For this episode of Common Grammatical Errors (CGEs), I will be discepting three. The stock phrase in business letters “Looking forward to hearing from you.” and the words “mails and emails”.
While I was busy attending to some urgent emails this morning, I was disturbed by a sound coming from a colleague sitting right next to me. A sound that is more of like a correction to the email I just sent across our division. I am talking about what is in the screenshot.
The incident fueled my muse to share why is that construction so. “Looking forward to hearing from you.”
Having said that, I truly admire my colleague’s audacity in saying that the sound of the sentence is strange. That it would have been better if I used the infinitive form to hear as in, “Looking forward to hear from you.” My response was this: “Such is a stock phrase in business letters and the choice of words does really sound odd in normal context. But believe me when I say it is grammatically correct.” The workplace is not the right venue for doing a grammar 101 lecture but here. Hence, this post, which will explicate the meat of the email I sent to that colleague later.
I thank the universe for throwing me to the Middle East in 2012 so that I became
more meticulous as to the words I use in business correspondence. This explains why I dig reliable grammar guide sites whenever I am in doubt about a particular word or usage.
Let me start by acknowledging a useful fact about my colleague’s constructive feedback. If the preposition to in my sentence were an infinitive, it would be correct to use to hear. The thing is, to is not functioning as part of an infinitive but as a preposition. Therefore, it has to be followed by a noun or a nominal phrase—and hearing is a noun. Grammatically speaking, a thing being looked forward to (hearing in this case) should be a noun.
One of the many phrasal verbs in English in which an adverbial particle and a preposition is combined with stem verb to signify a particular meaning is look forward to or looking forward to. This is exemplified as either a noun phrase or a verb phrase that will make use of the –ing pattern.
A friend says he is not looking forward to attending Thomas’ party the week after the next.
They are all looking forward to meeting the new CEO.
The second grammar pet peeve is the word mails, which is like an iPhone 5 in the office. It is visible everywhere. The word sounds practically correct; however it may be, it is unfathomable in Standard English.
The Chicago Manual of Style and reliable dictionaries explicitly say that mail is a mass noun—a noun that cannot be counted and thus resists pluralization by adding s. In my opinion though, sometimes, using that word alone sounds awkward like in this context: “I received six mail today.” This is where the need to add a counting word like pieces (i.e., pieces of mail) comes in. That is in order to make the plural concept sounds pleasing to the ears as in, “I received six pieces of mail today.”
That rule actually applies to the word email. Thank God that was before, a few years ago when grammar sticklers still vomit the usage of emails as the plural form of email. In 2010, I came across an article at nytimes.com titled “The Plural of E–mail” that asseverates emails as a recognized plural form of email.
The countification of email and the expulsion of the hyphen therein mirror a lot of recent developments in tech-talk. Who knows? In a few years or so it could be considered an official English word.
In the meantime, do not forget that mail is not a contraction for email and mails stays as a grammatical mishap. You might as well refrain from using the latter in this regard.
Grammar Pet Peeves at huffingtonpost.com
Grammar Pet Peeves: You logined?! I’m giveuping. at jkathleencheney.wordpress.com
What are your biggest grammar pet peeves? at storify.com
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