRECT: “The flight should have departed 20 minutes ago.”
- INCORRECT: “We would of arrived on schedule if only they could of de-iced the plane in time.”
(And no matter what, avoid the dreaded coulda, woulda, shoulda!)
Finally, contractions are never required, from a purely grammatical standpoint, but they help keep your writing from feeling overly formal and add a sense of relaxed sincerity—just the sort of plainspoken voice we’re using for the Opus brand.
WHEN DO YOU USE AN APOSTROPHE TO CREATE A PLURAL?
The answer? Almost never!
Superfluous Apostrophe Syndrome is an extremely – and unfortunately – common grammar mistake, and can manifest in many forms.
- INCORRECT: Opus has been around since the 1990’s.
- CORRECT: 1990s
Note: ‘90s would be correct, however, as the apostrophe indicates omission of the preceding 19.
- INCORRECT: In that time, we have registered the domain rights to several URL’s.
- CORRECT: URLs
- INCORRECT: We have one of the best team’s in the industry.
- CORRECT: teams
In nearly every case, plurality can be demonstrated simply by adding an s (or es, or ies, depending on the word; see here for a handy overview).
The one exception is when demonstrating plurals of a single character. Even here, there’s a debate in grammar circles about whether and when to do so, but it’s generally a safe approach to ensure clarity.
- EXAMPLE: We really need to cross our T’s and dot our I’s on this purchase order.
Finally, things can get a little tricky when dealing with an abbreviation which could be plural and/or possessive. Here are some examples of how to do so:
- PLURAL: There were more than 60 CEOs at the executive summit. [no apostrophe]
- POSSESSIVE: We sent the invitation to the CEO’s assistant. [apostrophe + s]
- PLURAL POSSESSIVE: We arranged over 60 CEOs’ itineraries. [s + apostrophe]
This concludes our ongoing look at apostrophes, but if you’re more of a visual learner (and interested in velociraptors’ playful nature), check out this excellent and hilarious overview from The Oatmeal.
THESE KINDS OF APPLES AND THAT SORT OF ORANGE
Kind and sort are interchangeable, but we need to pay attention to whether we’re using singular or plural. Specifically we’re talking about instances where you’re using kinds of [things], a kind of [thing], sorts of [things], or a sort of [thing]. The issue is being consistent, whether you’re using singulars or plurals. Here are some examples:
- INCORRECT: Those kind of candidates avoid talking about the real issues.
- INCORRECT: These sort of people never take a day off work.
These are incorrect because we’re using a plural demonstrative, those/these with the singular kind/sort. The confusion happens because candidates and people are plural, and you’d naturally say those candidates or these people. To be consistent, you should use the plural kinds and sorts.
- SINGULAR: Have you ever tasted this kind of apple?
- SINGULAR: I gave him a goofy hat, but he’s not really that sort of guy.
This and that are singular, kind and sort are singular, and apple and guy are singular. They all match.
- PLURAL: We haven’t had to deal with these kinds of issues before.
- PLURAL: Those sorts of features can take a long time to program and debug.
These and those are plural, kinds and sorts are plural, and issues and features are plural.
We’ve been talking about kind of and sort of in the context of categorization, but what about these examples?
- EXAMPLE: I’m kind of hungry.
- EXAMPLE: She’s sort of quirky.
These phrases are also used (always singular) to modify adjectives, meaning partially or somewhat. This usage is common but is best used in casual communications.
BEATUS FRIDAY, DOCTORES
That greeting is Google-translated Latin for Happy Friday, Maestros (our nickname for Opus employees), because today, we’re focused on correct usage of a couple of Latin abbreviations: e.g. versus i.e.
- i.e. is the abbreviation of the Latin phrase id est, which means “that is.”
- e.g. is the abbreviation of the Latin phrase exempli gratia, meaning “for example.”
A common misuse is to use i.e. when you’re giving some examples. i.e. is correctly used when you want to give further explanation for something.
- EXAMPLE: New employees should be able to explain TeamCS, i.e., the way our people, values, and methodology create a competitive advantage.
Use e.g. in place of “for example”. An easy mnemonic device is eg-zample.
- EXAMPLE: Opus manages a variety of events, e.g., Sales Kickoffs, User Conferences, and Incentive Programs.
In both cases, the letters are not capitalized, and they are followed by a comma before continuing the sentence.
Vale, i.e., Latin for farewell…