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Good English. Using the apostrophe

I have been asked to write a few words on the correct use of the apostrophe. I am only too pleased to do so!

The apostrophe seems to cause endless problems for many people. So much so, that one type of incorrect usage has even acquired its own nickname: the greengrocer's apostrophe.

The apostrophe is used to denote possession, amongst other functions.  We could say, 'the dog of my sister is brown' or 'the dog belonging to my sister is brown'. It is very common to say 'my sister's dog is brown'. Here we use an apostrophe to show the possessive. In languages such as German, Latin, Russian it is known as the 'genitive case'.

If I had two sisters who both owned the same dog, how would this be expressed? Answer: 'My sisters' dog is brown'. By putting the apostrophe after the plural of 'sister', we can see that the dog belongs to both sisters. In speech this idea is not clear because the two sentences ('my sister's dog is brown' and 'my sisters' dog is brown') sound the same.

Correct usage is vital when documents are to be translated. It might not be very important to know how many sisters own the dog (apart from to the sisters themselves) but consider the implications for the following sentences:  'the sum of the company director's bonus is £10,000' and 'the sum of the company directors' bonus is £10,000'. A misplaced apostrophe could be considered to be crucial!

Correct English grammar is vital to your company's image. If you would like further information about apostrophes (including why greengrocers have one of their own) or you would prefer me to do your proofreading, please do not hesitate to contact me through my contact page on the website. I will be pleased to discuss your requirements with you. Lessons can be provided in Bath or via Skype.

If there is an area of English grammar that you find confusing, let me know via the comments section and I'll consider writing a blog post about it.

Next time, find out why less is more...

Good English grammar: when to use 'they're'

English has a number of homophones. The word comes from two Greek words: 'homo' meaning 'the same' and 'phone' meaning 'sound'.

Examples of homophones are 'there', 'their' and 'they're'. What is the difference? They all have a different function in the sentence. When speaking, we understand from the context which one is meant but if they are incorrectly used in a written text they can impede comprehension.

'They're going there with their children' is an example of a sentence that uses all three versions of this particular homophone. How do we know which one to write? 'They're' is simply a contraction of 'they are'. Therefore by writing the words out in full, fewer mistakes will be made. It is considered better to put 'they are' in formal writing, so the problem is solved!

It is essential to the image of your business to ensure that your documents and presentations are written in correct English. If you would like to learn about when to use 'their' and 'there' and some tricks for remembering which is which, please do not hesitate to contact me through my contact page on the website. I will be pleased to discuss your requirements with you. Lessons can be provided in Bath or via Skype. Alternatively, I will be happy to proofread your documents for you.

The next post has been requested by a reader of my blog and is on the subject of apostrophes.


Good English grammar: when to use 'I' and 'me'

English grammar appears not to be widely taught in British schools these days. Just because one grows up speaking a language it does not necessarily follow that one grows up speaking it correctly.  It seems to me that the confusion with when to use 'I' and 'me' may stem from a very early age and the confusion is not ironed out at school.

There is a convention in polite society that when talking about oneself and a friend, the friend should be mentioned first. Children often say sentences such as, "Mum, can me and Tommy go swimming?"  Mother then corrects the child to say "Can Tommy and I go swimming?" So far, so good (well, almost. There is another issue here... but let's tackle one thing at a time!). This is correct because if Tommy were not there the child would say "Can I go swimming?" The problem arises when the child, who has had the "Tommy and I" construction drilled into him, needs to use the word 'me'.

In Romance languages, grammatically speaking, 'me' is often referred to as the object of a sentence; in Latin, Greek, German and Russian it is known as the accusative. It's the same thing with a different name.

Here is an example I heard on the radio the other day. A solicitor, so one assumes reasonably well educated, said, "And the insurance broker asked my wife and I about our finances...."


The correct way of expressing this idea would be "And the insurance broker asked my wife and me about our finances..."

You would not say "The insurance broker asked I about my finances". Therefore, irrespective of how many other people are involved, it should be correctly expressed as  "the insurance broker asked me ...." When politely mentioning everyone else first it then becomes "the insurance broker asked John, Susan, Rebecca, Simon, my wife and me about our finances".

In a different situation the solicitor would be perfectly correct in saying "My wife and I are going on holiday to Cornwall this year." Why? Because "my wife is going on holiday to Cornwall" is correct and "I am going on holiday to Cornwall" is also correct. The two together, "my wife and I" is therefore correct. Nobody above the age of three says "Me is going on holiday" !

If in doubt, first construct the sentence in your head without friends and wives, etc. and decide if it should be 'I' or 'me' , then add the others. That way, you should get it right.

I hope this short explanation helps but if you are still unsure about aspects of English grammar, please do not hesitate to contact me through my contact page on the website. I will be pleased to discuss your requirements with you. If you would like your documents proofread, I will be happy to provide this service. Alternatively, I can give lessons to meet your personal needs either in Bath or via Skype.

The next post looks at 'there'... or is it 'their' or 'they're'?

Good English grammar: an introduction

In the final New Testament Greek class, Claire let us loose on translating verses from the Bible. In pairs, we puzzled out all the elements of grammar she had taught us; tenses, genders, cases, exceptions to the rules and so we creaked our way through the actual text rather than the practice sentences that had been used to demonstrate the point we had been learning.

Grammar provides the scaffolding for building sentences. English grammar has its pitfalls - and because I hear so many mistakes made in the British media these days - I am going to write a series of short posts on correct usage. Shockingly, basic mistakes are not only made in speech when one might be forgiven for speaking quickly or forgetting what one has said at the beginning of a long sentence, I see these mistakes in print, too.

The first post to be published shortly will be on when to use 'I' and 'me'.

If you require personal tuition or help in the area of English grammar, please do not hesitate to contact me through my contact page on the website. I will be pleased to discuss your requirements with you. Lessons can be provided in Bath or via Skype.

A busy time of year for networking

The beginning of autumn always seems to be a busy time of year for networking, updating skills, becoming acquainted with what's new in the world of languages and generally getting more involved.

I am very much looking forward to the BDÜ's 2012 conference "Interpreting the Future" from 28-30 September. If the conference three years ago is anything to go by, it will be a wonderfully enriching experience. Contact me in advance if you are going too and we'll meet up for a coffee!

And if you can't attend this event....BDUe_Konferenz_2012_Plakat_DE_RGB_oR.jpg...then perhaps the Proz virtual conference will be easier to attend from your desk or laptop...

There is a week of events for freelance translators from 24-28 September. Check out the details here.

The next event is for all those interested in languages: teachers, tourists, students as well as translators and interpreters.  The Language Show Live is making its annual appearance at Olympia, London from 19-21 October. It is always packed with interesting stands, engaging seminars and presentations and fascinating languages for people at all levels of ability. The Institute of Translating and Interpreting (ITI) will be running a seminar on The Day in the Life of a Translator. I must say, I'm intrigued!


All images copyright of owners.


TrànslationWörks would like to take this opportunity to congratulate Her Majesty the Queen on the occasion of her Diamond Jubilee.

Here, we (is that the Royal we?)  have been busy translating over the Jubilee Holiday but took some time off to perform in the village production of the Mechanicals' Play from a Midsummer Night's Dream. The part? Hippolyta - the queen....

Happy New Year 2012

TrànslationWörks would like to wish all its customers, suppliers, colleagues and blog readers a very happy, peaceful and successful 2012.

This image is credited to sanrynyu_foto from the fine folks at

Vienna City of Dreams on the Danube

News from TrànslationWörks, Bath

I am particularly happy to announce on International Translators' Day that a book I translated earlier in the year has now been published. Entitled Vienna - City of Dreams on the Danube - it is beautifully produced with lots of colour photographs of Austria's capital city. I am particularly fond of this town having lived there for a year as a student and so I was delighted to be invited to translate this book.  It is of course also available in German.

It is an ideal introduction to the city for those who do not know Vienna as well as being a lovely souvenir for those who have enjoyed visiting.


The book is published by, and can be ordered from, Vitalis Verlag

Another book, for which I did the proofreading, is also available on their website: The Best Imperial Recipes. I haven't tried to make any of the recipes myself yet, but they sound delicious!


News from TrànslationWörks, Bath, 16 July 2010

The Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI) is one of the UK's two recognised associations for linguists. The other is the Chartered Institute of Linguists (CIoL).  Both organisations run training courses for their members to ensure that they are kept up to date with the latest developments in the profession. A relatively new development in training is webinars, these are seminars held via the web. Previous webinars I have attended have proved to be very useful and interesting and today's was no exception.

With 90 other participants, I attended the ITI's first-ever webinar which focused on "Promoting the Highest Standards in the Profession". This consisted of a general introduction to the ITI including information about the different grades of membership, admission requirements, the MITI examination, CPD and training, and activities in the regions of the UK.

The presenters were speakers from the ITI familiar with the Institute's admissions process, CPD programme and the benefits of the ITI's networks and Regional Groups. Although one cannot actually see the presenters or fellow attendees, questions can be submitted via the system and these are read out and answered by the panel.

Such webinars are open to all translators and interpreters (some are free) and are advertised on the websites of the respective organisation: ITI or the CIoL

Discovering the Röstigraben

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Translators are always being exhorted to keep up to date with their languages, that is, developments in both their native language and their source languages.  This can be done in many different ways.

I made a few new little discoveries about Switzerland whilst listening to the radio on Saturday morning. Excess Baggage on BBC Radio 4 is a magazine-style programme presented by Sandi Toksvig covering various aspects of travelling outside the UK. In this week's edition, she was chatting to Diccon Bewes, a travel writer, about his experiences of living on this "landlocked island". 

In the interview, the pair discuss Swiss red tape, cuckoo clocks, holes in Swiss social life and the Röstigraben of which I confess I had never heard before. Bewes' definition of the Röstigraben  is borne out by my copy of the Duden "Wie sagt man in der Schweiz". This little extra snippet of information may be useful for a future translation!

If you would like to discover what the Röstigraben is, you can listen to the 13-minute interview on the BBC's iPlayer  (It is the first item on the programme.) According to the BBC website it is available until Thursday 1 Jan 2099. I think this could be a misprint - programmes are usually available for 7-14 days after their first broadcast.