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Writing Tips: 681 - 690

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Tip #681: A or An?

Do you sometimes have difficulty choosing the proper
adjective? For instance, are you reading a article, an article, or the article? The correct grammatical name for these very important adjectives (the underlined words) in English is "article." These articles go before most nouns and other adjectives in our written and spoken language.

"A/an" designates one person or thing. It can also mean
one non-specific, indefinite person or thing. Look at the
following example: I am going to buy a new computer
today. This means that the person is going to buy one
computer but isn't sure which one.

Also note that the only difference between "a" and "an"
is the spelling. "An" is used before any word starting with the vowels a-e-i-o-u or the letter h if it makes the sound of a vowel.

This is an example of when to use "an": This is an example. (No, this is not a typo.) "An" is placed before the word "example" because "example" begins with a vowel.

So, be sure to do an amazing job when you type a letter to a company with whom you are doing business. "An" is used in the previous sentence because it comes before the adjective "amazing" and "amazing" starts with a vowel.

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Tip #681b: The article "the"

Tip #681a dealt with the article "a/an." In this tip, the article "the" will be discussed.

As discussed, articles are adjectives that come first in the series of adjectives that describe the final noun.
When the article "the" is written (or spoken), it is called the definite article because it signifies the definite, exact
person or thing to which it is referring.

Unlike "a/an," "the" is used with both singular and plural nouns. The following are two examples showing its use:
1. The computer desk (singular) should be placed near the window in the corner.
2. The computer desks (plural) should be placed near the window in the corner.

In sentence one, "the" refers to a particular computer desk  (as it does to the window and the corner), unlike "a computer desk...," which could mean any computer desk and not the particular one. In sentence two, "the" is used with plural nouns and refers to particular computer desks.

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Tip #682: Choice of Verb with a Collective Noun

In order to choose whether to use the singular or plural verb with a noun, we first need to determine if that particular noun is a singular or plural noun. This is pretty simple until the noun is a "collective noun."

A collective noun is a noun that represents a group of persons or things. The following are some examples: audience, company, group. A collective noun is different than a "non-count noun" in that it can be sometimes considered as both a singular noun and a plural noun.

Let us look at the word "group." If we say, "The group attending the meeting was very astute," the idea we want to convey is that the one and only group attending was acting
as one unit or group.

Now the situation changes, and the members of the group are acting separately. Example: A group of CEOs will be arriving at the conference on Wednesday and Thursday. This
signifies that the group is composed of many individuals arriving separately, but they will be collectively attending the conference.

Thus, when speaking and writing using collective nouns, the idea needs to be clear whether the noun is acting as one unit (use a singular verb) or as several separate units that collectively come together (use a plural verb).

If the sentence sounds awkward, you may decide to rephrase it. Awkward: The jury are not in agreement about the verdict. Better: The members of the jury are not in agreement about the verdict.

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Tip #683: Short, Sweet, and Understandable

We are aware that office managers have the responsibility to relay information and directions to the personnel in a concise manner.

Here is an example of something that employees may have read: When you shut the office down for the night, be sure to set the alarm. To shorten this and remove the "you," write the statement like this: When shutting the office for the night, be sure to set the alarm.

Notice that the verb "shut" in the first statement is changed to the "ing" form of the verb (shutting) in the second statement. Notice that the "you" is removed and emphasis
is placed on the important idea of shutting the office.

By practicing this method of writing, it is possible to improve your skills.

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Tip #684: Besides, will you sit beside me?

"Besides" and "beside" are exactly alike except for the letter "s." This one letter makes for a dramatic difference in the meanings.

"Will you sit beside me?" means "Will you sit next to me?" So in this example, "beside" means "next to." Used in this way, "beside" is a preposition. Besides the word "beside," there is the word "besides."

While this last sentence was written as part of the context of the paragraph, it was also written to illustrate that "besides" is not a preposition, but an adverb, which is used to connect the thought of the sentence that came before it. Used in this context, it means "in addition to." The word "besides" can also mean "except for" as in this example: Besides Tony, no one else is coming.

Long ago, the two words were used interchangeably. Over the years, this has changed. We now make the differentiation as explained above. Only use "beside" as a preposition and "besides" as the adverb.

So, if you ever hear a song with the lyrics "Come and sit besides the still blue waters," you will know that it was probably written a long time ago.

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Tip #685: Complain—sometimes it's necessary

In a perfect world, there would be no need to complain. Unfortunately, paradise does not exist, and no matter how hard we try, there will always be mistakes, errors, or misunderstandings that need to be rectified.

Let's say you work in the accounting department of a company. A bill has been submitted from one of your suppliers that contains an enormous error. Your alternative is to either e-mail or telephone to report the problem.

You choose, of course, to email a formal letter of complaint for two reasons. First, you will have a written record of proof that you contacted the company. The other reason is that you and the company have no grounds for a "he said, she said" accusation.

A letter of complaint should have four paragraphs. The first paragraph will give only the pertinent facts. For instance, in the example above, you would include reference to the item, the price, the date of shipment, the quantity, and the proposed cost per piece.

The second paragraph explains the problem, clearly and concisely.

The third paragraph details exactly what needs to be done in order to resolve the situation.

The final paragraph, before the close, ends on a positive note, thanking them for their efficient and immediate correction of the problem.

Remember, no matter how distraught you are about the problem, you can "catch more flies with honey than with vinegar."

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Tip #687: Capitalization of Names of Places
(continued from 686, which is missing)

The place names with "city" are capitalized only when hey are part of the common name. Atlantic City and
Kansas City are two familiar cities that are examples.

Capitalize "state" when it follows the state's name. It is correct to write Washington State, but not correct
to write the State of Washington. In the latter, the word "state" should not be capitalized because it not part of the name and does not come directly after the name of the state.

In the sentence, "We are returning to the States next year," "States" stands for the United States and therefore is capitalized.

Some place names are imaginary, such as Madison Avenue, Wall Street, and Off-Off Broadway, and are capitalized.

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Tip #688: How to say "Merry Xmas"

With Christmas just 11 days away, many of us in the workplace will be wishing happy holidays to each other and to all of our customers and clients around the world. However, did you know that in many parts of the world "holiday" means "vacation?"

This is true in the British Isles. There, wishing someone a good holiday means "have a nice vacation." Therefore, in England they greet each other with "Merry Christmas."

If you were to translate the Japanese greeting, it would
translate into "have a happy Christmas." Most of the
translations from one's native language to English do
translate to "happy" Christmas.

The word "merry," as we say, seems to have been derived from the Old English myrige, which meant "pleasant and agreeable." An informal letter written by an English Admiral in 1699 contained the expression "Merry Christmas and Happy New Year."

When written informally, it is accepted to shorten the spelling of Christmas to Xmas. So, when sending greetings around the world this season, you could look for the exact translation in your recipient's language, or you could just use our very lovely greeting, typically English, of "Merry Christmas." If you wanted to be a little more encompassing of all the holidays (American), you could say "Seasons Greetings."

So we say to all of our wonderful and faithful readers

Merry Christmas
Seasons Greetings, Happy Christmas
Happy Holidays
to You and Yours

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Tip #689: Thank you notes

December is the season when many different holidays are celebrated, such as Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and Three Kings Day.

Besides the religious implications, these holidays are associated with gift giving and receiving. Gift giving is usually linked with family, friends, or office. The excitement of opening presents ripples through all ages, and the receivers excitingly thank the person(s) who were so kind to think of them. This usually takes place at some type of a gathering or holiday party.

However, many times the person who has given us a gift is not present when we open it. Therefore, it is important to write a thank you note. This is applicable to the office environment as well as family and friends.

A thank you note should be sent as soon as possible, but no more than 30 days after receipt of the gift. Be specific when you mention the gift. Say exactly what it was; do not write the neutral "thank you for the gift."

If a gift is not mentioned precisely, it seems like you did not really appreciate the gesture. Be sure to include at least one complimentary reason why you like the present. The thank you note ends thanking the giver for the kindness of thinking of you.

With this small act, you will certainly gain the respect of family, friends, office associates, customers, and clients.

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Tip #690: New words and definitions for 2012

The newest edition of the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary has 150 new words and definitions. Some of these have been used for years but "their meanings have stabilized enough to include them in the dictionary," stated the editor.

We will list ten of these words and definitions here.
  • Social media: forms of electronic communication through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages and other content.
  • Tweet: a post made on the Twitter online messaging service.
  • Crowdsourcing: the practice of obtaining information from a large group of online contributors.
  • Cougar: a middle-aged or older woman seeking a romantic relationship with a younger man.
  • Parkour: a new sport, shown in the film "Casino Royale," that involves rapid running, climbing, or leaping over environmental obstacles.
  • Helicopter parent: a parent who is overly involved in the life of his or her child.
  • Fist bump: a gesture used in place of a handshake in which two people bump fists together.
  • Robocall: a prerecorded message delivered to the masses from an automated source.
  • Boomerang child: a young adult who returns to live at home for financial reasons.
  • M-commerce: business transactions conducted by using a mobile electronic device.


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