Clear answers to your pressing questions about English usage.
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A selection of questions received recently:
I was wondering if you could help me with the punctuation in the following sentence. I am not quite sure what is the correct way to separate these items:
While performing the duties of this job, the employee is regularly required to: stand; walk; sit; use hands to finger, handle, or feel; reach with hands and arms; climb or balance; stoop, kneel, crouch, or crawl; and talk and hear.
Sandra R., Millard City, UT
Answer: Consider several issues of punctuation and content. First, be sure a colon that introduces a list comes after a noun or a phrase like “as follows” or “the following.” Second, examine the contents of the list. Perhaps all those items are required – but, really, do you need to include stand walk, sit, talk and hear? If you could eliminate those, your reader would focus on duties specific to the job. Third, in a list incorporated in a sentence, you are correct to use semicolons between items if any single item already has internal commas, such as stoop, kneel, crouch or crawl. If you have space, it’s best list the items vertically, achieving greater clarity.
While performing the duties of this job, the employee is regularly required to do the following:
• Use hands to finger, handle, or feel
• Reach with hands and arms; climb or balance
• Stoop, kneel, crouch, or crawl
Alternatively, you can adhere to original content:
While performing the duties of this job, the employee is regularly required to do the following: stand; walk; sit; use hands to finger, handle, or feel; reach with hands and arms; climb or balance; stoop, kneel, crouch, or crawl; and talk and hear.
Is there a better way to write this sentence? It sounds awkward.
I wanted to let you know that the credit card I used to book your reservation is only to “hold” your reservation. When you check in¸ the front desk will ask you for your credit card for payment.
Leslie D., New Hartford, NY
Answer: You are right that the message sounds awkward. The point is clear, but someone may have to read twice to get it. It is wordy as well: I wanted to let you know that, the front desk will ask.
How about reversing the order of information?
When you check in, you’ll be asked to present your credit card for payment since the credit card used in booking served only to hold, not pay for, the reservation.
The second version is clearer and more efficient, reducing the word count by about 20%.
In the following sentence, would I use is or are? Supply Chain people is/are one of our critical needs.
Ballarie W, Chicago, IL
Answer: Use “are” because of the plural subject (people). It’s correct – but awkward because you have a plural subject and a singular predicate (one): Supply Chain people are of our critical needs.
When confronted with awkwardness, you can almost always improve by revising as in the following examples:
We have a critical need for Supply Chain people.
One of our most critical needs is for Supply Chain people.
Is this okay, or is there a better way to word it?
“The conference will end at 5pm on Thursday, June 13th. To ensure that you are able to stay until the conference concludes, please book your departure flight leaving after 7pm.”
Leslie D. New Hartford, NY
Answer: You have done a good job of being clear and kind. A slight revision for conciseness (23 words vs. 30): The conference concludes at 5pm on Thursday, June 13th. Please book a flight leaving after 7pm so you can stay until the end.
The sentence is this: “If a nonconforming off-premise junkyard, sign or outside storage area is discontinued for at least 90 days, the use shall not be continued, repaired or reconstructed.” My question is whether “off-premise” modifies “outdoor storage area”, which would mean that the outdoor storage would have to be located off the premises (or property).
C. Steven M., Esquire Allentown, PA
Answer: To avoid a possible misinterpretation, change the order: “If a nonconforming sign, outside storage area, or off-premise junkyard is discontinued for at least 90 days, the use shall not be continued, repaired or reconstructed.”