Do You Converse or Conversate?

This question has popped up in my email and phone conversations with folks from their Covid-19 shelters. So, I decided to address when to use each word.

First things first. Definitions:

Converse (v.) to engage in conversation.

Standard English used in most official business documents and professional settings.

Conversate (v.) vernacular. To engage in conversation.

Used in informal dialogue and documents containing dialogue. It has become popular since 2000, according to Dictionary.com.

More on conversate

Conversate has been in use in American English for more than 200 years. It was first recorded in use in 1811.

Conversate was the topic of a discussion between OED editor Jesse Sheidlower and Ta-Nehisi Coates, national correspondent for The Atlantic in 2009. The word was added to the online OED in 2016. Look for it in the next printed edition.

Merriam Webster’s describes conversate as “A back-formation of conversation… a type of word made by removing a portion of an existing word (such as the suffix). Thus, escalate was formed by shortening escalatortelevise comes from television, and donate was made from donation. There are many hundreds of words in English made this way, but some people will forever look askance at words such as liaise (formed by back-formation from liaison).

Conversate for a few, cause in a few, we gon’ do what we came to do, ain’t that right boo —Notorious B.I.G. “Big Poppa”

When to use what

So, for now, use converse in your reports and proposals and your academic and professional documents.

Conversate is definitely a word, as are thousands of words not included in the dictionary. However, it is not yet part of the standard business lexicon.

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How to Craft a Good Message

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Use the Period to Command Attention

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Being Possessive

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When to Use Em Dashes, Parentheses, and Commas?

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According to Roy Peter Clark, in Writing Tools: Fifty Essential Strategies for Every Writer, “Punctuation comes from the Latin word punctus, or “point.” Those funny dots, lines, and squiggles help writers point the way. “There is a tendency to use marks of punctuation interchangeably; and this is acceptable in personal writing and using personal style in writing a novel or a story.

In general, any of these three marks—em dashes, parentheses, commas—serve to separate information that is incidental. However, there are subtle distinctions that can make usage more credible in business writing—and all writing, in my opinion.

Credible uses for each

Em dashes:

The teacher—who wears red socks—is a fan of Mark Twain.

The em dashes set off the information from the main sentence without making it unimportant as in, “you need to know that she wears red socks.”

Parentheses:

The teacher (who wears red socks) is a fan of Mark Twain.

Parentheses indicate that the information is incidental, as in “oh, by the way…”

Commas:

The teacher, who wears red socks, is a fan of Mark Twain.

The commas indicate that the information is integral to the sentence, as in “the particular teacher who specifically wears red socks.”
Note: The meaning here might be just as effective without commas.

Ask yourself if you want the information to be—

  • helpful backstory (em dashes),
  • a trivial aside (parentheses), or
  • integral to the sentence (commas).

Consult these examples when trying to decide what punctuation fits the exact meaning you want to portray in your document. Let me help you put your best word forward. Contact me at dmariemarks@gmail.com.

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Use productive tools to keep your reader focused

 

One way to diminish the effect of your message is to load it up with words that are neither useful nor productive.

Two ways to kill your message:

  1. Write too many words to say something.
  2. Write something that does not need to be said.

A clear, concise, well-constructed message gets the response you seek from readers.

Take advantage of the power of punctuation

Punctuation controls how a reader understands a group of words. Let these punctuation tools guide you.

  • The period urges the reader to stop and let what they just read sink in.
  • The comma urges the reader to take a breath.
  • The semicolon urges the reader to evaluate. It divides two pieces of information that are related.
  • The colon urges the reader to pay attention, because something important is about to be said.
  • The em dash and parentheses let the reader know there is a diversion ahead­—information that is not crucial, but sheds light on the issue.
  • The bulleted list helps the reader itemize each thing they are asked to know.

Of course, there are other tools, including brackets and exclamation points. These are rarely used in writing for the public. If you really want to use them, do so sparingly.

So, write you message clearly and concisely; and use the right punctuation to make it pop and drive it home.

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Tips for using a and an before words that start with h or u.

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