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"I know you'd rather be playing golf at Hilton Head or taking in the sights on Waikiki Beach," said our CEO, Frank, "but given the state of the economy, we had to watch our spending on this year's annual retreat."
We had been told we would be delivered to a "surprise destination." The destination turned out to be a basement warehouse. Some of us were toting golf clubs and beach bags. Others were wearing flip-flops. Our mood was surly.
"To entertain you," said Frank, "we've planned something more fun and way cheaper than travel to some exotic location: a grammar quiz!"
Some people groaned; others looked curious.
"Are there prizes?" I asked.
"Of course," said Frank. "Ready? For starters, identify five errors in the following sentence: 'To improve your writing before your June 30, 2009 performance reviews, it is necessary for you to: purchase a style manual, be aware of your own habitual errors and you need to develop some proofreading techniques'."
"Too easy!" a man shouted.
"You think we're morons?" said another.
"I just texted your sentence to my college-bound daughter," said the first person. "She says, 'The sentence (1) is missing a comma after the year; (2) contains a dangling modifier -- for the introductory clause to connect sensibly to the main clause, it is necessary for you to should be changed to you need to; (3) has an unnecessary colon between to and the base verb of the infinitive; (4) breaks parallel structure with the third item -- the latter part of the sentence should read purchase a style manual, be aware of your own habitual errors and develop some proofreading techniques, and (5) has the closing marks in the wrong order -- periods and commas go before, not after, closing quotation marks.'"
"Excellent!" said Frank. "Your daughter wins a 'Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary,' which is better for browsing than an online version, and Diana Hacker's 'A Writer's Reference,' which is commonly used in freshman composition courses. You'll find descriptions of both books under 'recommended resources' at www.wilbers.com."
"Hey, those are neat prizes," someone said.
"Golf is such a frustrating game anyway," said another.
"Now that you're warmed up," said Frank, "find three errors in this sentence: "After a hard days work, you deserve a complementary beverage, but don't drink to much."
"Well, two of the errors are obvious," said the man with the college-bound daughter. "Complement means to complete, and compliment means to praise, so it should be complimentary drinks. Also, the adverb too is spelled with two o's."
"I know, I know!" shouted a woman, raising a hand clutching a tube of sun screen. "Possession involves relationship as well as ownership, so it should be a hard day's work with an apostrophe."
"Well done!" said Frank. "For you, I have a free monthly tip at www.wilbers.com/MonthlyTips.htm."
As we climbed the dank stairway to street level, one of my colleagues said, "I hope we do this again next year."
Stephen Wilbers teaches seminars in effective business writing. His column appears on the first and third Monday of each month. Write to him at P.O. Box 19114, Minneapolis, MN 55419, or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. His website is www.wilbers.com.