April 16, 2009

Language Tips: can not/cannot & regard/regards

Posted in can not/cannot, regard/regards at 7:00 am by dlseltzer

I’ve been struggling for a while now, trying to find a format for the WLUT that allows me to emphasize certain words and is indifferent to computer platforms and email programs (what works on some is a mess on others). I’ve tried quotes and italics but neither work successfully; I don’t want to use bold since section titles and other things are bolded. This time around, I am trying underlining. Oh dear. Those of you who know me well, know that I consider underlining an anathema (anathema meaning something that is greatly reviled or loathed). See my take on it from a WLUT of March of last year:

Some of you have heard this from me before and can probably quote me on it but it still needs to be said: Underlining is a relic of the typewriter and should NEVER be used. In the old days of typewriters, there was no way to show emphasis other than through underlining. There were no “bold” and “italic” features. Underlining text was a way of indicating that the typesetter should italicize that text during the typesetting process. Now, we use word processors and can bold and italicize words ourselves, and there is no need to underline anymore. Why not underline? It’s ugly. It doesn’t enhance the reading experience, in fact, it detracts. Instead of reading one character at a time, you are forced to read two: the letter and the line. Finally, there is no elegance to the underline. Since there are other, more elegant ways to impart emphasis, there is no need to use underlining. Pick up a few books at random, and look through them. You will rarely see an underline, and I would bet that books that do contain underlining are not put out by an established publishing house. Don’t underline and I can’t emphasize that enough.   https://languagetips.wordpress.com/category/underlining-and-spacing/

Given that, I hope you will understand how difficult this is for me. If you walk by and see me sitting at my computer and weeping, you will know why. Be kind.


Curt found this sighting, asking, ”What do you suppose Adobe meant by this?”

During particularly complex sections of the sequence, or when using a system with inadequate resources, the playback quality degrades gracefully.

I don’t know what Adobe meant, but as long as it’s doing it gracefully, that’s okay.

Tip 1: can not or cannot

Kristen wrote:

After reading your advice about anyone/any one, I thought of a similar word that I often see my fellow employees use in e-mail:  cannot/can not.

Cannot and can not mean the same thing and are interchangeable, right? It all pretty straightforward, right? If you think so, try googling it, and you will discover, as I did, that there are many diverse opinions on the subject, and some of those opining have very strong feelings. For now, I am going to skip the controversy, ignore (and pity) those misguided people who disagree with me, and cut to the chase.

In formal writing, the word you want to use is almost always cannot. In conversation, the word of choice is probably can’t, thus avoiding the issue altogether. Let me restate that: Almost all of the time, cannot is the correct word choice.

You cannot submit the proposal until it has gone through the Office of Research.

The experiment has gone awry, and the scientist cannot achieve the result she wants.

The only time that it is legitimate to use can not, is when you are putting special emphasis or stress on the not in can not.

I can not believe she betrayed me like that!    (I can NOT believe she betrayed me like that!)

He can not be the professor; he is way too young!    (He can NOT be the professor; he is way too young!)

There are other views on when you can use can not; but frankly, they are so twisted and awkward that I can’t give them any credence, and I don’t want you to think about them at all.

Tip 2: regard or regards

I often see, in proposals, something along these lines:

In regards to the sample size, we have determined…

We contacted a number of individuals with regards to the concern about creating bias.

As regards to the implementation of this project, we will…

First, let me say this and get it out of the way: While the first two examples are just wrong, as regards is technically correct and is standard English. It, however, sounds awful, so I am going to include it with the phrases to be avoided.

As I mentioned, the first two examples are simply wrong. However, the fix is easy: Get rid of the s in regards. Then you are left with:

In regard to the sample size, we have determined…

We contacted a number of individuals with regard to the concern about creating bias.

And these examples are now correct. [NOTE: The only time with regards should be used in writing is when you are sending greetings, e.g., with regards to your family, with warmest regards.] I guess I could end this tip here, reminding you that regard is the correct word and regards should not be used in your proposal or any other writing, but I won’t. You see, while the above examples are technically correct, they don’t represent examples of good writing. There are simpler and more straightforward ways of communicating that can, and should, be used. For example:

As to the sample size, we have determined…

We contacted a number of individuals regarding the concern about creating bias.

Alternatively, you could use about, concerning, involving, or (depending on the sentence) of or on. And, debatably better, would be to rewrite the expressions altogether:

We determined the sample size…

We contacted a number of individuals concerning the creation of bias.

That’s it. NEVER put an s on regard unless you are sending greetings, and better yet, rewrite the sentence to impart simplicity and grace. While we are at it, a few other phrases to avoid are:  in terms of, in relation to, with respect to, and on the basis of. They add nothing to your writing.

[NOTE: Just in case you need to be reminded NOT to take everything on the web at face value, please note the following reply I found to someone’s query about whether to use regard or regards:

It depends: one subject is in regard to, more than one subject is in regards to.

It’s so off-base, you have to love it.]

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