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Rumma’ging through Apostrophes

During a recent road trip across southern Utah, I passed a store with the name Rumma'geI assume that the owner wanted to stand out from the crowd (which was pretty small to begin with) and dress up her store name to “Rumma’ge” instead of the dowdy “rummage.”  Unfortunately, her use of the apostrophe was laughable. 

Wherever you go, you see apostrophes used in painfully incorrect phrases, such as:

  • “Please wear shoe’s in the pool area.”       
  • “Visitor’s are kindly requested to sign the register.” 
  •  "Ask cashier for this weeks’ list.”

            

Why this compulsion to apostrophize?  Do people vaguely recall that an apostrophe sometimes goes before the ‘s’ -- so they pop them into words at random and hope they get it right?   That’s what the Rumma'ge lady did. These grammar gaffes make me grumpy. 

Okay, so when DO you use an apostrophe? 

*          To form a contraction. 

The apostrophe shows where a letter or letters have been omitted.  For example, instead of let us see, you could write, “let’s see. 

Watch out here, this gets tricky--- instead of it is, you could write it’s.

*The word its is not, repeat is not a contraction.  It is a possessive form of the word it.  Please remember to use it’s only when signifying a contraction between it and is.

 *          To show possession. 

Instead of having to write, “This shoe belongs to John,” we can write “John’s shoe.” Instead of saying, “Hey – I think that is the car that belongs to John!,” you can say, “Hey – I think that’s John’s car.” What a deal!

There is no grammatical basis for using an apostrophe-s ending to signify a plural.  One cat, two cats.  One shoe, two shoes.  Or if you want to get fancy, one company, two companies.”  But NEVER write shoe’s if what you mean is that there are two shoes. 

What if the word ends in s, and you want to show the possessive s?

This is a conundrum.  According to the Chicago Manual of Style, it is now proper to use the ‘s´ apostrophe just as if the word did not end in s.  Thus, you would have words like the princess’s tiara or the business’s quarterly report.  The stylebook goes on to say that using a simple apostrophe to signify a possessive is reserved exclusively for major cultural or religious figures.  This would leave us with words like Xerxes’ rule, or Jesus’ teaching or Moses’ law.  Of course, this opens the question of who decides whether a person is worthy of the simple apostrophe. (What about Saint Francis?)

 *          To show BOTH a plural and possession. 

If you have one cat, and the cat has a bowl, then you could write, “The cat’s bowl is in the kitchen.”

But suppose that your cat got out one night and visited some tomcat that didn’t even remember her name in the morning – and that now you have six cats.  First, you must buy a much bigger bowl.  Then you could write, “The cats’ bowl is in the kitchen.”  Many cats possess the bowl. We convey this by putting an ‘s apostrophe’ at the end of the word.

In brief:

  • Nouns that are plural have an extra  s.
  • Nouns that show possession possess an apostrophe followed by an s ('s).
  • Plural possessive nouns have the extra s followed by an apostrophe. (s')

 

I hope this lay’s to rest anyones lingering doubt's about apostrophe's.  Its simple! Apostrophes’ are only confusing when you don’t know whi'ch is whi'ch. 

 

Please email me the most galling apostrophe mistakes you have seen and remember to tell me what other writing errors gall you.

© 1999-2016 Elizabeth Danziger  All rights reserved.

 

Worktalk Communications Consulting can help you communicate powerfully and purposefully.  Bad writing is costly. Let us train your staff to write clearly and correctly, or do the writing for you.

Call us at (310) 396-8303, e-mail us This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or visit us at http://www.worktalk.com to learn more about how WORKTALK help you get to the point!

Writing in ALL CAPS: What are the costs?

Writing in all caps makes readers less receptive

It may seem obvious that writing in all caps is a mistake, but the following story really happened to me.

I recently taught an email effectiveness course for an accounting firm in Los Angeles. It was mandatory, so everyone in the office was there. During the program, I told the participants “Don’t write your subject line in all caps.”

A senior partner in his mid-50s, Jeffrey, practically jumped out of his chair. “But I always write my subject lines in all caps!”

A collective sigh went around the room. “Yeah… we know,” said his colleagues.

I explained that when you write in all caps, the reader feels he’s being yelled at. “But I don’t mean to yell,” Jeffrey said, “I just want to be emphatic.”

His boss chimed in. “But everyone feels yelled at. Either you can wait for the rest of the world to come to your point of view, or you can adapt to the rest of the world. I recommend the latter.”

Jeffrey would not give up. “But people get so many emails --- I have to write my subject lines in all caps to get people’s attention.”

“Yes, you can get people’s attention with all caps,” I persisted, “but it is not the kind of attention you want. It is negative attention. When you write in all caps, you are automatically irritating your reader and making her less disposed to receive your message. Is that what you really want?”

He sat back in his chair and thought silently for a long time.

At the break, many staff members came to thank me for giving this feedback to their colleague. “We get together in the break room and talk about how awful his emails are,” said one person. “I hate getting emails from him – I always put off reading them,” said another.  “His emails really make me resent him,” said a third.

When I met with Alan, the partner in charge of the office, after the training, he said he’d had no idea that Jeffrey’s email habits had had such a damaging effect on the office culture. No one wanted to complain to the boss, but everyone resented Jeffrey’s all-caps habit.  Alan thanked me for bringing this issue to light during the email effectiveness training.

A month after the training, I contacted both Jeffrey and Alan. Jeffrey had stopped writing in all caps, and his standing in the office had significantly improved.

More importantly, his readers -- both within and outside the office -- were more receptive to his messages when they no longer felt he was shouting at them.

From my 20+ years of training experience, I can tell you that Jeffrey’s story is not unique.

People use all caps to be emphatic, without realizing that others interpret it as yelling. They do not see that they are creating resentment and resistance rather than receptivity. So what do we learn from this training experience?

  • Writing in all caps offends readers.
  • Writing in all caps generates negative attention instead of positive attention.
  • One employee’s writing in all caps can poison an office culture.

For information about Worktalk’s email effectiveness trainings and webinar, contact Elizabeth Danziger: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or (310) 396-8303.

©2016 Elizabeth Danziger Do not reproduce without author’s permission.

Warming Up the Tone of Your Emails: Smile as you Write

 warming up tone of email

Have you ever written an email to someone who misinterpreted your tone? They thought you were angry; you thought you were just getting to the point. Or they thought you were being sarcastic, when you thought you were being witty.

When email communications go awry, tone is often the issue.

In the Worktalk email trainings, we talk at length about how to warm up the tone of your emails.

Here, I will share one key principle: Smile when you write.

pencil in mouth smile whne you write

In Daniel Kahneman’s outstanding book, Thinking Fast and Slow, he cites a study that was done in Germany.

There were two groups of experimental subjects.

One group was asked to hold a pencil in their mouth horizontally; this forces the sides of the mouth up into a smile.

writing business personal emails force your face relaxThe other groupmembers were asked to hold the pencil vertically in their mouth, which forced the face down into a slightly frowning position.

Then both groups were shown a piece of humorous writing and asked, “Are you amused?”

The group that was smiling was more amused than the group that was frowning.

Research on smiling abounds, and the conclusion is clear:

When you smile, you feel happier, even if you’re crying inside.

Certainly, when you smile at other people, they feel happier.

What does this have to do with email?

Well, the fact is that your readers can feel that smile through their computer. If you are pounding away on the keys with your mouth set in a grim line, odds are that you are writing an email whose tone you will regret.

So when writing your business or personal emails, force your face to relax a little:

  • Smile.
  • Take a deep breath.
  • You will get better responses to your emails. And you’ll feel happier too.
Watch our YouTube video on this topic and for information about other Worktalk webinars and programs, contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Editing for Others: Don't Change for the Sake of Change

Editing for Others: Don’t Change Just for Change’s Sake

“The strongest compulsion in the world is not love, and it is not hate; it is one person’s desire to edit another person’s copy.”                   --   H.G. Wells

 

“Infuriating”

“Frustrating”

“Upsetting”

These are some of the words that people use in my trainings to describe their experience when someone in their organization changes their writing without making the writing any better. Few things are as disempowering as working hard to craft a document, putting time and thought into your presentation, only to have one layer of management after another hack it to pieces and return it, bleeding, to your hands. Why do editors and managers change people’s writing so frequently or so dramatically?

Sometimes, The Original Wasn’t That Good.

Although writers do not like to admit this, sometimes editors change text because the text needed changing. Perhaps it was not purposeful; it was inappropriate to the reader; it did not get to the point; it was not parallel; it was verbose; it disclosed information better left private; it contained long, convoluted sentences. There may be many legitimate reasons why a manager might want to edit someone’s work, perhaps even to edit it severely. In these cases, the editor should do his or her best to explain to the writer the rationale for the changes. If changes are made, there should always be a rationale. The person who was edited needs to take a deep breath, focus on the success of the document rather than his or her personal feelings, and revise the document.

Power, Turf, and Justifying Your Pay Grade

What about the cases when there is no clear rationale for the change? The material is appropriate. The grammar is correct. Yet red marks stream across the page, exchanging one word for another of the same meaning and similar connotation, making grammatical changes that are difficult to justify, switching the order of words in a sentence to no apparent benefit.

What motivates these edits? The recipients of apparently empty edits have opinions. “Power play.” “Marking their turf” “Justifying their salary” Particularly frustrating to these individuals are the cases when their work is hacked up by many levels of management, only to return to something like its original form, after various people have spent dozens of hours on the revisions. This situation is bad for productivity, bad for the organization, and bad for morale.

How can you judge whether to edit?

If you are the editor, how can you know whether your edit is valid? Is it worth the frustration it will cause to the person who drafted the document? Here are some guidelines:

  • Does the document have a clear purpose or intention?
  • Is the document appropriate to its reader in terms of language, detail, and content?
  • Is the main point clear?

If not, edit for these factors.

  • Is the grammar wrong? Are you sure it is wrong?
  • Is the sentence over 20 words long?
  • Does the sentence contain unnecessary noun phrases, clichés, or verbal sludge?

If so, edit to correct.

However, if you are just not sure you like the way it sounds, think seriously before changing it. If the document is going out under your signature and it doesn’t sound like something you’d write, perhaps you need to change it. But if it is an organizational document that many hands will touch, consider Shakespeare’s notion that discretion is the better part of valor. You can show your value to the process by writing “Looks okay” or even, “Looks good”. You are not obligated to change every document you review.

 

© 2015 Elizabeth Danziger

Elizabeth Danziger is a business writing trainer, editor, and writer. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

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Why choose WorkTalk trainings?

  • Taught by a professional writer. +

    These courses are not taught by a general skills trainer who happens to teach writing. Elizabeth Danziger has been published by major publishing houses such as Random House and Harcourt Brace. Her work has appeared in many national magazines. She is an expert writer and editor who brings her knowledge as a resource to participants.
  • Customized. +

    Every Worktalk training is customized to the client's needs. We meet with you, analyze writing samples from your organization, and customize our training to target the specific challenges that employees in your organization face.
  • Energetic and entertaining. +

    With plenty of exercises and opportunities for interaction, the Worktalk trainings move quickly. Subjects that were terrifying in grammar school become fun and interesting in these outstanding programs.
  • Proven results. +

    In trainings all over the country, Ms. Danziger has enabled participants to streamline their organizing process, eliminate persistent errors, and drastically cut their revision time. Clients spend less time on key communications while producing better relationships and results. Sales people get more positive responses from prospects.
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