Tag Archives: Singapore English

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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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.

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.

 

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.

 

Fun with Adjectives

In grammar, understanding the parts of speech helps you to write grammatically sound sentences.

The eight parts of speech are nouns, pronouns, verbs, adverbs, adjectives, conjunctions, prepositions, and interjections.

Let’s have a little fun with adjectives today.

Adjectives are words that describe nouns. (Nouns are words that name things.)

We all know that adjectives come in three degrees – positive, comparative, and superlative.

Here are some examples:

Adjective Positive Degree Comparative Degree Superlative Degree
cold cold colder coldest
effective effective more effective most effective
good good better best

 

The (underlined) adjectives in these sentences are wrongly used. How would you correct them?

1.      Terry is the best of the two applicants.
2.      We had less complaints before we implemented the new system.
3.      Some systems don’t work as good as others.
4.    This is the most fastest machine among the four models presented.

 

Did you get the correct answers?

Correct Adjective

1.    Terry is the best of the two applicants.

better

2.    We had less complaints before we implemented the new system.

fewer

3.    Some systems don’t work as good as others.

well

4.    This is the most fastest machine among the four models presented.

fastest

 

Getting the correct answer is the easier part. More importantly, do you know why the original sentences are wrong?

Correct Adjective

1.    Terry is the best of the two applicants.

better

Explanation:

“Best” is the superlative degree of the adjective “good”, and it is used for comparing more than two elements.

Here, there are only two applicants, so the comparative degree (better) should be used.

2.    We had less complaints before we implemented the new system.

fewer

Explanation:

“Less” is used for uncountable nouns.

The noun “system” is countable, and “fewer” is the correct adjective.

3.    Some systems don’t work as good as others.

well

Explanation:

In this sentence, “good” describes the word “work”.

However, “work” is not a noun. It is a verb, and an adverb (well) is needed to describe it.

4.    This is the most fastest machine among the four models presented.

fastest

Explanation:

“Fastest” is the superlative degree of the word “fast”, and it does not need the word “most” to indicate this.

Relax – It’s Only Grammar

Must we get grammar right all the time?

Although getting it right all the time would be ideal, it can be tedious. But you do want to make an effort.

Some may think that grammar is not the most important issue to focus on, as long as the words in the message are correct or appropriate.

However, did you know that using the wrong grammar can change the meaning of your message entirely?

Luckily, not all grammar mistakes have such a great impact. In fact, some minor errors can be overlooked (and often are), because they do not affect the message much.

Other more serious errors, on the other hand, must be avoided, or a different message (from what you intended) could be conveyed.

So just how well have you mastered grammar?  Take this grammar competency check to find out.

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Grammar Competency Check

Correct the mistakes in this message: 

Dear Mr Tan,

I am writing about your request on the re-formatting of your PC hard-disk with no extra charge (Warranty No: 767668).

We do understand that because you have purchased an extended warranty on 20 Dec 2014, you did not expect to pay other charges for the servicing of your two month old PC.

However, your service warranty only cover hardware problems.  As your PC failure was caused by a virus introduced by a programme install after your PC Purchase, the Warranty did not cover this software problem.

Although I would like to help you, it was difficult for me to justify.  I hope you understand our position on this.

As he has explained to you on 3 Jan 2015, we can reformat your hard-disk with a fee of S$50.00 (plus GST).  Please call him at Tel: 6234 5433 if you wished to make a service appointment.

With Best Regards,

Thomas Tan

Service Department Manager

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The corrections are underlined and in bold: 

Dear Mr Tan,

I am writing about your request for the re-formatting of your PC hard-disk at no extra charge (Warranty No: 767668).

We do understand that because you purchased an extended warranty on 20 Dec 2014, you do not expect to pay other charges for the servicing of your two-month-old PC.

However, your service warranty only covers hardware problems.  As your PC failure was caused by a virus introduced by a programme installed after your PC purchase, the warranty does not cover this software problem.

Although I would like to help you, it is difficult for me to justify a fee waiver.  I hope you understand our position on this.

As our service technician, Mr Albert Lim, explained to you on 3 Jan 2015, we can reformat your hard-disk at a fee of S$53.75 (inclusive of GST).  Please call him at Tel: 62345433 if you wish to make a service appointment.

With Best Regards,

Thomas Tan

Service Department Manager

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Although most of the grammar mistakes in this message are minor and do not affect understanding, they do make the writer look careless and even a bit incompetent.

For example, in the last paragraph, the sentence beginning with “As he has explained to you” has a serious grammar flaw.  The pronoun “he” is not clear in indicating who it refers to, and this affects the reader’s understanding.

Understand and master the use of grammar. You don’t need to fear speaking or writing in English; in fact, communication can become a joy when you can convey your message in exactly the way you want it.

Five Ways to Switch from Singlish to English at the Workplace

Have you heard utterances like these at the workplace?

–  Wah, so early for what? Meeting start at 10am leh.

–  Ei, the boss not happy today hor. Be careful ok?

–  You kena scolded by that customer ah? He very unreasonable one.

These Singlish utterances may be fun and bonding in your personal circles, but at the workplace, they may not inspire a lot of confidence or get you a lot of respect.

Consider these revised statements:

–  Hey, you’re early. The meeting will only start at 10am.

–  Just so you know, the boss doesn’t look too pleased today.

–  Did you get told off by that customer? He’s quite unreasonable.

Five Ways to Switch from Singlish to English

Here are five ways to switch from Singlish to English at the workplace:

(1) Use English Conversation Fillers, Not Singlish Ones

Conversation fillers are used in both Singlish and English. However, the sounds are different.

For example, common filler sounds in English are oh, gosh, wow, etc. Common filler sounds in Singlish are wah, leh, hor, etc.

(2) Do Not Omit Your Articles (a, an, the)

Articles tell you more about the nouns used. For example, the article “a” is used for the first mention of something, or to talk about something as yet unknown.

Make a conscious effort to include articles in your spoken English.

Example

Singlish: Meeting start at 10am.

English: The meeting starts at 10am.

(3) Pay Attention to Subject-Verb Agreement

A basic grammar rule regarding the use of verbs is that the subject and verb must agree. Respect this rule.

Example

Singlish: Meeting start at 10am.

English: The meeting starts at 10am.

(4) Avoid the Kena-Passive

In English, to describe something done, the passive voice is normally used. In Singlish, the word “kena” is usually used to show the passive voice.

Example

Singlish: You kena scolded by…

English: You were scolded by…

(5) Don’t Omit Be-Verbs

The be-verb is also known as the status verb. It shows the status of an occurrence or a situation.

In Singlish, the be-verb is frequently omitted, making it difficult to understand if something has already taken place, is taking place at the moment, or will take place in the future. Make sure you use be-verbs appropriately.

Example

Singlish: He very unreasonable one.

English: He is very unreasonable.

Why Do People Use Singlish?

People use Singlish for several reasons:

(1) Fear of Appearing Too Formal or Serious

Some people feel that it is not trendy to speak Standard English. It makes them look too serious, and they prefer to project a fun-loving and relaxed image.

(2) Fear of Appearing Pretentious

Some people feel that speaking Standard English is not natural. They may even think that it is pretentious to speak Standard English, and it will alienate their friends.

(3) Desire to Express Singaporean Identity

Many Singaporeans are actually proud of Singlish.

(4) Lack of Confidence or Competency in Standard English

Some people would like to use Standard English, but they lack mastery in it.

Why Should You Use Standard English at the Workplace?

Although Singlish can be fun and bonding in your social groups, it presents its own set of problems at the workplace. The user of Singlish may be perceived as unprofessional or incompetent.

This may not be an accurate assessment, but people do judge us by the way we use English at the workplace.

Using Standard English shows that you respect the workplace, and this projects a more professional image for you.

Five Ways to Confuse Your Listener and Embarrass Yourself

Image

I want to tell you 5 ways to confuse your listener and project a poor image when speaking at the workplace.

Here we go:

(1) Use Poor Articulation

Instead of confirming how words should be articulated, go with your instinct, or simply copy what others are saying.

Examples

–  Tell your boss: “The meeting is confirmed to run on wed-nes-day (Wednesday).”

–  Inform your customer: “Our office is on la-VAN-da (Lavendar) Street.”

–  Address people you work with as ker-licks (colleagues).

(2) Ignore the Importance of Intonation

Tell your boss that you deserve to attend that important conference in a flat tone. Just focus on the words and forget about the intonation.

This is what you could say: “Boss, I should attend the upcoming regional conference for administrative professionals, as I am confident that I will pick up useful tips to enhance my performance.”

Don’t forget to use a flat intonation – that means no going up and down in pitch, and no stress on key words in your sentences.

Confuse your boss with the uninterested intonation that contradicts the enthusiastic words.

(3) Forget About Grammar

Why bother with grammar when you can speak in a way that bonds better with the listener?

Examples

–  Tell your customer: “Last week we do not have the stock, but next week we maybe have the stock.”

–  Inform your boss: “Yesterday, Mr Tan is not in the office. I try calling again later.”

–  Update your colleagues on the status of a machine: “The machine not working. Technician working on it. Let you know soon.”

Your listener is likely to understand what you are saying, so forget about a professional image, just speak without thinking about grammar.

(4) Forget About Projecting Your Voice and Speaking Clearly

It’s fine to sound soft and breathy. In fact, it may even make you sound friendlier and more approachable.

Never mind that you don’t project an assertive, confident or professional image.

(5) Abuse Your Speech Mechanism

Go for prolonged periods without drinking water, and yell or whisper whenever you need to. Your voice is meant to be tough to withstand such abuse.

I hope you didn’t mind reading these tongue-in-cheek tips. I am sure you know that these are exactly the opposite of what we should be doing.

Of course, we don’t want to confuse our listener or project an unprofessional image at the workplace!

Read on to test your own perceptions of what speaking clearly means.

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Self Assessment: Voice and Articulation

What is your opinion of these statements?

(1) A gentle, slightly breathy voice shows that I am not aggressive, and it is suitable for business situations.  

(2) In order not to waste the listener’s time, I should speak at a faster rather than a slower pace. This also helps me to project confidence.

(3) People should not be judged by the way they speak. Some people sound enthusiastic, capable, and confident, but not everybody can sound like that. 

(4) My colleagues and friends know that I speak with an accent. I also don’t articulate my words very well. I can’t do anything about it.     

(5) Children have the ability to improve their speaking skills because they are faster learners, but as an adult, it is too late for me to work on this.    

What were your responses? See if they are similar to our observations.

(1) A gentle, slightly breathy voice shows that I am not aggressive, and it is suitable for business situations. 

Quite the contrary. A gentle, breathy voice, while being non-threatening, comes across as unsure, weak, or unenthusiastic.  A clear and strong voice is more likely to gain you respect at work.

(2) In order not to waste the listener’s time, I should speak at a faster rather than a slower pace. This also helps me to project confidence.

When we speak too rapidly, there are two disadvantages.

Firstly, we do not have the time to frame our thoughts properly to come up with the best words and phrases. Secondly, we may sound nervous.

What matters is not how many words we can speak; it is how many words the listener can understand.

(3) People should not be judged by the way they speak. Some people sound enthusiastic, capable, and confident, but not everybody can sound like that. 

When we speak clearly and correctly, we project enthusiasm and confidence, and we come across as being more professional.

When we speak in a low voice or with a monotone, we could be presenting important or interesting information, but the listener is not likely to take much notice or be impressed.

(4) My colleagues and friends know that I speak with an accent. I also don’t articulate my words very well. I can’t do anything about it.      

Accent and articulation are related yet different things.

Our accent reflects our linguistics background, our dialect and first language influences, and the speech patterns we commonly hear in our daily lives.

Generally, our accent is a kind of birthright, and we don’t need to give that up.

Articulation, on the other hand, is the way we form the sounds in each word. This can be practised and perfected with the help of phonetic symbols.

(5) Children have the ability to improve their speaking skills because they are faster learners, but as an adult, it is too late for me to work on this.     

Actually, the opposite is true.

Children, especially younger ones, may not have fully developed articulators. Their motor neurons may also not be fully “connected” for them to coordinate their articulators, so it is more difficult for them to produce certain sounds.

Adults, on the other hand, should have fully developed neurons and articulators.

Assuming that their speech mechanisms are healthy and in good working order, adults should be able to practise and perfect all the sounds in the phonetic alphabet, which makes it possible to pronounce most English words accurately.

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If you think that you are not speaking clearly or correctly, or if you suspect that you are not projecting your voice well enough, do something about it.

Train your articulators to articulate sounds correctly. Learn techniques to project your voice effectively.

Being judged by the way we speak is not fair. But it happens. All the time.