Remember how your fourth grade teacher taught you to use a before a consonant and an before a vowel? Times have changed and that method—by itself—is no longer a valid way to decide whether to use a or an. Today’s grammar rules indicate that use of a or an depends on the sound of the next letter, not just whether it is a consonant or a vowel. For instance, the word hour starts with a consonant but sounds like it begins with the vowel “o” sound, so it would be an hour. There are a couple of letters that can be tricky. First, where there is a long u sound (as in “union”) and o with the sound of w (as in one), you use a. Just think of the long u sound as “yoo” (starting with a consonant sound) and the w sound in “one” as a “w” (consonant sound). Just remember it is the sound of the letter that tells you which to use.
One word that is confusing is historic. The way you pronounce it determines whether it is a or an. Following our rule, it should be “a historic.”
The same rule will apply when you are dealing with abbreviations and acronyms. It will depend on whether you pronounce it letter by letter or as a word. For example, a PPO insurance plan. The acronym PPO is pronounced letter by letter and the first letter—P—is pronounced as a consonant. Another example would be an M.B.A. degree. The abbreviation M.B.A. starts with “M” which sounds like em, so use an.
When you stop long enough to sound the questionable word out in your head, the decision is pretty easy. Just stop, pronounce, and listen. You will get it if you take the time to hear it.
A friend sent this Giggle to me. While “are” and “our” are sometimes confusing, this is really basic 4th grade (or lower!) English stuff.
Pulled this one from Twitter. Your and you’re are confusing to people. Just remember that if the sentence should read “If you see this, you are in second,” then use you’re–which is the contraction of you and are. If the sentence should be “If you see this, your second base is showing,” it means that second base belongs to you. Pretty simple if you think about it for a minute or two–so please do!
It seems that in the legal field, it is hard to break old habits–especially in the use of antiquated phrases. One of my least favorite is “enclosed please find.” If you are enclosing something, you only need to say “enclosed is” or “enclosed are” (if you are enclosing more than one thing). That says all that you need to say. You don’t need to fill up a piece of paper or an email with words for the sake of thinking you sound more intelligent when getting the point across and saving your reader time will serve the same purpose. Here are more phrases that you should stop using:
- Above-referenced. If your communication has a “re:” line, and later in the letter you say “In the above-referenced case,” the reader has a tendency to have their eyes drift back up to the re: line and then back down to re-find their place. Instead use the re: line, but if you refer to it again, say “In the Smith v. Jones case” so your reader doesn’t get interrupted from your message.
- Under separate cover. If you are sending something else separately, say “I am sending you separately (or by FedEx, etc.)
- Please note that. This phrase is unnecessary. You don’t need to ask them to note something, just tell them and they are smart enough to at least mentally make note of it.
- I am forwarding. Saying “I am sending” says the same thing without being so formal.
- Please do not hesitate to contact me. What you’re asking them to do is to call or email you, so say “Please call me” or “Please contact me” (giving them the option for the most convenient method for them) instead.
- At your earliest convenience. Give a specific date or just leave this phrase out.
- With regard to. Use “regarding” instead.
- In the event that. It is so much simpler to say “if.”
- Pursuant to your request. “As requested” says the same thing.
- The undersigned. You are talking about yourself, so just say “I.”
Speak in correspondence (letters and emails) more like you would speak on the telephone and much less formally. Your clients and coworkers already know you are intelligent. Speaking in such a formal way doesn’t make you any more intelligent.
Ease up and be less formal so your reader doesn’t have to wade through a bunch of stuff that is unnecessary to get to your message. Make it easy for them (and you) by using less formal language in your communications.
This one comes from Twitter and is from last summer. Again, spell check wouldn’t catch this one. That’s what human eyes and human brains are for! Happy Friday!
I have lots of friends in Oklahoma. I go to Oklahoma once a year for a conference. I love Oklahoma. I just didn’t realize until I was researching local rules for a new case we have there that while most states have STATUTES which govern their states, Oklahoma appears to have STATUES. This is a perfect example of something spell check wouldn’t catch and why you need to actually read everything before it is published or distributed.