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Communication

What typical English phrases might I need during these difficult times of Covid-19?

Have you tried out TextRanch’s Instant Sentence Checker? It can help you decide whether you should say, for example, when referring to the spread of the virus, in this difficult time or in these difficult times. In this case, both are possible, although this time normally tends to be used for one specific occasion, and these times for an ongoing situation, like the one we have now.

In this post, we explore a few of the differences between some typical phrases that you might need at the moment and which have been the most popular searches on our Instant Sentence Checker in the last couple of weeks.

Thanks for …

Emails often begin by thanking someone for doing something. Thanks is more informal (i.e., to use with people you know well) than thank you (more appropriate in a business context). Both forms can be followed by a noun (thanks/thank you for your reply), or a verb (thanks/thank you for replying/getting back to me). At this time of COVID-19 you may want to thank someone whom you haven’t heard from for a long time for contacting you. You can say:

Thanks for thinking of me

or

Thank you for your concern

If you are writing to two people (e.g., a couple) you can say either:

Thank you both

or

Thanks to both of you

there is no difference in meaning or level of formality.

I have sent you an email vs I sent you an email

You may want to check that someone in a virus zone is okay by sending a phone text message first, telling them that you’ve also sent them an email. So which tense should you use: present perfect I have sent or simple past I sent you? The present perfect is so named because it indicates a connection with the present. So it is like giving a piece of news:

have you heard, the number of new cases has gone down?

On the other hand, the simple past focuses on when something happened:

I sent you an email last week, but you never replied/you haven't replied. 

In the first part of the phrase, the key expression is last week, as this indicates a precise time (similar expressions requiring the simple past are an hour ago, yesterday, on Monday, at 6 o'clock). In the second part of the phrase, the two forms have a slightly different meaning: you never replied indicates that I was expecting you to reply last week, but you didn’t and now it is too late; you haven't replied means that I think you are still in time to reply (i.e., there is a connection with the present moment, now).

Sometimes the best choice is to “Just give it a try”

TextRanch is an online English proofreading service powered by human experts.

Any update vs Any updates?

Do you have any updates is a question you ask when you want to know if anything new has happened since you last contacted someone. The word update is a countable noun—you can say an/one update, two updates, many updates, no updates etc.—so you can make it plural and you can put the indefinite article (a, an) in front of it. Because update is countable you cannot usually say any update, in the same way as you cannot say do you have any apple, any book, any friend.

An example of an uncountable noun is information. In English, unlike nearly every other language in the world, you cannot say one information, many informations, etc. This is because information is considered to be a mass that you cannot separate into individual parts.

Try comparing spinach leaves with cooked spinach: you can count the leaves on a spinach plant, they are easy to separate; but when you cook these leaves, they turn into one big mass. This means that you cannot say these spinaches are really good. Unfortunately, the logic of what constitutes a mass and what does not is not immediately obvious. So there is no good reason why updates are different from information, or why suggestions (e.g., I have some suggestions for you) and thoughts (e.g., Please let me know your thoughts) are different from feedback (uncountable, e.g., Please let me have your feedback by the end of the week). 

It is worth remembering that English, like any language, is not static. It is constantly evolving, and millions of non-natives are also having an influence on how the language is used. So if you look on the web, you will find thousands of examples of the word feedbacks (which is becoming more and more common), and phrases such as Is there any update on Tom's illness? may sound perfectly acceptable to many people.

Stay safe vs Keep safe

People from Wuhan, China, where the virus began, started to use the phrase Everything will be fine (or Everything's gonna be alright, as Bob Marley sings in ‘No Woman, No Cry’), and this has subsequently been translated into many other languages (e.g. Tutto andrà bene in Italian, literally All will go well).

In fact, possibly the most-used phrase in an email or message at the moment is stay safe or keep safe. You will typically use this phrase at the end of an email or message to show that you care about the other person and that you want them to remain healthy. In this case, there is no difference in meaning. In ‘normal’ life, there is a difference, for example keep your personal belongings safe (i.e., you keep something safe, you cannot say stay your belongings safe).

Alternative ways of wishing people well, which were much more common before the outbreak of the virus, are: take care, take care of yourself, and look after yourself.

Sometimes the best choice is to “Just give it a try”

TextRanch is an online English proofreading service powered by human experts.

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