Ernest Hemingway on words:
“All my life I’ve looked at words as though I were seeing them for the first time.”
Here is the second edition of On Words, a mini grammar and usage guide to give you quick, at-a-glance grammar tips for better business communications. Good grammar affects first and lasting impressions. This refresher guide is designed to sharpen your communications skills. Here are October’s tips:
Who or whom? Knowing when to use the subjective pronoun ‘who’ instead of objective pronoun ‘whom’ separates the well-spoken from, well…the rest. Use ‘who’ to refer to the subject of a clause and ‘whom’ to refer to the object of a clause.
a.) As a subject: “Who are you talking to?”
b.) As an object: “To whom do you wish to speak?” An easy way to remember is to use the subjective ‘who’ when it could be he or she, and the objective ‘whom’ when it could be him or her.
The same rules apply for use of the subjective pronoun whoever and the objective pronoun whomever, but there is more margin for error, because ‘whoever’ is now often accepted as a modern option for use in both cases. So if in doubt, use ‘whoever’ for both cases, but for formal speech and text, ‘whomever’ is the best choice in cases when it is the object of a clause.
a.) Subjective: “Whoever thought this would happen?”
b.) Objective: “A bonus will be awarded to whomever makes the quota first.”
Stop saying that! Seriously. Many people don’t realize their writing, and even speech is bloated with overuse of the word ‘that’. In school we may have been taught to use it often so it’s easy to feel the need to include it, but modern speech and writing trimmed it from frequent use years ago. For example, in speech: “I heard that Ellie liked the sales strategy that Joe planned for next quarter.” Sounds better without ‘that’, doesn’t it?
Of course, there are many instances where including ‘that’ is fine, but when it’s not needed, using it is not technically a grammar faux pas as much as it is simply clunky and unnecessary. Use your judgement in terms of what sounds most natural to the ear, and remember this tip: omitting the word ‘that’ sounds best with the most common verbs of speech or thought, known as bridge verbs, like ‘say’, ‘think’, ‘know’, ‘claim’, ‘hear’ or ‘believe’.
Example: “I think that we all know that the product is great.” After adjectives, ‘that’ can usually be omitted as well, but in some cases you could include it for effect, as in, “We’re thrilled that you came.”
While we’re on the subject of ‘that’, here is an instance where ‘that’ may be needed…or is it ‘which’?
That or which? Would you say “Plants that blossom are beautiful” or “Plants which blossom are beautiful”? An easy one – that! When you are elaborating, the decision to introduce more descriptive information with ‘that’ or ‘which’ depends on a couple of things. Here’s a tip – use ‘that’ when it introduces a restrictive relative clause, and ‘which’ when the clause is non-restrictive. A restrictive clause is a needed one because it identifies a specific type within a larger group. A non-restrictive clause is one that could be dropped from the sentence without changing the meaning of it because it simply adds extra information for elaboration.
Example: “The new Thai restaurant, which is really expensive, is getting great reviews.”
Here is a non-restrictive (expendable) clause example: I just finished working on the five-year plan, which I will present at the meeting next week.
Restrictive (needed) clause example: I just finished working on the five year plan that I was assigned for the meeting next week.
Words ending in ‘ward’ and the ‘s’ factor – Have you ever wondered whether or not to add an s on toward, forward, backward, afterward, and upward? While it’s not grammatically wrong to include the ‘s’, it’s not usually done in North America. While many British spellings are widely used in Canada, this is an example of one that is no longer favoured in Canadian speech and writing.
Note: ‘afterwards’ is a little different – ‘Afterward’ can only take the s and become ‘afterwards’ when used as an adverb and in relation to time, as in, “Are you going to the screening? I’ve heard there’s going to be a party afterwards.” But in such cases, ‘afterward’ would still also be correct, so when in doubt, leave ‘s’ out.
Ending a sentence with a preposition – Everyone has probably done it at one time or another, particularly in speech, and it’s not always wrong. Think of a preposition as a binder – a word that links nouns, pronouns and phrases to other words in a sentence, so there is not usually a reason to end a sentence with one. The word or phrase it introduces becomes the object of the preposition. Some of the most common prepositions are: of, about, above, at, in, on, across, beneath, under, up, with, by, for, from, in… but there are many more!
Here is an example of when it’s okay to end with a preposition: “What did you read about?” or “What did you step on?” Some grammarians would still say the last sentence technically should be, “On what did you step?” Perhaps, but it wouldn’t sound natural, and natural speech should factor in to your decision.
p.s. Language fun fact: We interpret “Happy as a clam” as meaning ‘satisfied with a situation’, but why that phrase? Why are clams so happy? In 1838 it was referenced as ‘an old adage’ in Knickerbocker magazine. The original line was “Happy as a clam at high tide” because traditionally, clams are picked at low tide. No wonder they are happy! Source: The Dictionary of Clichés by James Rogers.