Sunday, October 26, 2008

46. Commas with Introductory Sentence Elements

Hello, Everybody, and welcome back to another grammar lesson--and this time, we will continue with a closer look at some more punctuation problems. Have you ever seen a sentence with too many commas? Not enough commas? Commas in the wrong place? This happens too frequently, resulting in confusing sentences, and I know you don't want others to misunderstand what you mean when you write your thoughts down. Right? So...let's check these comma rules out.

Our first rule is this: Use a comma after introductory words, mild interjections, or adverbs at the beginning of a sentence.

Here are some examples:

1. Well, he won't get bow-legged carrying his brains.

Here, "Well..." is simply an introductory word in the sentence. There's a natural pause after it, and we notice that it actually
doesn't add anything to the meaning of the sentence. In other words, it's parenthetical or a digression from the main idea of the
sentence. If "Well..." were left out, its meaning would not be affected, although it does add a bit of conversational style.

2. Wait, we're fixin' to spray the gallonnippers off that puddle of water right now.

In this sentence, we have the same general rule at work. "Wait..." is a mild interjection this time, followed by a natural pause and
is not necessary to the meaning of the sentence.

3. However, I will have some of those chicken dumplings and cornbread.

Finally, we see here the adverb "However..." at the beginning of this sentence. Once again, this simple introductory word
could be omitted from the sentence without changing its meaning. "However..." is, though, an important transitional word used
for coherence in writing.

Note: Some of you may wonder why I haven't mentioned that quite often, the comma following an introductory word CAN be
omitted in some sentences. Okay. So now I'll say it : As long as there is no confusion with the meaning of the sentence, you
most certainly have that option.

And's second rule follows:

Use a comma after a series of prepositional phrases at the beginning of a sentence.

Here are some examples of this rule:

1. From my seat at the end of the table, I listened to Grandma as I devoured her country ham and red-eye gravy.

Here, "From my seat...", " the end...", and "... of the table..." are three prepositional phrases, back to back. Therefore, we need to place
a comma after the last one, making the meaning perfectly clear.

2. Under that table by the fireplace, Jerome's dog lay, proud as a dog with two tails.

The two back-to-back prepositional phrases, "Under that table..." and " the fireplace..." once again need to be followed
by a comma. How easy is that?

And now...for today's final rule:

A SINGLE prepositional phrase at the beginning of a sentence does not need to be followed by a comma unless the comma is needed for clarity.

1. On Saturday our family enjoyed Whiteville High School's production of DRACULA.

Since "On Saturday..." is just one prepositional phrase, no comma is needed...but notice the difference here:

2. Before the recent hit, OKLAHOMA was WHS's most popular production.

Without a comma following "...hit...", we might infer that OKLAHOMA was the school's most popular production,
rather than DRACULA, or that the sentence is too confusing to understand.

I'll now end with a suggestion about commas I heard many years ago: "When it doubt, leave it out!" Keep this in mind and you'll see what a great help it can be.

Well, this brings us to an end for today's lesson. I hope you've all learned something and can remember to use what you've learned! Have a great week, enjoy our beautiful Columbus County weather, and be happy. Remember that I love hearing from you and appreciate your suggestions for topics. Peace and happiness, GG

Sunday, October 12, 2008

45. Uncomplicating Commas in a Series

45. Uncomplicating Commas in a Series

Hey, Everyone, and I hope today's been a good day for you. This lesson addresses another rule that people tend to get confused about occasionally, so let's see if we can clear this one up.

Have you ever had trouble with commas? Our language has lots of uses for commas, but we will start with one that shouldn't be too difficult. We'll continue with some of the other ones in the weeks to follow.

What do you know about...commas in a series?

The rule says that we should use commas... AFTER ALL BUT THE LAST ITEM OR ELEMENT IN A SERIES.

Now...first, you need to be sure that you understand the word "series" in this context, so here's the definition:

A series consists of three or more WORDS...PHRASES...or CLAUSES in a sentence.

1. Here's an example of WORDS in a series:

The Columbus County Fair entertained many folks this year with rides, agricultural competitions, and spelling bees among other delightful activities.

Notice in this sentence that there are commas after "rides,"and "competitions", illustrating that these two words are the "items in a series" that demand commas. However, since "bees" is the last item in the series, no comma is needed. So easy, right?

Be sure you pay attention to the idea that these "items" in a series can be more than three and that they can fall anywhere in the sentence...such as in the following...

Whiteville, Tabor City, Chadbourn, Fair Bluff, Lake Waccamaw, and Hallsboro are six towns or communities in North Carolina's third largest county, Columbus.

Commas follow the name of each community or town...but this time there are six "items" in the series, with commas following the first five, but NOT the sixth since, again, we don't put a comma after the last item. Are you with me?

Assuming that you are, we'll move on to the second rule for using items in a series:

2. Commas should also be used with three or more PHRASES in a series. A PHRASE is a group of related words that do not have a subject and verb. We have talked about prepositional phrases before, so just think about that. In prepositional phrases we see things like this: in the country, over the bridge, around the corner, in the cow patch, etc. We also see other types of phrases sometimes in sentences, but the one thing that all have in common is that they do not have a subject and verb. here's an example of PHRASES in a sentence:

Some language experts say that at least five different dialects of English are spoken today in North Carolina: on the Outer Banks, in the central piedmont, in the mountains, by highly educated folks, and by the uneducated.

In this sentence, there are four commas following each location or groups of people and, once more, the final "item" needs no comma--it does, however, need a period since "uneducated" ends the sentence.

And... finally...the third rule about items in a series:

3. Commas should be used with three or more CLAUSES in a series. A CLAUSE is a group of related words with a subject and verb. When this happens, we say we are using CLAUSES in a series in a particular sentence. So...let's see if you're still hanging in there..Check the following example:

Many Southerners believe that everybody has to look out of his own keyhole, that the dinner bell is always in tune, and that a closed mouth gathers no foot.

In this sentence of funny Southern sayings, commas follow "keyhole" and "tune" because both words end their CLAUSES. Again, there's no comma needed after the final "item", but since "foot" ends the sentence, only a period is needed.

Also, note the subjects and verbs in the three different clauses: In the first clause, EVERYBODY is the subject and HAS is the verb. In the second clause, BELL is the subject and IS is the verb, and in the third clause, MOUTH is the subject and GATHERS is the verb.

ALERT! Now I know there are some of you who are wondering why I haven't said that the comma coming before the conjunction (and, but, or) in the series can be omitted. The truth is that this is another one of those language changes that often happens, particularly if a language is in constant use...and you can be sure that's true of English. Yes, it's so. You CAN omit the comma before the conjunction if you like. That's an option nowadays. For English teachers like me, though, it's tough to relax the rule I learned, so I have given you the more "formal" option to use--particularly in Standard English. Nevertheless, either way is fine. Take your choice.

...And so... we come to the end of another lesson. I hope this has helped you if you've had trouble with this rule. There are other comma rules we'll be reviewing--some we most certainly need to get corrected, so stay tuned for more info about commas. Meanwhile, let me know if you have any questions and any ideas for topics we haven't covered. Carpe diem to all with peace, love, and laughter. GG

Sunday, October 5, 2008

44. Is It A or AN, Mr. Anchorman?

Hello, again, Everybody. It's good to have you back, ready to tackle some more grammar problems. Today's lesson is such a simple one that you should be able to master it in no time at all.

Have you ever heard anyone make a mistake like the following?

" Judy wrote her friend a thank-you note expressing appreciation for AN unique gift."


" Lillian has AN one-year subscription to People magazine."

If so, you are in good company, since it seems that lots of folks learned this rule ...but only part of it.

Here's the rule: "A" is used before consonant SOUNDS and "AN" is used before vowel SOUNDS without any regard for whether the letter is a consonant or vowel.

Did you remember all of this rule...especially the part about SOUNDS?

It appears that what most people do is interpret the rule this way: "A" precedes all consonants and "AN" precedes all vowels. Not so! As with so many other rules, there are exceptions and here they are:

We seem to find more problems with words that begin with "H" ( a consonant letter), "U" (a vowel letter) and "O" (another vowel letter.)

"H" is silent at the beginning of just a few words: hour, honest, herbal . When this happens, "AN" precedes the word: an hour, an honest man, an herbal cup of tea,etc. When "H" is not silent, "A" precedes the word: a history book, a historical figure, a hurricane, etc.

"AN" is also used when the word following the article is a short "U" as seen in these words: an uncle, an umbrella, and an undertaker. Notice that even though these three words begin with the vowel "U", they don't sound like a long "U" . Therefore, we must classify them as an exception to the rule for another reason.

"A" is also used before words that have a "yew" or long "A" sound: a eulogy, a Utah student, a university, etc. Therefore, even though the examples here begin with a vowel, the correct word to use is "A", not "AN" because eulogy, Utah, and university begin with a "yew" or long "A" sound.

...And that's all there is to it. Pretty easy, huh? I hope this makes sense to you! I'm signing off for another day, wishing the very best to all. Thanks for the continued comments and suggestions for new lessons. I love hearing from you! Peace, happiness, and laughter, GG