“I wish someone had told me” is a series of posts that feed into our inquisitive nature at CN&CO. Each week we hear from someone in our network about something interesting or surprising that’s recently happened or occurred to them – or lessons they learnt. These blogs are a way to pay it forward and form part of CN&CO’s belief that the world can be a better place – and we all have a responsibility to make it so. This week’s post is by our resident word nerd, Colin Ford.

In my job I get to read a lot of blogs and articles by people who are excellent writers, but who struggle a bit with the rules of the written word. Here are some of my most common bugbears:

“More than four people appeared in the dock.” So how many was it? Five? Twenty? A thousand? If it’s easy to count, then count it. It’s okay to say just over 200 if it’s 203, or almost 5 000 if it’s 4 987. You can also say about or approximately 800, but you shouldn’t say about six. That’s just lazy.

“They performed in 12 different venues.” Well imagine if they performed in 12 venues that were all the same. “They performed in 12 venues” is absolutely fine. No need to use more words.

“Here is a list of the various types of ice-cream flavours.” Versus: “Here is a list of ice-cream flavours.” Same meaning. Fewer words.

“The children all go to the same school.” Why “all”? Saying, “The children go to the same school” is adequate. “All”: yet another unnecessary word.

“Honestly, I literally had a heart attack.” First of all, honestly? Why would I assume you were being anything but honest?  Secondly, you didn’t literally have a heart attack – unless you really did have a heart attack, in which case I hope someone literally called an ambulance for you.

“CN&CO are a lifestyle business.” This is one of the most common errors I pick up when proofreading. A company is a single entity, and therefore takes the word “is” and not the word “are”. The same goes for a team (is), a choir (is), the board (is), a couple (is), a group (is) … not are. 

Although these errors annoy the bejesus out of me, I can tolerate them. What really pushes my buttons is the haphazard and ubiquitous use of capital letters.

There are six instances that call for the first letter of a word to be capitalised:

  1. Proper nouns – someone’s name, the name of a brand, a place name, days of the week, months of the year
  2. The first word of a sentence
  3. The first-person pronoun, I
  4. The title of a literary work
  5. Honorifics – e.g. Mr Jones, Mrs Jones, Reverend Jones
  6. Acronyms – e.g. FBI, CD-ROM, IISA, CEO, SABC

That’s all. There is no need to capitalise words or phrases like chief executive officer, professional indemnity, government, university, foundation, board, committee, wisdom (unless it’s someone’s name), meeting, seaside, jump, reverend (except in the case of Reverend Jones above)… or any other word/s. Full stop. Having a capital letter in your title, or calling your company a Company, does not make you any more important than you already are. I promise.