Imagine receiving the following email from a friend at your college.
I’m wondering if you can help me. Admin has set up a series of info meetings next week for local high school students who are thinking of coming here, and I got an invite to act as a group leader. There shouldn’t be too much prep involved except for making some promo materials like posters and a brochure. I thought of writing inserts for the brochure using quotes from senior students. Have you heard any good ones I could use as ammo to help convince the students to come here?
Did the sender’s word choices seem fine to you? Or did any of them strike you as odd? Depending on how sensitive you are to formal English, there are eight words in that message that will strike some people - especially professors - as being incorrect. Do you know what they are?
The informal usage above illustrates a shift that is occurring with a few words that end in tion – the typical marker for a noun in English. And they may cause controversy, because they break a pattern illustrated by the following chart.
In every case in this chart, the pattern is regular. It’s highly unlikely that you’d ask for “a locate” or expect to find proper “cites” in an essay, or decide to applaud people for their “participate.” You get the idea.
But while the pattern holds true most of the time, there are clear shifts in contemporary language. And perhaps it’s not all that contemporary. For example, the first known instance of using “invite” as a noun instead of “invitation” reaches back to the 17th century.
That said, it is important to remember that in formal English (and that means university essays, for sure!) , the tion suffix should always be observed.
So if you don’t want to irritate your professors, you’d express the message that opened this blog in a fully formal way:
I’m wondering if you can help me. Administration has set up a series of information meetings next week for local high school students who are thinking of coming here, and I got an invitation to act as a group leader. There shouldn’t be too much preparation involved except for making some promotional materials like posters and a brochure. I thought of making insertions for the brochure using quotations from senior students. Have you heard any good ones I could use as ammunition to help convince the students to come here?
Even if parts of this message sound stuffy to you, they represent what many instructors consider to be the correct forms. So why use “quote” when the perfectly acceptable word “quotation” is available? Surely it’s not worth it to risk offending the person who’s marking your essay!
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