Apostrophes: When do we use them?

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This message is from my local gym. What caught my eye was the unnecessary apostrophe in ‘Saturdays’.

Apostrophes are terrible easy to use. And yet, there are often misused. As in most things in life, you just have to be clear as to how to use them. Here are three common uses:

  1. To show possession 

girl’s (singular)     girls’ (plural)

2. After time expressions

One week’s time

Two weeks’ time (note that the apostrophe in this case comes after the ‘s’)

3. For informal speech 

do not   becomes  don’t 

I am becomes I’m 

you are becomes you’re 

Pay attention when you see: it’s

It’s can be ‘it is’ or ‘it has’. It depends on the context. Look at these two examples:

a. It’s raining! (It is)

b. It’s been nice speaking with you. (It has)

 

If you wish to write anything in its plural form, such as protein shakes, push-ups, and Saturdays, there is no need to add an apostrophe. Don’t do it.

And yes, there are exceptions. We use apostrophes when we talk of minding your P’s and Q’s. But, I think you knew that already…

 

When do I use a semicolon?

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When do I use a semicolon?

This is a good question. And before I answer it, we will have to revise what an independent clause is.  An independent clause:

  • has a subject and a verb;
  • makes complete sense on its own.

Here is an example of an independent clause:

Atul made a presentation. This simple sentence is an independent clause. There is a subject (Atul) and verb (made). And it makes sense on its own.

How about this sentence? Although we finished. This is not an independent clause. Yes, there is a subject (we) and a verb (finished). However, it just does not make any sense! It’s a phrase.

Good. Now that independent clauses are out of the way, let’s get back to semicolons. Here are two common uses of the semicolon:

  1. We use a semicolon to connect two independent clauses:

Atul made a presentation; the client decided to accept our offer.

This is painfully incorrect:

Although we finished; I was not able to upload the file.

A semicolon is used for sentences that are closely related to each other. If the sentences are not closely related to each other, you can always use a full-stop.

  1. We can also use a semicolon to divide a list which has other punctuation marks in it.

Here is a list of the attendees: Mrs. X, CEO of Kaboo; Dr. L, University of Row; Mr. O, COO of Bow Wow.

Now imagine we replace the semicolons with commas.

Here is a list of the attendees: Mrs. X, CEO of Kaboo, Dr. L, University of Row, Mr. O, COO of Bow Wow.

Are you as confused as I am? I hope so… I don’t know whether the CEO of Kaboo, is Mrs. X or Dr. L or whether the CEO of Kaboo is another person altogether.

Semicolons are elegant and useful punctuation marks. Use them properly 😉

3 tips to improve your e-mail writing

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Many people find it difficult to write clear e-mails. Here are 3 tips:

  1. Decide why you are writing the e-mail

What is the purpose of your e-mail? What do you want to see as an outcome? Do you want to give an update? Do you want to a reply to a clarification? Do you want the recipient to complete a form and send it to you?

After you have written the e-mail, step back and imagine that you are the recipient. Is the message clear? Often, we are not good at critically evaluating our own writing. You may want a colleague to give you a second opinion.

2. Be concise

Many of the e-mails I have read contain extremely long sentences. I have come across a sentence which is 30 words long. (True story!) When there are too many thoughts in a sentence, the main message of the sentence gets diluted. And the chances of grammatical errors increases as the sentence gets longer and longer.

Full-stops do not bite. Use them more often. Try to limit your sentences to 10 words. It will be better for you and for your reader.

3. Use simple language

In India, some people are fascinated by big words. If you fall into this category, here is my advice: use big words carefully. Do not use big words for the sake of using them. One, if you do not properly understand their meaning, you may be using them inappropriately. Two, the purpose of communication is to be understood. If the reader does not understand you, it may create some confusion.

Simplicity is effective.