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Be a Better Writer--A quick grammar lesson

These lessons, by one of our most consistent FaithWriters' Challenge Champions, should not be missed. So we're making a permanent home for them here.

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Be a Better Writer--A quick grammar lesson

Postby glorybee » Sat Mar 22, 2014 10:17 am

I don’t have the time this week to do a lesson on a writing skill. However, I do have time for a quick grammar lesson.

One of the most common errors I see is incorrect placement of commas with conjunctions.

Put commas BEFORE these conjunctions: and, but, so, because

WRONG: Jan went to the refrigerator and, she stared bleakly at its meager contents.
RIGHT: Jan knew there was tiramisu in the refrigerator, and she ate the last piece before Ben got home.

WRONG: Sophie is a wonderful cat but, I wish she wouldn't spit at strangers.
RIGHT: Sophie is a wonderful cat, but she seems to despise my sons-in-law.

WRONG: I am saving my money so, I can buy a complete set of ‘Knight Rider’ on DVD.
RIGHT: I am saving my money, so I can buy a complete set of ‘The Muppet Show’ on DVD.

WRONG: My friends love to look at my pictures because, I am an amazing photographer.
RIGHT: My friends love to look at my pictures, because my granddaughters are phenomenally cute.

If you use one of those conjunctions to begin a sentence (yes, I know that your high school teacher told you not to. I’m telling you that you may, if you do it well), do not use a comma.

WRONG: Jan practiced the Chopin etude for months. And, despite all those hours, she was unable to master it. Because, there were just too many notes on the page. So, she shrugged her shoulders and closed the lid over the piano keys. But, a few days later, she tried again.

I know that you’d never write anything as horrible as that last paragraph. But you may save it, if you wish, as a reminder of several things you should never do. (And note the correct use of ‘but’ without a comma in this paragraph, and one other correct usage that you should be able to find by yourself.)

On the other hand, there are many other conjunctions—actually conjunctive adverbs, but that’s only important to grammarians--which should be followed by commas, and I frequently see them without punctuation. These conjunctions usually begin sentences or clauses.

WRONG: Finally Jan could play the first page of the etude without a mistake.
RIGHT: Finally, Jan could play Chopsticks without a mistake.

WRONG: Meanwhile the downstairs neighbors learned to wear headphones while she practiced.
RIGHT: Meanwhile, the downstairs neighbors made cookies to celebrate.

WRONG: Of course poor Chopin was rolling in his grave.
RIGHT: Of course, poor Chopin is still decomposing.

There are dozens of these words and phrases—you might want to google “list of conjunctions” and print up a list of them, if this is a problem area for you.

No homework this week, but I’ll be happy to respond to your questions or comments.
Jan Ackerson

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Re: Be a Better Writer--A quick grammar lesson

Postby lish1936 » Sat Mar 22, 2014 4:37 pm

Jan, my problem is knowing when to OMIT the comma after a conjunction. Is there a rule, slogan, or gimmick to help me remember. Please forgive me if this was covered somewhere else.

Sample sentence: I don't know when to include a comma before the "and" and when to omit it.

Should I have included a comma after that first "and?"

Thanks,

Lillian
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Re: Be a Better Writer--A quick grammar lesson

Postby glorybee » Sat Mar 22, 2014 5:11 pm

1. Use a comma before 'and' if you're joining two independent clauses:

I'm going to the grocery store soon, and I'm going to buy a roast for tomorrow's dinner.

2. However, if the two independent clauses are short, you may omit the comma. It's not wrong to put it there, but it's optional.

I'll make the roast and Ben will bake a cake.
I'll make the roast, and Ben will bake a cake.


Either of those is fine; use the one that sounds best for your piece.

3. If the 'and' is joining a clause and a phrase, omit the comma.

Piper ate a hot dog and refused the cake.

By the way, these rules apply to the other little conjunctions, too.

Now I'll toss your own question back to you: Does your sentence call for a comma or not?
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Re: Be a Better Writer--A quick grammar lesson

Postby lish1936 » Sat Mar 22, 2014 8:46 pm

Jan wrote:However, if the two independent clauses are short, you may omit the comma. It's not wrong to put it there, but it's optional


This is probably where I was confused. I have seen two short independent clauses written without the comma and wondered what I was missing. So...it's optional.

I don't know when to include a comma before the "and" and when to omit it.


By your examples, I would not put a comma after the first "and." (Fingers crossed that I'm right)

Lillian
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I write even when I think I can't, because I must. :-)

I love to write. Nothing escapes the crush I have on the written word. I'm hooked on words!!

"Let words bewitch you. Scrutinze them, mull them, savor them, and in combination, until you see their subtle differences and the ways they tint each other." Francis Flaherty

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Re: Be a Better Writer--A quick grammar lesson

Postby glorybee » Sat Mar 22, 2014 8:59 pm

You're correct--or you would be, except for one thing that I neglected to put in my first post.

4. If a comma clarifies the meaning of a sentence, or makes it less confusing, then you should use it, despite the other rules.

In your sentence, a comma would separate your two "and"s, and would make them easier on the readers' eyes. Thus:

I don't know when to include a comma before the "and," and when to omit it.

But:

I don't know when to include a comma before the "so" and when to omit it.

I wasn't intentionally trying to trip you up; I thought about this for a while between the time I responded to your post and your answer, and decided that this addendum was needed.

Just another example of the fact that most grammar rules aren't engraved in stone. I'm not sure what a more appropriate metaphor would be, but the rules are certainly more fluid--softer--than most of us think of them.
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Re: Be a Better Writer--A quick grammar lesson

Postby lish1936 » Sat Mar 22, 2014 9:25 pm

"I don't know when to include a comma before the "and," and when to omit it."

Jan wrote:In your sentence, a comma would separate your two "and"s, and would make them easier on the reader's eyes.


It didn't look right to me either, but I was afraid to look as if I didn't get it. :D



Jan wrote:Just another example of the fact that most grammar rules aren't engraved in stone.


I wish they were. That's one thing my fifth grade teacher didn't tell me. Now, umpteen years later, I'M stuck in stone. :lol:

Many thanks,

Lillian
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I write even when I think I can't, because I must. :-)

I love to write. Nothing escapes the crush I have on the written word. I'm hooked on words!!

"Let words bewitch you. Scrutinze them, mull them, savor them, and in combination, until you see their subtle differences and the ways they tint each other." Francis Flaherty

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Re: Be a Better Writer--A quick grammar lesson

Postby glorybee » Sun Mar 23, 2014 10:59 pm

I was a teacher myself, for many years, and I also taught rules as if they were somehow inviolate. It's not the elementary teachers who need to change, though--it's the upper level teachers, who need to recognize those students who have that spark of potential and expose them to excellent writing that flouts the rules.
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Re: Be a Better Writer--A quick grammar lesson

Postby amilli » Mon Mar 24, 2014 7:53 pm

Comma is surely not one of my strong areas, so even though this post is addressing conjunctions, my fear of commas takes the forefront. (Hope my commas are in the right places! :oops: )

Back in college I was taught that when conjunctions (Meanwhile, so, yet etc.) appears in the middle of a sentence, they should be surrounded with commas.

Example: (My 1st sentence above with the "so") "Comma is surely not one of my strong areas, so, even though this post is addressing conjunctions, my fear of commas takes the forefront.

OR

"I enjoy writing, yet, I despise all these rules that's attached to it."

My question is, is that rule still applicable? or is it one that I need to unlearn?
Amelia

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Re: Be a Better Writer--A quick grammar lesson

Postby glorybee » Mon Mar 24, 2014 8:05 pm

amilli wrote:Comma is surely not one of my strong areas, so even though this post is addressing conjunctions, my fear of commas takes the forefront. (Hope my commas are in the right places! :oops: )

Back in college I was taught that when conjunctions (Meanwhile, so, yet etc.) appears in the middle of a sentence, they should be surrounded with commas.

Example: (My 1st sentence above with the "so") "Comma is surely not one of my strong areas, so, even though this post is addressing conjunctions, my fear of commas takes the forefront.

OR

"I enjoy writing, yet, I despise all these rules that's attached to it."

My question is, is that rule still applicable? or is it one that I need to unlearn?


Amelia, you were taught incorrectly.

When you use a conjunction in the middle of a sentence, setting it apart by two commas is never right. If it's one of the little conjunctions (and, but, so, for, so, yet), just use a comma before it:

I want to go to Disney World next month, but my husband wants to go to Graceland.

If it's one of the longer conjunctions, or an adverbial conjunction, use a semicolon and a comma:

I want to go to Disney World next month; however, my husband wants to go to Graceland.
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Re: Be a Better Writer--A quick grammar lesson

Postby Granny's Pen » Mon Mar 24, 2014 8:36 pm

Comma's are my nemesis.
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Re: Be a Better Writer--A quick grammar lesson

Postby glorybee » Mon Mar 24, 2014 8:45 pm

Granny's Pen wrote:Comma's are my nemesis.


Apparently, so are apostrophes. :lol:
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Re: Be a Better Writer--A quick grammar lesson

Postby amilli » Tue Mar 25, 2014 4:40 pm

:rolling :rolling :rolling

Thanks for the laugh Jan, though not at the extent of my fellow Faithwriter. I really agree with you Granny's Pen :thumbs

I appreciate the update Jan, now that's one more thing to "Unlearn!" :roll:
Amelia

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Re: Be a Better Writer--A quick grammar lesson

Postby RachelM » Thu Mar 27, 2014 10:41 am

Thank you for this lesson, Jan!

Commas have frightened me since I began writing, and it wasn't until I started to grasp the rules that they began to lose their terror for me. After years of winging it, I'm starting to get a wee bit more comfortable with the little guys. :D

And apostrophes! I know the rules, but they trip me up constantly. I have the most trouble with "its" and "it's." I think that it's because we normally add an apostrophe to a possessive noun, but when we make "it" possessive it's "its." (Try and wrap your head around that sentence. :lol: )

I was recently told about a rhetorical device called asyndeton where conjunctions are intentionally left out. This is interesting to me because I used to do that for impact before I learned that it was "illegal." I'm kind of excited to know that there are grammatical terms for specific ways of breaking the rules. I must be a rebel, because knowing this makes me want to learn grammar more than ever. :D (Just so I can intentionally disobey the rules! Haha!)
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Re: Be a Better Writer--A quick grammar lesson

Postby glorybee » Thu Mar 27, 2014 10:46 am

Rachel, one way to remember that 'its' business is to equate the possessive 'its' with 'his' and 'hers,' both of which are possessives without apostrophes.

Now I have to go look up asyndeton--a new one for me. Thanks!
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Re: Be a Better Writer--A quick grammar lesson

Postby lish1936 » Thu Mar 27, 2014 8:33 pm

Rachel wrote:I have the most trouble with "its" and "it's


Not sure if this will put your mind at ease, Rachel, but I received an e-mail from someone who heads two Writers' Conferences, is an author of several books, and conducts regular writing workshops. I'm sure she knows the difference between it's and its, but there it was..."it's" for "its." They sound so much alike, that when you're writing, its (just kidding...) easy to write the wrong one without thinking.

Don't mean to sabotage the topic, but I have a serious problem with past and passed. :heehee

Blessings,

Lillian
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Fortunate 500


I write even when I think I can't, because I must. :-)

I love to write. Nothing escapes the crush I have on the written word. I'm hooked on words!!

"Let words bewitch you. Scrutinze them, mull them, savor them, and in combination, until you see their subtle differences and the ways they tint each other." Francis Flaherty

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