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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 escalator; televise 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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Let me help you put your best word forward. Contact email@example.com and visit editsbymarks.com.
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
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.”
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…”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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