Apr 10, 2007

when it comes to punctuation, nothing is easy

As an English teacher and sometime grammar blogger, I appreciate anyone's attempt to make grammar understandable in non-grammatical terms. Michael Leddy has created five simple rules for punctuation:
Nothing that follows is meant to substitute for the nuanced explanations of what’s usually called a writing handbook, the sort of book that college students purchase in a first-semester writing course. These five rules though have the virtue of being manageable, which is difficult to say of a 1,000-page book.
I leave it to the reader to find a home for the two missing commas.

[via Joe Carter]

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'm going to guess that the commas go around the word "though". Did I get it?

Jim Anderson said...

Yes. Your prize is a combination of self-worth, dignity, and pride.

Aaron said...

The comma after dignity is no longer necessary in proper grammar. Speaking of blogs, and grammar, there is this interesting idea: a blogging council on blogging grammar.

Jim Anderson said...

Aaron is partly right: the "Oxford comma" is necessary only in cases where it clears up ambiguity. Wikipedia explains.

Otherwise, it's largely a matter of style--which is why nothing is easy.

Michael Leddy said...

I appreciate the careful attention you've given to my Lifeack post.

In the sentence that you quoted, commas would certainly be okay before and after though, but I don't think that they're necessary. Diana Hacker's Bedford Handbook for Writers gives the following advice: "If a transitional expression blends smoothly with the rest of the sentence, calling for little or no pause in reading, it does not need to be set off with a comma." I think of that sort of comma as seasoning -- add if you like, omit if you like. We might disagree about whether the word though blends smoothly. I just didn't want you to think that I was merely careless in omitting those commas.

I wrote some more about the serial comma in a follow-up post for Lifehack, "How to punctuate more sentences." My preference is to include the comma before the final item -- doing so simplifies the question of how to punctuate. Put the comma in, and someone will say it's unneeded; leave it out, and someone else will think you've made a mistake.

Your blog looks like interesting reading -- I'll be looking again.

Jim Anderson said...

Actually, Michael, that perfectly illustrates the point: good writers can disagree over the comma. (I recently went over punctuation with my English classes, but skipped the comma, telling them I'd save it for a day all its own.)

I'm not sure why I prefer the commas, though I think it's because of the alternate use of "though" exemplified in this sentence. That slight ambiguity leads me to add them, so the reader has no possibility of even the slightest stumble.

I'm definitely sending my students your way whenever I'm too lazy or tired to explain the nuances.