Tag Archives: grammar exercise

To Quote or Not to Quote

[Instructors: PDFs for the exercise and answer key are at the bottom of the post.]

In the business world, quotation marks are sometimes used haphazardly. Here is a quick review of the rules governing correct use of quotation marks.


Use quotation marks to enclose direct quotations.

“Honesty,” said the president, “is the best policy.”

Do not use quotation marks for paraphrased remarks. These remarks are often introduced by that.

The president said that honesty is always the best policy.

Use quotation marks to enclose short expressions such as slang, jargon, nicknames, words used in a special sense for humor or irony, and words following stamped or marked.

Josh was called a “pizza pirate” because he refused to chip in for the delivery. [Slang]

A great fear in business is having your business or service “commoditized.” [Jargon]

Frank Sinatra was also known as “Ol’ Blue Eyes.” [Nickname]

The former CEO could not find a job because she was “overqualified.” [Irony]

The box was stamped “Fragile.” [Words following “stamped”]

Use quotation marks or italics for words being defined or used as nouns.

The expression de facto means “in practice but not necessarily recognized.” [Italics for word being defined and quotation marks for definition]

One of the most frequently misspelled words is calendar. [Word being used as a noun within the sentence]

Do not use quotation marks haphazardly.

When you arrive, go to the Customer Service Department. [Do not use quotation marks around a destination or name of a unit within an organization.]

You are cordially invited to our exciting spring sale. [Do not put quotation marks around spring or any word to give it special emphasis.]

Try your skill by placing quotation marks or italics where you think they belong in the following sentences. Remove any quotation marks incorrectly used, and write “Correct” if the sentence is properly punctuated. You may use underscoring to indicate italics.

  1. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, I have a dream.
  2. Albert Einstein said that the true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.
  3. Verbing is defined as the process of turning a noun into a verb.
  4. All of the mailing cases were marked Glass—Handle With Care.
  5. Our annual “Fall Extravaganza” is the biggest and best sale in the region!
  6. His presidential address was marred by many uhms and ahs.
  7. Businesspeople often use the term best practices to mean the most effective techniques in a field or an industry.
  8. Senior executives want anything brought to their attention to be “high level”; that is, they want it neatly summarized and free of technical terms.
  9. Rock star Sting got his nickname from wearing yellow-and-black jerseys that other musicians thought made him look like a wasp.
  10. Happiness, said comedian George Burns, is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city.
  11. During the summer extensive changes will be made to the “Human Resources Department.”
  12. The word secretary has a long and honorable history, but many office professionals now use other titles.
  13. The expression cook the books is not what we want to hear when a government investigation begins.
  14. Did the manager say that she wanted me to merge documents with our database list?
  15. Our copyeditor Angela said that she would scream if she saw another report with the expression “at this point in time.”

To Quote or Not to Quote Exercise

To Quote or Not to Quote-Key

Avoid Buried Verbs for Conciseness

Concise writing means avoiding hidden verbs and wordy noun constructions.

Verbs represent action whereas nouns typically describe a state and are, hence, static. Some writers needlessly convert verbs to wordy noun expressions. This happens when verbs such as acquire, establish, and develop are turned into nouns such as acquisition, establishment, and development. Such nouns often end in -tion, -ment, and -ance. Most predictably found in bureaucratic organizations, these noun phrases increase sentence length and, therefore,slow down as well as confuse the reader.

Notice how you can make your writing clearer and more forceful by opting for active verbs and ditching wordy, static noun constructions:                                                                   

Wordy, Static Noun Constructions        Active, Expressive Verbs

conduct a discussion of                              discuss

create a reduction in                                   reduce

engage in the preparation of                     prepare

give consideration to                                   consider

make an assumption of                              assume

perform an analysis of                                analyze

reach a conclusion that                              conclude

take action on                                               act

Revise the following sentences by converting noun expressions to action verbs:

  1. Our business cannot succeed unless we immediately effect a reduction in overhead expenses.
  2. Did anyone actually conduct an analysis of every department’s expense items?
  3. After examining current expenses, management has reached the conclusion that our budget is already trim.
  4. Nevertheless, our directors insist that we take action immediately to slash the budget.
  5. As a result, the CEO is giving consideration to an extensive study of all employee Internet use.
  6. Department heads must make a determination of what costs are essential and what they can trim.
  7. We hope that departments will take part in collaboration with other departments to effect the combination of selected services.
  8. We have made an estimation of possible savings of several hundreds of thousands of dollars.
  9. Through the generation of cost-saving programs, the company should see a significant decline in expenses.
  10. Once our departments are in agreement with regard to the combination of selected services

Buried Verbs Exercise

Buried Verbs Answer Key

It’s or Its: Which Is a Pronoun?

With nouns, an apostrophe indicates possession (ex: Mireya’s book, the doctor’s stethoscope.) When substituting for nouns, we use personal pronouns (he, she it, we, they, etc.). However, here possession is expressed with possessive pronouns, not apostrophes.

Each personal pronoun comes with a matching possessive pronoun: his, her, and its. Most people struggle with its because they confuse it with the contraction for it is or it has, it’s. Let’s take a look:

Example: The dog was biting its paw. [The paw belongs to the dog so its is possessive.]

It’s always is the contraction for it is or it has.

Example: It’s been a particularly warm summer. [It’s is the contraction for It has.]

There is no word its’.

Choose the correct pronoun in the sentences below.

  1. The manager doesn’t think its/it’s a good idea to hire more employees during an economic downturn.
  2. The flashdrive appeared to have lost its/it’s content.
  3. Hao misplaced his phone, but he thinks its/it’s on his desk.
  4. It/It’s always fun to watch a cat chase its/it’s tail.
  5. Although Esteban enjoyed the film, he wasn’t impressed by its/it’s CGI.
  6. At its/it’s last meeting, the Board of Directors voted to allow employees to work remotely.
  7. Its/It’s not surprising to see the cost of employee benefits rising.
  8. In TechWave’s offices, its/it’s always acceptable to work on one of the many sofas placed around the open space.
  9. The marketing department lost its/it’s budget to hire freelancers.
  10. Because its/it’s been raining for a week, the Expo had to be moved indoors.

Its or It’s Exercise

AnswerKey_Its or It’s