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Dear Miss Manners: When you invite a couple to go out to dinner, I contend that unless you state that you are paying or treating them, the inference is that we each pay our own. My wife contends that it is appropriate, and maybe expected, that the couple doing the inviting should pay for everything.

Gentle Reader: The way the system of eating out works now is that the people issuing the invitation always assume that the others will pay for their own food, and the people accepting the invitation always assume that the inviters mean to pay for everybody's.

This is not working, folks. Unpleasant surprises at the end of the meal are not good for the digestion.

As long as some people use restaurants to entertain as they would at home, and others use them as meeting places to get together with friends without anyone's being a host, people will have to be extra-clear about what they mean.

Miss Manners' formula for the first case is "We would like to invite you out to dinner," naming a date, time and place as hosts do when they entertain at home.

For the second, it is "We were thinking of going out to dinner - would you like to meet us somewhere?" A restaurant can be suggested, but when people are paying for themselves, they get a say in where they are going.

She probably needs to work out a more severe warning. But in the meantime, she urges all parties to such events to listen carefully.

Dear Miss Manners: What kind of a get-well card should one buy someone with a terminal illness?

I've been going to the serious card section, which offers prayers, etc., but a friend told me that I should buy cheerful and happy get-well cards to encourage the patient.

When you and the patient know that their life will end in a matter of weeks or months, isn't it cruel to send that kind of card?

Gentle Reader: As Miss Manners understands it, it sometimes happens that somebody you know is dying, and you are troubled that this circumstance does not fit into the form greeting you usually send.

Miss Manners agrees.

Perhaps, then, you will agree that this is not an occasion for a canned message, chipper or otherwise.

The "get-well" card is sadly inappropriate, and hardly cheering to someone who knows that is not to be. "Serious" cards - a prayer or a philosophical comment - are even more seriously offensive if the approach is at odds with the patient's beliefs.

Yet Miss Manners does not quite understand what you mean about wanting to encourage the patient - to do what? Surely what you want to tell that person is that you care.

So why not write a letter saying so? All it takes is something along the lines of "I'm thinking of you, and I want you to know how much you mean to me." What makes these simple words touching is your taking the trouble to write them out in your very own hand.