Category Archives: Grammar

Good Grammar – Just a Matter of Image?

In business writing, getting your grammar right is not just about projecting a professional image. It is also about conveying your message accurately, and not having it distorted by grammar mistakes.

Consider this sentence extracted from an actual email:

  • On receiving the customer’s instructions, they cancel the order and refunded the money to the customer.

Some will argue that this is a small mistake. Just amend the tense form and the tenses will be consistent.

But is it really that simple? Which verb needs to be amended – “cancel” or “refunded”?

There are two possibilities:

(1) If the issue is now over, and the writer is recounting a past event, the correct sentence should be:

  • On receiving the customer’s instructions, they cancelled the order and refunded the money to the customer.

(2) If the issue is still ongoing, and the writer is referring to it as a standard procedure, then the sentence should be:

  • On receiving the customer’s instructions, they cancel the order and refund the money to the customer.

The differing tense forms (“cancel” and “refunded”) can confuse the reader. This is not a small mistake, and the writer has the responsibility to convey the message clearly.

Your readers cannot read your mind; they can only read your writing.

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This is just one example of how using grammar wrongly can change the intended meaning in your message.

Use grammar correctly in your business writing. If you don’t, it could just mean embarrassment, or it could result in a confusing message leading to miscommunication.

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Don’t Be a Mystery – Use Grammar Correctly

 

In business writing, if you make mistakes with your tenses, there are two possible outcomes:

Outcome 1: The mistake is small and does not affect understanding.

Example

Wrong: Last week, the manager meet the client.

The word “meet” is in the wrong tense, as this is a past event.

Correct: Last week, the manager met the client.

This can be considered a small mistake, as the words “Last week” make it clear that the event is now over.

However, it makes the writer look careless and irresponsible.

Outcome 2:  The reader will have no idea what you are saying. In other words, your message is a mystery.

Example

Wrong: The technician interview inform Peter that the part not in stock.

Understanding is impossible here, as the writer has disregarded the use of tense forms.

Here are some possible interpretations of this sentence:

  • The technician interviewed informed Peter that the part had not been in stock.
  • The technician interviewed informed Peter that the part was not in stock.
  • The technician interviewed informed Peter that the part would not be in stock.
  • The interview of the technician confirmed for Peter that the part was not in stock.

If a message can be interpreted in so many ways, it is a weak message. (Shockingly, this was extracted from a report.)

Use grammar correctly in your writing. Pay attention to the time reference of occurrences, and use tense forms accordingly to describe them.

Don’t be a mystery to your reader!

What Has Counting Got to Do with Grammar?

Yes, what indeed?

Grammar is the system and structure of a language, and counting, as we know it, is for mathematics.

But what if we were referring to countable and uncountable nouns?

Nouns are naming words. They give a label to things, and the two main categories of nouns are:

(1) Proper Nouns

These are actual names given to brands, people, countries, pets, etc.

Examples

  • Peter
  • Singapore
  • Apple

(2) Common Nouns

These are general names given to things, places, people, etc.

Examples

  • man
  • country
  • mobile phone

Under the category of common nouns, there are two classifications: countable nouns and uncountable nouns.

The way to determine a countable or uncountable noun is this:

  • Can you add an “s” or “es” to the word to show plurality?
  • Can you use a different form of the word to show plurality?

If you can do one of these, it is a countable noun. If you cannot, it is an uncountable one.

Examples

Countable Noun Uncountable Noun
office – offices water – water
manager – managers staff – staff
project – projects equipment – equipment
woman – women furniture – furniture

So, back to our question – what has grammar got to do with counting? Turns out that it may have very little to do with counting.

Whether a noun is countable or uncountable does not rely on the physical ability to count something. You have to abide by the rule of grammar.

This sign was seen at a construction site:

Sign - Equipments

Question: Where is the mistake?

Answer: The word “equipments” is wrongly used here. (It should be “equipment”.) There is no plural form for the word equipment, as it is an uncountable noun.

So what do you do if you are unsure about this grammar point? You check the dictionary.

For example, a quick check with the Longman online dictionary shows this:

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(Caution: Many words come with various usage definitions. Be sure to read carefully for the definition that you need. Some words can be used in either the countable or uncountable form, depending on your context.)

Getting your nouns right can save you from writing things like “staffs’, “furnitures”, “equipments”, “luggages”, etc. These are uncountable nouns and should not take a plural form.

Three Sentence Structures to Use in Business Writing

In English, there are 4 sentence structures:

  • The Simple Sentence
  • The Compound Sentence
  • The Complex Sentence
  • The Compound-Complex Sentence

For business writing, I recommend that you use the first 3 structures.

I will tell you about the 3 recommended sentence structures, but first, here’s a quick explanation of what makes up a sentence.

What are Clauses?

Clauses are groups of words that make up sentences. There are 2 types of clauses:

(1) the independent clause (can exist on its own grammatically)

  • usually conveys the main idea(s) in the sentence

(Eg: Peter tested the machine)

(2) the dependent clause (cannot exist on its own grammatically)

  • usually conveys secondary idea(s) in the sentence

(Eg: but did not write the investigation report)

If you combine these 2 clauses, you can make a sentence.

(Eg:  Peter tested the machine  but did not write the investigation report.)

The 3 Recommended Sentence Structures for Business Writing

These are the 3 recommended structures for business writing:

(1) The Simple Sentence

The simple sentence consists of one independent clause.

Examples

– Peter tested the machine.

– He did not write the investigation report.

(2) The Compound Sentence

To explain this in the simplest way, the compound sentence consists of two independent clauses (joined with a linking device).

Examples

– Peter tested the machine, but he did not write the investigation report.

– Peter tested the machine; however, he did not write the investigation report.

– Peter tested the machine; he did not write the investigation report.

This structure is especially useful when you want to place equal emphasis (weightage) on both these ideas.

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(3) The Complex Sentence

Again, to explain this in the simplest way, the complex sentence consists of one independent clause and one dependent clause.

Example

– Peter tested the machine but did not write the investigation report.

This structure is especially useful when you want to place more emphasis (weightage) on one idea (independent clause) and less on the other (dependent clause).

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Summary

If you have only one idea to convey in a sentence, you will obviously use a simple sentence.

If you want to convey 2 ideas of equal weightage in a sentence, use the compound sentence.

If you have 2 ideas in your sentence, and you want to emphasise one over the other, use the complex sentence.

Application

In our daily writing, you will very often need to convey complex information.

Now that you know more about the 3 sentence structures you can use, put this knowledge into practice.

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How to Speak English Better Immediately

I know of many people who wish that they could speak English better. They do speak English, but they feel that they don’t speak it well enough.

Here are three things you can do to improve your spoken English immediately.

(1) Work on Your Articulation

There are some words that we don’t articulate correctly. We may not be able to correct all of them; however, we should at least work on the words we use regularly.

Don’t just rely on your instinct or copy what others are saying. There are ways of checking for articulation online (eg: dictionary.com).

Alternatively, learn the phonetic symbols so that you can confirm the articulation of words in a dictionary.

Examples of commonly mispronounced words:

–  Wednesday: The meeting is confirmed to run on wed-nes-day. (The correct articulation is wenzday.)

–  lavender: Our office is on la-VAN-da Street. (The correct articulation is LAIR-vender.)

–  colleague: Tom is my ker-league. (The correct articulation is KOR-league.)

(2) Manage Your Intonation

Intonation refers to the way your voice goes up and down in pitch when you speak.

Many people tend to speak with a rather flat or narrow intonation. This means that they place more or less equal stress on almost every word in their speech.

At other times, they don’t place any stress on key words, or they stress the wrong words.

For example, these sentences may convey different tones, even though the words are the same:

  • We ARE busy, and we will work on this tomorrow.
  • We are BUSY, and we will work on this tomorrow.
  • We are busy, and we WILL work on this tomorrow.
  • We are busy, and we will work on this TOMORROW.

English is a stress-based language, and people rely on your intonation to understand your meaning.

Intonation in your speech also shows emotion and enthusiasm, and these are important elements in communication.

(3) Be Mindful About Grammar

You cannot speak with incorrect grammar and hope that the listener will understand your intended meaning every time.

It is fun and easy to use Singlish when we speak, but when the message is critical and accuracy is important, be mindful of your grammar. Switch to standard English.

Why Should You Improve Your Spoken English?

At the workplace, when you speak clearly and correctly, you project enthusiasm and confidence, and you come across as being more professional.

Your overall professional image is determined by how you dress, how you act, and how you speak. Don’t let your spoken English be your weakest link.

 

Sharpen Your Written and Verbal Communication Skills

In today’s business world, where being connected is more crucial than ever, the ability to communicate effectively is highly sought-after.

If you provide administrative support in your organisation, you must be effective in both your written and verbal communications.

Written Communication

Written communication serves two purposes – to communicate (get a message across) and to document (put on record the communication).

Pay attention to your grammar and language. Know the level of formality you need for your written message, and use plain English and short words as much as possible.

Find out and use the acceptable formats required for different business documents – letters, email, reports, minutes, etc.

Your written communication must satisfy three criteria:

(1) It must be clear.

If you just need to communicate something, make sure that the message is clear and accurate. If you need to document the communication, include enough details to make it a complete record.

(2) It must be appropriately formal.

If you are writing to a close colleague, you can be less formal and more relaxed in your writing style. However, if you are writing to a superior or a customer, make sure you use an appropriately formal style.

(3) It must tell the reader what to do or expect.

Do not leave the reader guessing. Your message should have only one outcome – the outcome that you want. Not the outcome that the reader infers from your imprecise writing.

Verbal Communication

– Speaking in Front of an Audience

When you speak in front of an audience, consider these three aspects:

  • Visual aspect – Dress appropriately, and manage your body language to gain the confidence and respect of your audience.
  • Vocal aspect – Project your voice so that your audience does not need to strain to hear you. Articulate your words clearly and correctly.
  • Verbal aspect – Choose your words wisely. People form word associations, and your message can be influenced by your choice of words. For example, to tell your audience that you welcome them to do something is very different from saying you allow them to do something.

– Participating at Meetings

At meetings, make sure that you are seen and heard.

Be prepared, and project an organised and competent image. Lean forward, show interest in what others are saying, and contribute your ideas clearly and confidently.

Communication is the most important link in most operations. Effective communication means fewer delays, reworks, and mistakes.

Know the 12 Tenses in English

Here are some questions I get asked frequently:

  • Exactly how many tenses are there in English?
  • What do these tenses look like?
  • How are they used?

Here is an overview of the 12 English tenses:

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Don’t be overwhelmed by these tenses. The point is, you probably use only some of these tenses regularly. There are some that I hardly use (e.g. future perfect tense and future continuous tense).

Understand how the 12 tenses work, but get really familiar with those that you use regularly. I find that the most commonly used tenses are:

  • simple present tense
  • simple past tense
  • present perfect tense
  • past perfect tense
  • present perfect continuous tense

Tenses are crucial in English, as your reader or listener relies on these to understand your meaning. Use them correctly.

Don’t Be a Mystery – Use Grammar Correctly

 

In business writing, if you make mistakes with your grammar, there are two possible outcomes:

(1)  The mistake is small and does not affect understanding. (But it can make the writer look careless.)

Example
Yesterday, the manager say she would submit the quotes by today.

The word “say” is in the wrong tense, as this is a past event.

Correct: Yesterday, the manager said she would submit the quotes by today.

This can be considered a small mistake, as the word “Yesterday” makes it clear that the event is now over.

(2)  The reader will have absolutely no idea what you are saying. In other words, your message is a mystery.

Example
The technician interview inform that the part not in stock.

Understanding is impossible here, as the writer has disregarded the use of tense forms.

Here are possible interpretations of this sentence:

  • The technician interviewed informed (someone) that the part had not been in stock.
  • The technician interviewed informed (someone) that the part was not in stock.
  • The technician interviewed informed (someone) that the part would not be in stock.
  • The interview of the technician confirmed that the part was not in stock.

If a message can be interpreted in so many ways, it is a weak message. (Shockingly, this was taken from a report.)

Use grammar correctly in your business writing. Pay attention to the time reference of events, and use tense forms accordingly to describe them.

Don’t be a mystery to your reader!

Let’s Get Possessive (A Quick Grammar Lesson)

We know that nouns are naming words. They are used to name people, things, places, etc.

When we want to show possession (or form the possessive), we add apostrophe + s to the noun.

Examples
Noun Possessive Noun
the manager the manager’s office
Sheila Sheila’s plan
the customers the customers’ feedback

Recently, someone showed me a sentence with possessive nouns and asked me a question.

Sentence

Attached is Peter and Sally’s proposal for your review.

Question

Should the verb used be “is” or “are”?

Answer

It depends on what you want to say.

If you mean that Peter and Sally prepared this proposal together, it should be:

  • Attached is Peter and Sally’s proposal for your review.

(There is just one proposal; therefore, the correct verb should be “is”.)

If they prepared separate proposals, it should be:

  • Attached are Peter’s and Sally’s proposals for your review.

(There are two proposals; therefore, the correct verb should be “are”.)

As you can see, there is no mystery to it. You just need to be sure about what you want to convey, and use the possessive nouns accordingly.

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Use Grammar with Confidence (16 & 17 August 2016)

 

 

 

 

Spot the Grammar Mistake

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This was a sign put up in a taxi. Can you spot a grammar mistake in the message?

Answer:

“Eat healthy” is incorrect.

“Healthy” is an adjective, as in “a healthy person”.  Adjectives are used to describe nouns and pronouns.

However, “eat” is neither a noun nor a pronoun here. It is a verb.

An adverb is required to describe this verb, and the adverb for the base form “healthy” is “healthily”.

Therefore, the correct way to say this is “Eat healthily”.

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Want to master grammar in a friendly and relaxed learning environment?

Join our class Use Grammar with Confidence on 16 & 17 August 2016.