Grammatical howler: Illogical co-ordination

Well, you cannot keep the girl away from her grammar for long, can you? Perusing The Telegraph Magazine recently, I happened on this scientific revelation. Do you reckon the author knew something which the readers worldwide were being kept in the dark about?

 The partners of men over the age of 40 carry a much higher risk of miscarriage, regardless of their own age, and are half as likely to get their partner pregnant as those under 25.

Naturally, it must be devastating to suffer a miscarriage, but at least the female partners of older men are just about able to get their blokes pregnant – at least according to this illustrious publication. Just when we rated the chances of their performing this feat as precisely zero – it must be a scientific breakthrough! Unless, of course, what the hapless writer meant was this:

 The partners of men over the age of 40 carry a much higher risk of miscarriage, regardless of their own age, and such men are half as likely to get their partner pregnant as those under 25.

 

Advertisements

Satirical verse: UKIP Brexit if you want to

As my Brexit-inspired satire continues, here is my mini-glossary for those reading this post outside Great Britain.

UKIP stands for the UK Independence Party, which is a Eurosceptic and right-wing populist political party in Great Britain. The party strongly opposes immigration, pledging to reduce it to zero within five years. Incidentally, the wife (alluded to below) of the party’s former leader (who is a great fan of President Trump) is German.

Brexit refers to the British exit from the European Union, narrowly voted for in the 2016 EU membership referendum. Brexit has bitterly divided the country, and even the government cannot seem to agree what sort of Brexit it wants. Needless to say, Europe is baffled …  

 

We don’t want no immigration

To pollute this brilliant nation;

We were once the purest race

Which this Mother Earth did grace

(Sorry, there is one correction:

German wives are an exception),

 

But the EU plots and schemes

To extinguish our dreams

About being alien-free

In this land of ours – see?

Our challenge is immense –

We must mount a bold defence.

 

When we seal our porous border

We’ll restore all law and order,

And, to pick our fruit and veg,

We will summon good old Reg

(He is 80 – did we mention? –

This will help him boost his pension).

 

We will stop most foreign aid

And engage in global trade

Beyond EU neighbourhood

(North Korea would be good),

Plus, in line with our agendum,

We will rule by referendum.

 

Also (you’ll be filled with glee),

We will let you park for free*

When you do your weekly shop

(We don’t reckon it’s a sop:

As an ordinary Brit,

You’ll be rather badly hit**).

 

Even if our gut gets busted,

We want to be done and dusted

By the end of next year – max;

See how neatly all this stacks?

(We can – by all indicators –

Trust our clever negotiators.)

 

To take charge of our laws,

We must rally to the cause

With a zealous incantation:

“We are here to save our nation,

And, in Donald’s dazzling vein,

We’ll make Britain great again!”

 

*For at least 30 minutes

**In your pocket

 

PS

 

Wanna know – that’s by the way –

What folk Googled the next day***?

“What’s this construct called EU?”

You are laughing? It is true;

Still, we say: “You know the score,

That’s**** what you have voted for.”

 

***After the 2016 referendum on Britain’s EU membership

****Whatever that is; if the government still (at the beginning of 2018) can’t agree about what sort of Brexit it wants (hard, soft or anything in-between), you can jolly well make up your own wish list and announce that this is exactly what you have voted for – hey ho!

 

94: The Demise of a Publisher – and the Rise of a Phoenix

Grammar and punctuation book cover 2.jpg

It was ten months ago that I proudly announced the impending publication of my linguistic opus, Grammar and Punctuation for Key Stages 3 & 4 with Handy Usage Notes, by First and Best in Education. Well, maybe not quite an opus: I had, in fact, lopped nearly a third off an earlier incarnation of the textbook, which was targeted mainly at the British Key Stage 3 (ages 11-14). But, while the book had been shortened and, I hope, improved, its scope had been widened to include also older students. So all that was left for me to do was to sit back and wait for the royalties to start rolling in. Alas, a few months later I found myself a bewildered recipient of a notification of the demise of my book’s publishing house. How come: they had been going for years! Sadly, it appeared as if they were now going straight into administration.

But what is it they say about doors closing: when one door closes, another slams in your face? No, perhaps not that one, for I definitely wasn’t going to let this setback deflate me. After all, I am now a fully-fledged publisher myself. So my phoenix-like textbook is again in the public domain, as a shiny A4 paperback, elegantly bound, as well as an e-book, both available worldwide. And the best thing is that, with no middlemen to take their cut, I was able to slash the book’s price considerably. The book can be accessed via the links below, via the books page on my website or by Googling its title and author (i.e. me).

Paperback

http://www.lulu.com/shop/anna-nolan/grammar-and-punctuation-for-key-stages-3-4/paperback/product-22988266.html

 E-book

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01N1QVWHD

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01N1QVWHD

 For those interested, here’s a brief description of my textbook. The book gives an introduction to the grammar and punctuation of present-day Standard English in the context of their relevance to communication. Its up-to-date grammatical and punctuation content, rooted in British national literacy strategies, is particularly relevant to Key Stages 3 and 4 (ages 11-16), but the book can be used also for, and by, older students. Its unique selling points include concise notes addressing a range of relevant usage points, a spotlight on the areas which writers tend to find troublesome and authentic examples helping to bring the content to life. While focusing on British English, the book does point out some differences with American English – particularly in the area of grammar. Its main aims are to improve students’ communication skills (particularly written), to constitute an accessible reference source and to serve as an editing handbook.

I hope the book will serve its users well.

 

 

93 – Mini-rant: Dead survivors?

Having been greatly distracted by two momentous events, Brexit and the American election, I’ve been very remiss with this blog. And, let’s face it, language misdemeanours, however diverting, pale into insignificance with what’s going on in the world. But having stumbled across this snippet, widely broadcast by the British media, I’m unable to resist a mini-rant. The revelation came courtesy of an eminent foreign correspondent, who commented on a catastrophic plane crash thus.

There is little hope of finding survivors alive.

Although overcome with an overwhelming sadness, I nevertheless wondered whether there might be some dead survivors – an obvious (to me, at least) interpretation of this tautological statement. As I’ve mentioned in other posts, tautology – saying the same thing twice in different words – is a stylistic fault which is quite common, but the venerable BBC and its reporters might be expected to be above such lapses. What the correspondent should have said is, of course, this.

 There is little hope of finding anybody alive.

Or this.

 There is little hope of finding any survivors.

89 – Grammar shot: Prepositions at the end (busting a myth)

It’s been a long time, but my mammoth task is finally over: I have just finished revising my grammar book for British schools. This explains my silence, although some of you might have found it a welcome break from my ramblings. Although English grammar wouldn’t have changed since 2003, when my work was first published, I desperately wanted to improve the book. To paraphrase the well-known adage, the work of an inveterate reviser is never done!

And what an experience it was. First of all, whatever possessed me, all those years ago, to produce a book of 128,000 words? In the intervening period, I have done a great deal of writing (and an even greater deal of rewriting) and copy editing and have come to prize economy of expression. So I set about pruning, snipping, lopping, chopping off and paring down determinedly. By the time the operation was finished, some 45,000 words had disappeared – yet the book seemed none the worse for it. In fact, I sincerely hope that it has emerged enhanced. Naturally, I have made numerous other improvements, but that’s by the by. What matters is for teachers and students to get as good a deal as I’m capable of offering, and I’ve certainly done my damnedest. The book is now with my publisher, First and Best in Education; I’ll announce its publication with great fanfare. In the meantime, I’ll be posting grammatical and punctuation snippets from my oeuvre, the first coming right up. It aims to bust a popular myth that we mustn’t end sentences with prepositions. Utter nonsense! Here it is.

Busting a myth: prepositions at the end

(From my revised textbook: Grammar and Punctuation for Key Stages 3 & 4)

As the name ‘preposition’ (‘preceding position’) suggests, the preposition usually comes before its complement, although – in some cases – prepositions are placed at the end of sentences. It is thus a myth that we shouldn’t end sentences with a preposition, and people shouldn’t be fed this silly proscription. The examples below show that the end position is obligatory when the prepositional complement becomes the subject.

Prepositional complement following the preposition

He is interested in Rebecca.

Prepositional complement as the subject obligatory preposition at the end

Rebecca is the girl he is interested in.

Prepositional complement following the preposition

I find it difficult to live with her.

Prepositional complement as the subject obligatory preposition at the end

 She is difficult to live with.

Prepositional complement following the preposition

I am passionate about grammar.

Prepositional complement as the subject obligatory preposition at the end

Grammar is what I am passionate about.

Prepositional complement following the preposition

Look at this view!

Prepositional complement as the subject obligatory preposition at the end

This view is worth looking at.

Prepositional complement following the preposition

You must comply with this rule.

Prepositional complement as the subject obligatory preposition at the end

This rule must be complied with.

Prepositional complement following the preposition

You should always listen to sound advice.

Prepositional complement as the subject obligatory preposition at the end

Sound advice should always be listened to.

A few other examples of prepositions commonly appearing at the end of sentences are given below.

What a state you are in!

That’s where I am at.

He has no savings to speak of.

Prepositions are also usually placed at the end of questions and sentences with reduced relative clauses.

Questions

What are you staring at?

Who is she waiting for?

Where are they going to?

Where do you come from?

What is he up to?

Who are they listening to?

Reduced relative clauses

She is the one he’s been waiting for.

This is the subject she is interested in.

That’s the person he lives with.

They are the ones you want to watch out for.

In a more formal register (style), many – though not all – similar sentences will have equivalents in which the preposition is placed before its complement. Such usage, however, is perceived by many as stilted and is rare in speech – apart, perhaps, from the last example.

For whom is she waiting?

To whom are they listening?

She is the one from whom he can’t bear to be parted.

That’s the person with whom he lives.

This is the subject in which she is interested.

In short, you may plonk prepositions at the end to your heart’s content!

 

87 – Grammar shot: Faulty Coordination (From my satirical book: Who’s Put Rat into Bureaucrat?)

Here comes another grammatical sketch from my political satire, Who’s Put Rat into Bureaucrat?

Chapter 10           SOD

“Ha, ha, ha, read this.”

“Which one, Crystal?”

“The last one.”

The e-mail, from Greg, went like this, “Trace phoned earlier today. Her granddad died and won’t be in the office today.”

We were both duly seized by an attack of giggles – slightly unseemly, given the circumstances. Seeing as Greg was in another meeting – possibly Information Technology Implementation Committee or the Marketing and Market Penetration Issues Focus Group – I spotted an opportunity for another little grammatical session with Violet.

“Violet, why don’t you sit next to me for a bit?”

The girl nodded, came over and parked herself in Greg’s chair.

“Have you seen Greg’s e-mail about Trace’s granddad? May he rest in peace.”

“I have; poor Trace.”

“Yes, it’s awfully sad. But have you noticed that Greg actually attempted to resurrect him?”

“He did?”

“He did: he should have written that she wouldn’t be in the office, of course. I call this type of error faulty coordination.”

“What’s coordination?”

“When we link words, phrases and clauses with the coordinating conjunctions and, or or but, for example: ‘We must and will persevere’, ‘Sink or swim’, ‘We are bloodied but unbowed’ – constructions like this.”

“So coordination is not hard?”

“Of course it isn’t – we use it all the time. But as soon as you put a label on it, people panic and think, ‘It’s grammar – I don’t do grammar’. But the point is that we ‘do’ grammar every time we say or write something.”

“Do we?”

“Absolutely. Because grammar is simply about how we arrange words in phrases, clauses and sentences.”

“Is that all?”

“That is all. But there are lots and lots of principles organising language, and we all need to be aware of them. Coordination is one example – it sounds innocuous but can be a minefield.”

“It can?”

“Well, take Greg’s e-mail for a start. Coordination does trip people up all over the place. And, when it goes wrong, it can be quite funny.”

“Do you remember any examples?”

“Lots; many are blunders made by educated adults. Take this: ‘She made friends at school, but never a boyfriend’ – what’s gone wrong there?”

“Hmm, she can’t have made a boyfriend – can she?”

“Of course not. So?”

“But never had a boyfriend?”

“Absolutely! Or this: ‘Thirty years ago, students received full grants and no tuition fees.’”

“Why would students receive tuition fees?”

“Spot on – so?”

“And didn’t have to pay tuition fees?”

“Absolutely. Sometimes, faulty coordination can be genuinely misleading. I’ve just found this in my local newspaper: ‘A wheelie bin was found to be on fire in a passageway and was quickly put out.’”

“The bin?”

“No, the fire. So?”

“And the fire was quickly put out?”

“Absolutely. And that funny notice in our kitchenette: ‘After the tea break, staff should empty the teapot and stand upside down on the draining board’ – it’s a classic. There’s lots of mangled coordination in FART’s bumf as well.”

“Really?”

“Absolutely; listen to this: ‘Students should identify, solve and apply solutions to problems’ – what’s wrong here?”

“You don’t solve solutions?”

“Absolutely. So?”

“Students should identify and solve problems?”

“Spot on. And this: ‘Students should gather, evaluate and present information in the form of a plan’ – what’s gone wrong here?”

“The plan is only about presenting information.”

“Exactly. So?”

“Students should gather and evaluate information and present it in the form of a plan?”

“Absolutely! But there is also pseudo-coordination.”

“Pseudo-coordination?”

“Yes, when people say ‘Try and do’ when they mean ‘Try to do’.”

“That’s what Morag always says,” whispered Violet.

“How about we try and do some work, girls,” said Morag, who had stopped tapping away and was peering at Violet and me over the top of her computer.

 

84 – Frolic: Fused Participles (FROM my book: Don’t Dangle the Investigators! Parodies and Participles)

I have decided that, before I can proceed with further books on grammar, I need to refine what I have already written. Having thus shortened Hilarity with Misrelated Participles, I have re-published it as Don’t Dangle the Investigators! Parodies and Participles. Below is a short extract from the book, in which my Polish granny and I go shopping and, most unexpectedly, find ourselves discussing fused participles.

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­_________________________________________________________________

Granny and I left the gallery and headed for the mackerel. Unfortunately, our way was blocked by three highway-maintenance vehicles, a mechanical digger and a large sign proclaiming Men at Work.

“Those British men, they aren’t terribly modest, child, are they?”

“Why not, granny?”

“Well, our men just go to work and that’s it. But, here, they put up signs.”

“No, no, granny, it’s simply a warning.”

“Do you have to warn people that your men are at work? Is this a rare occurrence?”

“No, no: it’s only when they dig up the road.” Indeed, when we got closer to the sign we could see a large hole in the road, with exposed pipes jutting out from both sides. One highway-maintenance man was peering intently into the hole, another highway-maintenance man was shouting into his mobile phone, two highway-maintenance men, their backs to the hole, their arms akimbo, were ogling the passing females and wolf-whistling at the younger ones, yet another highway-maintenance man was leaning on a shovel and puffing on a fag, and the sixth highway-maintenance man was sitting in the cab of his vehicle reading a newspaper. Well, reading might be stretching it somewhat, for my sneaky peek revealed that the gazette was full of photographs of scantily clad lovelies and appeared to feature very little print, but, one way or the other, he seemed totally engrossed in it.

“Where are they?”

“Who, granny?”

“Those men at work.”

“Here.”

Where?”

“Here, here, these six here.”

“But they are not working.”

“Maybe they are on a break.”

“But it’s not long since lunchtime.”

“It’s probably an early-afternoon break, granny. I imagine they will then have a mid-afternoon break and a late-afternoon break. Unless, of course, they’ve gone home by then.”

“Do they need six men to dig one hole? When they have a digger.”

“A-a-a-a, they might not need six men, but at least they have created employment for six men.”

Having pondered this rationale for a while, granny followed me to the supermarket.

“Where the hell is everything?” Having purchased smoked mackerel at the fish counter, we made for the sauerkraut, but it wasn’t where it was supposed to be. “Blast, they’ve moved everything around again.” We walked up and down several aisles in pursuit of the elusive sauerkraut. “Here it is! We can make you some bigos now; it will remind you of Poland. They call it a hunter’s stew over here.” I grabbed the jar, and we made for the checkout.

“I hope you don’t mind my asking, but where did you find this sauerkraut?” enquired a deep manly voice behind me. I nearly tripped: he said my! I quickly turned round, and, for a brief moment, our gaze became locked. “Of course I don’t mind your asking,” I said with a broadest smile I could muster. “It’s down the next aisle – on the left. By the pickles.” He smiled, nodded his acknowledgement and kept looking at me. It was clear that, in that fleeting moment, there was created a bond of common understanding between us: he knew that I knew. And I knew that he knew that I knew. And he knew that I knew that he knew … anyway, I’m sure you get my drift. Then, granny tugged at my sleeve and hissed, “Stop staring at him like this; you are a married woman.” The spell was broken, the stranger turned away and proceeded in the direction of the pickles, and we made for the checkout.

“Why were you gawping at him?”

“I wasn’t gawping!”

“Yes, you were. You looked as if you’d seen a unicorn.”

“Did I really? Well, he did say my, granny.”

“What was he supposed to have said?”

“You see, many people would have said me: do you mind me asking. But he said my. And I said your – to let him know that I also knew.”

“Is it such a big deal, child?”

“Well, not if you are a well-rounded human being, granny, it isn’t. But you know that I’m mad about grammar, don’t you?”

“If you ask me, it’s the most superior form of madness, child.”

“Thank you, granny. People have been saying things like ‘I hate them misbehaving’, ‘she feared him leaving’ or ‘there is no chance of us winning’ for yonks, of course.”

“Of course, child.”

“A-a-a-a, but that’s just it, granny.”

“That’s just what?”

“Well, the participial constructions such as these make much more sense when their personal pronouns are in the genitive case.”

“What’s the genitive case?”

“A type of possessive.”

“As in their, his and our, child?”

“Absolutely, granny. After all, I’m not trying to say that I hate them, am I?”

“Well, you might be. If they’ve been beastly to you, for example.”

“No, no: I didn’t hate the perpetrators themselves – I hated their misdemeanour.”

“That’s more like you, child.”

“Thank you, granny. So you just say ‘I hate their misbehaving’, and you can rest assured that you won’t be scarring them psychologically for the rest of their natural.”

What?”

What what?”

“Natural what?”

“Life. By the same token, she did not fear him himself, did she?”

“You never know, child: he might have been violent. Or offered to help with the ironing.”

“No, no: she feared his leaving. Changing the case of the personal pronoun from objective to genitive – or possessive – transforms the participle from purely verbal into a hybrid.”

“A hybrid? You mean like a Labradoodle?”

“Great analogy, granny. A hybrid participle has some features of a verb and some of a noun. Hybrid participles are sometimes called gerunds. Whichever label you use, they denote the thing you hate – or the thing she feared.”

“Nimble things, these participles: metamorphosing from verbs into nouns just like that.”

“They certainly are, granny. By contrast, the purely verbal participles in constructions such as ‘them misbehaving’, ‘him leaving’ and ‘us winning’ have been dubbed ‘fused’.”

“By whom?”

“The Fowler brothers. Over a hundred years ago, they heaped condemnation on such usage.”

“Did it work?”

“No, granny; condemnation rarely does; you need far subtler tactics. Anyway, fused participles continue to be widely used. But the thing is that, these days, pretty much all of those who are clued up about grammar agree that, in similar contexts, the genitive case of personal pronouns is vastly preferable to their objective case. Actually, in formal communication the possessive has become the norm. It’s like a litmus test.”

“A litmus test?”

“Yep. You know instantly that people who say ‘I hope you don’t mind my asking’ know their onions – you just know.”

“Onions are every bit as good for the brain as the mackerel.”

“No, no, granny: it’s just a saying – I meant grammar.”

“Indeed, indeed: a well-nourished body will allow one’s mind to fire on all cylinders, and grammar certainly requires all of one’s cylinders to be in tip-top condition; you know what they say.”

“What do they say, granny?”

Mens sana in corpore sano.”

“Absolutely, granny, but even copious quantities of onions and mackerel won’t do the trick if grammar is off the menu.”

“How could grammar possibly be off the menu, child? It’s the structural basis of communication.”

“I know, granny, I know, but they had it off the menu here for decades – I’ve told you. It’s only now that they seem to be waking up to its importance.”

“Well, onions should certainly help there, child: they improve alertness.”

80 – Punctuation shot: Common misuses of the comma

Although there is considerable flexibility in the use of the comma, there are some contexts where this punctuation mark is obligatory; I wrote about this in my previous post. But the comma often puts in an appearance where it’s decidedly unwelcome, some of its common misuses being illustrated below. First, though, a quick summary. Many people assume that the comma corresponds to pauses in speech, but this happens only occasionally. In essence, punctuation is governed largely by grammar. As far as clauses are concerned, those clause elements which ‘belong together’ don’t get separated from each other with the comma, while those elements which are more peripheral to the rest of the sentence do get marked off by the comma – or commas. By the way, clause elements are: subject, verb, object, complement and adverbial.

For example, we don’t separate the subject from its verb – simply because they are buddies: they ‘go together’. But what seems to confuse people is that the subject (as well as the object, complement and adverbial) can be a very long noun phrase. In the sentence: “The lady who arrived early this morning and has since been patiently waiting at the front of what has now become quite a lengthy queue must be retired”, the bit before the verb ‘must be’ is the subject and should not be separated from the verb by the comma because both parts belong together. Needless to say, a sentence can contain even longer noun phrases, and punctuation depends primarily on what function those phrases perform in the sentence – NOT on where we need to draw breath. But, in order to determine the function, one needs to be familiar with at least basic grammatical principles, and this is where problems arise.

In the brief overview below of some common misuses of the comma, the asterisk signals faulty usage.

Before pre-modifying adjective(s) having a closer relationship with the noun being modified than the preceding one(s):

*All students are entitled to broad, general education. (‘General’ is more integral to ‘education’ than ‘broad’, which is why this comma, which would translate into ‘and’, is inadmissible.)

*Virgin Trains offer fast, wireless internet access. (‘Wireless’ is more integral to ‘internet’ than ‘fast’, which is why this comma is inadmissible.)

Between central clause elements (subject, verb, object and complement) – both phrases and clauses:

*Additional copies of this specification, can be purchased from SQA. (Inadmissible comma between the subject and its verb)

*Information about developing skills, is given in all our documents. (Inadmissible comma between the subject and its verb)

*Teachers should remember, that teaching grammar is terribly important. (Inadmissible comma between verb and object)

*It is difficult to obtain from food alone, enough Vitamin E. (Inadmissible comma between verb – followed by an adjunct – and object)

*This slide gives writers, a brief overview of where not to use commas. (Inadmissible comma between two objects)

*Beautiful landscape is, only a part of Cumbria’s appeal. (Inadmissible comma between verb and complement)

With many types of subordinate causes (adjuncts) following the main clause:

*They can go out and play, after they have finished their homework.

*She would help him out, if she could.

*You must tell me, where you two met.

*You should abide by school rules, while you are at school.

*Students will improve their writing, through learning grammar.

*Teachers will have many opportunities, to observe students.

Before adverbial phrases in the final position:

*You should indicate where essential skills are present, across the whole qualification.

*I will call you, from my mobile.

With defining (restrictive) relative clauses:

*The girl, who used to work with me, has moved to Rome.

*Snakes, which are poisonous, are best avoided.

With defining (restrictive) post-modification:

*The lady, standing in the doorway, is our neighbour.

*The procedure, to be followed, is outlined in this manual.

With defining (restrictive) apposition (both phrases and clauses):

*Our friend, Ted, is always ready to help. (Inadmissible commas – provided Ted isn’t our only friend)

*The fact, that this school selects by ability, is widely known.

With defining (restrictive) amplification:

*Languages, such as Polish, are considered difficult by the British.

*The literacy strategy wants methods, such as looking at books, to be used when appropriate.

Needless to say, there are many more ways in which writers misuse commas, but, if I were to list, and exemplify, them all, I would end up with a sizeable tome!

79 – Punctuation shot: The main uses of the comma

Having witnessed much uncertainty, and even helplessness, around the uses of the comma, I have decided to devote this (overdue – apologies) post to this punctuation mark. Those who have read my books will recognise the list below, but I’m sure most of you won’t have come across it, so here it is.

The comma is used:

1  To separate pre-modifying adjectives having a similar relationship with the noun being pre-modified (such commas usually translate into ‘and’):

  • He now eats regular, healthy, substantial meals.
  • They were locked up in a small, cold, damp, dark cell.

2  To separate short items in lists, although usually not before the last one (longer items are best separated with semi-colons):

  • He bought bread, butter, cheese, eggs and coffee. (A comma before ‘and’ would be the so-called Oxford, or serial, comma. Unless it prevents genuine ambiguity, the Oxford comma is usually redundant.)
  • Their march through the jungle was slow, arduous and terrifying. (Ditto)

3  To mark off extra information in non-defining (non-restrictive) relative clauses:

  • Their house, which stands by the river, has been flooded. (Don’t forget to use both correlative commas – some writers do.)
  • She looked at the trembling boy, whose head was bowed.

4  To mark off extra information in other non-defining (non-restrictive) modifying clauses:

  • The year 1979, when he was born, was difficult for the whole family.
  • Poland, where they now live, has avoided sliding into a recession.
  • She gave the little girl, looking frightened, a reassuring hug.  

5  To mark off non-defining (non-restrictive) amplification:

  • Oily fish, such as salmon and tuna, contain important fatty acids.
  • Soap operas, such as Coronation Street, are quite popular in Britain.

6  To mark off extra information in non-defining (non-restrictive) modifying phrases (apposition):

  • Warsaw, my home town, was badly bombed during the war.
  • We’ve just seen David, our new neighbour.

7  To mark off other included units – both phrases and clauses:

  • The protest, I was convinced, had now become essential.
  • All students, during many hours of testing, considerably expanded their powers of recall.

8  To mark off conjuncts = connecting adverbials (adverbials linking sentences, e.g. to begin with, secondly, likewise, furthermore, moreover, besides, in other words, consequently, therefore, however, nevertheless, until then, in those days):

  • I don’t feel like going out. Besides, I have too much reading to catch up on.
  • Extra information is always marked off by commas. In other words, we put commas around those details which are not essential to understanding the sentence.

9  To mark off sentence adverbials (both phrases and clauses):

  • Frankly, I don’t give a damn.
  • Personally speaking, the Lake District is breathtakingly beautiful.

10  To separate coordinated clauses (remove those commas and you’ll see their importance immediately):

  • Teachers valued the guidance of individual officers, and inspectors found their performance satisfactory.  
  • He sold the premises, and the office had to relocate.

11 To mark off subordinate clauses (be that finite, as in [a] and [b]; non-finite, as in [c] and [d]; or verbless, as in [e]) preceding main clauses:

  • Although they tried hard, they didn’t win.
  • If you had asked me, I would have helped you.
  • Having failed her repeatedly, he was unable to regain her trust.
  • To be a good writer, you have to know how language works.
  • When in Rome, do as the Romans do.

12  To mark off phrases in the initial position (particularly where the absence of the comma would result in ambiguity, as in [a] and [b]):

  • In all, 5,000 schools were affected.
  • The day after, it was dumped.
  • In schools throughout the country, discontent was beginning to take hold.

13  To mark off some types of subordinate causes (disjuncts) following the main clause (although many subordinate clauses in non-initial positions are not preceded by a comma):

  • His work is highly acclaimed, for it has revolutionised our thinking about the issue.
  • Her poems are becoming popular, since they have struck a real chord with readers.
  • I managed to meet the deadline, although it certainly wasn’t easy.

14  With direct speech (although some writers use a colon to introduce direct speech):

  • Everybody shouted, “Get out now!”
  • “If you give up now,” she said to them, “you’ll regret it later.”

15 When addressing living creatures (see what happens when you remove each comma):

  • These are good, folk.
  • Don’t blame them, guys.
  • They are attacking, Ant.
  • Fetch, Rex!

16 With entreaties:

  • No dogs, please. (On this comma hangs the reputation of a man’s best friend.)
  • Desist, I beseech you.

17 With interjections:

  • Wow, that’s a lot of committees.
  • Well, how about it? 

Needless to say, the comma has also other uses. Important though it is, however, it often pops up in most unexpected places, in many of which it is decidedly unwelcome. But that’s the subject for another day.

PS

I’m sorry for not having been able to standardise line spacing in this post. While some people have problems with the comma, I struggle with formatting. Oh well, we all have our cross to bear!

78 – Frolic: When editors fall asleep on the job

Finally, they have cracked it! The venerable Oldie has just provided an answer to the question which has been vexing us for ages.

“The overwhelming majority of climate scientists accept that climate change is occurring thanks to factual evidence gathered over decades and more.”

So that is why climate change is occurring – fancy that! And what length of time is more than decades? Some more decades? Careless word order is at the root of many a misunderstanding, yet a moment of reflection (aka editing, a concept which seems alien to some) is all it is likely to take to prevent similar slip-ups. Usually, moving an unfortunately placed phrase or clause does the trick.

Thanks to factual evidence gathered over decades, the overwhelming majority of climate scientists accept that climate change is occurring.

Meanwhile, the editor of Your Money section of The Daily Telegraph had me utterly baffled with this sentence.

“You battled long and hard to get redress without success.”

I imagine getting redress without success would be nigh on impossible. Yet all it takes to make this oxymoron disappear is one, judiciously positioned, comma.

You battled long and hard to get redress, without success.

Alternatively:

You battled long and hard, albeit without success, to get redress.

Not a Guardian devotee, I was nevertheless hooked by an article on multiculturalism. Having been appointed professor of public policy at Stanford University, the author, originally from Canada, was waxing lyrical about becoming an American citizen. And not only did the professor expose the abject failure of multiculturalism in Western Europe – he also made a ground-breaking anthropological discovery. The latter went like this:

“The judge actually told us we now had equal rights to anyone in the country who had lived there for 3,000 years.”

Where the US leads, the rest of the world follows, so I rejoiced at the prospect of such phenomenal longevity. Alas, I quickly realised that what the professor must have been trying to say is this:

The judge told us we now had the same rights as anyone whose ancestry in the country went back 3,000 years.

Even so, one needs to plan for one’s retirement, which is why I devour articles on pensions. Imagine the extent of my discombobulation when I read this in The Daily Telegraph.

“Annuities provide a guaranteed income for the rest of someone’s life in retirement, but when they die the pension dies with them.”

So what is one supposed to do when one’s annuity dies? Having been diligently saving into a private pension, I began to panic – only to remind myself that pronouns are often used in ways which obscure their reference. Phew!

Annuities provide a guaranteed retirement income for the rest of someone’s life, but, when the person dies, the pension dies with them.

Finally, in an interview to The Sunday Telegraph an Italian chef goes a boast too far with a description of his six-acre kitchen.

“My villa has eight bedrooms, a cinema room, outside kitchen and inside kitchen set in six acres with a vineyard and private lake.”

Why such nonsense should ever be allowed to slip the editorial net is hard to fathom.

My villa has eight bedrooms, a cinema room and not only an inside but also an outside kitchen and is set in six acres with a vineyard and private lake.

This is what happens when sub-editors fall asleep on the job.