Communicate for Success—English Tips, Vol. 1

For several months, historian Bruce Kauffmann and I have traded content for our respective newsletters. (You can sign up for mine and receive a free download of 12 Steps for English Abusers here.)

Communicate for Success word cloud taken from Consistent Voice Communication's web home page and created with tagxedo.comMy offerings for Bruce’s newsletter focus on tips for good English usage. Here are five of them:

Anytime vs. any time—If you can substitute “whenever,” then spell it “anytime.” If not, it’s two words. For example, you wouldn’t write, “I don’t have whenever to talk to you right now.” Therefore, “any time” would be the correct usage. But you could write, “I can talk to you whenever” (anytime).

Can vs. may—If you ask, “Can you pass the salt?” I’ll say, “Yes, I can,” because I am physically capable of doing so. If you ask, “May I have the salt?” I’ll pass it to you because you have correctly and politely asked me to do so.

Rain, rein, reign—OK, so of the three, few mess up “rain.” I only include it to prove I’m not a homonym-phobe. But rein and reign? Easy tip: If you’re speaking of someone taking on a royal persona, use “reign.” It has an extra letter (g) that does nothing, like royalty, who we should rein in.

Why isn’t “its” “it’s”?—After all, “its” is possessive, and possessives take apostrophes, right? Richard’s bike, for example. Or, Mary’s little lamb. But “it’s” is a contraction, so it deserves the apostrophe too. In this case, the joining of a possessive eliminates the apostrophe. Think of “its” as three possessive letters who do not wish to be separated by an apostrophe. Would you destroy such love?

Pet peeve alert—“Over” and “more than” are NOT interchangeable, despite the Associated Press’s recent ill-advised decision to treat them similarly. “Over” denotes height, direction, or an end, not an amount. You can be over the hill. You can be over your lover. You can hover over the bed. You cannot have over $50. You can only have more than $50. You can only have more than five marbles. If you have over five marbles, I will question whether you have any marbles at all. Over and out.

More to come. Be sure to follow my blog so you don’t miss any.


Tom Pfeifer is the managing partner and chief strategist for Consistent Voice Communications. Reach him at Tom@YourConsistentVoice.com.

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