How to use apostrophes

An apostrophe is one of these:

Apostrophes are used in two cases: possessives and contractions.

They are NEVER used in plurals, apart from some rare exceptions.

Possessives

John’s glasses
the company’s premises
the Managing Director’s office
the employee’s working hours
3 years experience
one month’s notice
your money’s worth
Seller 1’s knowledge
Acme sp. z o.o.’s articles of association
the President of the Competition Authority’s announcement

Note that the apostrophe always comes at the end of the possessor. Do not write things like this:

Acme’s sp. z o.o. articles of association
the President’s of the Competition Authority announcement
Seller’s 1 knowledge

Remember to use this form instead of the structure with “of” – the company’s premises sounds more fluent that the premises of the company. For more on this see the posts in this blog entitled Careful how you use the word “of”.

When the possessor is a word or a name that ends in an s you should add ’s if the ’s is pronounced, e.g.:

the bus’s wheels
James’s book
Tom Jones’s singing

If the ’s is not pronounced you should only add the apostrophe, e.g.:

Socrates philosophy
Aristophanes plays

When the possessor is plural, you should only add an apostrophe without the s, as in
3 years experience above. More examples:

the delegateshotel
the companies premises
employeescars
shareholdersmeeting

Irregular plurals can be an exception to this rule (where the noun is plural but doesn’t end in s – use ’s). For example:

children’s clothes
men’s shirts
women’s hairdressers

Apostrophes are NOT used in possessive pronouns:

The company has not amended its articles of association to reflect the changes in the law. – NOT it’s

We have amended our articles of association. Have you changed yours? – NOT your’s

We have amended our articles of association. But they haven’t changed theirs. – NOT their’s

Writing it’s instead of its is one of the most common mistakes people make with apostrophes. Remember it’s is a contraction, and not a possessive.

Contractions

Contractions are shortened forms of words where some letters have been left out. The apostrophe goes where the omitted letters should be. Here are some examples:

it is / it has                 –          it’s
she will                        –          she’ll
we are                         –          we’re
I have                          –          I’ve
who is / who has      –          who’s
he had / he would    –          he’d
is not                           –          isn’t
have not                     –          haven’t
will not                       –          won’t
fish and chips           –          fish ’n’ chips
rock and roll             –          rock ’n’ roll

Not used in plurals

Never use apostrophes in plurals. This includes abbreviations:

He had over a thousand CDs. – NOT CD’s
Due to the new law we have to amend our T&Cs. – NOT T&C’s

But there are certain rare exceptions when you do use apostrophes in plurals:

How many r’s are there in “Mediterranean”?
How many 2’s are there in your phone number? (2s is also correct)

In British usage calendar decades are written like this: 

The company was established in the 1990s. 

But American usage requires an apostrophe: 

The company was established in the 1990’s.

 

 

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How to translate “ekspertyza”

WRONG
Please send us an electronic version of the Purchaser’s technical expertise dated 29 November 2014.

RIGHT
Please send us an electronic version of the Purchaser’s technical opinion dated 29 November 2014. 

Do NOT translate ekspertyza as expertise.

These words are false friends and have completely different meanings.

Expertise means “skill or knowledge in a particular area or required by a particular job or profession, which is acquired by study or practice”.

Expertise is an uncountable noun which describes a concept. Synonyms for it are ability, competence, skill, proficiency, professionalism.

Here are some examples of how to use it:

Some jobs require a high level of technical or theoretical expertise.
The firm’s many years of experience ensure that its expertise in this field is second to none.
Temporary employees provide expertise and skills in response to changing needs.
By awarding you this prize we wish to recognise your hard work and remarkable technical expertise.

Ekspertyza is a countable noun and describes a type of document.

Ekspertyza should be translated as opinion, expert opinion, evaluation, assessment, examination, analysis depending on the context.

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The difference between “ask” and “request”

These words have similar meanings, but they are used a little differently.

Usage as verbs 

“Request” means “ask for”, NOT “ask”.

You “ask a question”, but you can’t “request a question”. E.g.: 

WRONG
He requested whether I’d read the email.
I have requested Mr Johnson what he thinks of the idea.
They requested how he will carry out the plan.

RIGHT
He asked whether I’d read the email.
I have asked Mr Johnson what he thinks of the idea.
They asked how he will carry out the plan.

You “request something”, and you “ask for something”. E.g.:

He asked for more time to read the contract.
He requested more time to read the contract. 

The authority asked for a response by 26 May.
The authority requested a response by 26 May.

But you cannot “request for something”. E.g.: 

WRONG
In your letter of 5 February you requested for additional documents concerning the claims. 

RIGHT
In your letter of 5 February you asked for additional documents concerning the claims.
In your letter of 5 February you requested additional documents concerning the claims.

Similarly, you “ask somebody for something”, but you “request something from somebody”. E.g.:

The client asked us for a 2-page summary of the report.
The client requested a 2-page summary of the report from us. Or requested us to provide 

Where is the 2-page summary of the report that the client asked us for?
Where is the 2-page summary of the report that the client requested from us?

However, both verbs follow the same pattern if you “ask somebody to do something” or “request somebody to do something”:

Mr Smith asked me to post the letter when I left the office.
Mr Smith requested me to post the letter when I left the office.

Both verbs also follow the same pattern with “that”:

The client asked that his complaint be officially registered with the authorities.
The client requested that his complaint be officially registered with the authorities.

“Ask” is everyday English, “request” is formal.

Usage as nouns

“Request” can also be used as a noun:

The meeting was postponed at the client’s request.
The court refused our request for an additional witness at the hearing.

It is not usual to use “ask” as a noun. But you may hear it used as a noun in informal speech. E.g.:

So what’s the ask? (i.e. What are they asking us to do?)

The word is commonly collocated with “big” or “tough”, e.g.: 

I’ve got a really big ask for you. Could come into the office and help me out on Sunday?It’s a tough ask, but if we all work hard I believe we can do it.

Remember that this should only be used in informal speech. Do not use it in writing.

 

 

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How to use the word “holiday”

WRONG
I am currently on holidays.
He is on his holidays now and will be returning to the office next week.

RIGHT
I am currently on holiday.
He is on holiday now and will be returning to the office next week.

In such examples, you should not use the phrase “on holidays” or “on my holidays”, “on her holidays” etc. Use “on holiday”, or – in American English – “on vacation”.

Only use the word “holidays” to refer to:

  • more than one single holiday
    This year there are three national holidays in May.
    I’ll see you after the Christmas holidays.
  • more than one vacation
    Since 2012 I have been spending my holidays in Portugal.
    I prefer spending my money on holidays than on furniture.

This is chiefly a British usage; Americans use the word “vacation”.

  • school holidays
    The holidays start on 6 July.

We often refer to the summer (especially August) as the “holiday period”. This phrase (or the “holidays”) can also apply to Christmas.

“Holiday” can also be used as an adjective, as in “holiday period”. Other examples are “holiday clothes”, “holiday mood”.

Less commonly, in British English “holiday” can be used as a verb:

This year we’re holidaying in Portugal.
We usually holiday in the Mediterranean.

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“If I were you…” – the subjunctive mood

Many people seem to worry about the subjunctive. But you really don’t need to. I’ll tell you why later on, but for the moment let’s have a look at what the subjunctive is.

Consider the following sentences:

“If I were you I wouldn’t buy that.”
“If I were you I’d drive instead of taking the bus.”

The phrase “If I were you…” is perhaps the most common example of the subjunctive mood in English – where the verb “were” is the past subjunctive form of the verb “to be”.

You might expect the phrase to be “If I was you…”; however, this in incorrect – in standard English it must be “were”.

The past subjunctive is used to refer to unreal/counterfactual situations in present time. Here are some more examples:

If it were not for the rain, we could have a picnic. (but it is raining, so we can’t.)

This may be replaced by a second conditional: If it was not raining, we could have a picnic.

I wish that I were a mermaid. (but obviously I am not)

Here the past subjunctive occurs in a that-clause following the word “wish”. This is another common usage.

The present subjunctive also occurs in that-clauses and is used to refer to something desired, demanded, recommended or necessary. The present subjunctive is the same as the infinitive of a verb without “to”:

He insisted that we be on time.
They requested that she bring a photo ID.
We recommend that the agreement be changed. (passive)
She suggested that the client come to a meeting next week.
The Sellers require that the Purchaser deliver the complete documentation before closing.

Usage

You don’t really need to worry about the subjunctive because about 99% of the time it’s not necessary to use it. In all the examples I’ve given above, except “If I were you…” it would be acceptable to use the indicative verb form (i.e. the form you might expect):

If it was not for the rain, we could have a picnic.
I wish that I was a mermaid.
He insisted that we are on time.
They requested that she brings a photo ID.
We recommend that the agreement is changed.
She suggested that the client comes to a meeting next week.
The Sellers require that the Purchaser delivers the complete documentation before closing.

 The subjunctive is gradually disappearing from everyday English. However, it remains common in formal language and literature.

I would suggest that in most situations it is unnecessary to use it in business English; however, you may come across it, particularly in legal writing.

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Example voicemail messages

Standard messages

Hi. You’ve reached [company name]. Please leave your name, number and a brief message after the tone and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible.

Hi. You have reached [company name]. I’m sorry that no one is available to take your call right now. Please leave your name, number and a short message after the tone and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible. Thank you.

Hi. This is [your name]. I’m not available to take your call right now. Please leave your name, number and a short message and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible.

Hi. This is [your name]. I’m not available to take your call right now. If the matter is urgent, please call me on my mobile at [number]. Otherwise, please leave your name, number and a brief message and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible.

Hi. You’ve reached [your name] at [company name]. I’m away until [date]. If you’d like to leave a message I’ll get back to you as soon as I’m back in the office. If the matter is urgent please call [person’s name] on [number].

Company closed

Hi. You have reached [company name]. We are currently closed. Our normal working hours are [opening times] on [days]. Please give us a call when we’re open, or leave your name, number and a message after the tone and we’ll get back to you during office hours. Thank you.

Busy call centre

Hi. You have reached [company name]. All our representatives are currently busy. Please hold the line and your call will be answered shortly.

 

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How to talk on the phone

Here are a few examples of phrases commonly used in telephone conversations. Obviously the people’s names and the company name are invented.

Introducing yourself

If an assistant answers the phone:

They say: Good morning, Company X, How can I help you?

You say [FORMAL]: Good morning / Good afternoon. My name is John Smith from Acme Co. May I speak to Jane Jones please?

You say [NEUTRAL]: Hello. This is John Smith. Can I speak to Jane Jones please?

You say [INFORMAL]: Hi, This is John Smith. Is Jane Jones there?

If the person you want to speak to is unavailable:

You say: When will he/she be back in the office?

You say: When would be a good time to call?

If the person you’re calling answers the phone:

They say: Hello. Jane Jones.

You say: Hi Jane. This is John Smith from Acme Co. Is it convenient to talk at the moment?

You say: Hi Jane. This is John Smith from Acme Co. Do you have a minute or two to discuss a couple of things?

You say: Hi Jane. This is John Smith from Acme Co. I have a couple of things I’d like to discuss with you.

 

How to answer the phone

If someone asks to speak to you, you say “Speaking” or “Yes, this is me”. Americans may say “This is he/she”.

If you are an assistant or secretary the following phrases will be useful:

Good morning / Good afternoon, Company X. How may I help you?

Please hold for a moment and I’ll see if Jane’s available.

Please hold the line and I’ll put you through.

One minute please, I’ll transfer you now.

I’m afraid she’s just gone out of the office for a moment. Would you like to leave a message? Or I can ask her to call you back?

Jane is in a meeting right now and she won’t be available until later this afternoon. Can I take a message?

Jane is talking on the other line right now. Would you like to hold or shall I ask her to call you back later?

Jane has left the office. Would you like me to take a message, or I can put you through to her voicemail?

Can I ask who’s calling?

Can I take your number?

 

Asking for clarification

Remember – always ask the caller for clarification if you didn’t understand some information. If you ask the caller to repeat something and you still don’t understand, ask them to repeat again – maybe giving the excuse that the line is bad and you can’t hear them very well.

I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that. Can you repeat that please?

I’m sorry, can you repeat that one more time? The line isn’t very good.

I’m sorry, can you repeat that a little more slowly? I can’t hear you very well.

How do you spell your last name?

And the company name is Acme Co. Is that correct?

Just let me repeat your information to make sure everything is correct.

Just let me repeat what you said to make sure everything is correct.

 

Problems with the line

Can you hear me OK?

I’m sorry I can’t hear you very well. Can you speak up a bit please? (i.e. speak louder)

Sorry, I lost you just then. Can you repeat what you just said?

The line seems very bad. I can’t hear you. Can I call you back?

You’re breaking up. Can I call you again later?

My battery’s about to run out. Can I call you back later?

 

Phoning back

Hi. It’s John again. We just got cut off.

 

Ending a conversation

OK. I’d better let you go. Thanks for your help.

I need to get going. I’ve got a meeting in a few minutes.

I’ve got another call coming in, so I’d better go.

Good to talk to you. Bye.

It’s been good talking to you. We’ll be in touch. Good bye.

Thanks for calling. I’ll speak with you again soon.

Thanks for calling. We’ll speak again soon.
 

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