Enquire and inquire both mean to ask or seek information about something. The corresponding nouns are enquiry and inquiry.
Basically there is no big difference in meaning between these words. It can be generally said that inquire is the common form in the USA and enquire in Britain.
However, there are writers – particularly in Britain – who make a slight distinction between the two forms of the word. They use enquire simply as a synonym of ask in a general sense. Inquire is used with the meaning of making a formal investigation.
My boss enquired about the passing away of our dog.
The police are making inquiries to find the owner of the abandoned car.
If you write American English, you could use inquire, but otherwise you need not worry about which form is correct. As always, choose one form and be consistent throughout your text!
Writers often say too much by adding unnecessary words. Phrases such as free gift and joint cooperation are examples of tautology (saying the same thing twice) or pleonasm (using more words than necessary). Words that do not add information are called redundant words. Get rid of redundancies!
Here are some examples of unnecessary words:
General consensus – if you have a consensus, all agree
Foreign imports – imports are always from another country
Unexpected surprise – it wouldn’t be a surprise if you expected it
Personal friend – if you have a friend, you have a personal relationship. Someone who is not a friend may be an acquaintance
Past history – history is about the past
The two twins – would you expect them to be three?
Four different colours – if something comes in four colours, you can be sure they are different
Unsolved mystery – if you have solved it, it is not a mystery
I am sure you can see what’s wrong in the following examples:
Moment in time
Period of time
Few in number
On a daily basis
In actual fact
The reason why
Combinations with together and each other are common – and unnecessary:
Interact with each other
Another often unnecessary word is completely:
We might include end result and final outcome in the list of unnecessary words, but these combinations are acceptable, since it is possible to also talk about a preliminary result or a preliminary outcome.
Since LCD means liquid crystal display, you should not write LCD display.
In PIN and ISBN, N stands for number – writing number after the abbreviation is pleonastic.
RAM means random access memory – don’t add memory.
UPC stands for universal product code and therefore you should not write UPC code.
ATM means automated teller machine – write only ATM.
Pleonasm is sometimes used as a rhetorical device for emphasis:
Each and every
Any and all
First and foremost
To all intents and purposes
Such emphasis is common in legal texts:
Null and void
Aid and abet
Fit and proper
Cease and desist
Sole and exclusive
Redundant words are so common that we often don’t notice them. Read your text with an eye on redundancies – and delete them!
Am I a copy editor or a copy-editor? Or perhaps a copyeditor?
First, what is a copyeditor? In publishing, copy means text. Consequently a copyeditor edits texts. However, one could argue that there is a difference between what, for example, a managing editor does and what a copyeditor does. Or, to quote Karen Judd, ”A copyeditor does not edit copy; a copyeditor copyedits copy”. You can read about how I work here.
Dictionaries differ in their recommendations. Merriam-Webster and Oxford English Dictionary have copy editor; The American Heritage Dictionary and The Chicago Manual of Style have copyeditor.
In book titles we can find both one and two words:
The Copyeditor’s Handbook (University of California Press)
Carol Fisher Salter: The Subversive Copy Editor: Advice from Chicago (University of Chicago Press)
Butcher’s Copy-editing (Cambridge University Press)
Karen Judd: Copyediting: A Practical Guide (Crisp Publications)
The Copy Editor newsletter changed its name to Copyediting newsletter.
As you can see from the URL of this site, I have settled for the one-word version copyeditor. One of the reasons is that my website address copyeditor.se looks better as one word; another reason is that many words beginning with copy are written as one word:
Copywriter, copydesk, copyright, copybook, etc.
There seems to be a trend for some compound words to go from two words via hyphenation to one word. A few examples:
proof reader – proof-reader – proofreader
base ball – base-ball – baseball
sub editor – sub-editor – subeditor
ink well – ink-well – inkwell
living room – living-room – livingroom
As always, the important thing is that you are consistent!
In formal correspondence it is important to start – and end – a letter with the right tone.
How you can begin a letter or an email
If you know the name of the recipient, use the title and the surname after the word Dear.
Dear Ms O’Connor,
Dear Mr Harding,
Dear Dr Johnson,
Dear Professor Green,
Using the abbreviated form Prof may seem less respectful, and the full form is recommended.
As mentioned here, there is usually a period (a full stop) after abbreviated titles in American English. In American English the salutation is usually followed by a colon instead of a comma.
If a person’s name does not reveal whether it is a man or a woman and you are not sure, write the full name:
Dear Kim Nelson,
Dear Taylor Smith,
Don’t know the name?
If you do not know the name of the person you are writing to, try to find it out. Check the website of the journal, university, department, organisation, company, etc., under ”Staff”, ”About us” or ”Contact Us”. You might also find out a person’s name on LinkedIn. Another option would be to call the office and ask for the name.
If you cannot find the name but know the person’s function, you can write, for example,
Dear Recruiting Manager,
Dear Chief Technology Officer,
Dear Communications Director,
Dear President of Sales,
Dear Social Media Specialist,
Dear Research Assistant,
If you know neither the name nor the function of the person you are writing to, write
Dear Sir/Madam, and if you know the recipient is a man (woman), write Dear Sir, (Dear Madam,). If there are more than one recipient, you can write Dear Sirs,.
Some writers use the phrase
To whom it may concern, (in American English To Whom It May Concern),
but that may seem too impersonal.
Ending a letter or an email
To end a formal letter to a person whose name you know, write
Yours sincerely, (mainly British usage)
Sincerely yours, (mainly American usage)
If you do not know the name of the recipient, write
Yours faithfully, (British English)
Yours truly, (American English)
Slightly less formal endings would be
With best regards,
With kindest regards,
And more informal:
These last examples would be suitable in an email, since emails are seen as less formal than letters.
To address people we can use the honorific titles Mr, Miss and Mrs.
The female forms Mrs and Miss indicate whether a woman is married or not, which Mr does not. Mrs shows that a woman is married; many widows and divorced women retain the title even though they no longer have a spouse.
In the 1950s many women did not want to be known by their marital status and used the title Ms to replace Mrs and Miss. This usage became more widely spread in the 1970s and Ms is now the common form. However, the abbreviation Ms is older than you may think – it was used in an American newspaper as early as 1901.
Use the neutral Ms when you write to a woman unless you notice that she herself uses the title Mrs. If in doubt, ask her what she prefers.
The gender-neutral title Mx can be used to refer to a person who wants to be identified as neither male nor female. The title has become adopted by institutions in the UK such as the Royal Mail, agencies dealing with passports and driving licences as well as several banks. Mx is pronounced mix, sometimes em-ex.
Mr, Mrs and Mx are always used before a name, while Miss can stand alone.
Good morning, Mrs Johnson!
Thank you, Miss.
Without a following name, Mr and Mrs are replaced by sir and madam (or ma’am), respectively.
Can I help you, ma’am?
Very kind of you, sir!
Mr has a plural form, Messrs, which is put before the names of two or more men, especially in the name of a company.
Send your request to Messrs Watson & Sons.
Young boys are sometimes addressed as Master.
As you see (and surely know), these titles are always capitalised. In American English there is usually a full stop after the abbreviations.
You may have come across the abbreviation Esq. The word Esquire used to be a title given to men of higher rank in society. In the 20th century it came to be used as a general title for any man, usually added after a man’s name, especially in correspondence (on envelopes and in letters) and official documents: William Brown, Esq. This is the same as Mr William Brown. If Esq. is used, you do not write Mr before the name.
When a British man is invited to Buckingham Palace, Esq. is added to his name on the envelope; for men of other nationalities, Mr is used instead.
In the United States, Esquire refers to a lawyer, irrespective of gender. It is used as an abbreviation after a person’s full name.
I suggest you contact my lawyer, Susan Hall, Esq.
When addressing correspondence to a United States diplomat, Esquire may be used, written in full.
Read about how you use honorific titles to start a letter or an email here.
When we write about a person, it is sometimes not clear whether we refer to a man or a woman. Words such as somebody or person are neutral and can refer to either gender. That causes a problem for instance when we need to use a pronoun in the singular and still want to be gender-neutral.
One way is to write he or she and his or her or he/she and his/her.
Somebody left his or her umbrella on the train.
The preferences a person has about what he/she does should be taken into account.
However, writing he or she, etc., looks a bit clumsy. Using they even if we talk about one person is nowadays generally accepted also by most style guides.
Somebody left their umbrella on the train.
Why would anybody want to end their life?
Each child played with their own toys.
Every teacher used their own method.
In fact, they has been used in the singular (in writing) since the 14th century.
We can use the singular form themself if we refer to one person (and themselves is also correct).
Everybody must look after themself (or themselves).
It’s all about letting someone be themself. (Cambridge Dictionary)
To language purists the singular form themself may seem unnatural. However, it was used in English as early as the 1300s and there are examples from Emily Dickinson and F. Scott Fitzgerald well over a hundred years ago. Even if themself is still seen by a majority as nonstandard, the word is gaining popularity. And it is practical. After all, we write yourself and yourselves.
They is nowadays sometimes used to refer to a person whose gender is nonbinary, that is, who wants to be identified as neither male nor female. This use may still sound strange to many people.
Kim, our new coworker, wants to be referred to as they.
Sam drinks their coffee without sugar.
They was Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Year 2019.
Traditionallly, he used to refer to a person whose gender was unknown, but that use has come to be seen as sexist. Now some writers seem to want to counteract male dominance by using only the female forms she and her even when the reference may be to a neutral word such as person.
How can a person make sure that her views are taken into consideration?
To sum up, use they (and them, their) when the gender of the person referred to is unknown or irrelevant.
Avoid writing combined forms such as s/he or (s)he.
You can read about the use of gender-neutral titles here.
A hyphen and a dash are two different things—and there are two dashes. Confusing? Let’s try and sort it out.
This is a hyphen : – This is an en dash: — This is an em dash: —
NOTICE: For some reason, WordPress does not show the correct length of the dashes. In the editor, the difference between the en dash and the em dash is clearly visible, but when I update and then look at the page (the one you are looking at now), that difference is not there. Sorry! You just have to take my word for it—the em dash is longer than the en dash.
To begin with, in your native language (other than English) you can perhaps insert a hyphen when a word has to be split up at the end of a line. This is very unusual in English texts. And nowadays it is unusual in any text written on a computer, since the line breaks are inserted automatically. Even when a text is right-justified (the text is aligned with the right margin), the word processor adjusts the line length by changing the spaces between words. So we need not worry about this use of the hyphen.
A much more common use of the hyphen is in compounds, inside words or word combinations. Re-establish is a word made up of the prefix re and the verb establish. It means establish again.
We use a hyphen in compounds such as self-esteem, fifty-six, far-reaching, blue-green, sister-in-law and state-of-the-art. However, there are many compounds in English that are written without a hyphen—financial manager, production plan, information technology, etc. And many compounds are written in one word—airport, football, input, headache, etc. You can read more about compounds here.
THE EN DASH
An en dash has its name from the fact that it is as wide as the letter N. Consequently, the longer dash is called em dash.
The en dash (–) is used to indicate a range of, for example, dates, years or pages in a book:
You can find his most famous speech on pages 149–153. Barack Obama was President of the USA 2009–2017. The conference was held 31 August–2 September.
The en dash can also indicate a relation or connection:
His research focuses on human–robot collaboration. They usually took the Paris–Brussels train. They had a close mother–daughter relationship.
Notice that you cannot use a dash if you write between or from. It is wrong to write *between 2009–2017 or *from 149–153. (For the use of the asterisk here see the note at the end of this page.)
Obama’s presidency was between 2009 and 2017. The speech is printed on the pages from 149 to 153.
THE EM DASH
The em dash (—) is longer than a hyphen or an en dash. The em dash indicates a break or an insert in a sentence. It can be used in pairs like brackets or alone to separate the end of a sentence from the main part.
Most of their garden products—lawn mowers, grass trimmers, hedge trimmers and leaf blowers—were on sale in October. His fame had spread far and wide—he had shown that he was a very talented footballer—and he could now sign a new and better contract. I had better put on winter tyres right awa—there’ll be snow any day now.
There are no spaces before and after a hyphen, an en dash or an em dash.
However, some British style guides recommend to use an en dash with spaces before and after it instead of an em dash. If you write for a journal, make sure to consult its guide for authors.
As you could see here, most English compounds are not hyphenated. However, a hyphen is used when a compound is a modifier. A modifier changes or adds to the meaning of the word that follows. In the phrase That’s a big house, the word big is a modifier; it adds something to the concept house.
When the compound is a modifier, especially when it modifies a noun, we use a hyphen: This is a well-written article.
But there is no hyphen in the following sentence: I think the article is well written.
Here are some more examples:
They are five-year-old children. (Notice that there is no plural -s). The children are five years old.
He is a part-time mechanic. He works part time.
This is a long-term project. We must plan for the long term.
The hyphen often helps to clarify what the writer wants to say.
He is selling his little-used bike means that the bike has not been used much. He is selling his little used bike would mean that the bike is little (small) and has been used.
Do you understand the difference between a single family home and a single-family home? And between a small business owner and a small-business owner? Or an old furniture salesman and an old-furniture salesman?
We can leave out the hyphen if there is no risk for confusion:
I found a used car dealer.
An adverb ending in -ly is not followed by a hyphen:
When two or more words are combined to form a new concept with a new meaning, we talk about a compound.
A compound can be a combination of a noun and a noun (school nurse), an adjective and a noun (full moon), an adverb and a verb (far-reaching), a verb and an adverb (check-up), a preposition and a noun (underworld), a preposition and a verb (overestimate), an adjective and another adjective (blue-green) – and a few more combinations.
In English there are three ways to write compound words: as separate words (open compounds), as one word (closed compounds) or as words combined with a hyphen (hyphenated compounds). This can sometimes be rather confusing. We write head office as separate words, we write head-teacher with a hyphen and we write headmaster as one word. Likewise we have table knife but tablespoon.
This may seem frustrating, and if you are in doubt, you had better check a dictionary or a style sheet. (Actually, you can also write stylesheet. Some compounds can take any of the three forms. You can write life style, life-style or lifestyle.)
Unlike some other languages – German, Swedish or Finnish, for example – English often does not combine the separate words into one word. A breakfast table is in German Frühstückstisch; a hotel room is in Swedish hotellrum; a taxi driver is in Finnish taksinkuljettaja.
Here are some examples of open compounds in English:
The following are examples of compounds written in one word:
Compounds with words from Latin or Greek are written as one word:
Many compounds – especially those formed by two nouns – used to be hyphenated, but now most of them are written either as one word or two separate words. Here are some compounds that are still hyphenated (and you will notice that they are generally not of the noun+noun type):
Compounds with three or more words are usually written with hyphens:
Compound numbers from twenty-one to ninety-nine are hyphenated: My dad is forty-two.
Fractions also take a hyphen: We had already driven two-thirds of the way. Less than one-fifth of the operators are women.
But with a instead of one there is no hyphen: Less than a fifth of the operators are women.
Some compounds have changed from being hyphenated to a single word. We used to write on-line and world-wide, but nowadays online and worldwide are more common. This also applies to words such as cooperate and proactive.
To avoid confusion, a hyphen is used when the prefix ends and the base word begins with the same vowel:
COMPUNDS AS MODIFIERS
When compounds are used as modifiers, they are written with a hyphen. A modifier works as an adjective or adverb to add information about the word directly following it.
A six-year-old boy. But: The boy was six years old.
We rely on just-in-time delivery. But: I arrived just in time. The clock struck three when I opened the door.
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