Today is all about how we talk about how many years old something or someone is, or how many years in a row we’ve won an award.
When is it “years old” vs “#-year-old”?
“Years old” is the most common and most reader-friendly way of talking about how old something or someone is (in Australian English).
e.g. CompanyX is more than 100 years old.
You always use hyphens for “#-year-old” because it is either used as an adjective (similar to how you put a hyphen in “award-winning”) … or it is a noun on its own (in which case it is a compound word, two or more words stuck together).
Not using hyphens here is a common mistake.
e.g. Adjective: CompanyX is the largest 100-year-old organisation in Queensland.
e.g. Noun: My 2-year-old is very tall for her age.
When is it “age” vs “aged” vs “years of age”?
Beware of using “age” when you could be using the reader-friendly phrase “years old” instead. I always used to see this often when updating our member-facing forms; it would say “If you are age 55 / 60 / etc.” instead of “If you’re 55 years old”.
e.g. If you are aged 55 years or over, please fill in this part of the form. >>> For readability, it’s easier to say “If you are 55 years old or over”.
e.g. Start planning your retirement before you reach the usual age for stopping work.
e.g. My daughter is only 2 years of age, so she’s not thinking about retirement yet. She is not yet of an age to retire. >>> For readability, it’s easier to say “only 2 years old”.
e.g. This coming-of-age novel is a good read.
Lastly, “year” and “years” can be used in a few different ways.
e.g. CompanyX has won the Platinum rating from SuperRatings for more than 10 years in a row.
e.g. In the year 2020, lots of people began working from home, and it was also my third year working at CompanyX.
e.g. CompanyX has been taking care of clients for more than 100 years.
e.g. Our current investment approach was initiated around 10 years ago, after the GFC.
e.g. You could say someone is wise beyond their years.
Image source: Collegedunia.com
Any other ways of talking about time and age that you’ve seen tripping people up?
(C) TJ Withers-Ryan, 2022. Please credit me when you share or repost. Thanks!
I think most people, whenever they think about using “whom” in a written sentence, stop and wonder whether they’re doing it right.
Psychological reassurance: The reality is that this is one case where you can probably relax, because most people speak English differently to how we write English. If you write “who” every time, it’ll look fine, because this is almost always the word people use when we’re speaking. Because “whom” sounds pompous out loud, almost nobody says it, even when grammatically they should. So when you write “who”, even if it should be “whom”, most people reading it will think, “Yeah, I’d say ‘who’. That looks fine to me.”
But if you still really care about writing it correctly, then let’s get word nerdy!
Request of the day today is about the word “data”.
The companies I’ve worked for in the past ~8 years in the finance industry involve a lot of data, and we have to talk about it a lot, depending on your role in the corporate world.
Is data singular, or plural, or other?
In Australia, “data” is treated as a mass collective noun that you treat as singular, just like “information”.
e.g. The data was collected. There wasn’t much data available.
>>> In this sentence, we use the singular words “was” and “much” instead of the plurals “were” and “many”.
(This bit is in brackets because it’s not essential reading: I tried really hard to think of a way to explain what a mass collective noun is, but couldn’t think of anything clever. Basically, it is a noun for a group or a volume of things where you can’t count that noun. You can’t say one data, two datas.)
In addition to being a noun, you can also use “data” as an adjective.
e.g. ProgramX is a data system. (adjective + noun) This means it is a system that collects, stores, and uses data. (noun)
Why data changed from being plural to mass collective/singular over time
Historically, “data” was a Latin word that was the plural of “datum”. (A single point of data is a datum.)
For this reason, some traditionalists in the USA like to still use “data” in its Latin (plural) form.
e.g. The data were collected, but there was one point of datum that I want to talk about.
But we don’t do that here in Australia.
From about the 1900s, common usage has evolved, and even the Oxford English Dictionary accepts that we now use “data” as mass collective/singular.
Bonus word of the day:
There’s another Latin word that we have transformed from “plural >>> singular” over time: your “agenda” for a meeting.
In Latin, “agendum” is singular and “agenda” is plural, but in English, we don’t say “agendum”.
We say “agenda” and we treat it as “singular”.
e.g. The agenda (singular) for that meeting was long, and the items (plural) on the agenda were boring.
(C) TJ Withers-Ryan, 2022. Please credit me when you share of repost. Thanks!
If you’ve ever had *that* discussion with a colleague about how to use punctuation in bullet points or numbered lists – and I know you have, because you asked me to post about it – then you’ll know it’s a controversial topic.
That’s why it’s spelled out in most of the major style guides. This post details the punctuation rules for the style guides I’ve written for various companies, based on AP Style (used by journalists), Macquarie style, Oxford style, and a few others.
Why care about whether your bullet points and numbered lists have punctuation, “and/or”s, and the like?
Because all of this affects readability, and y’all know, we live in the Golden Age of Skimreading. Readability is king.
The Oxford comma is when you put a comma before “and” or “or” or another conjunction, at the end of a list of three or more items.
e.g. I like to read books, write books, and talk about books.
e.g. I like to read, write, but not talk about books.
The Oxford comma is a special comma guidelines used by a lot of style guides here in Australia, including the style guides at QSuper and Canstar, which I wrote during my time there.
Why use the Oxford comma?
There are three reasons to use the Oxford comma:
Makes a sentence clearer if there are multiple “and”s.
Without the comma, the end of the sentence can become the observer/receiver of the sentence (incorrectly).
Without the comma, the end of the sentence can become a descriptive clause (incorrectly).
Using commas to make sentences easier to read
First, the Oxford comma is helpful because it separates the last item in the list from the second-last item, making the sentence clearer.
Here’s a comparison of using the Oxford comma vs not using it:
e.g. With the comma: QSuper now offers multiple different types of insurance, including death, total and permanent disability, and income protection cover.
e.g. Without the comma – less clear: QSuper now offers multiple different types of insurance, including death, total and permanent disability and income protection cover.
Using commas to keep sentences correct
Secondly, the Oxford comma is helpful because without the last comma, it can seem as if the end two items of the list are the observer or receiver of your sentence. An example can explain this better than I can:
e.g. With the comma: I love my pets, family, and friends.
e.g. Without the comma: I love my pets, family and friends. >>> You are actually telling your family and friends that you love your pets, i.e. “Family and friends, I love my pets.”
Thirdly, the Oxford comma is helpful because without it, it can seem as if the end two items of a list are describing the rest of the sentence (“a descriptive clause”, if you want to get nerdy).
e.g. With the comma: I love my pets, Mum, and Dad.
e.g. Without the comma: I love my pets, Mum and Dad. >>> I am saying that Mum and Dad are my pets, and they would really not be happy about that.
Why is it called the Oxford comma?
Now let’s get really nerdy! The “Oxford” comma is called by this name because it was traditionally used by the Oxford University Press editors and printers.
They also called it the “serial comma” because it’s used for lists, but since “serial” makes me think of serial killers, I don’t use that name.
Now, the Oxford Style Guide themselves dropped the “requirement” for an Oxford comma in all cases in 2011, and made it a guideline instead.
But there are still got many good reasons to use the Oxford comma, so I’m happy it’s sticking around.
As far as I’m concerned, there are three scenarios: using the Oxford comma correctly, not using the Oxford comma and being wrong.
(Joke. But seriously, it physically hurt me not to put the comma there.)
(C) TJ Withers-Ryan, 2022. Please credit me when you repost or share. Thanks!
This is probably the most hilarious post we’ll ever see on this page – and I’m keeping it PG on purpose so just… What can I say?
Is it ‘bare with me’ or ‘bear with me’?
“bare” = not clothed, simple, uncovered.
e.g. They bared their soul with me by talking about their childhood, and I appreciate it.
e.g. They got bare with me, and we went skinny dipping.
So if we were to say “bare with me”, just make really, really sure that you actually want something to be undressed or uncovered…
“to bear” = to be patient / to hold up under pressure / to hold on during adversity.
e.g. We’re asking you to bear with us while we make our decision.
e.g. I can’t bear the humiliation.
So if we were to say “bear with me”, we would be asking someone to be patient with us while we talk something through with them, take a while to find some information for them, ask them more questions, etc.
(C) TJ Withers-Ryan, 2022. Please credit me when you share or repost, thanks!
When I used to run business writing training for teams at QSuper to learn the company’s written style and tone of voice, people always asked me to explain where the full stop goes when you have other punctuation at the end of a sentence.
It’s also a common mistake I’ve seen people get wrong a lot, whether they’re writing for business or fiction authors.
This mainly happens with brackets and quotation marks, so that’s what I’ll cover here. Comment down below if you have other full stop questions you want to ask about!
Where does the full stop go?
A full stop always, always, always goes at the end of a full sentence.
So you need to ask yourself, is the thing inside the “quotation marks” or (brackets) or other punctuation a full sentence on its own?
Does it make sense if you put it alone and give it its own full stop?
e.g. When I used to run training for the company style guide (which I helped write), I had a lot of fun.
>>> Can you see how (which I helped write) is not a full sentence on its own? Writing (Which I helped write.) wouldn’t make sense.
So the full stop needs to go at the end of the sentence, not within the brackets.
Where does the full stop go, inside or outside the quotation marks?
If the quote is a complete sentence on its own, it gets its own full stop within the quotation marks.
e.g. The Minister said, “Super is awesome.”
Where the quote is just a clause – not a full sentence – the full stop goes at the very end, after any quotation marks or brackets.
e.g. The Minister said the superannuation industry was “changing quickly”.
>>> “changing quickly” is not a full sentence, so the sentence needs to go outside the quotation marks.
Where does the full stop go, inside or outside the brackets?
If the bracketed phrase is a complete sentence on its own, it gets its own full stop inside the brackets.
e.g. QSuper offers different types of insurance. (At the time of writing, these are death cover, TPD cover, and IP cover.)
Where the quote or bracketed phrase is just a clause – it’s not a full sentence – the full stop goes at the very end, after the brackets.
e.g. QSuper offers different types of insurance at the time of writing (death cover, TPD cover, and IP cover).
(C) TJ Withers-Ryan, 2022. Please credit me when you share or repost, thanks!
I had to research this one myself a few years back, because I was always taught “different to” was correct, but I hear people all over the place saying “different than”, “different from”, etc.
So here we go, let’s word nerd out – here’s what the experts say about how you can use the word “different”.
Image source: icanhascheezburger.com
Is it different from, different to, or different than?
If you’re aiming to sound correct to most of the world, both “different to” or “different from” will be good. And “different than” will sound incorrect unless you are speaking specifically to an American audience.
All of the below examples are therefore correct usage according to the modern standard:
e.g. Our app works differently to our competitors’ apps, and that’s why it’s more stable than other apps.
e.g. Our ways of working are different now to what it was like before the COVID-19 pandemic.
e.g. The QSuper Lifetime investment option uses an investment strategy that’s different from our Balanced or Aggressive investment options.
Why different to and different from are both better than different than
When you Google grammar tips, add the word “Australian” or even “Oxford English Dictionary” to your search so you can get tips that are valid for Australia, rather than getting a bunch of American results that don’t apply here.
First, I took a look at what the Australian Writers’ Centre says. They said you can technically use any of three prepositions “to, from, than” with the adjective “different”.
But they did point out that “different from” is most commonly used around the world; “different to” is most common in Australia and the UK; and in the USA they also use “different than”.
For the history, apparently “different to” was the earliest version used, and before the 1700s, you could also say “different against” – but obviously we don’t say that anymore.
Lots of us were trying to stay active all pandemic, even though we were stuck at home – but just as importantly, is your writing active or passive?
And why does it matter?
What is active and passive voice?
Active voice means that your voice (the subject of the sentence, usually a noun is at the start, followed by what your subject is doing (the verb), then the object the verb is happening to.
e.g. We (subject) offer (verb) default insurance (object) to eligible members (secondary object).
Passive voice means the object (the thing it’s happening to) is up front. This type of sentence is usually missing its subject (the person doing the thing).
e.g. Default insurance (object) is offered (verb) to eligible members (secondary object).
How do you know if you’re using passive voice?
You can tell if a sentence is missing its subject — and is therefore in passive voice — because you can add “by zombies” to the sentence and it will still make sense.
e.g. Default insurance (object) is offered (verb) to eligible members … by zombies.
Why does everyone say you should write in active voice?
Now, here’s why you want to write in active voice whenever possible:
1. Readability. I like it when skimreaders (a.k.a. every busy person ever) can easily understand what I’m writing about. Readers’ brains like simple sentence constructions that are in active voice.
2. Less work for your brain. The active voice construction “subject, verb, object” is the first and most common one taught in English-speaking schools, so it’s harder work for your brain to remove the subject and construct a passive sentence.
3. Reduce risk of RSI. Passive voice sentences are typically much longer, with more words, which means more typing and more repetitive strain.
So save your brain and your wrists from the zombies, and write in active voice.
Common misunderstandings about active voice
One thing I’ve noticed is that sometimes writers, reviewers, and even less-educated editors will talk about “active voice” when they actually mean to talk about one of the 12 tenses in English — “present tense”, “future perfect tense”, etc.
Drives me nuts. Everyone thinks they’re a scholar, but they don’t have the degree or the self-education to give them a real foundation.
The difference between voice and tense is that while the voice changes the whole sentence structure, a tense only changes the verb (the doing word) or the adjective that describes that verb.
(More on how to use the tenses in a later post, if you want to get even more word nerdy.)
So if someone says to you, “This sentence needs to be in active voice.” and you can see that the structure is actually correct — subject, verb, object — then that someone is trying to tell you something about the sentence but it has nothing to do with active or passive voice.
You’ll need to ask that person questions to find out what they actually want to change in your sentence.
Image source: DIYlol.com by Arnold Zwicky’s Blog
(C) TJ Withers-Ryan, 2022. Please credit me when you share or repost, thanks!