UK civil servants get grammar lesson by new minister

By on 24/06/2015 | Updated on 25/09/2020
UK civil servants get grammar lesson by new minister

Civil servants in the UK justice department have been given a grammar lesson by their new minister who wants them avoid using ‘impact’ as a verb and write “make sure” instead of “ensure” when preparing his letters and briefing papers.

Michael Gove, who was appointed lord chancellor – head of the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) – after the May 2015 general election, posted the instructions on the department’s intranet, according to media reports.

In the guidelines, entitled ‘Ministerial Correspondence Preferences’, Gove bans contractions such as “doesn’t”.

The document also advises that “the phrases ‘best-placed’ and ‘high-quality’ are joined with a dash, very few others are”. It advises against “unnecessary” capital letters and repetition, and says letters should be “gracious” – not “pompous”.

He also told officials that they must not start a sentence with ‘However’. The Independent newspaper reports that Gove has often done just that in articles for The Times, where he was once a journalist.

In 2013 he sent an email to officials when he was education secretary, titled ‘10 golden rules’, which called on civil servants to “read the great writers to improve your own prose – George Orwell and Evelyn Waugh, Jane Austen and George Eliot, Matthew Parris and Christopher Hitchens.” They also say that “if in doubt, cut it out” and that “in letters, adjectives add little, adverbs even less”.

The MoJ declined to comment.

About Winnie Agbonlahor

Winnie is news editor of Global Government Forum. She previously reported for Civil Service World - the trade magazine for senior UK government officials. Originally from Germany, Winnie first came to the UK in 2006 to study a BA in Journalism & Russian at the University of Sheffield. She is bilingual in English and German, and, after spending an academic year abroad in Russia and reporting for the Moscow Times, Winnie also speaks Russian fluently.

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