Spelling Squad on the beat.

There is no problem with using “Hello” or “Hi” in writing your business email. Business writing is about writing as you would speak. Effective business writing is about building rapport. Hello and Hi are natural and friendly words to greet your readers in a manner that is less formal than the Dear _____, salutation you use for traditional letters. If the circumstances and the audience are appropriate, go ahead and use them.

Of course, this greeting is best used for readers you can call by their first names. Drop the formal titles of Mr., Mrs., and Ms.

The problem we normally encounter with using such greetings is the way we punctuate them.

Some people write it this way:

Hi Dennis,

They think that since this is as a substitute for Dear ___, we should follow the punctuation. Insert loud and irritating buzzer sound here to indicate it’s wrong.

The proper way to punctuate this salutation is this:

Hi, Dennis.

This follows the punctuation rule of enclosing in commas the name of the person you’re writing to. For example:

Yes, Sammy, we will meet on Saturday.

No, Carol.

So, my dear readers, hello and goodbye for now. I hope to be back here soon.

I am alive. I am still fighting the good fight. I have infiltrated a den of grammar bandits involved in everything from minor punctuation misdemeanors to gruesome language murders. Some crimes are truly heinous.

Yes, I'm back to teaching sophomores. There are not enough doughnuts in the world to make grammar pulis's job easier.

I will be back. Please be patient with me.

To write persuasively, you must establish your credibility. Acknowledging your expertise, without sounding pompous and boastful, would help. Talking about your information sources and the amount of research you’ve done, without boring your readers with the methods and research minutiae, would also go a long way. The content, the tone, and the writing style also matter.

Here are four things you can do to write credibly and persuasively:

SPECIFY – Avoid sweeping declarations or vague assertions that people call motherhood statements. Do you really think people would believe you when you say you are striving for world peace? How about talking about how you are serving as a peacemaker by being a mediator in your barangay meetings? Be specific. Paint as precise a picture as possible so that your readers can visualize something real, something tangible.

TESTIFY – Submit testimony. Yours and others’. Always establish that the testimony is borne out of personal experience. Give specific names and dates. Use quotation marks, and make sure you have the testifier’s permission. There is nothing wrong with editing the testimony for syntax and conciseness, but make sure you don’t tamper with the quotes so much that veracity is sacrificed.

AMPLIFY – Bring the focus closer by giving examples to illustrate your point. When you say your resort has 5-star amenities, then enumerate what those facilities are. Better yet, focus on the benefits they will get by patronizing your establishment.

QUANTIFY – Hard data is almost always better than words. Use the language of numbers. Using superlatives like best, most, highest, biggest can ring false; your reader might doubt you or ignore your claims as exaggerations. But saying you have been voted Retailer of the Year for 3 consecutive years since 2007 or that you are the number 1 reseller of XYZ laptops outselling your closest competitor by 207% would better catch their attention and aid their retention.

Remember: In writing persuasively, remember the STAQ formula: Specify, Testify, Amplify, Quantify.

Grammar Break

I know, I know. I've been absent for some time now. I took a break from the computer and went to the farthest place I could go to. Here:

I have to admit that I would die a mini-death if PowerPoint were to be taken away from me. As a trainer, I have come to rely on PowerPoint as a convenient, portable, teaching aid. It also enables the sharing of other media like videos and even interactive games.

Maybe I exaggerate when I say that I consider PowerPoint an art form. I enjoy designing attractive and effective slides. Sadly, not every presenter puts the same effort.

This clip is one of my favorite YouTube videos. It is funny. And it resonates with me, reminding me of some really horrid PowerPoint viewing experiences. Enjoy it and learn from it.

If the video link does not work, copy and paste this URL:

You ask: Which is the correct answer for: Who wants to go? I OR ME?.

Grammar Pulis Answers: The correct answer is: I.

I won't go through the rules of subject and object nouns this time. Some people hear the word rule, and they run away.

The simple and quick way to know the right answer is to answer in a complete sentence.

I want to go.
Me want to go.

If there's anyone who thinks it's the latter, then you're on the right blog site. Welcome! I'm here to help you figure out this confusing world of grammar. Read on, learn, and enjoy. :)

So the correct pronoun is I. But you're going to sound strange saying, "I!" I is just not a loner word. It needs company.

If you want to be a stickler, then you may say the whole sentence:
I want to go.

Or more briefly:
I do.

But, here's my little secret. If speed is an issue, and you need to shout out your answer forcefully, for example somebody says, "Who wants to go to with George Clooney to an all-expense-paid trip to Maldives?" By all means, shout, "Me! Me! Me!" Flail your arms around and jump up and down so that you are noticed. Now is not the time to bother with grammar.

You ask: I know both forms are correct, but when is it proper to write the date this way: April 2, 2009 and this way: 2 April 2009?

Grammar Pulis Answers: Yes, both forms are correct. And the way you punctuate those dates is also correct. If you use the month-day-year format, you should insert a comma in between the day and the year. If you choose the day-month-year format, then omit the comma.

Both examples here are correct then:
April 2, 2009
2 April 2009

It's also good that you spelled out the month.

Can you imagine the confusion if the dates are written these ways?
or 4/2/2009

As to when you should use them, my default answer based on my stock knowledge would have been to:

  • use the month-day-year format, the traditionally considered US format, when you're corresponding with somebody from the USA, or a country that predominantly follows Standard American English, and
  • use the day-month-year format if you're corresponding with Europeans and countries that lean toward British English .
Wikipedia also makes this distinction.

However, I decided not to rely on stock knowledge and checked other sources. Several sources were silent on the matter, but the Chicago Manual of Style and Strunk and White's The Elements of Style agree that both formats are acceptable in the US. So, you can use either. Just try to be consistent if you're going to mention many dates in a document. Choose one style and stick to it.

It then becomes a matter of personal preference. Unless the organization, industry, or community you write for prescribes a specific style, you can chose the format that you're most comfortable with. Some organizations, for example, require dates to be formatted according to ISO standards.

Strunk and White prefers the day-month-year format, 22 April 2009. The word separating the figures contributes to clarity. Eliminating the comma also very subtly reduces clutter. I think those are 2 great reasons to choose 2 April 2009.

You Ask: Is it correct to say "Advanced Happy Birthday" or "Advance Happy Birthday"? Or should I just say Happy Birthday in Advance?"

Grammar Pulis Answers: Hmm, I am so used to saying Advance Happy Birthday, so I never really wondered about its grammatical soundness. Until now.

Let's analyze.

First, let's consider the meaning of both words, advance and advanced. Both can be used as adjectives. There are, however, slight differences in the usage. says that advance is an adjective that describes something that is given, made, or issued in advance. A couple of examples are: advance payment and advance copy.

Advanced, on the other hand, is an adjective for describing something that is further along in progress or something enlightened. For example, Advanced English Program, advanced theories.

Based on the definitions, it would seem then that the former is more appropriate than the latter.

BUT, this requires more analysis. The second thing we need to look at is what the word advance is modifying. If we say that it is modifying the word birthday, then that does not make sense because the birthday is not advanced. The one that is being given in advance is the greeting. That means then that both Advance Happy Birthday and Advanced Happy Birthday are grammatically wrong. So, you really are better off saying, Happy Birthday in advance. Or just say, Happy Birthday.

Personally, however, I wouldn't mind it so much if anybody says Advance/Advanced Happy Birthday to me. I mean what kind of rude, grammar-obsessed person would I be if I slapped a grammar violation fine on a person who is being nice to me?

As the Grammar Pulis, I would let something like this nonstandard usage slide, then I'll smile, and just take the gift that goes with the greeting.

Advance Happy Easter! Oops, that should be Happy Easter in advance.

You ask: “I hope you find solace in the love and support of your wonderful family and friends such as Rick and _____??” Is it I or me that goes in the blank?

Grammar Pulis Answers:

The quick answer to your question is this. The correct way to say it is:

I hope you find solace in the love and support of your wonderful family and friends such as Rick and me.

To explain:
The pronoun you use depends on the case.

Subject Case = I, You, She, He, They
Object Case = Me, You, Her, Him, Them
Possessive Case = My, Mine, Your, Her, Hers, His, Their

Let me explain further:

Subject Case = I, You, She, He, They
Use when the pronoun is the subject of the sentence or when the pronoun renames the subject.

* I am here.
* Here I am.
* Knock, knock. Who is it? It is I.
* It is she who killed the butler.
* My cousin and I gasped when we saw the corpse.
* You and I are against the world.

Say these only when you want Grammar Pulis to handcuff you and slap you with a grammar violation fine:
* Here na me; where na you? (Filipino texters' atrocious use of the language)
* Me and my cousins are in shock.
* You and me against the world. (There's also a missing verb there somewhere.)

Object Case = Me, You, Her, Him, Them
Use when the pronoun is used as an object of verbs or prepositions, or in cases when the pronouns are neither subject nor possessive.

* My instinct told me to dodge and run.
* There is tension between my boss and me.
* Everybody loves me.
* Everybody is against me.
* People like her always get away with murder.

Please don’t say:
* The bullet was meant for you and I.
* It is me who killed the butler.

Possessive = My, Mine, Your, Her, Hers, His, Their
Use to indicate possession.

* All the blame is mine.
* The petty thief ran away with my empty wallet.
* Everything in the house is either his or hers.

Sometimes we get confused about the cases. What you can do is play the “Will it sound funny if...” game.

Will it sound funny if I remove the other noun or pronoun?

I hope you find solace in the love and support of your wonderful family and friends such as I.

You have to agree that sounds funny. (As I typed above, MS Word put a green, zigzag line under I and suggested me instead.)

Will it sound funny if I replace the first person pronoun with a third person?

I hope you find solace in the love and support of your wonderful family and friends such Rick and she.

Her (third person object case), instead of she, sounds infinitely better, which means, you use the first person object case me.

Now, if all above is confusing to you, just rephrase the sentence to convert it into something you can be comfortable with.

I hope you find solace in the love and support of your wonderful family and friends. Rick and I are here to comfort and help you.

The Elements of Style by Strunk and White
Better English by Betty Kirkpatrick

When it comes to grammar, I find myself sweating the small stuff too much too often. For instance, in a yahoo group I am part of, I always cringe when I read, "We are in need of accountants." I admit this is grammatically acceptable, but if one wants to arrest verbosity and write clearly and concisely, one should just say, "We need accountants." You save two words. To me, that is a big deal. I don't understand why people can't just go straight to the point in the least number of words as possible.

"In need" sounds to me more applicable in desperate or in impoverished situations. "The typhoon left the community in need of relief goods." "He is so obnoxious; he is in desperate need of a self-help book."

And this tirade is brought about by reading new twists to this pet peeve. Take these subject lines I just read: "Still need of accountants," and "Need of help." Arrrrghhhh! Be still, my raging heart. What's with this superfluous use of the preposition of? Do they get reward points for frequent use? And in these intances, I can no longer say that these are grammatically acceptable. They are reprehensible. Criminal. And this angry vigilante has kept still long enough. I just want to call them out.

Okay, okay. I am usually not this vicious. I just needed to get that out of my system. Whew.

I feel better now. Thanks.

Creative Signs for the Work-Hard-Party-Harder set

“Honey, will get home late tonight.” And then the volume of his voice goes down to a whisper, “Overtime.” Of course, you say, “Sure. Don’t work too hard, honey.”

When you’re as good a listener as I am, you pay very close attention to the enunciation of your spouse’s words. Did he say, overtime? Or did he just say Obeertime? Note the difference between the sounds of the consonants b and v.

Obeertime is a restaurant slash beer pub (now undergoing renovation) along Pasong Tamo St. According to my husband, they serve some of the best barbecues in town. I have to take his word for it, because I have not yet done extra work in there. Bad lighting and probably not the most conducive place for checking test papers. I am just amused by places with names like this. I appreciate the wit and the play on words. And I’m sure those who need creative excuses for post work inebriation appreciate them too.

Less than a kilometer away is a place that picks up on the theme. D’Boss. “Honey, will get home late tonight. I will go to the boss.” Again, if you’re very astute, you’ll notice that your honey used the wrong preposition. If he really had official business with his boss, he should have said, I will go with the boss. And he should pronounce the article “the” using a soft th sound, not the d sound that some Filipinos use.

And then, there is this:

“Honey, will get home late tonight. I will pass by the job site.”

Be very careful, my dear readers. Listen carefully. Your hardworking husband just might be inputting alcoholic beverages instead of encoding data.

Somebody asked me the secret to expanding one’s vocabulary.

First off, I suspect that right now, you know pretty much all the words you need to know to survive in your chosen career. I don’t prescribe memorizing a new word a day. Life is too short and stressful as it is. Just use the words you already know as well as you can.

But for the sake of continuous improvement, and if you really want to deposit more into your word bank, let me share with you a few tips:

Audience – Who is your target reader? With whom do you frequently communicate? Are they entrepreneurs? Then read a lot of business magazines and use the terms frequently used -- capital, investment, bottom line, strategy, sustainability --and use them literally or metaphorically in your sales letters. Do you write articles read by sports enthusiasts? Pepper your write-ups with words about winning, teamwork, the finish line. Google specific glossaries and list down words you might be able to use in your writing. Do not overdo it. Plain English is still better than jargon. Just use enough to get the attention of your readers, who would appreciate that you use their language.

Books – There are two main tips I give to aspiring writers. One is to write, write, write. And another is to read, read, read. Read aloud. Underline the words which you are not familiar with and look them up. Google them to see how these words are usually used. Experiment by using these words in your speech or written pieces. Just make sure you are using them in context.

Crossword Puzzles – I kid you not. In my youth, I discovered the word ecru through crossword puzzles. Find the difficulty level you’re comfortable with but one that is challenging as well. And yes, you can peek and cheat. That’s how you discover the words you do not know.

Dictionary – The most obvious place to look. I don’t prescribe reading it from A to Z. Rather, check it out when you have certain words you want to look up. I recommend Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. These days, however, it so much more convenient to go to Don’t just read the first meaning. Read through it so you understand the nuances of the word.

Enjoy the Process – Play word games online. Play scrabble with a really good player. Listen to good speakers and learn which words inspire the audience. Experiment with new words. Don’t go through the motions of memorizing one word a day when you find the process tedious. Try to use a newly discovered word 10 times a day. Use them for knock knock jokes. You’re bound to remember them better.

F7 – Microsoft’s Shift F7 is such a blessing to writers. It’s a very convenient thesaurus. Use it when you think you’ve been repeating a certain word too much. You might be tempted to use an extremely impressive sounding word that no one else you know has heard of. Don’t. The point is to be understood. Write to express, not to impress. So, stick to words that most people will understand. And be careful that you are using the word properly or else you will be taken as a pretentious fool.

So, there you have it, the ABCs of expanding your vocabulary. Again, I encourage you to read as often as you can. Read a balance of fiction and non-fiction. Read well-written books. Read books on writing. Read books that discuss topics you are interested in.

The process of expanding your vocabulary is not an instant thing. It takes time. And remember, it is not the words you know, but how you use the words you know that will help you write effectively.

Interesting and helpful article at

Interview with Lee Gutkind

Lee Gutkind, Editor/Writer/Teacher/Filmmaker

Lee Gutkind is the founding editor of the anthology series Creative Nonfiction: The Literature of Reality, a teacher, filmmaker, and an award-winning author/editor of over a dozen books. He’s often been called “The Godfather behind Creative Nonfiction.”

Here is my exclusive interview with Mr. Gutkind:

Mike: What is the best piece of writing advice you ever heard?

Gutkind: That you need to build a habit of writing. To write every day and on a schedule.

Mike: Should you edit your work during the process or after you’ve finished? MORE HERE.

More funny signs at:

Thanks to Maydiwayata for sending the link.

There’s a special group of people who live the last quarter of every year with trembling hands, nerves on edge, and a tendency to get too excited. By the middle of January, they start calming down.

Don’t worry about these folks. It’s not a chronic disease. It’s just a symptom of overcaffeination. A natural result of trying to consume 12 cups of regular coffee and 9 more cups of the holiday varieties. Their goal: to earn enough stickers to get themselves a free journal from Starbucks.

I understand. I’m a rabid collector of journals myself. I prefer the ones with unlined pages. I prefer paying for them since I do not have the patience for collecting stickers. Some people are crazy about moleskins. Some people like them big. Some people like them small and handy. But really, any kind of notebook will do to enable you to journal your thoughts.

There are many benefits to writing a journal. One of them is improving your writing skills. I always tell my students that one of the most effective ways to become a better writer is just to write, write, write. Journal writing enables you to do that while having fun.

Write as often as you can. You do not have to wait for something monumentally significant to happen. You can write about the mundane. Write about your daily activities. Write about that guy who always takes the same jeepney you ride on the way to work. Write about your boss and her weird habits. Write about your plans to have a haircut in the coming weekend. Or your plans for the next five years. Or how you spent the last 5 hours. Write about anything. Just write.

Journal writing may not automatically improve your grammar, but as you develop the writing habit, you would find writing to be enjoyable and well worth the effort to consciously improve.

royalty free image from

You asked:

Which is correct?
A block of rooms has been reserved.
A block of rooms have been reserved.

Grammar Pulis answers:

Yippee! A subject verb agreement question.

I'll answer your question by first, giving the right answer, and then explaining why.

The grammatically correct sentence is:

A block of rooms has been reserved.

Why? The verb has to agree with the headword or the main noun. In this case the headword is block. "of rooms" are modifiers. Because the headword (block) is in singular form, the verb (has) needs to be in singular form as well.

Here are more examples that follow this rule. I have used bold font for the headwords.

The stack of records has been moved into another cabinet.
A series of concerts has been scheduled for summer.
A herd of zebras passing by is making me dizzy.
A cast of thousands gets ready for the first shooting day.
My set of silver and onyx jewelry is missing.

At your service,
Grammar Pulis

Source: Understanding Grammar, Third Edition by Martha Kolln

"In the half of management, I welcome you to the Annual Planning Workshop."

Management and employees scratch their heads as they start the meeting. It takes a full minute for the snickering to stop.

Okay, so we know that things like above only happen in bad dreams. We know that the word "behalf" should take the place of that awkward and plainly wrong phrase, "the half." But there seems to be some confusion on the preposition that precedes it. Is it on behalf or in behalf?

Not a lot of grammar books can clarify this for you. The good news is that the answer is easily googled. But since you're here, I might as well help you out.

Both phrases are correct, but each has a particular use.

On behalf means "as a representative of."
"On behalf of the Management team, I thank you all for attending this meeting."

In behalf means "for the benefit of."
"We are raising funds in behalf of the typhoon victims."

So there, the next time you speak on somebody's behalf, you can be pretty sure you're using the right preposition. There will be no snickering. Promise.

Here's a sign that needs to vomit apostrophes. An eyesore and a horrible waste of black ink. There are other punctuation violations on this sign, but I will focus on the uses and misuses of the apostrophe.

So, what are the appropriate uses of this tadpole-looking punctuation mark? They are fewer than we think:

1) to indicate possession
2) for the omission of numbers in dates and letters in contractions
3) to indicate the plural of letters
4) to indicate the plural of words

Use the apostrophe to indicate possession.

I've been to Derek's office many times.
Sometimes I have to use the employees' entrance.

There are other more complex rules for the use of the apostrophe in indicating possession. But I don't want to confuse you with too much information so we will leave that for another day. Or you can check out the sources listed at the bottom of this post.

Use the apostrophe to replace letters and numbers that are omitted.

Who's going with me to the Summer Lovin' '08 concert?
I'm going to join you.

As you can see the apostrophe replaced the letter i in "who is," the letter g in
loving, the numbers 20 in 2008 and the letter a in I am. Good job, apostrophe.

Use the apostrophe for the plural of letters

Mara needs to improve her diction; she sometimes has trouble with her f's and p's.

Use the apostrophe for the plural of words.

I'm glad I can explain to you the do's and don'ts of apostrophe usage.

So here are the don'ts.

Don't use apostrophes for the plural form of nouns.

That sign should read: "We provide rubbish bins for you. Please do not throw napkins and tissue paper into the bowl.

Don't use apostrophes for the plural form of nouns using abbreviations.
Her collection of CDs is priceless.
Even professional DJs are in awe.

I hope this post helps you avoid apostrophe catastrophes. It will make me happy and we will save us some ink.

Eats, Shoots, & Leaves by Lynne Truss
The Elements of Style by Strunk & White
Comma Sutra by Laurie Rozakis
How Not to Write by Terence Denman

Writing is both art and skill. And business writing, to be effective, requires competence in both
the creative and the technical aspects of writing. Combining principles of style and form, this
workshop will lead learners to develop their writing competence to produce letters, email, and
reports that achieve results and build positive relationships.

This workshop will be a two-day event.

The Art & Science of Business Writing
January 20 & 27, 2009 (one week apart)
9:00 to 5:00 P.M.
CheQ Systems Training Room
1708, 88 Corporate Center
Valero corner SedeƱo Streets
Makati City

Click here for more details.

Please email or call trunk line # +6328933199 Local 102 to reserve seats.


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