Monthly Grammar Tips: April 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 have an extra helping of rolls and roles, turn abbreviations into verbs, explore the subject (and object) of she/her and he/him, and wrap up our list with the use of et cetera.
THE ROLE OF ROLLS
Here we tackle two things we struggle with every day: homophones and empty carbs. We’re here to set the record straight on the difference between a role and a roll.
The word role refers to a person’s function on a team, or the part played by a performer (both equally applicable to a Maestro on any given day).
EXAMPLE: The primary purpose of this kickoff meeting is to establish everyone’s roles and responsibilities.
The definition of roll is broader. In our work, we’re typically talking about carpet that needs unfurling, a list of attendee names, or a tasty addition to a catering menu.
EXAMPLE: I was late for roll call this morning because I was up last night rolling out the latest software update.
Take care not to mix these two words up in your writing. Every time you attempt to start a project “role-out” or “find a bigger roll to play,” E. B. White (famed grammarian and author of Charlotte’s Web) rolls over in his grave.
TURNING ABBREVIATIONS INTO VERBS HAS BEEN OK’D
we were thumbing through the updated AP Stylebook for pleasure the other day—as grammar geeks are wont to do—when we stumbled across an interesting topic to share: abbreviations as verbs.
This is quite common in spoken language, and has the AP’s official seal of approval for the written word, as well. Acceptable examples include:
My boss OK’d that expense.
I’m CC’ing the project manager on this updated task.
Our recruiter has ID’d a promising candidate for the open position.
Thanks for RSVP’ing for our event!
The key rule is for the abbreviation be commonly understood—no arcane jargon, please—and to offset the trailing d and ing with an apostrophe.
SHE versus HER. HE versus HIM.
We’ve explored this trouble area in the past, but we continue to encounter it, so it’s worth revisiting.
INCORRECT: Her and I talked about the menu and decided to go with the chicken.
CORRECT: She and I talked about the menu and decided to go with the chicken.
In this case, SHE is the subject of the sentence (one of the people doing something). This error most commonly occurs when paired up with I. You never hear anyone say Her talked about the menu…, but when you throw in the I, people get confused.
She, he, and I are subjects and always go together. Her, him, and me are objects and are used in combination. Don’t mix subjects with objects.
INCORRECT: The invitation came to he and I.
CORRECT: The invitation came to him and me.
Here, the subject of the sentence is the invitation, and the pronouns are the objects so we use her, him, and me.
An easy way to check yourself is to separate the two people that you’re talking about.
The invitation came to him. The invitation came to me. So… The invitation came to him and me.
ETC., AND SO ON
In Latin, et cetera literally translates to “and the rest,” meaning it should be used only to replace the unspoken items of a longer list. The reader should never have a doubt as to what you’re leaving out.
EXAMPLE: We had nametags arranged alphabetically near the registration area, starting with A, proceeding to B, followed by C, etc.
That’s all well and good, but some lazy (but usually just rushed) writers tend to use etc. as a crutch with which to prop up their weak content. Using etc. to end a short list because you’re fresh out of ideas or just can’t think of another example is seen by some as downright disingenuous, and will be sniffed out by readers who are on the ball.
DON’T DO THIS: We have a million fresh ideas for fun attendee activities, including horseback laser tag, underwater karaoke, etc.
There are plenty of valid uses for etc. in modern writing. If you feel that writing out a long, arguably redundant list of examples or information would hinder or unnecessarily lengthen your communication, etc. can be employed to make it more concise. It’s perfectly acceptable when something is better left unsaid.
The key rule is not to use etc. to end a list when the remainder of the list is not obvious. Here are two examples of perfectly acceptable uses, courtesy of Grammarist:
All non-human primates—monkeys, gorillas, chimpanzees, etc.—exhibit some form of tool use.
For 99 cents, users can punch in their current mood (sad, tempted, worried, etc.).
Conversely, it’s a sign of lazy and/or unclear writing when the balance of the list is unclear:
First, I find out what motivates a particular dog. Some dogs like food, others toys, etc.
Feel free to use etc. in your writing to keep things brief or more clear, but use it well. Misusing it can make you persona non grata among friends and clients alike.