With all the nuances of the English language, writers often are stare at a sentence and ask, is that right? Here are a few issues people commonly ask about.
Starting a sentence with and – Because many teachers said it was wrong, there remains a persistent belief that it is taboo. But writers have done it for nearly a thousand years, including Shakespeare. And can be a useful device for bridging sentences, so that you convey the close relationship of one thought to the previous one, as in We need to do A, B, C, and D. And that’s not all … For people who are not comfortable doing it, there usually is another way to write the sentence, perhaps using also in some way. But don’t wake up in a cold sweat at 3 a.m. because you started a sentence with and.
Words that follow than – Instead of She is older than me, make it She is older than I am. The word than should be followed by a clause (a group of words with a subject and verb), not by a single word: She works harder than anyone else does, not She works harder than him. Here is where a sentence can be confusing. If you say, Judy helped the new employee more than me, does it mean that Judy helped the employee more than she helped you, or does it mean Judy helped the new employee more than you helped the person?
Pronouns ending in self or selves – People commonly say, Please send a response to Jim or myself. Make it Jim or me. Pronouns, such as her, my, or them, are sometimes combined with self or selves. When you say, Cindy picked out the house herself, you are using the pronoun reflexively, because it reflects back on the person mentioned earlier in the sentence. When you say, Employees themselves endorsed the idea, you are using the pronoun intensively. You can hear the emphasis on themselves when you read the sentence aloud.
is comprised of – A company comprises several business units or is composed of business units, but it is not comprised of several units. Comprise means to contain, include, or consist of.
Use/utilize – Use is considered a more satisfactory choice in most cases when you are conveying the sense of bringing something into service. It is simpler and less pretentious than utilize. But utilize is appropriate when you are referring to someone employing something for a practical, perhaps tactical, reason. If someone says, I wasn’t able to use the power tool, it could mean he couldn’t find the “on” switch or he couldn’t understand how to operate it. But if he says, I wasn’t able to utilize the tool, it means he wasn’t able to employ the tool for a particular purpose.
i.e./e.g. – Avoid them, because too many people no longer know what either one means. The abbreviation i.e. is short for the latin term id est, meaning that is, or that is to say. E.g. is an abbreviation for the latin term exempli ingratia, meaning for example. Use the words that is to say (or in other words) or for example, rather than the abbreviations.
If you could benefit from more writing tips, join us for a webinar September 8th, called “Influencing Your Audience: Crafting Messages that Motivate.” Learn subtle persuasion techniques to use immediately, even in email, to make your messages convincing.
Ken O’Quinn is a professional writing coach and former Associated Press writer who conducts corporate workshops on business writing, persuasive writing, and corporate communications writing. He is the author of Perfect Phrases for Business Letters (McGraw-Hill), which is available here at Amazon.com.