Punctuation is something that even native English speakers get wrong from time to time. However, punctuation is a vital part of your writing; it's not something to be careless about or use incorrectly. If you use incorrect punctuation, you run the risk of completely altering the meaning of what you write, and confusing your reader.
Here's a little exercise I use with my own students to show why correct punctuation is important.
Take a look at the letter from Jill to Jack and decide, using punctuation, whether she is in love with him or is trying to break up with him:
I want a man who knows what love is all about you are generous kind thoughtful people who are not like you admit to being useless and inferior you have ruined me for other men I yearn for you I have no feelings whatsoever when we’re apart I can be forever happy will you let me be yours
Now compare your changes with those below:
I want a man who knows what love is all about. You are generous, kind, thoughtful. People who are not like you admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me for other men. I yearn for you. I have no feelings whatsoever when we’re apart. I can be forever happy — will you let me be yours?
I want a man who knows what love is. All about you are generous, kind, thoughtful people, who are not like you. Admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me. For other men, I yearn. For you, I have no feelings whatsoever. When we’re apart, I can be forever happy. Will you let me be?
As you can see, there are two versions: Jill is in love with Jack AND trying to break up with him, depending on the punctuation used. So bear in mind next time you write something that punctuation is not just about a few dots and dashes – it has the potential to alter the meaning of your work if you use it incorrectly.
Click here for a guide to punctuation.
Emails are an effective and convenient means of communicating information and have revolutionized how we operate in the business world.
Less intrusive than phone calls and faster than letters, it’s hard to imagine how any company could now operate without email. Business letters are becoming a thing of the past as more and more of us use emails as our primary means of communicating with clients, suppliers, customers and colleagues.
Although emailing can be as “chatty” as telephoning and far less formal than letter-writing, there are still some important rules to follow in order to make a good impression. Email etiquette is vital if you want your company to appear professional, helpful, approachable and, most of all, worth doing business with.
Follow these rules for email success:
• Always write an informative subject line – never leave it blank
• Make sure the email is personally addressed
• Separate each paragraph with a blank space so the text is easier to read
• Be clear and concise – long sentences are distracting and boring
• Quickly get to the point of your email
• Check your spelling and facts
• Never use only CAPITAL LETTERS
• Don’t use smiley faces or other emoticons (unless you know the recipient very well) or write your text in bright colours
• Never use emotive or offensive language
• Use a legible font and font size
• Make sure that all necessary files are attached
• Think twice before you click Reply to All – do you really want everyone on the list to read your reply?
• Don’t use email to discuss confidential information – no email is private
• Don’t use the abbreviations often found in text messages (i.e. “I would like 2 C U.”)
• End the email well with the next step clearly stated (i.e. “I look forward to your reply.”)
• Always proofread before you click Send!
Remember: your email can be forwarded to many people – that is why it is vital to make a good on-line impression. Use correct and courteous business language and take a little time to construct your message. After all, once you have clicked the Send button, it is too late to make any changes.
Sometimes it’s hard to know how to start or end a business email or letter.
Should you be fairly informal or use a more formal (and polite) salutation? And what about "Yours sincerely", "Yours faithfully", "Best wishes" etc? When do you use them and are there set rules?
Well, there are certain rules to follow when beginning and ending a letter and formal emails, especially when writing for business matters.
While it is okay to write "Hi John" or "Hello Sue" to certain colleagues and end your correspondence with "'Bye for now", "Regards" or simply your name, for more formal situations it is best to following the rules set out below:
• When you don’t know the name of the person you are writing to use "Dear Sir" (for a man) or "Dear Madam" (for a woman). Sometimes, you don’t even know the gender of the recipient of your letter. In this case use "To Whom It May Concern" or "Dear Sir or Madam".
• Each of the above salutations, because you have not used a name, must end with "Yours faithfully".
• If you know the name of the person you are writing to, for instance, “Dear Mr Brown”, then you can end the letter with "Yours sincerely", "Best wishes", "Kind regards" etc.
Thanks to emails, the way the language is used in business has changed. It is now acceptable to use semi-formal or informal greetings and endings. It is likely that most people never use "Dear sir" or "Yours faithfully" in an email. It is seen as rather old-fashioned and overly formal.
However, it is still good to understand the rules, because you never know – one day you just might need to write a formal but very important correspondence.
KHO Language Services
You might not be a blogger, but this article from Boost Blog Traffic gives you a great easy-to-read lesson on how to self-edit your writing when it comes to the fundamentals of English grammar.
This is essential knowledge regardless of what you sort of texts you write. Some of the English grammar you learnt at school may seem outmoded now, but there are of course still rules to follow!
How to Write Correctly: The Busy Blogger’s Guide to English Grammar won't apply to academic or formal business writing, but if you have your own website and want to write in a more conversational tone, this article is very helpful reading.
Read the article here.
A contraction is simply a shortened version of a word – the contracted form.
We often contract or shorten words when we speak and nowadays contractions are popular in everyday spoken English, where the contracted form of “to be” is the most widely used. For example, “I am” becomes “I’m” and “We are” becomes “We’re”.
There are, of course, many examples of other auxiliary verbs that are also contracted in colloquial English. To avoid any confusion over how to use contractions, check the list below for the most common examples:
Am: I’m not going to work today.
Is: She’s coming to the party.
Susan’s at the office.
Who’s at the door?
There’s no need to shout!
Are: You’re my best friend.
They’re on holiday in Thailand.
We’re going on holiday tomorrow.
Has: She’s been to Thailand twice before.
It’s been ages since I last saw you!
John’s gone to the office.
What’s he been up to?
Who’s been told about the cancellation?
Have: I’ve finished the report at last.
They’ve got three dogs.
We’ve been to Thailand twice before.
Had: She’d been waiting all day for his call.
We’d better hurry!
They’d better be on time.
I’d better be on time.
Will: I’ll get you a cup of tea.
Susan’ll get the cups.
What’ll we do now?
He’ll be there in five minutes.
They’ll wait for you at the station.
That’ll be the day!
Would: I’d like a cup of tea, please.
She’d love to travel to Thailand.
They’d prefer to travel to India.
We’d like some tea.
It is important to remember that using contractions makes whatever you say more informal and for that reason contractions are more commonly used in spoken English.
However, with the growing use of emails and text messaging, it appears that English is becoming more informal in general and therefore the use of contractions is increasing.
Nonetheless, it is important to remember that contractions should be avoided in all types of formal writing, including business letters, essays and exams. In these situations you must use the full form of the auxiliary verbs otherwise you risk your work not being taken seriously.
What did the Romans do for us? Well, apart from straight roads and central heating, they also left us the legacy of Latin.
Latin is an ancient language that risks dying out for good but you would be surprised at how often Latin words appear in everyday English usage. You have probably heard many phrases and perhaps wondered what some of them mean. Well, check out this list for the most common Latin phrases used in the English language.
Ad hoc - For this purpose, improvised, made up in an instant
She had to do the filing, photocopying and printing as well as lots of other ad hoc tasks.
Ad infinitum - Without a limit, endlessly
He talked ad infinitum about his holiday in Scotland.
Agenda - Things to be done
Right, let's look at the meeting's agenda.
Alias - Otherwise
John Brown's alias was John Smith.
Alibi - elsewhere
Her alibi was that on Saturday night she was at a friend's party.
Alter ego - Other, an alternative self
It was almost as if he had an alter ego when he played guitar.
Bona fide - Genuine, sincere
He said he was a bona fide plastic surgeon.
Carpe Diem - Seize the day
Their school motto was Carpe Diem.
Circa (c.) - About
He said it was circa fifty miles to London.
Ego - Consciousness of one's own identity
He has such a huge ego!
Et cetera (etc.) - And the rest
He likes chocolate - milk, dark, white, truffles, nougat, fondants, et cetera.
In flagrante delicto - In the act of committing some sort of offence
He was caught in flagrante delicto with the manager's wife.
In vitro - In a test tube (literally means "in glass")
They conceived their baby through in vitro fertilization.
Per annum - Per year
She gets paid only $20,000 per annum.
Persona non grata - A non-acceptable person
After his antics at the party, he really is persona non grata.
Pro bono - Without charge, for the public good
The plastic surgeon said he would do pro bono work for the charity.
Rigor mortis - The rigidity of death
The corpse was now in the state of rigor mortis.
Terra firma - Solid ground
After the boat trip she was glad to be on terra firm again.
Status quo - The current state of affairs
He was keen to keep the status quo at work.
Vice versa - The order being reversed
Cats hate dogs and vice versa.
So, as you can see, there are many Latin words still in use today when we write and speak English, showing that it has certainly greatly influenced the English language. Perhaps you might like to add a few Latin phrases here and there to your writing to help keep this fascinating language alive.
Pronouns are words that take the place of nouns. There are various ways they can be used depending on whether the pronoun is the subject or object or is reflexive. For example:
Subject pronouns are: I, you, he, she, it, we, they.
Object pronouns are: me, you, him, her, it, us, them.
Reflexive pronouns: myself, yourself, himself, herself, itself, ourselves, yourselves, themselves.
Now we have split the pronouns into groups, we can look at the rules of use.
When you use a subject pronoun (which is also known as nominative case), it can be the subject of a sentence, for example, “I am a student”, “Jane and he are colleagues” but when the pronoun is used after the verb “to be”, the pronoun renames the subject. The “to be” verbs are as follows: is, are, was, were, will be, may be, may have been. Here is an example of a pronoun used after a “to be” verb:
“It is I who wrote the letter.” Here, “I” comes after the “to be” verb “is” and the subject is renamed “it”. So, the subject pronoun needs to be used instead of the object pronoun.
We use an object pronoun (also known as objective case) when the pronoun is the direct object (not the subject), the indirect object or the object of the preposition. Here are some examples:
“John met her at the library.” Here, “her” is the direct object.
“Sue will give him his book back.” In this example, “him” is an indirect object because you can, in your mind, put the word “to” in front of “him” (Sue will give to him). In this case, “book” is the direct object. Let’s look at other examples:
“Between you and me, this book is terrible.” In this case, “you” and “me” are the objects of a preposition (between).
Lastly, we'll turn to reflexive pronouns. For example, you can write “She did it herself” but you would never write or say “Give the book back to John or myself”. In this last sentence, “myself” does not refer back to another pronoun or noun – the correct pronoun is “me” (an object pronoun).
As you can see, there are lots of different ways to use pronouns and it is important to use them correctly when speaking or writing.
Firstly, what is a gerund? Well, a gerund is what is known as a verbal noun and it is formed using the suffix “ing” in verbs. It is also used in the continuous form of a verb tense (“walking, talking, reading” as opposed to the infinitive form “to walk, to talk, to read”). The gerund can also be used as a noun. Let’s see some examples using “walking”:
I am walking (verb – continuous form)
I like walking (noun)
Walking is the best exercise! (noun)
The last example shows how the gerund becomes the subject of the sentence. Like other nouns, gerunds can also act as direct or indirect objects of the preposition (prepositions are, for example, for, to, in, on, etc.):
I like walking (direct object).
I will give her sponsor money for walking up the steep hill (object of the preposition “for”).
It will greatly help your writing if you can recognize gerunds because if a noun or pronoun (my, her, his, its, and so on) is followed by a gerund, you need to use the possessive form of that noun or pronoun. Here are some examples:
My walking ahead annoyed him (this is correct).
Me walking ahead annoyed him (this is incorrect).
Their talking is really bothering me (this is correct).
Them talking is really bothering me (this is incorrect).
Let’s look at some other correct examples:
Jim’s swimming is fast and powerful.
Jane’s skating is so exciting to watch.
The boy’s running won him first prize in the race.
When dealing with gerunds, you need to ensure that you use the similar grammar form when you present several ideas in one sentence. For instance:
“Running, jumping and skipping are all great fun.”
In this sentence, they are all gerunds and therefore fit together properly. But what if you had a sentence like:
“Reading, writing and knowing arithmetic are essential skills for everyone”?
Well, if all the words were treated as verbs, the sentence would be fine. However, it is commonly known that the words “reading”, “writing” and “arithmetic” are all nouns and therefore it is better to write:
“Reading, writing and arithmetic are essential skills for everyone”.
You need to also be aware that the gerund form is used in present or future progressive verb forms – I am walking, I will be walking, and so on. The progressive form is sometimes also called the continuous form.
It is important to be aware that the gerund takes on several forms, but once you are familiar with the different contexts, you will see that learning gerunds is not so difficult after all.
The Key Blog
Hello and welcome to The Key Blog! This is where you'll find information and tips on writing, proofreading, and the English language in general. Feel free to use the articles in your own e-zines, blogs or websites etc., as long as you include the resource box. Thank you!