Archive for the ‘punctuation’ tag
Several members of the 7th, including Abolt, said this story is not only important in American history, but also a story that must be passed on.
A comma is used to separate two independent clauses (clauses containing a subject and verb). The last part of the sentence would only be a complete sentence if it read: “history, but it also is a story that must be passed on.”
Meadows expressed his thanks to the hundreds of people involved in the project, and said a burden had been lifted off his shoulders as a result of the home, which has three bedrooms, three bathrooms and a wrap-around deck.
For this to be a complete (in italics), the clause should have read “project, and he said a burden had been lifted …”
The CEO duties will be assumed by John R. Ingram, chairman of the division of Nashville-based conglomerate Ingram Industries Inc. that provides books, music and media content to more than 35,000 retailers, libraries, schools and distribution partners.
This is an example, along with the comma splice issue, that Yagoda mentioned specifically. Here, a comma is required after “Inc.” because a comma was used before “chairman.” An argument could be made that the word “that” continues the phrase through until the end of the sentence, but introducing Ingram as the chairman of Ingram Industries Inc. still requires a comma in the middle of the sentence to set off the attribution. Or, to avoid the problem altogether, the paragraph could read:
The CEO duties will be assumed by John R. Ingram, chairman of the division of Nashville-based conglomerate Ingram Industries Inc. The company provides books, music and media content to more than 35,000 retailers, libraries, schools and distribution partners.
Writers (and readers, I guess) apparently don’t have the attention span to follow the sentence throughout its entire construction, so they sometimes forget where previously placed commas occurred. This is easy to track in your head as you reread or edit a story, but problems such as this crop up time and time again. And for people who care about the language, it’s a distraction. As a colleague has often said, “Journalists are the keepers of the language.” That’s not to suggest that I won’t have typos myself, but the will for perfection is there. This is apparently not the case with many who haphazardly throw in or leave out commas seemingly at random.
By the way, I’m a big fan of banning commas before the word “because” in almost every case, except in cases where a comma could avoid confusion or misreading. Why is that? Nearly all sentences with “because” in the middle are essential clauses, thus taking no comma. Sentence that begin with “because” do take commas.
Call me a punctuation Nazi all you like.
I loved this piece from Ben Yagoda about common comma errors. I don’t know what they are doing in journalism school, but they sure aren’t teaching punctuation. Apparently, they aren’t teaching it in high school or college in general. I find comma errors in various online and print newspaper articles all the time. The epidemic is so widespread that I bet I can go read any random article from The Tennessean (Nashville’s finest) and quickly identify an error.
I will now go read a random story and report back shortly.
As I read a lot of news Web sites, blogs and magazines, it’s not hard to spot instances of bad grammar or punctuation, even in sources that should have a firm grasp of rudimentary punctuation rules, such as using a comma to join two independent clauses (A subject and verb on both sides of “and” or “but” consist of two sentences that could, in theory, standalone. Without a comma, such a conjoined sentence becomes a run-on sentence.)
But then again, I’m a bit of a prude when it comes to errors in printed type. Of course, saying that opens the way for someone to nitpick every sentence I’ve written sleepy and after midnight since 2008. I understand that we’re all human, but it really is distracting seeing stuff like “Jones said he lost his job, because he had a disagreement with his boss.” So, here are a few of the more common errors that I find in general writing and from sources which should know better. I should keep a running list — like this delightful site — but I’m afraid I would need a completely separate blog. If you’re curious, here are some basics.
- Because — No comma before “because” ever. Ever. Ever. Why? Because it looks hideous and doesn’t make any sense. And because the writing gods say so.
- And and or — Use a comma before “and” or “or” if two complete sentences appear on both sides of “and” or “or.” That means a subject and verb. Don’t use a comma if one clause is independent and the other is dependent (not a complete sentence on its own). This one is serious.
- Their, they’re, there — “Their” is a pronoun. “They’re” is “they are.” Even more serious.
- Its, it’s — “Its” is a pronoun. “It’s” is “it is.” Super-cereal serious.
- Whose, who’s — “Whose” is an adjective or pronoun. “Who’s” is “who is.” Falls into the cereal category of serious.
- Which, witch, bomb, baum, bow, beau, bough, bear, bare, hour, our, sell, sale, cent, scent, break, brake, seem, seam, etc. — Examples of English language debris.
- ! — Use once or twice in your lifetime. That’s your limit.
- , — Most misunderstood, misused, abused and mangled mark in the history of written language.
- ; — Most useless mark in the history of written language and what smart people use when they want to feel smarter. Or, as Kurt Vonnegut said: “If you really want to hurt your parents, and you don’t have the nerve to be a homosexual, the least you can do is go into the arts. But do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites, standing for absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college.”
- — — Denotes a sudden break in thought inside a sentence. I have this one — this is my favorite punctuation mark — down pat! I just reached my exclamation mark limit for the next 50 years.
- () — Denotes extra information inside a sentence that could be excluded but is included anyway because the writer, in all his language prowess (See Faulkner and Milton, the latter of whom often included entire paragraphs of parenthetical text inside a single sentence. Now that’s talent! … [Lifetime exclamation quota met.]), seeks to make his text as belabored, chunky and hard to muddle through as possible.
There’s more, of course — for the record, starting a sentence with “there” or “its” is lazy writing — but I wore myself out on that last bullet point, thus the lazy writing. For your amusement, here’s one case of many in which an ill-placed apostrophe can be weep-inducing … or funny. Take your pick.