Collins Letter Writing
Letter Writing How to Get Results ESTHER SELSDON
Despite the invention of the telephone and the apparent casualness of many of our 21st-century arrangements, the written word is still the politest, most permanent means of communication and still the only really satisfactory way to deal with legal and professional correspondence. This makes letter-writing sound horribly responsible and, to many people, putting even the simplest of thoughts on paper to good effect does seem like a daunting task. But it needn’t be. There are basic rules of good grammar, style and approach that can be broken down into their component parts for anyone to learn and follow. This book lists those rules and helps to break down those parts and, in the process, makes the acquisition of good letter-writing skills a more entertaining exercise.
But this is the 21st century and we are now in the modern age of communication. Explanatory chapters on joining the email and internet age are included because it is a rapidly changing world out there and you never know when you might need to employ some of these constantly evolving e-trends. In the same vein, other chapters include sample pro-forma letters that deal with those everyday situations for which you might need to write a precise, businesslike letter but don’t quite know where to start. Of course, the reader can, and should, customise and adapt these model letters to suit their own style and their own needs but a helping hand might just save time.
We all need to write. Whether this be to a lawyer, to a friend or even to someone we don’t happen to like that much, a well-expressed letter may make a small but crucial difference. Stronger, more powerful correspondence can eliminate further unnecessary business correspondence or, even more impressively, might make social correspondence a more regular, more entertaining affair. It’s worth a go. Give it a try.
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WITWOUD: Madam, do you pin up
Your hair with all your letters?
MILLAMANT: Only with those in verse, Mr
Witwoud. I never pin up my hair with prose.
William Congreve, The Way of the World (1700)
Why not telephone? Before you set pen to paper or mouse to mat, ask yourself why you need to write a letter. Think about your reason for writing. Do you want, or need, to make a permanent statement and, if you do, and your letter is put in a box and filed, would you be embarrassed to see that very same letter turn up again in twenty-five years’ time? These are the first questions to ask yourself when you think about whether you should be writing a letter at all.
Generally speaking, we write because the process of putting words to paper is more effective than speech. It demands the sole attention of the recipient while being read and can be more intimate than speech; it is certainly more durable.
Hundreds of letters are opened every morning. You will want your particular missive to be the one that is clearest on the page and therefore read first, and you will want it to be understood immediately and acted upon without delay.
• Do I know what my message is?
• If yes, then is my message necessary?
• If yes, then is the recipient my friend?
• If yes, then would a telephone call be more appropriate?
• If no, then is this mainly a social or a professional communication?
• If professional, then am I trying to make an impression?
• If yes, then will I be embarrassed to be reminded that this letter exists in a year’s time?
• If no, then continue.
The modern fountain pen was invented by Lewis Edson Waterman in 1883 and technology hasn’t looked back since. Waterman created a special device which managed to slow down the ink feed to the nib and thereby reduced the chances of any extra ink leaking from the pen. The age-old habit, familiar to cinema-goers all over the world, of dipping a quill into an ink pot was instantly eliminated. Writing became faster – and faster still in 1943 when Laszlo Biro, a Hungarian inventor, patented his quick-drying, ball-point pen. Since Biro’s new invention did not leak at high altitude and could even be used underwater, it was offered as a writing tool to US and UK forces during the Second World War. It was an immediate hit. But the revolution had only just begun.
The world’s first ‘proper’ computer was built in 1948. It was called the Manchester Mark I and stored and processed any information fed into it very quickly by use of an electronic transistor.
In 1958 Texas Instruments, an American firm, produced the first integrated circuit or silicon chip. All the electrical components in the computer were now combined into one slice of silicon, a type of quartz which was grown artificially and cut into very thin slices. Up to 500 chips could be made from each of these slices and each of these chips could contain, in turn, up to 500 photographic copies of the design of the electrical circuit. In layman’s terms, silicon chips are minute and contain a lot of information. The silicon chip enabled the arrival, in 1982, of the word-processor as a mainstream writing tool. Nowadays, things are even easier. Computer programmes have been developed which introduce the concept of formula letters, facilitate the addressing of envelopes and introduce the idea of instant mass mailing.
We now have a whole spectrum of ways to convey our message. The crucial part is deciding which is the right one for you. Just because a word-processing programme exists, this doesn’t mean that you necessarily have to use it. The decision is yours.
Main types of communication:
• word-processed letter
• Is this letter to a friend?
• Is it urgent?
• Is it complicated?
• Is it personal?
• Does it involve figures and charts?
• Should you have written it yesterday?
• In what form would you want to receive this information?
Of any courteous letters, now: There are so few.
Ben Jonson (1616)
Once you have come to grips with the idea that your letter may exist for ever, and yet have still decided to take the plunge, then your next step must be to decide on the most suitable medium for your communication. Is the correspondence friendly, is it an apology and how much information needs to be imparted?
Writing is a slow business. We think much more quickly than we write and pen and ink merely add to the laboriousness of the process. If you wish to convey the idea that you have poured precious, loving care into your correspondence, then old-fashioned penmanship would be the most suitable choice.
Handwritten letters, in other words, demonstrate the fact that the person who sent them cares.
The main negative aspect of a handwritten letter, mundane though it might be, is that a lot of people’s handwriting is not very pretty. There’s really little point putting in the extra time if no one will be able to read your letter anyway. Be honest with yourself. Is your handwriting easily legible? You already know what you are trying to say. Bear in mind that your reader might have to guess.
Word-processing is the composition of a document using a personal computer. Clearly, when a lot of facts are involved a word-processed letter will always be more effective, but for, say, a bereavement note it might be totally inappropriate. The process of computing can sometimes make the task of letter writing seem very industrial and rather formal but the results are sure to look modern, clear and businesslike.
On the plus side, with today’s printers, you can choose a particular font or paper size or graphic design in order to make your word-processed letter look softer or more casual. In any event, the printed letter is now so ubiquitous that a typewritten letter is unlikely to send out any particular signals. There are, today, very few occasions when even a social correspondent would be shocked to receive a letter in a printed format – although, of course, it is still more flattering to receive a handwritten communication.HandwrittenWord-processedWedding congratulationsLetter to bankBereavementCVLove lettersLetters featuringBirth congratulationsgraphs or factsExplanatory letters
There is one pitfall to this apparent ease of communication, however, which many computer users fail to see. Just because it looks good instantaneously, doesn’t mean it’s necessarily right. The words flow fast – communication speeds are beginning to catch up with the speed of thought – but that doesn’t make them lovely. It is very easy to miss a mistake on a screen and it is very easy to believe that your letter is as stylish in content as it is in appearance. Just remember that it may not be …
Word-processed letters, in other words, demonstrate the fact that the person who sent them is a professional.
Once again, think about the kind of impression you are trying to convey. Do you wish to be seen as a formal or a casual correspondent, and should the tone of your letter be friendly, brusque or merely factual? Once you have decided whether your letter is personal, business or other correspondence, you can choose which material is best suited to convey your desired tone.
• what are you trying to achieve by writing?
• do you like the recipient?
• is that a relevant question?
If the answer to the last question is ‘no’, then you should definitely be word-processing.
HEADED OR UNHEADED? The letters that you send are an expression of your personality. They signify to the world outside how you would like to be seen and they do this before you have even reached the end of your first sentence. The wrong stationery may, therefore, create entirely the wrong impression before the contents of your letter have even been considered. Given this factor, it’s probably a good idea to make the correct stationery selection at the very beginning of the process. You’re just giving yourself all the advantages you can.
ILLUSTRATION 1 Headed paper can be kept simple and needn’t be expensive
Historically, it was considered correct to have headed paper for business correspondence and plain paper for personal. Things have moved on. Nowadays it is imperative to have headed paper for business letters and unusual not to have it for personal correspondence. Headed paper makes life easier for the recipient. If he or she feels the urge to reply straight away then he or she won’t have to go digging around in old files and address books in order to get the required information. The necessary information, by the way, includes an accurate postcode as well as a telephone number (with full area code) and, if possible, an email address. It is not really necessary, and possibly inelegant, to include your name, as this will be at the bottom of your letter in any event.
It may also be considered slightly suspect to write a personal letter on unheaded paper. If you have the recipient’s correct address and you must do, since you are writing to them, then why shouldn’t they have all your particulars? Mutuality breeds trust.
Unheaded paper may be suitable for friends whom you know well. It may also be suitable for covering letters accompanying other materials or for very brief notes to almost anyone, but, generally speaking, when in doubt, and if at all possible, stick to headed. It looks more attractive.
Headed paper, though, doesn’t necessarily have to be fancy embossed stationery ordered from an upmarket stationery firm. For simple business correspondence, and certainly for friends, it is perfectly acceptable simply to print your headed paper at home on your own printer. However, professionally printed paper, unless you have all the latest technology, is normally smarter. In this particular case, it seems, you pay for what you get. Appearance may not make any difference to the end result of your correspondence, but, on the other hand, it may. Again, it’s best to use all the advantages you can.
Keep the design simple and the print bold and make sure that the words are large enough to read easily.
Use the best-quality paper that you feel you can afford. Bond paper is paper that will not tear or crease easily. It is specially designed for letter writing and is recommended for all business, and social, communications. As a general rule, thick paper is good paper and 100g is an adequate weight to choose.
Bank paper is a thin paper that is generally used for file copies. It is not recommended for the actual letter that you intend to post. You should try to avoid using any flimsy or particularly thin paper: it’s quite difficult to handle and it looks a bit cheapskate. The recipient may be worried that it might tear. It is also, quite often, difficult to thread banktype paper successfully through a printer since the pages may cause the machine to jam as they go through.
If you are abroad, however, and writing to friends at home, then it would make sense to use thin paper, or even airmail paper, since this will cost less to post.
If you care about the environment, you may wish to use recycled stationery. This might be considered slightly startling in some business circles but certainly shouldn’t be. Recycled stationery is becoming more and more common and is easily purchased in most decent stationery shops.
Paper these days comes in a variety of standardised sizes – all of which are referred to as ‘A’ sizes. From both the manufacturer’s and the customer’s point of view, this is handy, since everyone knows what everyone else is talking about, and it is easy to calculate since each A size is exactly half the area of the previous one, in a descending scale from A0 to A7. An A2 sheet folded in half will, therefore, produce two A3 sheets. One A3 sheet will produce two A4 sheets and so on.
The most frequently used sizes, these days, are A3, A4 and A5, and most professional correspondence will be on A4 paper since filing systems are organised specifically around this size. Most shop-purchased single-sheet writing paper comes in standard A4 size, largely because of this factor.
A3 It would be very unusual to write a letter on A3 paper. It would be almost impossible to fold out and read, let alone stuff into an envelope. It is more generally suitable for writing with accompanying drawings, page layouts and large spreadsheets.
A4 This is the standard size for letters. You can expect any regular business letter that you might send or receive to be printed on A4 paper. It creates a businesslike, clean look and is extremely handy to print out since it will fit perfectly into your printer hopper without having to make possibly complex adjustments. It is what people expect both for themselves and for their filing systems. Business correspondence should be typed on one side only, using continuation sheets for the second and subsequent pages.
A5 This notelet size tends to arise more frequently in card than in flexible paper format. It might be suitable for a very brief note or if your business letter is very short and will cause a sheet of A4 paper to appear slightly bald. If this might be the case, consider investing in some A5 paper which has a distinctive, old-fashioned appearance and may be more appropriate.
It is simply a matter of common sense that you should use a colour of paper which is appropriate for the occasion. Canary yellow is unlikely to be correct for a letter of bereavement while pink for a CV might be jolly but is unlikely to get you the job. A single colour is almost always preferable and certainly more elegant than sheets of paper covered with spots and stars. White paper will merely define you as ‘standard’ and this could be a good thing. Cream is slightly more sophisticated but, possibly, too delicate for a bold business letter demanding attention. Cream suggests an extra layer of refinement and sophistication. Is this the impression you are trying to convey?
Other colours range from the bold to the bizarre. If you are writing to a designer, for example, then you may wish to appear design-led, but pause to think about whether this image might be more effectively displayed with a small but potent logo in the bottom corner of the page, for example. Try to achieve the perfect balance between creativity with flair and coming across as pretentious or simply too loud and attention-seeking.
Marbled paper, particularly the hand-painted varieties from certain Tuscan villages, can be stunning, but bear in mind that they may not make the clearest backgrounds for print. Always check you can read the text before plumping for this option. Embossed and edged papers are very fancy and probably inappropriate unless you’re inviting guests to a very grand event like a wedding. In any other circumstances, using such decorative flourishes might simply be seen as flashy.
Apart from when they are on holiday, many people no longer use postcards as a method of communication, although they are, on certain occasions, the perfect medium on which to write a letter. Though this probably isn’t a huge factor, they may save you money on an envelope, and writing on both sides of a blank postcard can create space for quite a long message, even though it might be one that still feels very casual. For any brief message, a postcard is ideal, although clearly not when this message contains confidential or personal information. They are particularly suitable when sending ‘thank-you’ notes for gifts or for a dinner invitation, since you don’t need to say the same thing several different ways just to fill the page.
ILLUSTRATION 2 Typical postcard layout. Keep your message brief
When choosing a postcard, think about both the message you want to convey and the personality of the recipient. A comic illustration may be good for your college friend but singularly inappropriate for your aunt or one of your work colleagues. Plain postcards, these days, tend to be enclosed inside envelopes anyway, so, if you are considering one of these, you might just as well use A5 headed cards. Postcards with subdued works of art tend to be suitable for just about anybody. If you want to appear sophisticated, always choose this more general variety rather than the type that displays a saucy image of a seaside pier.
There is a very wide range of writing tools from which to choose. Ball-point, fountain pen or felt tip are all possible. You need to make a decision about which might be the appropriate one for your particular requirements (and which might suit your handwriting and your message).
The short history of pen technology (above) may help to shed some light on how they all emerged but will not necessarily help you to choose. Imagine what effect is created when the most beautifully written letter in Britain is covered with a series of ink smudges and strange, psychopathic blotches. All credibility will be destroyed. On top of which, no one will be able to read the contents and people will not take you seriously. Your letter will almost certainly end up in the bin.
Many traditionalists, and many aesthetes, still think of the fountain pen as the classic means with which to write a handwritten letter. It looks amazingly elegant; you can choose the colour of your ink and it allows for the full potential sensuality of writing. The most effective love letters tend to be written in fountain pen.
Most people use black or blue ink but any coloured ink will do. Pale blue is not too wacky but makes a personal statement and tends to look slightly more feminine than dark blue. Many literary men have preferred to use brown ink since it is, similarly, slightly more personal in appearance but not too brazen. Bear in mind, if choosing a pale colour, that it must still be legible on the page and that yellows tend to fade from view even before arriving at the recipient’s door. Also bear in mind that fountain pens can scratch the paper if you are not careful, and this is clearly not a good thing.
Biros are a step down from fountain pens in sophistication but they have their own advantages. For one thing, they do not, generally, smudge. They may not require quite the concentration or hand control that fountain pens do and they are not as wet. A biro is certainly an appropriate tool with which to write a postcard or a casual memo or note to a colleague. It is also, of course, much easier to transport than a fountain pen, since it will not automatically require extra paraphernalia like cartridges and bottles and, on a practical note, is relatively unlikely to leak into your coat pocket.
Most biros tend to be filled with black or blue ink. Similar rules about colour apply as for the pen. Other colours might be fine if your recipient works in the world of art or fashion. Otherwise, they might find bright orange both illegible and a bit eccentric.
Felt tip is really best saved for the clear marking of envelopes. Most felt-tip nibs are quite broad and difficult to wield and they tend to remind people of their primary school. But they are excellent for writing on difficult surfaces, like a Jiffy bag.
Typeface is the word for the style of print that you are using on the page. There are many different kinds of typeface and each might appeal to a different kind of customer. Generally speaking, the two most common typefaces for business communication are Arial and Times New Roman. Arial is a bold, round sort of typeface without excessive adornment. Times New Roman tends to look slightly more serious since it is thinner and longer and the letters have all their formal curlicues, base lines and the n, for example, has its back hook at the top of the first stroke. This cross-line finishing off the stroke of a letter is called a serif. Characters without cross-lines (as in an Arial typeface) are referred to as ‘sans-serif’, from the French, meaning ‘without a serif’.
1 Compare these typefaces.
2 Decide which one you like the best and consider why.
3 Consider which you find easiest to read.
4 Compare each text extract, which is the opening paragraph of a novel by Dickens, with its designated typeface and decide whether the two could be said to match in style.
5 Think briefly about your friends and decide which typeface you might use to write to each of them.
My father’s family name being Pirrip, and my Christian name Philip, my infant tongue could make of both names nothing longer or more explicit than Pip. So I called myself Pip, and came to be called Pip.
Charles Dickens, ‘Great Expectations’ (1860)
This is a piece of prose supposedly describing someone’s childhood nickname. The written style is simple and the typeface is sans-serif and quite childlike in appearance. There is quite an appropriate match between style and content.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair. Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities (1859)
This is quite an epic opening to a novel. It is a declaration of a whole state of being and written in a distinctly Victorian style. The typeface looks quite modern, which is at odds with the period style of the writing, and lacks authority. The typeface is therefore at variance with the text both in feel and in appearance.
In these times of ours, though concerning the exact year there is no need to be precise, a boat of dirty and disreputable appearance, with two figures in it, floated on the Thames, between Southwark Bridge which is of iron, and London Bridge which is of stone, as an autumn evening closing in.
Charles Dickens, ‘Our Mutual Friend’ (1865)
This is a perfectly straightforward piece of descriptive prose with a touch of mystery to it. The typeface has certain old-fashioned characteristics – most notably on the ‘g’ – and, although it captures a little of the air of mystery about the piece, it’s not really clear enough to sustain a narrative of any length.
In the year 1775, there stood upon the borders of Epping Forest, at a distance of about twelve Miles from London – measuring from the Standard in Cornhill, or rather from the spot on or near to which the Standard used to be in days of yore – a house of public entertainment called the Maypole; which fact was demonstrated to all such travellers as could neither read nor write (and at that time a vast number both of travellers and stay-at-homes were in this condition) by the emblem reared on the roadside over against the house.
Charles Dickens, ‘Barnaby Rudge’ (1841)
This is an opening which immediately conjures up a picture of ‘days of yore’. Apart from the fact that the typeface is quite difficult to read, its high decorative values make it look quite antique. It is not a bad match, but not a perfect one either.
As no lady or gentleman, with any claims to polite breeding, can possibly sympathise with the Chuzzlewit Family without being first assured of the extreme antiquity of the race, it is a great satisfaction to know that it undoubtedly descended in a direct line from Adam and Eve; and was, in the very earliest times, closely connected with the agricultural interest.
Charles Dickens, ‘Martin Chuzzlewit’ (1843)
The sentence is, again, quite a portentous one but in a rather more modest way. The author is clearly suggesting that the Chuzzlewits consider themselves to be a very distinguished family and he is slightly ridiculing them for this. The typeface is, for one thing, rather difficult to read. There is nothing in the text to suggest that this is an appropriate typeface.
There are no right answers: it is a question of personal taste, tact and common sense.
IS A LETTER NECESSARY?
Once again, and before you finally start writing, spend another few moments considering whether your letter really needs to be written at all. If it is a thank-you note or an apology, would it be more appropriate to telephone and speak to the recipient in person? Is it an issue that has already been aired at such length in conversation that a letter would merely add insult to injury? If the letter involves a highly confidential or delicate business matter, is the idea of committing your message to paper really the best way to proceed? If the facts might imminently result in a law suit, would it be better to consult a solicitor before putting pen to paper? Think about tact, tone and confidentiality. This may seem like repetitive advice but, in the long run, it could save you a lot of time and trouble.
This is the manner in which you, as an individual, express your thoughts. There is quite a lot of confusion about the definition and meaning of writing style. Don’t get too weighed down by all this but simply try to bear in mind that if you really know what you want to say then your style should select itself.
Extensive reading of good literature will always improve your own writing skills, even if this merely helps to increase your vocabulary, but, however much you read, the first rule of good style is always the same: be clear, simple and straightforward. If you are clear about your message, everything else will follow.
• Always decide what you want to say before you start writing.
• Ask yourself what your letter is about.
• At the end of every paragraph, ask yourself what you are trying to say.
• Always read your letter out loud so that you hear how it might sound to the recipient.
• Check whether it sounds natural.
• Decide whether it conveys your meaning.
Read the following letter and then decide:
1 Which adjectives you would use to describe the writer’s style.
2 What impression of himself the writer thinks he is creating.
3 What impression of himself he is really creating.
To Madame de Meurteuil
I shall not be seeing you today, my love, and here are my reasons, which I beg you will indulgently accept.
Yesterday, instead of returning here directly, I stopped at the Countess of ____’s, which was not far out of my way, and stayed there for dinner. I did not arrive in Paris until nearly seven o’clock, when I made my way to the Opera where I hoped you might be.
After the performance, I went to revisit my acquaintance of the greenroom. There I found my old friend Emilie surrounded by a host of admirers of both sexes for whom she was that very evening to provide supper at P_, I had no sooner joined the company when the invitation was, by general acclaim, extended to me, and in particular by a short and corpulent little man, who jabbered it out in Dutchman’s French. He I perceived to be the real hero of the occasion, I accepted.
On the way I learned that the house we were bound for represented the price fixed upon for Emilie’s favours to this grotesque creature and that the evening’s supper was in fact to be a sort of wedding feast. The little man could not contain his delight at the prospect of the happiness he was soon to enjoy. He looked so pleased with himself that I was tempted to disturb his complacency: which, as it happens, is what I did.
My only difficulty lay in prevailing upon Emilie: the burgomaster’s riches had made her a little scrupulous. After some hesitation, however, she gave her approval to my plan for glutting the little beer-barrel with wine, so putting him hors de combat for the rest of the night.
The high opinion we had formed of Dutch drinkers led us to employ every known method in our attempts: which succeeded so well that at dessert he no longer had strength enough to hold up his glass. Nevertheless the obliging Emilie and I continud to vie with each other in filling it up. He collapsed at length under the table in a drunken stupor such as cannot but last for a week. We decided then to send him back to Paris, and as he had not kept his carriage, I had him packed into mine and remained behind in his place. Whereupon I received the compliments of the company who retired soon after leaving me in possession of the field. So much amusement, and perhaps my long retirement, has made me find Emilie so desirable that I have promised to stay with her until the Dutchman returns to life.
This kindness I confer in exchange for one she has just done me. I have been using her for a desk upon which to write to my fair devotee – to whom I find it amusing I should send a letter written in bed, in the arms, almost, of a trollop, in which I give her an exact account of my situation and my conduct. Emilie, who read it, split her sides laughing: I hope you will laugh too.
As my letter must be franked in Paris, I am sending it to you; I leave it open. Be so good as to read it, to seal it….Good-bye, my love.
Letter 47 in Les Liaisons Dangereuses (Dangerous Liaisons), by Choderlos de Laclos, from the Vicomte de Valmont to Madame de Meurteuil.
1 A possible list of answers might include: sarcastic, cynical and bitter.
2 As above, plus his great wit, his good taste, his sophistication and, above all, his cleverness.
3 He is manipulative, intelligent and vain. He cares little for other people and yet is tremendously anxious about what image he strikes with them. He is selfish, cynical and thoroughly unpleasant.
This is one of the most famous fictional letters in French literature precisely because Choderlos de Laclos has managed to create a really interesting, witty and clever villain without making him in any way likeable. One of the characteristics that makes the character so menacing is that his style is so perfectly formed but, like that of Wilde’s Dorian Gray, contains a seething mass of corruption underneath. Style isn’t all. Just because the Vicomte de Valmont is, undoubtedly, clever and entertaining, that doesn’t make him nice.
The lessons one might learn from this exercise are to avoid using superfluous words and to steer carefully away from ludicrously inappropriate adjectives. It is sensible to avoid repetition wherever you can. If the reader needs to clarify your message, they may simply get the letter back out and reread it.
If you have to use adjectives, try not to use the same ones over and over again – ‘It’s lovely weather here in Bournemouth and our hotel is really lovely. We are having a lovely time.’ This is both boring and irritating to read. If you wish to emphasise a particular point it may well be necessary to repeat information but do try to vary the format, the sentence structure, or merely the order in which the words fall in the sentence. All these will make your letter more interesting to read and therefore more likely to be acted upon.
BEGINNING: Starting a letter badly can ruin the impression you are trying to create even before you begin writing. It goes without saying that most English correspondence begins with the word ‘Dear’. Letters have used this format since the 17th century and there is no real alternative to the formula in the English language.
This may sound obvious, but it is absolutely crucial to get the recipient’s name correct. If you do not bother to find out the exact spelling of their name, including their initials, titles and hyphens, you cannot really expect them to be well disposed towards you. People care about their names and to get them wrong generally indicates that you have not really put enough effort into your communication. If you don’t take those extra few minutes to get these things right, then why should the recipient make an effort? It is not difficult to check. Simply telephone the person’s office and ask the switchboard or the secretary for the correct spelling of the name in question. Nobody will find this in any way peculiar.
When writing to a woman, try to address her correctly and exactly as she would wish to be addressed. Check first whether she is ‘Miss’, ‘Mrs’ or ‘Ms’, ‘Dr’ or anything else. It is really annoying to be given the incorrect title. Writing to a man is not quite as hazardous but the same rules apply.
‘Dear Sir’ is very formal and should really be used only for particularly impersonal correspondence, including letters to public organisations or law firms. It should not really be used when addressing specific individuals within those firms. If you want a positive response from one of these anonymous and immense organisations, however, it would always be sensible to ring them up first and ask for the name of an individual within the department with which you are trying to do business. If you do not name a specific recipient, your letter may go to the bottom of a slush pile of post and may then take weeks to be read. Again, telephone the switchboard and ask for the correct name and title of a suitable individual.
Modifications of the word ‘Dear’ should be used with caution. ‘My dear X’ can sound patronising and old-fashioned. Launching into a letter without using the word ‘dear’ at all – ‘Lily, how are you?’, for example -could be taken as implying that Lily is not dear, and, in fact, that you probably don’t like her. It might be staid and conventional, but to avoid the potential negativity of this impression it’s best to stick to the safety of ‘Dear’.
ENDING: If you have begun your letter with the recipient’s own name (whether this be surname or first name), then you should always end your letter with the phrase ‘Yours sincerely’. Yours begins with a capital Y while the s of sincerely is in lower case.
If you have begun your letter with the phrase ‘Dear Sir’ or ‘Dear Madam’, then you should end with the phrase ‘Yours faithfully’.
And that is basically the rule.
All other phrases are merely modifications of this formula. If you particularly like someone, or don’t want to appear too formal, then signing off with the word ‘Yours’ is a good middle option. ‘Best wishes’ might suffice if you are writing to a relative with whom you are not particularly friendly or to a close colleague with whom you feel you have a really good working relationship.
ILLUSTRATION 3 Basic layout for a standard letter
‘Love’ should, not unreasonably, be reserved for personal correspondence and, even then, only for people for whom it might be appropriate. Your parents, your children and your siblings are obvious contenders. If you’re a woman, you can use ‘love’ for all your close friends also. If you’re a man, you might not want to.
The very final element of your letter will be your signature. Your signature represents you. Most people, when composing formal correspondence, sign themselves with an initial for their first name and then conclude with their full surname: ‘J. Author’. More fulsome souls might sign themselves ‘Jemima Author’, which is fine but suggests that you want the recipient to know your first name. Anything longer than this, however, merely takes up a lot of paper and looks rather self-seeking. Anything shorter – ‘Jemima’ – is certainly inappropriate for business correspondence. Bear in mind that your signature might not be absolutely legible, so always try to print your full name underneath your signature so that the recipient knows exactly how to spell it, should he or she need to reply.
You should always include your own address, preferably across the top of the page. If you have headed notepaper, the matter is settled for you, but if you don’t, then it is very rude not to supply your own details.
Always use the recipient’s full postcode – what’s the point of getting this wrong, even on quite a short letter? If you don’t know the correct code then you can telephone the recipient’s office and check. It takes a few seconds and will ensure that your letter gets there as quickly as possible. If you don’t want to ring the office, you can ring the Royal Mail Postcode Enquiries desk who will tell you the exact postcode for the address you have written down. You can also check postcodes on the web at
It is correct to follow the number of the building by a comma, but common practice these days is to leave it out.
In professional correspondence there should be no comma at the end of each line of the address. In personal correspondence, a comma may be used at the end of each line if you feel the recipient might appreciate a truly old-fashioned style. Use your discretion.
Always remember to use the recipient’s postcode, even on quite a short letter.
MAIN COUNTY ABBREVIATIONSBerkshireBerksBuckinghamshireBucksCambridgeshireCambsHampshireHantsLancashireLancsMiddlesexMiddxNorthamptonshireNorthantsNottinghamshireNottsOxfordshireOxonWarwickshireWarksWiltshireWiltsYorkshireYorks
(See appendix on p. 236 for a full list of conventional county abbreviations.)
Every letter should be dated.
Standard business practice is to leave a double-spaced gap after the recipient’s full address and then put the date directly below the address on the left-hand side of the page.
There are many correct ways to date a letter but the most common in business practice is to put the date in figures and then to write the month in letters with no extra punctuation. In other words, like this:
14 February 2003
Using figures only, i.e. 14/02/03, is perfectly valid but tends to look as if the letter has come straight out of a computer print-out and is rather inelegant. Adding ‘st’, ‘th’ or other such abbreviations after the number does not look very professional.
Personal correspondence is much more flexible. Using the same example, many people would write:
14th February, 2003
Note the addition of the ‘th’ after 14 and the comma after February, both of which make the date appear a bit more personalised and also traditional. Even in personal correspondence, however, it is probably a good idea to add the year.
A paragraph is composed of several sentences dealing with the same subject. In business terms, of course, much of your letter is going to be dealing with the same subject and one paragraph for a two-page document would be extremely difficult to read. Where you break your paragraphs should, therefore, be a matter of common sense.
Generally speaking, a paragraph should not be more than about fifteen or twenty lines and, in most cases, much shorter than that. There are no fixed rules, but bear in mind that the point of a paragraph is clarity of expression and that short paragraphs are infinitely preferable to long ones.
Business letters tend to be ‘aligned left’ which means that all paragraphs start on the left-hand side of the page and none are indented. This gives a clean, neat look and appears businesslike. When preparing semi-professional letters – to a school head teacher, for example – it may be appropriate to indent the first line of each paragraph since this is a throwback to handwritten letter style and might seem more elegant.
Handwritten letters almost always indent at the beginning of each paragraph on the basis that anything that makes handwriting easier to read is a good thing.
The rest of the layout will depend on the length of your letter. Most of us have received letters which begin at the top corner of the page and then fill the entire blank space with no margins and hardly any paragraphs. This is not going to facilitate the reading of your letter.
The purpose of good layout is to make your letter clear to read and, if possible, attractive to look at. It will look most presentable if it is well spaced on the page, with approximately 2cm of margin space all around the letter, although the bottom margin should be slightly wider than that at the top of the page. If the letter is short on text, try using double-spaced lines. This avoids the page looking bald. On the other hand, if the letter is very long, it may run down to the bottom of the page, leaving you barely enough room for your signature. This also looks unprofessional. Try to avoid this by leaving less space between the address and the date, or by leaving more space at the foot of the page and then running a whole paragraph on to another page. Having just a few lines on a continuation sheet is clearly daft.
FOOTNOTES AND POSTSCRIPTS
Before you sign your letter, do make sure that it includes everything you have in mind. A PS can always be added as an afterthought, although, with word-processing today, it should hardly be necessary. If you do add a PS (or ‘postscript’, which derives from the Latin for ‘after the writing’), bear in mind that it might well be the most instantly eye-catching item on the page, so make sure that what you say in it is of note. If you have thought carefully about your letter beforehand, you should not really need to use the PS.
Footnotes, on the other hand, are really designed for use in academic or technical writing. They may help to shed extra light on some part of the text which, if explained within the text itself, would destroy the natural flow of the basic argument. They are most often used to explain the sources of quotations or factual information – explanations which would not fit within the text itself.
Having visited many more rooms than could be supposed to be of any other use than to contribute to the window tax,1 and find employment for the housemaids, ‘Now,’ said Mrs Rushworth, ‘we are coming to the chapel, which properly we ought to enter from above, and look down upon; but as we are quite among friends, I will take you in this way, if you will excuse me.’
They entered. Fanny’s imagination had prepared her for something grander than a mere spacious, oblong room, fitted up for the purpose of devotion . . . ‘I am disappointed,’ said she, in a low voice, to Edmund. ‘This is not my idea of a chapel. There is nothing awful here, nothing melancholy, nothing grand. Here are no aisles, no arches, no inscriptions, no banners. No banners, cousin, to be “blown by the night wind of Heaven.” No signs that a “Scottish monarch sleeps below”.’ 2
Jane Austen, Mansfield Park (1814)
1 window tax. A tax first levied in England in 1696 ‘for the purpose of defraying the expenses and making up the deficiency arising from clipped and defaced coinage in the recoinage of silver during the reign of William III’ (Encyclopaedia Britannica). Nearly all inhabited houses were assessed at two shillings a year and tax was added according to the number of windows. The tax was repealed in 1851.
2 blown by the night wind of Heaven and Scottish monarch sleeps below. These are quotations from Sir Walter Scott’s The Lay of the Last Minstrel, which was his first important original work.
Even in the 21st century, it is courteous to address people correctly. It is less important to get this right than it used to be and nobody is going to think less of you for making a minor slip of titular etiquette. Nevertheless, it is still important to try to get this right.
As a general guideline, the most common title is ‘Sir’. This is granted to knights and baronets and, unless you are on first-name terms with them, the correct form of address would be ‘Dear Sir Bob’. Sir Bob’s wife, on the other hand, would be addressed as ‘Dear Lady Charlton’ and this would also be her title if she was a peer in her own right.
Bob and Jane Charlton’s children should be referred to as ‘The Honourable Lancelot and Lucretia’ on an envelope but as ‘Mr’ or ‘Miss Family Name’ in the letter itself.
A Dame is a woman who has been granted a life peerage. She is not addressed as ‘Lady’ but as ‘Dame’, hence, ‘Dame Judi Dench’. The next highest rank before a peerage is a baronet and this fellow would also be ‘Sir Bob’.
MAN Dear Sir, or Dear Mr WOMAN Dear Madam, Mrs, Miss or Ms CHILDREN Dear First Name
ARCHBISHOP My Lord Archbishop BISHOP My Lord Bishop DEAN Very Revd Sir CLERGY Revd Sir
JUDGE Sir or Madam PRIVY COUNCILLORS Sir or Madam
MEMBERS OF PARLIAMENT Sir or Madam
DOCTOR Dear Dr SURGEON Dear Mr or Ms
DUKE Dear Duke DUCHESS Dear Duchess
MARQUIS Dear Lord X MARCHIONESS Dear Lady X
EARL Dear Lord COUNTESS Dear Lady
VISCOUNT Dear Lord VISCOUNTESS Dear Lady
BARON Dear Lord BARONESS Dear Lady or Dear Baroness
BARONET Dear Lord BARONET’S WIFE Dear Lady
KNIGHT Sir KNIGHT’S WIFE Madam
ILLUSTRATION 4 This basic chart shows how to address people who have specific titles. (For a more complete list of correct styles of address, see the appendix on p.238
Commissioned officers of HM Forces are addressed by rank, together with decorations, if any.
For naval officers, add ‘RN’. The main titles, in ranking order, are as follows:
Army officers may have their arm of service added, e.g. RA, RE.
When the woman is military and the man is not, her name comes before his, e.g. Lt-Col. Jane Smith and Mr John Smith.
When they are both in the military, the highest-ranking person’s name comes first.
OTHER USEFUL PHRASES
‘For the attention of’ can be placed underneath the recipient’s main address in order that the letter should go straight to a named person within a large organisation. If you then wish to clarify the subject matter, ‘Re:’ is a very useful addition between ‘Dear Mr X’ and the main text of the letter. Both of these phrases can add clarity, particularly when there is no personal connection between the writer and the recipient.
53 Downs Road
Royal and United Alliance
23 September 2003
For the Attention of Martin Joggings
Dear Mr Joggings,
Re: 43 United Front, London SW13
I am writing to you today to . . .
Grammar refers to the set of rules that allow us to combine words in our language into larger units. Some combinations of words are possible in English and some are not, and most native speakers of the language simply use correct grammar without having to think about what they are doing. Any native speaker would automatically say, for example, ‘I would really like a cup of tea’ and not ‘I would a cup of tea really like’.
Nobody taught you to speak this way; you simply absorb it from being exposed to your native language during childhood. The study of grammar, however, enables you to use your language so that the sentence structure may be slightly different, and more interesting, and yet still be correct, and comprehensible, to every reader.
Studying grammar can help you to write more effectively. It will help you to modify your language and it will help your reader to understand what you are saying. It is easy to look words up in a dictionary or, nowadays, to run your letter through a spellcheck. It is much harder to run a letter through a grammar check. No computer can manipulate the tiny differentials in language that make up correct grammar as effectively as any educated native speaker. It’s worth learning grammar because:
1 It helps you to write correctly and therefore to create a good impression.
2 It helps your reader to understand what you are saying and avoids confusion.
3 It helps you to punctuate your letter correctly, again avoiding confusion and misunderstanding.
4 A good grasp of your own grammar makes it far easier to learn a foreign language.
5 It helps you to understand what other people are trying to say in their letters.
A sentence should express one complete thought. It should consist of a string of words beginning with a capital letter and ending with a full stop, although, of course, it could end with a question mark or an exclamation mark. The sentence is made up of the words which are generally referred to by a classification system called Parts of Speech. This describes their function.
A noun is the name of anything: man, woman, England, apple, Manchester United.
There are four kinds of noun in English:
1 Common nouns, which are names that are not specific to particular people or things. They begin with a lower-case letter: writer, newspaper, mountain.
2 Proper nouns, which are the names of specific people, places or occasions and which begin with a capital letter: Charles Dickens, The Times, Mount Everest.
3 Abstract nouns, which are the names of qualities, states or activities: laughter, beauty, love.
4 Collective nouns, which are names for a group or collection of similar things: crowd, team, army.
Most plurals of nouns end in an s. There are, however, a number of exceptions.
1 Nouns ending in o, ch, sh, ss or x form their plural by adding es: tomato, tomatoes; box, boxes.
2 Nouns ending in y following a consonant drop the y and add ies: fly, flies; baby, babies.
3 Some nouns ending in f or fe drop the f and add ves: wife, wives; loaf, loaves. (But some do not: roof, roofs.)
4 Some foreign words which retain their original Greek or Latin forms retain their original plural forms:
Latin: axis, axes; medium, media; stratum, strata.
Greek: crisis, crises; basis, bases; criterion, criteria.
Pick out and classify the nouns in the following passage:
About a week subsequently to the incidents above narrated, Miss Temple, who had written to Mr Lloyd, received his answer: it appeared that what he said went to corroborate my account. Miss Temple, having assembled the whole school, announced that inquiry had been made into the charges alleged against Jane Eyre, and that she was most happy to be able to pronounce her completely cleared from every imputation. The teachers then shook hands with me and kissed me and a murmur of pleasure ran through the ranks of my companions.
Thus relieved of a grievous load, I from that hour set to work afresh, resolved to pioneer my way through every difficulty. I toiled hard, and my success was proportionate to my efforts; my memory, not naturally tenacious, improved with practice; exercise sharpened my wits. In a few weeks I was promoted to a higher class; in less than two months I was allowed to commence French and drawing. I learned the first two tenses of the verb Etre, and sketched my first cottage (whose walls, by the way, outrivalled in slope those of the leaning tower of Pisa) on the same day.
Extract from Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre,
ANSWERSweekcommonincidentscommonMiss TempleproperMr LloydproperanswercommonaccountcommonMiss TempleproperschoolcommoninquirycommonchargescommonJane EyreproperimputationabstractteacherscommonhandscommonmurmurabstractpleasureabstractrankscollectivecompanionscommonloadcommonhourcommonwayabstractdifficultyabstractsuccessabstracteffortsabstractmemoryabstractpracticeabstractexercisecommonwitscommonweekscommonclasscommonmonthscommonFrenchproperdrawingcommontensesabstractverbcommoncottagecommonwallscommonslopecommontowercommonPisaproperdaycommon
Apronoun is a word used instead of a noun. The most important aspect of the pronoun to note, for practical purposes, is that the only words in the English language which have retained different forms depending on whether they are the subject or the object of a sentence are all pronouns. As a basic guideline the subject of a sentence is the person doing the main action. The object is the person at the receiving end of this action. The difference between the two leads to one of the classic confusions of the English language – the difference in usage between ‘I’ (subject pronoun) and ‘me’ (object pronoun).Nominative (subject form)Objective (object form)Imehehimsheherweustheythemwhowhom
I am the subject of this sentence. He told me some news about Suzy.
When deciding whether a person is the subject or the object of a sentence, you must look at the main verb (or doing word) and ask yourself ‘who does this verb refer to?’
Complete the following sentences with the correct form of the personal pronoun.
1 John and —- went to the party (I, me).
2 The book was for John and —- (I, me).
A Ask yourself ‘which is the verb in question 1?’
B Answer: went
C Who went?
D Answer: John and I
A Ask yourself ‘which is the verb in question 2?’ B Answer: was C What was?
D Answer: the book – therefore John and me must be the objects of this sentence
It is possible to have a sentence without a verb, but it is unusual. A verb, as mentioned above, is the ‘doing’ word in a sentence. It is the word that drives the sentence along – the ‘action’ word. It is the part of speech by which we are able to say what a thing is – for example, ‘Spot is a dog’ – or with which we are able to describe what a person, animal or thing does – for example, ‘Spot barks loudly’.
The thing to remember about verbs is that they have certain features which are not shared by other parts of speech. They have different forms to indicate at what time an action happened (past, present or future tenses) and they have different forms to indicate who is doing the action (‘I do’, ‘he does’.) To get this wrong is, clearly, ungrammatical.
Verbs are either regular or irregular. Regular verbs add ‘ed’ to form the past tense and, generally, present few problems to the native speaker.
There are, however, over 250 irregular verbs.
Just remember to check if you’re not sure. A useful reference book for English grammar is English Grammar in Use by Raymond Murphy (Cambridge University Press). A useful website is
WEB TIP http://members.nbci.com/,or trywww.studyweb.com
This is a very common mistake and you should try to avoid it. ‘To boldly go where no man has gone before’ is wrong. It may sound correct but you should never split the ‘to’ part of the verb from the main part of the verb (‘go’) mainly because the meaning of the sentence can then become unclear.
wrong: I want to just catch the bus.
right: I just want to catch the bus.
Now we know exactly what you want.
You will see split infinitives in use frequently. No one will cease to communicate with you because you have split an infinitive but it is better – much better – to get these things right.
An adjective is a word that describes a noun or, possibly, another adjective.
The car is dark blue.
Adjectives can make your letter a little more descriptive or lively but only when used in moderation. In other European languages, the way that the adjective is written must change to agree with the noun it is describing. In English, there are almost no adjectives like this, but a very few have been absorbed from the continent:
He is blond. She is blonde.
Adverbs describe verbs and adjectives and the majority of adverbs are formed by adding ‘ly’ to the end of the corresponding adjective.
He ran quickly.
Adverbs are, in general, the first signs of over-written prose. If you need to shorten your letter, try cutting out any extraneous adverbs.
PREPOSITIONS AND CONJUNCTIONS
Prepositions are the little words which are used with nouns to show the relation in which these nouns stand to some other word in the sentence.
The horse is in the stable.
It is usually better not to end a sentence with a preposition. This is called a hanging preposition and tends to look rather inelegant. In casual prose, however, it is perfectly acceptable.
wrong: This is the moment I’ve been waiting for.
right: This is the moment for which I’ve been waiting.
Occasionally it is difficult to choose the correct preposition since several are acceptable in spoken language. Here is a guide to the most commonly mistaken prepositions:afflictwithagreeto (something)agreewith (somebody)complainofdifferentfrom (US than)disappointedin (something)disappointedwith (somebody)disgustedat/by (something)disgustedwith (somebody)dislikefordivideamoung (many)dividebetween (two)equaltoguiltyofoppositetoprevailonprotestagainstsimilartotiredof (something)tiredwith (action)thirstforvexedat (something)vexedwith (somebody)
Conjunctions are the little words that join a word with another part of the sentence: and, but, or.
It is unusual, though not impossible, to start a sentence with ‘and’, but this should only be the case when you want to emphasise the fact that you are doing so.
The rules for punctuation are conventions that have been developed through the centuries by printers and publishers and are simply devices for making written text easier to read and understand. Punctuation helps the reader to make sense of a large piece of written communication by breaking it down into smaller, more manageable, sections. It also helps to make the appearance of the written page clearer and more attractive. In speech, we can use gestures, give emphasis to a word, or raise and lower our voices to help illustrate our meaning. In written work, much of this stress and clarification must be accomplished by punctuation.
Some conventions of punctuation are obligatory and some are optional, but they should all be used with discretion and good common sense. Sentences may be rendered meaningless by lack of punctuation, or they may take on an entirely different meaning, and you should always attempt to use the correct punctuation.
THE FULL STOP
This is probably the most straightforward aspect of punctuation. The full stop is used to separate one sentence from another. When you come to the end of a sentence, you use a full stop. If no full stops were used, a piece of text would be almost impossible to read or would mean something else entirely.
The king walked around the castle an hour after his head was chopped off.
The king walked around the castle. An hour after, his head was chopped off.
The full stop may also be used after abbreviations such as B.A., H.M. and Co., but is omitted if the shortened word includes the last letter of the word, e.g. Dr, Mr and Ltd.
The comma lies at the place in the sentence where you would normally take a breath, or where there is a natural pause. It is the most frequently used punctuation mark and has many functions. It is generally used:
1 To record a list of things:
At the party we had cake, jelly, ice-cream, biscuits and fizzy drinks.
2 To mark out direct speech:
‘So tell me,’ he said, ‘do you come here often?’
3 To mark off a sentence or clause where a pause is needed in reading:
Among the people who came to my party were the actor, John Brown, and his wife, Susie Smith, who wrote the film we had been to see earlier, and her friend Jim.
4 To mark off words like however, therefore and of course.
Generally speaking, and particularly in business prose, you do not need a comma before ‘and’ or ‘but’, although it is better to insert one if it will make the sentence more readily comprehensible.
The semi-colon is used to join two grammatically complete sentences that are related in subject matter. If you wish to join these two, separate thoughts in one sentence, you will need to use a semi-colon. Another way to think of this principle is that you need a semi-colon when you require a slightly longer pause than you would have with a comma, but where you do not want to break the line of thought as you would do if you were to use a full stop.
It can also be used where you make a long list of items, all of which require further identification with a comma:
Among the people present at the theatre were the actress, Lizzie Brown, wife of the author; Jack Black, the author; Harry Grey, the producer and John Smith, a fan.
This would clearly be incomprehensible without the semi-colons.
The colon is generally used before a list or to introduce a quotation:
He offered me various things for my birthday: a CD, a book, a blue teapot and a pair of earrings.
THE EXCLAMATION MARK
The exclamation mark is used after an interjection, an exclamatory sentence or an expression of great feeling. It is therefore used to express a sudden moment of passionate feeling, whether this be surprise or joy. It is generally over-used in social letters and should be avoided when not strictly necessary. Do not use an exclamation mark without first asking yourself: ‘Does this sentence really deserve one?’
It can, however, be very useful if you are making a statement that might be considered a little forward when addressed to people you do not know very well. It can make written text seem more relaxed and informal.
I had a really marvellous time!
Thanks for the toy rocket!
THE QUESTION MARK
A question mark is used after a direct question but not after an indirect one:
‘When are you going on holiday?’
I asked him. I asked him when he was going on holiday.
Bear in mind that question marks replace full stops. Since question marks normally mark the end of a sentence, a comma should not normally be required.
Inverted commas are used to enclose direct speech or to enclose an extract or quotation. The extra punctuation will be inside the quotation marks if the sentence quoted is complete:
She told me, ‘We really like France.’
Here, for example, ‘We really like France’ is a complete sentence in itself, so the full stop goes inside the quotation marks. Compare:
When I asked her, she said ‘blue’.
The word ‘blue’ does not form a complete sentence so the full stop goes outside the inverted commas.
If the quotation is indented, it is not necessary to use quotation marks since the layout already indicates that this is direct speech.
If the quotation ends the sentence, then a full stop, a question mark or an exclamation mark is placed before the final quotation mark.
If the question mark belongs to the sentence as a whole, and not to the direct speech, then the question mark goes outside:
Did he say, ‘It is against my beliefs’?
If you are going to use a quotation within direct speech, you should use double quotation marks to mark off the quotation in order to differentiate it from the direct speech:
‘Well,’ he said, ‘I guess that nobody wants to hear me read “Men are from Pluto” then?’
This is probably the most abused of all forms of punctuation. No one will take your business letter seriously if you cannot master its use.
There are two main, and quite separate, uses for the apostrophe.
1 It is used to denote possession:
The boy’s football
My mother’s bag
2 It is also used to show the omission of a letter or letters:
I’ve been to the shops.
What’s on my sister’s T-shirt?
Never confuse the two.
When in doubt, ask yourself if the object in question belongs to anybody. This is not complicated. The football belongs to the boy. The bag belongs to the mother.
Most confusion arises out of the word its, meaning belonging to it. It is occasionally confused with it’s, which is an abbreviation of the two words it is or it has. The abbreviation in it’s merely indicates the absence of the letter ‘i’ .
Ask yourself: can this word be replaced by ‘it is’ or ‘it has’?
If it cannot, then it must be its without an apostrophe.
The cat scratched its leg. (no apostrophe)
The cat is not there. It’s a shame.
Always remember when dealing with a possessive plural to put the apostrophe before the final s unless the plural word itself ends in an s. This sounds more complicated than it is.
The people’s party was better than the children’s party.
The adults’ party was better than the teenagers’ party.
Just ask yourself: whose party was it?
The people – so it is the party of the people.
The adults – so it is the party of the adults.
In other words the apostrophe goes at the end of the collective word.
These are used when you need to add something to a sentence to clarify its meaning but which bears no direct relevance to the sentence itself. If you could adequately use commas instead, then use commas: they look neater and they indicate that you have a correct grasp of grammar.
Square brackets tend to indicate an omission in the text or something scientific. You should not normally need them in letter writing.
DASHES AND HYPHENS
A dash is a long line which is often used instead of a comma or a semicolon:
The boys – always in a hurry – ran for the bus.
A hyphen is a shorter line which is used to join two words when they would make more sense as one word:
The primary function of the hyphen is to indicate that two or more words are to be read together as a single word with its own meaning. The hyphen is always used in phrasal compounds such as stick-in-the-mud. Some hyphenated words are in a constant state of flux. Fifty years ago, today and tomorrow were very often hyphenated while son in law was not. If in doubt, look in a dictionary but, in general, if a hyphen will clarify the meaning of a word, use one.
Many hyphenated words are only hyphenated if they are adjectival (i.e. form a single phrase with a specific descriptive meaning). ‘The ankle-deep mud’ (attributive) is technically correct, but there is nothing wrong with the phrase ‘the mud is ankle deep’ (predicative).
You hyphenate words in order to join them together so that they have a new, specialised meaning different from each word’s individual meaning when used independently.
Think about ‘the old-fashioned dresser’. The ‘old, fashioned dresser’ would be a dresser that is both antique and highly decorated. The ‘old-fashioned dresser’ is a dresser that has gone right out of fashion.
Insert the correct punctuation into the following three paragraphs:
1 here is the video I promised to bring you said luke what is it called asked tom see for yourself replied luke
2 where are you going for your holidays asked sophie we are going to new york answered beatrice you cant go there exclaimed sophie why not asked beatrice because its too far replied sophie
3 do you think youll win the match my father asked well I think its very likely I replied it doesnt really matter as long as you do your best said my father
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