Writing

Your grammar questions answered

A scribe once said that if English made any sense, a catastrophe would be an apostrophe with fur.

Ours is a wonderfully rich and complex language, but there are aspects of it that can get the better of even the most seasoned writer. Here are some questions that have been posed recently by clients and colleagues that may have had you wondering . . .

Q Recently a colleague of mine read through the first draft of a marketing brochure I’d written. Among many changes he suggested was an amendment I’d like your opinion on. My final sentence started: Please contact … or myself for more information … and he’d changed myself to me. Was there anything wrong with my version?

A I’m afraid so. You’ve opted for the reflexive pronoun “myself” over the straightforward personal pronoun “me”. If it’s any consolation it’s a common mistake – and a tempting one too as it skirts that other old chestnut: me or I? To review the basics: personal pronouns are words used in the place of a noun or thing and include I, me, you, he, she, it, we, our, us, he, she, they and them. Reflexive pronouns are words like myself, yourself, themselves, itself and so on. You use reflexive pronouns with verbs or with prepositions that refer back to the subject of the sentence, for example: your colleague should try writing a document himself or he needs to experience it for himself. They also come in handy when you want to emphasise something, like this: next time I’ll do it myself, thanks.

Q What’s the difference between past and passed?

A There’s no difference in the way they sound and that’s part of the confusion. Passed is only used as the past tense and past participle of the verb to pass, in text like this: we passed the entrance or the moment has passed. For everything else, choose past. Past works as an adjective: the past month has been hot; an adverb: the president walked past, a noun: it happened in the past or a preposition: it’s half past five already.

Q Do you write daytime as one word or two?

A Daytime is a single compound word. It remains indivisible whether you’re using it as a noun: it’s an activity suited to the daytime or an adjective: a daytime activity. Compounds come in three varieties: fused as a single word like our example here; hyphenated like mind-reader or mother-in-law; and separated into discrete words with a single meaning like soft sell or breach of contract. Is there a hard-and-fast rule to follow when choosing an option? If only. Night-time, for example is commonly offered as a hyphenated compound. The best advice I can give is turn to your dictionary of choice for help. If the term you’re interested in is not listed at all you can be sure the words are separate.