Global communications in English

Quick tips

Watch out for forty-four!

House number 44A very common error is to suppose that logic governs English spelling. Yes, the number 40 does have something to do with the number 4, but that doesn’t have any relevance to its spelling! The correct spelling is not ‘fourty’, but forty. Just remember the contrast contained in the word forty-four and you should never misspell forty again…

© 2015 Baxter Publishing, Hilversum, The Netherlands

Please, no comma after please

dogShould you write Please, send me your comments or Please send me your comments? The version without a comma is correct. If you put a comma after please, it sounds as though you are irritated and impatient: Oh, for heaven’s sake, just send me your comments will you: you’ve kept me waiting long enough!

So remember: no comma after please!

©2015 Baxter Publishing, Hilversum, The Netherlands

Is it its or it’s?

itsDon’t be confused by the fact that ’s is used for the possessive of nouns (the book’s cover, John’s coat). It behaves differently because it is a pronoun: think of its as the partner of the possessive pronoun his (‘of him’) – which, as you know, also has no apostrophe.

Its means ‘belonging to it’:

Its colour is bright green.
You can’t tell a book by its cover.

It’s is short for it is or it has:

It is:

It’s late.

It’s over.

It has:

It’s never happened before.
It’s ruined everything.


©2015 Baxter Publishing, Hilversum, The Netherlands

As much splitting up as possible

Shoal of fishWhen used with a noun, the phrase as much/many/little/few as possible needs to ‘surround’ the noun, rather than be placed in front of it. For example:

NOT: We need to give employees as much as possible autonomy.
BUT: We need to give employees as much autonomy as possible.

Here are some additional correct examples:

PowerPoint slides should have as little text as possible.
We want to obtain as much information as possible.
Tell as few people as possible.
Tell as many people as possible.

© 2015 Baxter Publishing, Hilversum, The Netherlands

Do you congratulate someone with or on their birthday?

Birthday cakeNeither! It’s a trick question. We don’t use to congratulate or congratulations in connection with birthdays in English, except in very special cases (18, 21, 100, etc.): we normally just say Happy Birthday or Many happy returns, instead. And we don’t shake hands as we do so.

However, we can congratulate people on getting a job, winning an award, or getting married, for instance. And then a handshake is often part of the ritual. With is never used with to congratulate or congratulations – it’s always to congratulate (someone) on… and congratulations on…

©2015 Baxter Publishing, Hilversum, The Netherlands

Is it programme, programm or program?

program listEnglish spelling is notorious for being confusing. For example, which of these is – or are – correct: programme, program or even programm?

Well, let’s get programm out of the way first. It doesn’t exist in English – it’s essentially the German spelling!

The spelling program is used in the USA for the set of works played at a concert, a coordinated set of activities (e.g., at a university), a TV or radio show, and a piece of computer software. Program is also used in the UK, but only in the sense of computer software – presumably because software was originally ‘imported’ into the UK from the US, along with its American spelling.

The spelling programme is used in the UK for all meanings except computer software.

©2015 Baxter Publishing, Hilversum, The Netherlands

Move the negative!

cloudsIf you don’t like a certain idea, what would you say? I think it’s not a good idea or I don’t think it’s a good idea? Logic would suggest that we should say I think it’s not a good idea: after all, it’s not a good idea is what we think. But in fact I don’t think it’s a good idea is what we normally say when offering a negative opinion or judgement. The negation that really belongs with the second main verb in the sentence is moved to the left and attached to the first one instead. The same happens with many other verbs of opinion or perception:

It doesn’t look as if it’s going to rain.
I don’t suppose
he’ll come now.
I don’t believe I’ve met you before.
He didn’t expect to win.
She doesn’t appear to be awake.

Keeping the not in the second part of the sentence does not result in wrong English: it simply sounds less natural in speech. So when offering a negative opinion or judgement, remember to move the negative!

©2015 Baxter Publishing, Hilversum, The Netherlands

Beware of ‘one of these days’

one-of-these-daysIn English, one of these days means ‘possibly sometime in the future’. It does not mean the same as Dutch een dezer dagen, which is much sooner! So the following two sentences mean quite different things:

We will come and see you one of these days. (a vague intention)
We will come and see you very shortly. (a definite intention)

 ©2015 Baxter Publishing, Hilversum, The Netherlands

Friendly request or polite order?

chairsWhich is more polite: ‘Please sit down’ or ‘Sit down, please’? If you put please at the beginning, you are making a polite, friendly request. If you put it at the end, you sound much less friendly. You’re not exactly giving an order, but you are in a serious mood – it’s no time for jokes!

©2015 Baxter Publishing, Hilversum, The Netherlands

Powerful or powerfull?

handfulIt’s powerful – one l, not two, despite the fact that full as a word on its own is spelt with two. The same goes for all other adjectives of the same type, such as careful, useful, helpful, successful, awful, dreadful, delightful, wonderful, faithful, etc.

There are also nouns of measurement formed with -ful: e.g., spoonful, cupful, mouthful, handful, armful and pocketful.

©2015 Baxter Publishing, Hilversum, The Netherlands

© 2013 - Baxter Communications | Hilversum - NL