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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How to use “provided that”

The phrase “provided that” has numerous possible meanings, which can result in ambiguity if it is not used properly.

 

First of all, “provided that” can simply be a verb + conjunction combination. This is a common structure in legal writing. E.g.:

Section 3 provides that the obligation does not apply in the following circumstances.
(i.e. In accordance with section 3, the obligation does not apply…)

Before it was amended, the Act provided that the seller could take possession of the goods and retain them until payment was made.
(i.e. Under the previous version of the Act, the seller could take possession…)

In this way contracts, laws or acts have “provisions”. Provisions are particular rules, requirements, stipulations, etc.

 

“Provided that” also has an idiomatic meaning as a phrase that introduces a proviso. A proviso can be a number of things, including a condition, an exception and a qualification.

1) The most common idiomatic meaning is “on the condition that”. This is how “provided that” is usually understood in everyday English. Here are some examples:

You may go to the party provided that you’re home by 12.00.

You can drive a car provided that you have a valid licence.

You may produce your own version of the form, provided that the content is the same as in the attached template.

If you omit “that” the meaning stays the same:

You can drive a car provided you have a valid licence.

 

2) A less common meaning is “with the exception that”.  This meaning is rarely used outside of legal writing. E.g.:

If the Deposit is not paid, the Seller has the right to rescind this Agreement by delivering written notice to the Purchaser within 30 days of the date of this Agreement, provided that such rescission right is not effective if the Seller has rescinded the Preliminary Agreement for the Property.
(i.e. If the Deposit is not paid the Seller has the right to rescind this Agreement except if the Seller has already rescinded the Preliminary Agreement.)

All the above comments apply to the Properties, provided that the comments concerning the Expropriation Decision do not apply as there was no equivalent for the Properties.
(i.e. All the above comments apply to the Properties except the comments concerning the Expropriation Decision.)

 

3) Here’s an – admittedly rather complex – example of “provided that” as a qualification. Again this usage is only likely to appear in legal writing.

If the Seller’s production of the product is stopped or disrupted by an event of force majeure, the Seller must allocate its available supplies of the product to the Buyer based upon the same percentage of the Seller’s preceding year’s shipments of products to the Buyer in relation to the Seller’s total shipments of the product, provided, however, that to the extent that the Seller does not need any tonnage that is available in excess of the allocation of products to the Buyer, it must make that tonnage available to the Buyer.*
(i.e. The proviso qualifies the Seller’s obligation by adding additional information: If the Seller has a greater amount of the product available than the same percentage of the previous year’s shipments to the Buyer, he must also sell that amount to the Buyer.)

 

The phrase “providing that” is sometimes used as an alternative to “provided that”. Both mean the same thing and both are correct, but “provided that” is the more popular alternative.

 

* Example taken from Bryan Garner “Legal Writing in Plain English”, p. 111. Needless to say, Garner presents this sentence as an example of how NOT to write legal English. Garner generally does not advocate the use of provisos. He suggests rewriting and simplifying such sentences – a point of view that you might agree with if you’ve had difficulty understanding the last three examples in this post.

 

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How to use “provide for”

“Provide for” can be a phrasal verb or simply a verb + preposition combination.

Here are some examples of “provide for” as a verb + preposition combination:

I will provide the wine for the meal.

We care about the service that we provide for our customers.

A ramp will be provided for disabled access.

As a phrasal verb, “provide for” has three meanings:

“provide for” somebody
“provide for” something
“provide for” something (legal usage)

“Provide for” somebody means to give people the essential things they need to live, such as food, housing and clothes, e.g.:

Parents must provide for their children.

After he lost job he worried that he would not be able to provide for his family.

Prisoners must learn to provide for themselves legally so they do not reoffend when released.

“Provide for” something means to plan for, prepare for, take precautions against, anticipate, get ready for a possible (negative) event in the future. E.g.:

It turned out that by buying extra batteries, he had provided for just such an emergency.

You should provide for exchange rate fluctuations when calculating the price.

We have little confidence in contracts which attempt to provide for all possible contingencies.

“Provide for” something is common in legal texts, where it means to make possible, enable, establish, facilitate or require in a legally enforceable manner. Here are some examples:

This contract provides for termination under the following circumstances.

The agreement provided for regular consultations between the Company and Contractor.

The Act provides for two members of the board to represent the company.

In this way contracts, acts etc. have “provisions”. Provisions are particular rules, requirements, stipulations, etc.

 

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The difference between “arrange” and “arrange for”

We use “arrange for” when we talk about making arrangements, often when we ask someone else to deal with something, e.g.:

Please arrange for the issuance of a new invoice. (I don’t expect you to do it yourself – ask an accountant to do it.)

I will arrange for the documents to be sent to you in the morning. (I won’t send them myself – I will ask someone else to arrange a courier.)

“Arrange for” is a fairly formal phrase usually used in business or legal contexts.

It is also polite, as you are not directly asking the person to do something themselves. “Arrange for” implies that you only want the person you’re addressing to see that something is done, most probably by someone more junior. Therefore, when you use the phrase, you are also implying that the person you’re addressing is senior enough to have subordinates.

In contrast, “arrange” means plan, prepare, organise. E.g.:

We will arrange a meeting as soon as possible. (We will do it ourselves.)

Jane asked me on Friday to arrange a visit to the factory, but I still haven’t had time yet. (Jane asked me to do it; someone else may have asked Jane to “arrange for” it.)

“Arrange” also means to put in some form of order, e.g.:

Please arrange the furniture so the sun does not shine on my computer screen.

In this context “arrange for” is incorrect.

The difference between “arrange” and “arrange for” is similar to the difference between “do something” and “have something done”:

“arrange” = “do something”
“arrange for” = “have something done”

“Arrange for” is more formal and polite than “have something done”. E.g.:

Please arrange for this document to be translated into English.

Please have this document translated into English.

 

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