Is that a groan familiar from your school days? If only you had listened, you’d know all about nouns, verbs, sentences and so on. Or perhaps you were part of the ‘lost generation’ at school between the late 1960s and 1990s, and so you didn’t have a formal education in grammar and punctuation. Do not fear: here are our top ten tips on grammar:
- Know your parts of speech. There are eight parts of speech, but the two that you need to know are nouns and verbs. A noun is a ‘naming’ word, such as dog, London, Janet or management. A verb is a ‘doing’ or ‘action’ word, such as lives, does or writes.
- Subjects and verbs must agree in number in a sentence. The subject of a sentence is the person who is doing the action or the thing that is doing the action. Consider this sentence: ‘The box of documents are in reception.’ This is incorrect, because there is only one box. Therefore, as the subject of the sentence is singular, use the singular verb to match and say ‘The box of documents is in reception.’
- Me or I? Would you say ‘Please let John and I see the agenda’ or ‘Please let John and me see the agenda’? The best way to answer this is to leave John behind for a moment. If it were only you asking you would say ‘Please let me see the agenda.’ You’d never say “Please let I see the agenda.’ So always use ‘John and me …’ in these cases.
- Me or myself? 'Myself’ is a reflexive pronoun and should only be used with ‘I’: ‘I am not myself today.’ The common error that is often made is ‘Please reply to my secretary or myself’ when you should say ‘Please reply to my secretary or me.’
- Should, shall, would and could. The following pairs are all correct: I should appreciate it if you could/would … I would appreciate it if you could … I shall appreciate it if you will. Or simply use plain English: ‘Please would/could/will you …’ or, better still, a straightforward ‘Please …’ will suffice!
- Comprise and consist. ‘Comprise’ is never followed by ‘of’: ‘The team comprises three people.’ ‘Consist’ is always followed by ‘of’: ‘The team consists of three people.’
- Use ‘were’ rather than ‘was’ after ‘if’, ‘as if’, ‘as though’ or ‘I wish’. For example: ‘I wish I were going too,’ and ‘If I were you I’d rethink this’ and ‘He spoke as though he were preoccupied.’
- May or can? If you are asking permission, say ‘May I …’ rather than ‘Can I …’. ‘Can’ indicates the physical ability to do something, so the answer to a ‘can’ question is often yes when the answer to a ‘may’ question is no! If you are asking for permission to do something, ‘may’ is the correct word to use.
- Match words in a list. Consider this sentence: ‘You can get to sunny Margate by train, car or cycling.’ Two nouns (train, car) and one verb (cycling) have been used in that list. Match the words and say: ‘You can get to sunny Margate by train, car or bike.
- Avoid tautologies. That is, avoid saying the same thing twice. The most common tautologies in business are ‘enclosed herewith’ and ‘attached hereto’. Keep it simple and say it once: ‘enclosed’ or ‘attached’.
Judith Di-Castri is a specialist communications consultant at Zee Associates (www.zee-associates.co.uk). She can be contacted on 01825 733621 or firstname.lastname@example.org