Monthly Grammar Tips: November 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!

NUMBERS IN PARENTHESES

Often you’ll see people spell out a number and then follow it with the numeral, enclosed in parentheses. This is a relic of legal writing, as in contracts, where they were concerned with fraudulent alterations. It was presumed to be more difficult if you had to alter the word and the numeral, and the parentheses didn’t allow for any extra space around the numeral. There’s no reason to do so anymore.

It is common to see numbers in spreadsheets formatted to display within parentheses when they are negative. That’s a different usage than we’re talking about here, so we have no bias against that.

When using numbers in a sentence, we recommend spelling out the numbers up to ten and using numerals after that. If you’re using numbers in a scope of work or list of items, it’s fine to use the numerals—just don’t put them in parentheses.

EXCLAMATION POINTS!

Unrestrained use of exclamation points has all the elegance of LOL and LMAO — OK for texting with your friends, but not cool in business communications. Here are a few guidelines:

  • Use sparingly, as frequent use reduces the impact. Think about selecting more powerful words that don’t need an exclamation point to give them impact.
  • One is enough. Really.
  • Except in informal communications, don’t combine it with a question mark. It is OK to use it instead of a question mark, as in, “Can you believe that!”

COMPOUND MODIFIERS

Are you ever feeling so particularly descriptive about a noun that a one-word adjective simply won’t do? Congratulations—you’ve entered the realm of compound modifiers!

A compound modifier is when you connect two words to create a hyphenated adjective, in order to clarify your statement or more vividly describe a noun. A simple guideline for hyphenation is to consider whether doing so changes the meaning of the sentence. For example:

  • Attendees expect a hassle-free experience. (An experience devoid of hassle.)
    Attendees expect a hassle free experience. (A problematic experience which cost you nothing.)
  • It wound up being a wild-goose chase. (Chasing wild geese.)
    It wound up being a wild goose chase. (Chasing geese, wildly.)
  • The hot-water bottle was an unusual promo item. (A branded bottle for hot water.)
    The hot water bottle was an unusual promo item. (An arguably dangerous branded bottle for water, which was hot, or perhaps wildly popular.)

(It’s actually kind of a fun game, once you start playing…)

Another good rule of thumb is to hyphenate before a noun, when it is an adjective form, but not after:

  • I’ll meet you in our on-site office.
  • We have 26 employees on site.

It’s not wrong, per se, not to include a hyphen in these situations. Readers can typically deduce your intended meaning based on context, but why slow them down and force them to do so? Super-clear writing is always appreciated.

PLEASE, DON’T DO DUE DILIGENCE

Over the past 20 years, we’ve seen a migration of the term due diligence from its original legalistic use in finance and real estate over into mainstream usage. The original usage referred to exercising proper care and attention to avoid causing harm or committing an offense because of ignorance, typically in a business transaction.

These days, it’s not uncommon to hear it used to refer to something as casual as research or comparison shopping:

  • I almost bought that pair of sunglasses, but I want to do my due diligence and check Amazon reviews.

We recommend not reducing the term to this more commonplace usage; instead, use it when specialized and detail analysis if required. Even when used in the correct context, avoid pairing it with the verb do, which can lead to potty-humor when you least need it. Better alternatives include perform or exercise.

  • AWKWARD: We plan to move forward with the contract as soon as we do due diligence.
  • BETTER: We plan to move forward with the contract as soon as we perform due diligence.

Finally, we present our favorite entries from the “there should be a word for that” contest. The challenge was to coin a word that characterizes the awkward ten seconds or so that happens on a WebEx between saying goodbye and actually being able to quit the application. Our favorites are:

  • Wexiting or WebExiting
  • WebExiety
  • WebExodus
  • WebExtricate
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