Has or Have?

Is Manchester United a singular or a plural?

The reason I ask is that one of my

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current clients is a major local motor retailer. And, you’ve probably worked for companies and had this same issue yourself.? Let’s call them Sandicliffe (as that’s their name).

When writing a press release for them the other week, I found myself totally confused as to which of these phrases was correct:

Sandicliffe have launched a new initiative
Sandicliffe has launched

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new initiative

I’ve also encountered this problem when writing things like “Chelsea have a great away record this season” (clearly not true, but bear with me) and “England have a tricky away trip in France.”

Technically, I suppose that as a sports team or a company is one entity then the correct grammar would be to say that “Scotland has a great record” in the same way that “Madonna has a great voice”. But, it just doesn’t sound right.

So, which is it? Sandicliffe have a great range of used card? Or Sandicliffe has a great range of used cars? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

Know Your Plurals

One of my longstanding clients owns a lovely catering and sandwich delivery business in London.? Just looking at the pictures of his luscious food platters makes my tummy rumble – and this happens at least once a month when I sit down and write his latest newsletter.

This month I was focusing on his range of patisserie platters.? Portuguese custard tarts, croissants, fruit tartlettes and chocolate éclairs are amongst the delicious snacks that are offered as are those French pastries with the chocolate in the middle.

Now, I know that it’s called a pain au chocolat.? And I did French ‘A’ level (admittedly *many* years ago) and so I should probably have known that more than one of them would be ‘pains au chocolat’.? But it got me thinking: sometimes plurals aren’t quite what we expect, are they?

So, here are some

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plural oddities, just in case you’re ever writing about more than one formula or Attorney General.

Plural oddities

One of the most common mistakes that writers make is to simply add an ‘s’ to the end of a noun to pluralise it.? While that may work with a cat, a key or a football, it won’t necessarily work in all cases.

Jobs are a common source of confusion as, quite often, they don’t follow a pattern.? For example, you might have several brigadier generals, judge advocates or lieutenant colonels.? However, there may be a different group of attorneys general, sergeants major, paymasters general and notaries public.

You see the problem?

And it’s not just jobs that can cause confusion.? If you’re dealing with more than one pelvis, it’ll be pelves.? More than one bandit?? Banditti.? And more than one cannon?? Cannon.

Here’s a list of a few unusual pluralised words, just in case you’re ever writing for a company that sells piccolos or oxen.

Daughter-in-law? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? Daughters-in-law

Potato? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?

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? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? Potatoes (that’s for Dan Quayle, that one)

Opus? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? Opera

Teaspoonful? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? Teaspoonfuls

Mister? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? Messrs.

Table d’hote? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? Tables d’hote

Manservant? ? ?

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? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? Menservants

Ox? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? Oxen

Cul-de-sac? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? Culs-de-sac

Crisis? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? Crises

Court martial? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? Courts martial

Formula? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? Formulae

Piccolo? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? Piccolos

Please share any other unusual plurals in the comments below…

Get with the program(me)

One of my current projects is to rewrite the website of one of the region’s biggest motor companies.? This morning, I was looking at their ‘About Us’ pages when I happened upon some information about their Customer Care Program.

It got me thinking.? Is it a Customer Care Program in the UK?? Or a Customer Care Programme?

Program or Programme?

Apparently, the word ‘program’ was predominantly used in the UK until the 19th century, when the spelling ‘programme’ became more common — mainly as a result of influence from French, which has the same word ‘programme’.

So, if you’re using the word in British English, they you should almost always use ‘programme’.

The one exception is when you are referring

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to the word in the context of computing.? A computer program should always be the shorter version of the word.

So, in British English:

  • You can take advantage of our Customer Care Programme
  • I can’t get this program to run on my PC
  • My favourite television programme is Doctor Who

However, if you’re writing in American English you should always use the word ‘program’, whatever the context.? The same is generally true of Australian English, where ‘program’ is also mainly used (although ‘programme’ is still in common usage).

So, if you want someone to ‘get with the program’, you probably want to be using the American version.? Or don’t use that horrible phrase at all, of course.

As a verb

Using the word as a verb follows much the same rules.

If you want to tell your computer to do something, you will program it.? For example, ‘it is easy to program this PC’.

However, if you’re using British English and want to programme anything else, use the longer version.? For example ‘the next stage of the plan is programmed for next year’.

So, my

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clients now have a Customer Care Programme.? Lovely.

Inquiry or Enquiry?

I mentioned a week or so ago that one of my aims for 2012 was to avoid blithely using terms and words that I assumed were right and actually undertake a bit of research to check I was using them correctly.

Last time I looked at the correct usages of ‘while’ and ‘whilst’ and this time I thought I’d double check I was using ‘inquiry’ and ‘enquiry’ in the right places.? Are they interchangeable?? Or do they mean different things?

Inquiry or enquiry?

As with many of these things, the simple answer is ‘either’.? For example, the Chambers 21st Century Dictionary presents the two spellings as interchangeable variants in the general sense.

However, there is a subtle difference between the two terms.

In the UK, ‘enquiry’ is generally a term that is used to refer to ‘the act of questioning’, such as:

  • He enquired about her health
  • I made an enquiry about the price of a ticket

‘Inquiry’, however, is more commonly used when referring to a formal investigation, such as:

  • There will be a public inquiry into the riots
  • The police are making inquiries about the incident

A simple way to remember which to use is to consider that an ‘inquest’ (an official investigation) is related to ‘inquiry’.

Just to confuse you (of course): if you are writing in American or Australian English, inquiry is normally the correct word, irrespective of the circumstances.

Have you any examples of when ‘inquiry’ or ‘enquiry’ might be correct, or suggestions for seemingly interchangeable terms that I can consider in this feature?? Let me know in the comments below.

While-ing away the hours

Hello, and Happy New Year to you.

I rarely make specific New Year’s Resolutions. To be honest, I find the idea a bit silly, and I rarely keep to them anyway.? What I do sometimes, however, is use the New Year to make a concerted effort to change small things.? Perhaps I’ll cook at home a bit more.? Perhaps I’ll drink a bit less.? And, this year, I plan to try and spend a bit of time learning more about my trade.

So, I’m planning to become a better writer by gobbling up the advice of many other talented people and by improving my general standard of English.? I reckon it’s already pretty good, but learning some new words and making better use of the words I do know are two of my aims for 2012.

And, along the way, I hope to share some of what I learn (which may, of course, be second nature to you anyway…!)

While v whilst

It dawned on me over Christmas that I wasn’t sure what the difference is between ‘while’ and ‘whilst’.? I always thought that ‘while’ related

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specifically to two things happening at the same time (‘he watched TV while she knitted a scarf’) whereas ‘whilst’ was a term with a meaning more like ‘whereas’.

Anyway, after a bit of research it turns out that the terms are generally interchangeable – at least when you are using British English.? American English doesn’t tend to include ‘whilst’ and so if you’re writing for a US audience, the advice is to only ever use ‘while’.

If you’re writing for a British audience, using ‘while’ will also generally mean that you won’t be wrong.

With the word gradually dying, though, I am keen to keep it healthy!? There are three pieces of advice I have found which are useful:

i) ‘while’ can be a noun (‘in a while’) whereas ‘whilst’

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ii) ‘while’ can mean either ‘during the time when’ or ‘whereas’ while ‘whilst’ has only the first of these meanings

iii) ‘while is often used for activities happening in parallel (‘While I was preparing lunch, my wife was gardening’) whereas, in contrast, ‘whilst’ is used where there is more of a contradiction (‘Whilst it may be necessary or desirable to protect populations from cruel and corrupt governments, it is not necessarily our business to undertake regime change.’)

So, it seems that there isn’t much of an issue using either word when writing for a British audience.? And, taking point iii) into account, it appears I was pretty much right after all….

Anyone else have experiences or advice on the best way to use ‘while’ and ‘whilst’?