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Syntax Training | Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

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August 18, 2009



Ugh. What a horrible phrase. I couldn't agree more.

My most hated bit of bureaucratese is "regarding". Does anyone ever use this blasted word outside the office? Can you imagine, if someone told you they'd seen a film last night, ever replying: "Really? What was it regarding?"

Whenever I see a sign saying "If you have any comments regarding these facilities, please contact xyz" I want to get my big black pen out.


I like your response: "Blech! Yuck!" That's what "In Receipt Of" deserves. Thank you for a great post.

An unnatural expression that I have to fight in my own writing is one that includes "per," not as in "miles per hour" but as in "per last quarter's report." I think there are times that it can be used legitimately, but I never include it in my conversation.

Christopher Low

I don't like these:

1. The above matter refers.
2. Further to our telephone conversation on (date, ...
3. We regret to inform you that ...

Do you have alternatives?


Hi, Clare. I love your energy. I don't have a problem with "regarding" though. I don't use it in speech, but I might use it in writing if I wanted to communicate formally, which I occasionally do.

In fact, Maureen, who inspired this post, used "regarding" in her revised opening sentence, which she shared with me. Because the letter was rather formal (acknowledging the end of a business agreement), "regarding" sounded natural.


Hi, Alfredo. "Per" drives me nuts. I have no use for it.

Thanks for the reminder.


Hi, Christopher. I agree with you about 1 and 2.

I can't suggest alternatives for "the above matter refers"--I don't know what it means.

As for 2, how about "To follow up on our telephone conversation" or "Since our telephone conversation, I . . ."? Or simply "Since we talked"?

"We regret to inform you" is formal and impersonal. I prefer "I am sorry to tell you," but sometimes the more formal approach may be needed.

Thanks for bringing up those examples.

Anne Biggs

My favorite writing phrases to hate:
"Thank you in advance..."
"...equally as..."
Any future tense used inaccurately in directions: "A barn will be on the left..." (It's not there now?)
Passive voice in policies & procedures: "The lights will be turned out when the last person leaves." (So I don't have to do it?)


Hi, Anne. Thanks for joining the discussion. Yes, I agree with your phrases to hate.

The only example I don't object to is the future tense, with your example of a barn on the left. If I am following directions, I relate to that tense. To me, it is saying "If you are in the right place, a barn will be on the left." And voila: a barn IS on the left. As a driver or navigator, it makes me feel fulfilled--and pleased to be in the right place.

I hope to hear more from you.


It is quite helpful for me to read Lynn's writings and all those comments.

I often use "regarding" in my letters. While, my concern is about "Thank you in advance". Do you mean it deserves hatred?


Hi, Kathy. Thank you for catching me in a bit of exaggeration. I hate to think of myself expressing hatred for an innocent sentence.

I will write about "Thank you in advance" later this week. It deserves more discussion than I can include here.


Lynn, thank you for your attention.
Your writing is really helpful for me. Actually, I am not a native English speaker. Sometimes it is not that easy to feel the subtle difference between similar words or sentences. But when writing to customers, I must be serious because they may care.

Anne Biggs

Hi again, Lynn.
I'm still against using the future tense INACCURATELY for directions. There are other options. If future tense is more gratifying for the direction-follower, why not be more exact and say instead, "You will see (or pass) a barn on the left"? Or, to allow for error, "You SHOULD see a barn on the left"?
I believe what happens is that we put the future in the wrong spot. Like putting "only" in the wrong place, it can slightly alter a sentence's meaning and leave room for misunderstanding.


Hi, Anne. The reason I prefer "A barn will be on the left" is that it focuses on what I need to know.

"You will see a barn on the left" puts the focus on me rather than the barn, as does "You should see a barn on the left." The all-important barn is hiding in the middle of the sentence, where I need to work to find it.

Writing is about communicating with the reader. If I were writing directions for you, I would write them the way you prefer them.

Thanks for continuing the conversation.


Sounds like a reciept for disaster...
I was once directed to pass "a restaurant that isn't there anymore"! Dad and I laughed all the way, noticing sites without restaurants.


Maybe Anne lives near a campground and always directs people 'past tents'.


Jim, I enjoyed your directions with "a restaurant that isn't there anymore." That's a wonderful example.

Deborah Lee Dogan

Great post! I just read a letter from the assistant property manager of my building with that 'in receipt of' phrase and was wondering what it meant. It didn't sound right to me. Now I understand why. Thanks!

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hi, Deborah. I am glad to have been of help.


Rita Roland

Hello, I really would like to review your book "Help Employees Write Better." Would it be possible for me to get a copy or be able to review this book without purchase? My goal would be to see if this book could serve as a tool to the employees in my field of work.

Thank you for your attention to my request!

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hello, Rita. Thank you for asking about "Help Employees Write Better."

We do not provide review copies of the guide. You can learn about it and read sample pages on our company website here:

I believe reviewing the web content will give you helpful information to decide whether the guide will be valuable for your organization.


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