Technica Pacifica

DHC U.S. Office


Sample Q&A's from our students

Here are some sample questions from students that have been answered by our staff.

Q: Is it OK to use "function" instead of "capability" ?


A: Although function and capability have similar meanings, you cannot always use these two words interchangeably. Capability generally refers to what something can do or what it has the ability to do. This ability is usually independent of any action by the user. Function refers to what something does do or is intended to do. A function is often (but not always) selectable by the user. For example, I might use either of the following sentences to indicate that a certain type of camera can take multiple exposure photos:




O This camera has the capability to take multiple exposures on one negative.

O This camera has a multiple exposure function.


The first sentence merely indicates that the camera is able to take multiple exposures on one negative. The second sentence has essentially the same meaning, but it seems to imply that someone (the photographer) must perform an action to somehow activate this function. For example, "To activate the multiple exposure function, turn the dial to "M" and press the button by the viewfinder. Use the thumb dial to select the number of exposures you want to make."


Note that if you are talking about a capability that is not part of the object's intended purpose, then you cannot use function. For example, if the camera were durable enough, you could say, "This camera has the capability to hammer nails into wood," but such an action would certainly not be an intended function of the camera.







Q: Is the preposition "on" needed in the following sentence? "I will meet with the company president ON April 20."


A: The preposition on before a specific date is usually optional. It is therefore correct to include on in the sentence you mentioned or to omit it. Both versions are correct and sound natural. In certain structures and phrases, English speakers sometimes omit certain prepositions when the meaning of the preposition is clearly understood from the context. Omitting the preposition by when referring to an increase or a decrease in a percent or an amount is another example of this practice:




O In 1999, our profits increased (by) $12 million.








Q: What is the difference between "about" and "regarding"?


A: There is no difference between about and regarding. You can use them interchangeably without changing the meaning of a sentence or phrase. Regarding isn't as common as about, and it is usually found in more formal contexts. However, you will find about in formal contexts, too. My suggestion is that if you have a choice between the two words, choose about. It will always be appropriate in both formal and informal contexts.








Q: What is the difference between "contain" and "include"?


A: In many cases it can be hard to decide if you should use contain or include. In some cases, these words can be used interchangeably.


Generally, include emphasizes that something is one part of a whole.




O My exercise program includes running three miles a week.


In the above sentence running three miles a week is one part of an entire exercise program.


We usually use contain when emphasizing that something holds something else inside of it.




O This glass contains water.


In the following example, you can use either contains or includes:




O My personal survival kit contains a compass and a small ax.

O My personal survival kit includes a compass and a small ax.


In the above sentence, contains emphasizes that the kit holds these two things within it. There may or may not be other things besides the compass and ax. Includes emphasizes that the compass and ax are not the only things in the kit. Usually, in a longer document, the surrounding context will help you decide which word is more appropriate.








Q: Lesson 7 of the textbook says that the phrase "in operation" is redundant. Are there any cases when you can't delete "in operation"?


A: Some English speakers use the phrase "in operation" to emphasize the activity or function of a device or machine. However, in most cases, the phrase "in operation" doesn't add meaningful emphasis, so you can usually delete it without changing the meaning. The only cases I can think of where "in operation" might be important is to contrast a device's "operation" mode with another mode (such as when the machine is off or less active), or to contrast a machine's actual performance with what it can do theoretically:




O When the copy machine is in its energy-saving mode, it uses only half as much electricity as it does in operation (i.e. when it is being used).



O According to the engineers' calculations, the car should have theoretically been able to get 60 miles per gallon, but in operation the best test models only achieved 53 mpg.




Q: What are the rules for making Latin words plural?


A: There are no rules governing the plural forms of Latin words. People have to learn which form to use as they see and use the word for the first time, and must become aware of any variations in usage that may exist. In cases where there is a choice between two possible plural forms of a certain word, most good dictionaries will list both plural forms. In many cases (but not always), the classical plural (the one based on the original Latin use of the word) is more technical, academic, or formal, and the other plural (formed by adding -s or -es), reflects the more common or popular usage.


Several words that were borrowed into English from Latin no longer are used in their original singular forms. For example, the words datum and agendum are now extremely rare in English. Data is now commonly used as a singular, uncountable noun, and agenda has become a singular, countable noun (with the plural form agendas).


With certain other Latin words, we use a different plural to convey a different meaning. For example, if there is more than one appendix that gives information at the end of a book, we can either use appendices or appendixes. However, if we are talking about multiple examples of the body part attached to the intestine, we only use appendixes. Similarly, we use antennas to refer to more than one radio antenna, and antennae to refer to the feelers on an insect's head.








Q: How should I write large amounts of money (such as $1,000,000)?


A: We commonly express large monetary amounts above one million dollars in the following format:dollar sign ($) + numeral + spelled-out multiple (i.e. million, billion, or trillion): $1 million. The numeric figure can include a decimal fraction, as in $3.5 million. However, this fraction is rarely carried past the first digit to the right of the decimal point. Thus, in the case of a more specific amount like $1.9346 million, it would generally be better to write the entire amount in numeric figures: $1,934,600.


Note that the above rule also applies in non-monetary contexts (simply omit the dollar signs). Look at the following example: "There are over 6 billion people on the Earth. An estimated 1.2 billion live in China. The United States has over 265 million people. Japan has a population of about 125 million."








Q: Should I say "several of my staff members," "several my staff members," or "several staff members"?


A: Many of our students have asked about when to include the word of after quantifiers like several, many, most, some, and each. It's helpful to think of phrases like several of my staff members as having two parts. The first part consists of the quantifier (several) and the noun it modifies (staff members). The second part consists of the preposition of and a determiner (usually the definite article the or a possessive pronoun, such as my). The most important thing to be aware of is that you cannot separate the elements of the second part ­p; in other words, you cannot say several of staff members or several my staff members.


The difficulty for most Japanese students is determining when to include of + determiner in these types of phrases. This decision is based on several factors, such as whether the noun has modifying words or phrases and whether the reader has previous information about the noun being used. Generally, a writer will omit of + determiner if he or she is making a general statement about the noun, and include of + determiner if the noun is somehow specific or already known to the reader. In some cases, the meaning of the sentence is the same regardless of whether you include of + determiner or omit it. In other cases, however, it's necessary to include of + determiner to clearly convey the intended meaning.







Q: Please tell me which is the most appropriate in technical writing: "the United States", "the United States of America", or "U.S.A."?


A: By far, the most common name for this country is "the United States." This is the preferred term to use in business and technical writing. It is also acceptable to refer to it as "the U.S." and to use "U.S." as a modifier (for example, "U.S. automobile production," "the U.S. hockey team," "the U.S. presidency," etc. We rarely use the complete name "The United States of America" except in government or legal documents. "USA" (usually written without periods) is also uncommon in everyday speech, although you might hear it in certain poems, songs, or other patriotic contexts. A notable exception is the "USA TODAY" newspaper, which prefers to use "USA" to refer to the U.S. as a matter of style throughout its pages (probably because "USA" is part of the paper's name). However, in common usage, "the U.S." is the much more common abbreviated form.




Q: You didn't include a hyphen in the phrase "long range plans." Shoudn't we hyphenate "long-range"?


A: We usually use hyphens to either separate the bases of a compound word or to separate the prefix of a word from its base. However, the rules about hyphens are fairly complicated, and their usage is not very clear, even to native speakers of English. Perhaps because of this, hyphens are being used less, especially in American English. Many short compounds are now written with no division between the words, as in: "weekend," "takeover," "sunbathing," "laptop," and "highlighted." Others are commonly written as two words: "living room," "paper bag," "fan belt," "face guard," and "soul mate."


However, it's not unusual to find some words written in any one of these three ways. Examples include "bookshop," "book shop," and "book-shop," and "taxpayer," "tax payer," and "tax-payer." Although "book shop" and "taxpayer" are probably the most commonly used variations, it wouldn't be wrong to hyphenate these terms.


As for "long range" vs. "long-range," I think either version is acceptable. These two words are used so often together, I don't think English speakers would be confused by (or even notice) the missing hyphen. You are right that the two parts of "long-range" together as a unit, modify "plans." It is therefore correct to hyphenate this word. However, other commonly hyphenated words like "high-gloss" (paint), "jump-start" (the car), "low-budget" (film), and "self-portrait," are sometimes written without the hyphen, even though including the hyphen is technically correct.


According to the grammar book Practical English Usage by Michael Swan, a good rule of thumb, if you are not sure whether or not a hyphen belongs between two words, is to either consult a dictionary or to write the words without the hyphen.




Q: When "company", "firm" or a similar word is used in a sentence, which would be more appropriate for the pronoun: "they" or "it"?


A: Americans generally prefer to use singular pronoun "it" to refer to words like "company," "firm," "board," "class," and "jury," as long as the words are being used to collectively refer to the group as a whole. If words like "company" are being used to refer to the individuals who belong to the group, then it's correct to use the pronoun "they" to refer to these people who belong to the group. Surrounding context will usually help you decide which pronoun is more appropriate. The following examples illustrate this concept:




O The company will open a new branch in Osaka in the fall. It will need 200 more employees to work at its new office.

(Emphasizes the company as a whole)



O I've had nothing but problems with that company. They lost my first order, and they were late in sending me the merchandise after I reordered from them.

(Emphasizes the people who work for the company)



O The firm will unveil its new company logo on July 1.

(Emphasizes the firm as a whole)



O The firm expressed their desire to stay at the ABC Hotel instead of the Nottingham Hotel.

(Emphasizes the people that work for the firm who will stay at the hotel)



O The jury was deadlocked for hours, but it finally reached a verdict.

(Emphasizes the jury acting as one body)



O The lawyer looked over at the jury and saw that half of them were asleep.

(Emphasizes the individual people on the jury)