Grammar tips: et cetera and ellipses

And the list goes on and on ...

When we write, sometimes, we like to indicate things that are missing from our writing.

By special request from one of our call center employees, we are going to review two grammar items that often get confused – etc. and ellipses.

Et cetera (etc.)

First, the often misused and incorrectly punctuated “etc.” Etc. is the abbreviation for “et cetera,” which means “and the rest.” So, in writing, it actually means “and so on” or “and other things” in the same class as the objects that you are listing but are not including in the list. If you are listing specific items, you should not use etc.

Additionally, you should not use “and etc.,” because you would be saying “and and.” And, if you used “such as” or “for example or e.g.” earlier in the sentence, which we discussed in this blog, it is not necessary to use “etc.” That would be redundant because you already indicated that the list is incomplete since you’re just providing a few examples. It also is redundant and unnecessary to say “etc., etc.” And, one final tidbit: “etc.” and “et al.” do not mean the same thing. “Et al.” is to be used with a list of people because it means “et alii” or “and other people.”

No matter where it appears in the sentence, “etc.” requires a period after the “c” and a comma if it ends a list in the middle of the sentence:

  • I love riding all amusement park rides (the Ferris wheel, roller coasters, bumper cars, carousel, etc.).
  • I love riding Ferris wheels, roller coasters, bumper cars, carousels, etc., but my favorite is the roller coasters.

Ellipses (…)

Now, on to ellipses. An ellipses is that pesky set of three periods (…). More often than not, it is used unnecessarily and confuses the reader. It should be used mainly in formal writing to show when a thought is trailing off, a writer is pausing for emphasis or for serious thought, or in quoted material to show that content has been omitted, but not if it changes the meaning of the quote.

One way to avoid using an ellipses incorrectly is to just finish the sentence or thought. Often, an ellipses is inserted to serve a similar purpose as when we say “um” or “uh” when we talk out loud to show that we are thinking or buying time. It’s like an uncomfortable silence or throat clearing. Or, sometimes it’s used when we trail off our thought at the end of the sentence without finishing by implying that we have more to say when we don’t.

An example of proper use:

  • My neighbor told me that the couple down the street is getting a divorce because the wife was unfaithful. With raised eyebrows, I asked her, “You don’t think she’d really …?”

Grammar tips: Who vs. Whom

HGR Industrial Surplus Grammar Tips: Who vs. Whom

Nope. Whom’st and whomst’d aren’t really words, but they are a good way to get a chuckle. Often, people think “whom” is a snooty, pretentious word that is some academic form of “who.” Well, it’s not; it’s actually a necessary word and used differently than “who.”

You can impress your colleagues when you use them correctly! Here’s how:

  • Use “who” to refer to the subject of the sentence.
  • Use “whom” to refer to the object of a verb or preposition.

See, there we go again, we need to know our parts of speech and how they function in the sentence in order to select the correct word. If you’re old enough, you might remember when they taught grammar in second grade and we had to diagram sentences (shudder).

sentence diagram

And, here’s a little cheat sheet! If you can substitute he/she for the word, use “who.” If you can substitute him/her for the word, use “whom.”

Example 1

  • Who or whom wrote the novel?
  • He/she wrote the novel, not him/her wrote the novel.
  • Correct answer: Who wrote the novel?

Example 2

  • Who/whom should I go with?
  • Should I go with him, not should I go with he?
  • Correct answer: Whom should I go with?

Example 3

  • We wondered who/whom she was talking about.
  • She was talking about him, not she was talking about he.
  • Correct answer: Whom was she talking about?

Grammar tips: Capitalization

Leonardo DiCaprio capitalization meme

We’ve all seen it and done it in email: gone capitalization crazy. Often, people make many words proper nouns and capitalize things that shouldn’t be. Job titles, for example. WHAT, you say, shouldn’t my job title always be capitalized? Nope. If you’re curious about why, read on. If not, just keep on capitalizing whatever looks good.

When to capitalize

  1. The first word of a sentence: She can’t remember people’s names very well.
  2. Proper nouns and proper adjectives that go with them: Grand Canyon, Golden Gate Bridge
  3. THIS IS A BIG ONE IN WORK EMAIL: Job titles, or any title, when used BEFORE a name, but not an occupation or a job title used after a name:
    1. Head Chef Barry Butterball or Barry Butterball, head chef, makes great appetizers.
    2. My Aunt Mary always brings good gifts or Mary, my aunt, buys gifts.
    3. Everyone supported Governor Smith or Everyone supports Joe Smith, governor of Ohio.
    4. Marketing Manager Angela Bowen or Angela Bowen, marketing manager
    5. Jackie works as a videographer.
    6. The governor attended the conference.
    7. The marketing manager updated the website.
  4. Relatives’ names when used in place of a person’s name: My Mom likes the beach.
  5. Nicknames that serve as a name: I took Junior to the fair.
  6. Geographical regions but not the points of the compass: We live in the Northeast, which is north of Tennessee.
  7. The first word in a quotation: Joey said, “The repairman is always late.”
  8. Course titles but not subjects:
    1. He took Drawing 101 because he is majoring in art.
    2. He has a bachelor’s degree in mathematics.
  9. Names of gods, religious figures and holy books: Buddha, Moses, the Koran
  10. Seasons if used in a title but not when used generally: He took a course Spring semester but he plans to take a break during winter.
  11. The first, last and important words in a title. Articles, short prepositions and coordinating conjunctions (an, to, and) are not important words: HGR Is Having a Sale
  12. And other things you probably have figured out: book titles (Moby Dick), places (Brazil, Cleveland, Eiffel Tower, Kent State University), nationalities (German), historical periods and events (the Renaissance, World War I), names of groups and sports teams (the Kiwanis, Cleveland Indians), companies (Nike, Apple), the word “I,” names of planets (the Moon, Earth), street names (Euclid Avenue), days/months/holidays (Friday, July, Christmas), abbreviations (FBI, HGR)

One rule of thumb is to capitalize proper nouns, which are the names of specific people, places, organizations and sometimes things.

Grammar tips: Homophones

homophone meme

Homophones comes from the Greek words “homo” meaning “same” and “phone” meaning “voice or utterance.” They’re words that sound the same but mean something completely different. You know them well – aloud and allowed, compliment and complement, threw and through, paws and pause, pale and pail, ate and eight, knew and new, rode/rowed/road, scent/sent/cent, flew/flue/flu, buy/by/bye, their/there/they’re, your and you’re, it’s and its, two/to/too, and very similar words that are not quite homophones, such as loose and lose, then and than, effect and affect, ensure and insure, and definitely and defiantly. Some homophones are also homographs because they are spelled the same: rose (the flower) and rose (got up or ascended) or bear (the animal) and bear (to tolerate).

Now, we’re getting somewhere. That was fun, wasn’t it? You could keep going with that list. Some others probably came to mind right away.

I bet you might say, “Nah, I don’t have that problem. I use spell check in Word.” Guess again. There are about 25 homophones that most spell checkers won’t catch, according to grammarly.com. Nothing beats knowing the meaning of words or using a dictionary when in doubt. Sometimes, it’s about what part of speech the word is as it’s used in the sentence.

Here’s a small list of common homophones so that you can avoid sounding silly and impress your friends on Facebook and your coworkers in email:

  • Than (making a comparison) or then (sequence of events)
    • You ran faster today than you did yesterday.
    • You ran fast then you took a rest.
  • Two (the number), too (also) and to (toward)
    • I gave two dollars to Sarah, too.
  • Your (possessive) and you’re (you are)
    • You’re very protective of your new car.
  • There (place), their (possession) and they’re (they are)
    • Their home is something they’re proud of. We enjoy going there.
  • A while (noun phrase)or awhile (adverb)
    • It’s been a while since they hung out but they didn’t mind waiting awhile until the next time.
  • Everyday (adjective meaning common or routine) or every day (means each day)
    • He wore his green everyday shirt every day of the week.
  • Accept (to receive) or except (to exclude)
    • Everyone except Jim could accept that the fishing trip was cancelled.
  • Affect (to influence) or effect (something that was influenced)
    • They didn’t realize how the scary special effects would affect the kids.
  • Compliment (noun) or complement (verb)
    • The winemaker received a compliment on the red wine that seemed to complement each dish on the menu.
  • Ensure (make certain), insure (protect financially) or assure (everything’s okay)
    • I want to assure you that my priority is to ensure that my kids stay healthy; so, I insure them on my medical plan.

Grammar tips: Apostrophes

Grumpy Cat apostrophe meme

Did you know that Aug. 16 is International Apostrophe Day? We’re celebrating early because we all could use a little grammar refresher to dust off the cobwebs that have accumulated since grade school.

HGR’s Marketing Department decided to create a regular grammar tip for our employees on common grammar errors that we see in written and email communications. As the resident writer/blogger, I decided, “Why not share that info with our customers and help everyone become more effective communicators?”

Let’s get to it! Apostrophes are a lot like commas and hyphens in the sense that they are a mark of punctuation that many people do not know how to use properly; so, we throw them in where they don’t belong and leave them out where they do belong. Usually, this happens when forming plural words or when showing possession, but I see it with contractions.

Here are some examples:

  • We are implementing managements new goals. (need an apostrophe in management’s to show it is possessive; whose goal is it? It’s management’s goal.)
  • We are one of the best company’s to work for. (companies not company’s since this word is plural not possessive; you would say, “We follow the company’s employee handbook.”)
  • Who’s goal is it? (wrong word; should be whose since “who’s” means who is)
  • Having perfect attendance deserves it’s own reward or Spring is on it’s way. (its not it’s since it’s is a contraction meaning “it is.”)
  • You’re valuables are safe in the locker. (wrong word; “you’re is a contraction meaning “you are” while “your” is a possessive pronoun showing who the valuables belong to)
  • Lets clock out for break. (apostrophe needed in the contraction for “let us” to form “let’s”)

You get the idea! You may think these examples are obvious, but they are actual examples that I have seen in the past. To avoid these mistakes and sound more professional in your (not you’re) writing, here are some rules of thumb when NOT to use an apostrophe:

  • In possessive pronouns (whose, ours, yours, his, hers, its, theirs)
  • In nouns that are plural but not possessive (CDs, 100s, 1960s)
  • In verbs that end in –s (marks, sees, finds)

Another tip: Make sure that you’re using the correct word in your writing because often they’re misused when you confuse their with they’re and you’re with your or it’s with its.