Sunday, October 29, 2017

Tense Tricks, Part 2: Past or Present Perfect?

Assume you are a manager emailing a direct report that you want to review her annual performance. Which of these two sentences would you prefer?:
  • I reviewed you performance. (past tense)
  • I have reviewed your performance. (present perfect tense) 
If you prefer the second one, I'm with you. Both are correct, the first one because you completed the review and the second because you just completed the review. But using the present perfect tense (have, has, or had + the past participle verb form) implies a greater sense of immediacy, suggesting that you have not wasted a moment from the time of the review to the time of communicating with the employee.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Tense Ticks, Part 1: The 12 Big Ones

Since English tenses are pretty particular, let's start this series with the 12 standard tenses, which we use to indicate a specific time that an action or state of being occurs:

1. Simple Past (action that happened, or state that existed)
I wrote a book.
I was happy.
2. Simple Present (action that habitually happens, or state that exists)
I write books.
I am happy.
3. Simple Future (action that has not ye happened, or state that does not yet exist)
I will write a book.
I will be happy. 
4. Past Perfect (action that happened before another past action, or state that existed before another past action or state that existed)
I had written a book when the publisher contacted me.
I had been happy until I wrote a book.
I had been happy before I became a writer. 
5. Present Perfect (action that started and is just completed or is continuing, or state that started and still exists)
I have written a book.
I have been happy for years. 
6. Future Perfect (action that will happen before another action will happen, or state that will exist before another action will happen or state will exist)
I will have written a book before you will write one.
will have been happy for years when I am old.
7. Past Continuous (action that was happening or state that was existing)
I was writing a book.
I was feeling happy.
8. Present Continuous (action that is happening or state that is existing)
I am writing a book.
I am feeling happy.  
9. Future Continuous (action that will be happening or state that will be existing)
I will be writing a book.
I will be feeling happy. 
10. Past Perfect Continuous (action that was happening before a certain past time)
I was writing a book until I grew tired.
11. Present Perfect Continuous (action that started and has been happening from a certain time to the present) 
I have been writing a book since last month.
12. Future Perfect Continuous (action continuing up to a certain future time)
I will have been writing a book for a year on October 23.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Glad Your Doing Well in You're New Job. Really?

If you did not pick up the two spelling mistakes in the headline of this post, I am not at all surprised. Testing on those two words has always been a staple of grammar and usage tests, but lately the mistake has become legion in my reading.

On Facebook and other social media, I see many educated, articulate people writing your when they mean you're. These are folks who actually know the difference between the two words. It leads me to wonder: Do we care about our grammar when writing on social media? If so, will this carelessness lead to other syntax and diction errors? Will the distinction between your and you're blur until either becomes an acceptable substitute for the other? Do I have too much time on my hands to think such thoughts?


One conclusion I can make with confidence is that the sheer volume of online written communication today has led to countless grammatical and, needless to say, informational errors. On guard! 

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Knowing When Not to Send That Message

One of the best lessons a developing business writer can learn is not to put some things in writing. Online transactions, social media, and instant messaging have forced us to redefine the concept of privacy. Knowing that we're all over the place as it is, and our stuff might end up where it should not be, we should remember these guidelines:

  • Do not inundate readers with forgettable email strings whose shifting meaning with each addition engenders confusion.
  • Do not fire off an email to someone who has just upset you, as you'll be sure to deliver a purposeless message.
  • Do not write an email if you are wondering whether you should—go with your gut and refrain. 

Sunday, October 01, 2017

I hope you're having a nice day ...

This dialogue is a recurring one in my writing workshops:
Learner: Is it OK to open an email by writing, "I hope you're having a nice day" or "I hope all is well"? 
Phil: Do you write those openings? 
Learner: Yeah.
Phil: And no one calls you out on them?
Learner: No.
Phil: Then you answered your question.  
While I find little value in those all-too-often disingenuous statements, many managers expect their staff to open with such niceties. I do understand the importance of setting the right tone, as business depends on cultivating strong relationships. 

Meanwhile, some employees do more damage by following those gracious greetings with abrasive demands or gratuitous accusations, sending misdirected missives, copying staff who have no business receiving the message, and forwarding purposeless email strings leading nowhere. 

My point: Be your word. Don't say you hope someone is having a great day only to ruin it for them.