Ulla de Stricker, de Stricker Associates

Following on her piece in the January 2013 issue, Ulla de Stricker offers additional examples of common but easily avoidable errors in English language usage.

“Their”let’s get singular and plural alignment straight!

WRONG: Each client is asked to make their payment … A user gets their password from …
CORRECT: Each client is asked to make his or her payment … Users get their passwords from …

“Their” can be used only in the context of multiple people, projects, and so on.: Users make their selections … Customers choose their products … Projects get their funding from … According to their preferences, clients receive customized …

SOLUTION IF YOU’RE NOT SURE: Avoid “their” altogether. Clients are asked to make payments … Each client is asked to pay by … A new user may obtain a password from … Users may obtain passwords from …

Reticent vs. hesitantHe who hesitates

[waits] is lost. The reticent one just won’t speak.

WRONG: We asked John to join us, but he was reticent.
CORRECT: We asked John to join us, but he was hesitant.

Reticent means “saying little, keeping silent”. Memory trick: Reticent persons are not offering their “2 cents”.

SOLUTION IF YOU’RE NOT SURE: John seemed reluctant—it was a few minutes before he joined us. Peter was quiet—he did not comment on the matter.

Complement or compliment?

Complement = match; Compliment = praise … with an “i”. Therefore:

The staff complimented the designers on the paint job, saying how well the new colors complemented each other. (The colors don’t praise each other.)

Complementary or complimentary?
Complementary = matched; Complimentary = gratis, a gift … with an “i”. Therefore:

The two strategies are seen as complementary. The new policy is a complement to the existing safety regulations. The loot bags are compliments of the sponsor. In business class, headphones are complimentary.

The rationale for being rational is well understood.

WRONG: The rational for the policy is not well understood.
CORRECT: The rationale for the change was well explained. A rational attitude is helpful.

MEMORY TRICK: The stress on the last syllable elongates the word, so there’s an e.

As a loyal employee, the management committee decided to reward you …Who is on the right hand side of the comma?

WRONG: As a preferred customer, we want to introduce our new premium service …
WRONG: As our top performer, I am pleased to give you this award. (Who is the top performer?)
WRONG: As your personal assistant, this is a personal reminder of your 1 pm appointment.
WRONG: After having attended the presentation, one opportunity stood out.
CORRECT: As a preferred customer, you could benefit from our new premium service …
CORRECT: As our top performer, you have richly deserved this award.
CORRECT: As your personal assistant, I am reminding you of your 1 pm appointment.
CORRECT: After having [Once I had] attended the presentation, I saw one opportunity standing out.

SOLUTION: Construct a sentence:
You are a preferred customer, and we want to offer you …
You are valued employees, and therefore a new benefit is being offered to you.
You are our top performer, and I am pleased to give you this award.

Even without the “as” the problem persists:

WRONG: A skilled manager, his team respected him. An accomplished musician, her audiences adored her.
CORRECT: A skilled manager, he had the respect of his team. An accomplished musician, she was adored by her audiences.

SOLUTION: Construct a sentence: He was a skilled manager, and therefore he had the respect of his staff. She was an accomplished musician, and her audiences adored her.

In regards to … Remember “comprised of”? There is no such expression!

WRONG: In regards to item 4 on the agenda …
CORRECT: Regarding item 4 … As for item 4 … With reference to item 4 … Respecting item 4 … Pertaining to item 4 … In connection with item 4 …

SOLUTION: Forever banish “in regards to” from your vocabulary!

There/their/they’re; your/you’re: Let’s just get it right!

WRONG: As for the managers … there new Blackberrys haven’t arrived? Your kidding?
WRONG: Their is a new Blackberry on the market. You’re staff will want it!
CORRECT: As for the managers … their new Blackberrys haven’t arrived? You’re kidding?
CORRECT: There is a new Blackberry on the market. Your staff will want it!

The above examples are a mix of many errors. FOLLOW THESE MODELS:

There are three meetings today. There could be a room conflict.
Two new employees arrive today. Their orientation is at 3pm. They’re [they are] invited to the boardroom at 4pm.
Welcome to new employees: Your orientation is at 3pm. You’re [you are] invited to the boardroom at 4pm.