I’ve always wondered how some companies tolerate faulty English in one of their most important documents, the office memo. Just because it’s only a memo doesn’t mean you have to be lax with the grammar. In fact, the office memo says everything about your company’s values and culture. I am but a puny employee and not an executive but I have seen memos that make me shriek in horror. Ergo, I am writing this to help you.
Before you try to defend yourself, let me tell you that I am just as guilty of these grammar mistakes as you. This is because we share one thing in common; English is our second language. Our first language is Filipino (or Hiligaynon, Bisaya or Ilocano depending on where you grew up) and we do our thinking in this language, admit it or not. It is a cardinal rule of language learning that you will always think in your native language, no matter how adept you may be with your second. Thus we are bound to commit mistakes because we need to translate our ideas to the second language during communication. However, I am confident that once we see the error of our ways, correction will became automatic. You can read Stephen Krashen’s Monitor Model if you find this article boring.
To HR, Accounting, Legal and Admin departments, this post is for all of you. Take no offense but please heed my advice. It will make you look good. In your emails.
1. Accordingly – it is not a replacement for the word “properly”, which is what I think the memo writers mean when they use this word. This word is an adverb, meaning it is used to refer to a verb, adjective or another adverb, but not to a noun.Correct: He submitted his invoice and was paid accordingly.Incorrect: (yes, from a real memo) For your perusal accordingly. (Ano daw?)
2. Irregardless – I’m sorry to break your heart but there is no such word. There is regardless and irrespective, but no irregardless. No example here, but a former co-worker used to say, “irregardless of the company rules, we must follow the law.” (Sana sinabi na lang nya ‘sundin natin ang batas.)
3. Celebrant – yes, we are guilty of this. Even myself. And I see this on every company billboard of every office I have ever worked for. It used to refer to people involved in some kind of religious celebration, but Philippine companies stand their ground and continue to use this shamelessly in the company cork boards. Why not try what my previous employer did? Instead of saying “birthday celebrants for March”, he put “birthday boys and girls of March”. Sounds better don’t you think?
4. As per – Webster says this means “according to”. In the office, they use this to sound legalese even when they are just emailing minutes of a meeting or making a simple reminder. It is not wrong; just don’t use it all the time because simple language is always best. Such as in “as per our discussion, all employees must refrain from flatulating in the presence of our beloved CEO. Please be guided accordingly.” Yes I have seen such a memo. No, it was not directed at me alone.
5. Its, it’s – I used to have the same problem. That’s because the rules are a bit confusing on this one. “Its” is the possessive form. For example, “Put it in its proper place when you’re done.” The other “it’s” with the apostrophe is the shortened form of “it is.” For example “It’s payday Friday again.”
6. In, on – I was asked just that the other day. Our mistakes with prepositions come from the fact that in Filipino, the only preposition we use is “sa”. It is a universal preposition that works for just about any location you want to describe. In English, we need to be more specific and that specificity requires more than just using the right word, you need to use the right preposition. “In” is used for both time and place. “One” is no different. In time “in” is used to refer to non-specific dates like seasons and months. For places, “in” is used to refer to enclosed spaces or places with a definite boundary but not for a particular address. See the examples below:
In the rainy season, we will have nurse doing full-time duty in the company clinic.
My birthday is in August. (no specific day)
I left my wallet in the car. (enclosed space)
I was born in Manila (specific boundary but not a specific address).
“On” is used to refer to a specific day or date. For places, “on” is used to refer to things placed on the surface of something. See the examples below:
I was born on August 14. (specific date. Yes, my birthday)
Our trainer will arrive on Tuesday. (specific day)
You are standing on my foot. (surface location. Ouch)
I heard the boss on the radio. (technically considered surface location. Don’t ask me why)
However, there are some confusions like using in and on with transportation.
My cellphone signal is choppy because I’m in the bus.
It happened while I was on the bus.
It wouldn’t hurt at all if you gave your opinions about this in the comments section.
7. Already – ah the ubiquitous “already”. We Pinoys use it to translate the enigmatic “na” and “naman”. So when we think of saying “Tawag ka na ni boss!” in English, we say “You go to the boss already!” My favorite message in the email, “We have pizza in the pantry already!” The word “already” should only be used to refer to something that occurred before a specified time. See the examples below:
We started this project last year and the shipment delay has already made us late by a month.
No need to wait for the program to finish, you can already start having your dinner. (I wish)
8. … or the ellipsis – ideally, you should not use this in an email or memo. A co-worker loves using this in his emails such as this one:
• “Attached is the .doc file of the ABC procedure for your reference…”
• His email contained nothing else but this sentence and his email signature. Oh and the annoying Argyle stationery.
Use the ellipsis only when you are omitting certain words in a quote because it is unnecessary and irrelevant to the meaning you want to convey. Such as in this example:
• According to the survey, “The number of Americans who have died of lung cancer has decreased by 20 percent in the last five years. … This is very encouraging news for those who have been promoting healthy lifestyles.” (borrowed from www.writeexpress.com)
So you see, there is no need for us to be fancy or creative writers to make good, easy-to-understand office memos and emails. We just need to write the proper way. Bad grammar tends to make you lose (not loose) the respect of your subordinates and make you the butt of jokes. Your authority is undermined and so is the company’s especially in correspondences with other organizations. If you are unsure, enable your grammar check in Outlook. It will save you from embarrassment.