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A Grammar PSA

Today is National Grammar Day!

I love grammar. I'm a geek like that (and in other ways, too). It certainly stems from my love of language and writing. But not only do I love grammar, I'm really very good at it. I got my undergrad degree as an English major, and my graduate degree in Journalism and Mass Communication. I started my IT career as a technical writer. To this day at work, I'm called The Grammar Queen. During document reviews, I'm the one who always does the grammar check while reviewing.

In fact, I can't help but notice grammar mistakes whenever I read, including published books which have been through a gazillion reviews and edits.

Don't be scared, though! I may notice the mistakes, but I will point them out only if you ask me to. Not only that, I fully believe in different levels of writing, some of which don't have to adhere to grammar standards like text messaging/IMing. And in blogging, emailing and other forms of casual writing? I totally believe in breaking those rules of grammar (as is evidenced in the previous sentence). I prefer to write as I would speak on my blog. In addition, I'm awful at spelling and am constantly using spell check or looking up words in online dictionaries.

However, there are some common mistakes I've noticed over the years in the blogs I read. So I thought I would do a Grammar Public Service Announcement (PSA) in honor of National Grammar Day. Here are some grammar mistakes that we all should try to avoid:

1. Comprise/Compose.
Many people misuse the word "comprise." I use this simple phrase to remember when to use which:
-Part comprise a whole; a whole is composed of parts.

Correct: Many pieces comprise the toy.
Correct: The toy is composed of many pieces.
Incorrect: The toy is comprised of many pieces.

2. Punctuation with quotation marks.
Here's the thing about American English quotation marks: the punctuation goes inside the quotation marks. If you are writing for a British audience, then you put punctuation that is not part of the quote outside the marks. But in American English, the only punctuation that can go outside the marks is a question mark if it is not part of the direct quote. Also, American English uses single quotation marks only for quotes within quotes (unlike British English).

Correct: My daughter says "ballerlay" instead of "ballet."
Incorrect: My daughter calls her socks with lace ruffles "ballerlay socks".

Correct: Did my daughter just say "ballerlay socks"?
Correct: My husband ask, "Is she talking about her socks with ruffles?"

Correct: I also started calling them "ballerlay socks."
Incorrect (unless you are writing in British English): I hope she never stops calling them 'ballerlay socks'.

3. Misuse of commas:
I am one of the few people I know who know, and use correctly, commas every single time. I know when they are required, I know when they are optional but still fine to use, and I know when they are just wrong. I don't expect everyone to use this perfectly every time. Heck, I might misuse them on purpose to make something more clear--no, no I wouldn't.

Here are the general rules for commas:
-If you have two independent clauses (phrases with a subject and a verb), you have to use a comma before the conjunction (the "and," "or," "but," etc.).
Correct: The Pookie woke up only once last night, and the Pumpkin didn't come in our bed until after 5:00.

-If there is only one subject for two verbs, you do not use a comma.
Correct: The Pookie is sitting up and crawling!
Incorrect: The Pookie looked at his sister, and laughed.

-Use the comma for introductory phrases and for both sides of parenthetical phrases.
-Correct: This morning, I was woken up, at least once, by each being in my house.

-The serial comma (the comma that comes prior to the conjunction in a series of items listed in the sentence) is a stylistic choice. Either use it or don't, but be consistent throughout what you are writing.
Correct: I was up with the Pookie, the cat, the Pumpkin, Londo's alarm and the dog.
Correct also: I had to nurse, clean up throw up, escort my daughter into our room with books, try to sleep through loud music, and get throw up in a towel.

There are more, but this is SO long already. And who wants to read about grammar? For those rare people that do, check these out:
-Top Ten Grammar Myths
-How to Use a Semicolon


Jac said…
I'm not really a grammar geek - but I do have my pet peeves.

"Quote" is a verb. "Quotation" is a noun. People often use quote when they mean quotation - and rarely use quotation at all. That bothers me.
paola said…
You forgot to mention comma use in relative clauses:

I was speaking to the man who lives in the blue house. (no comma as 'who lives..' is a defining clause)

I was speaking to John, who lives in the blue house. ( comma as 'who live...' is a non-defining clause.)

I used to be a grammar queen a long time ago, when I lived in an English speaking country, before I had children, before I became a SAHM!! I was the reference for grammar trivia, now I am barely coherent. Oh well.

I was telling hubby just last night that if I ever got my own blog the sole aim would be to improve my written expression, especially my spelling which is embarassingly bad ( and I don't know how to set the spell check to British English on this computer!). My only practice is commenting in blogsville and writing e-mails. No wonder my writting stinks.
mom2boys said…
LOVE IT! :) I'm such a geek, too. Only I'm a geek with no skills. (Geek wanna be?) Fragments, run-on sentences, and misuse of commas are all in my writing. My dad has a master's degree in creative writing. He and his wife are both high school English teachers, but they don't judge me either. :)
Becoming Mommy said…
I will confess, my grammar is typically quite terrible.
But then, I'm a chemist. The only construct of letters we had drilled into us was IUPAC nomenclature and mathematical language.

I can't help but notice errors when listening to people discuss math or science, and it often takes all my strength to keep from becoming a fact nazi.
caramama said…
@Jac - I did not realize that! From now on, I will be sure to use quote/quotation correctly! Thanks for the tip.

@paola - Good addition for the comma rules! There are a bunch more, but I had to stop myself somewhere. I've found blogging to be great for practicing my writing, working on my style and even getting back into my poetry writing.

@mom2boys - My mom still corrects my grammar. It's why I'm careful not to correct other people unless they want me to. I was frustrating growing up with a mom who corrected my grammar, although now I am thankful and have told her to keep correcting me when I get something wrong.

@Becoming Mommy - I feel exactly like you say about noticing errors in math and science. It can be hard to restrain myself, but unless it's a document going to a client, I try to let it go. And if you ever see me have an error in my math or science (if I ever touch on those topics), please correct me!
Cloud said…
I'm afraid my grammar is all muddled from years of living with a speaker of New Zealand English (which is closer to the Queen's English than American English, but is not exactly the same).

And don't even get me started about how I now call parking lots "car parks".

(See, I just punctuated like a Brit. I can't help myself.)
songbird said…
I put punctuation outside the quotation marks out of protest. I hate that rule and think it should be the other way. It's confusing with sentences like, Your password is "password." ... no, actually the password is "password" and the punctuation *should* go outside the quote, dammit!
caramama said…
@Cloud - I am lucky to live with another English major. We even have conversations and debates about grammar. Did I say lucky? Doomed to be a total nerd might be more like it.

@songbird - I actually hate the punctuation with quotation marks rule as well! I think the Brits have it right by including only punctuation that is part actually part of the quotation. And in fact there is another exception to the punctuation/quotation rule: you can place the punctuation outside of the quotation marks if it otherwise would cause confusion. The example you have is a perfect one of that scenario.

@Jac - I might take back what I said earlier. I might continue to use "quote" as a noun. It's just easier and sounds smoother than constantly saying/writing "quotation." Sorry!
How about misplaced "only"s? Hint: you have one in your blog post! :P
Jac said…
Ha ha - the quote/quotation things is only my pet peeve - I shudder every time I hear it. However, I think the use of "quote" as a noun is becoming the more common usage and the grammar books will probably be amended on that point, at which time I will be an annoying old biddy insisting that the "way we did it" is the only way.

I also prefer punctuation outside of quotation marks, but being in Canada - that's permitted. The only real difficulty it caused me was when I very carefully edited a first draft of my husband's book a few years, and his publisher (American)went through and changed it all to put the punctuation inside the quotation marks. I was pretty livid (feeling rather personally attacked) until I realised the rules were different in American English grammar. Previously, I had thought that the differences were only spelling related (color v. colour, center v. centre).
caramama said…
@Two Shorten the Road - Gah! Thanks. I fixed it--I hope! I apparently used the word "only" a lot. Was there only one instance of incorrect usage?

@Jac - I'm that way with "irregardless." I don't care what the internets or webster says, it's NOT A WORD! And when I'm old(er) and gray(er), I will still cringe and insist it's not a word even though everyone is using.
caramama said…
P.S. All the examples are true stories! Isn't the "ballerlay" so cute?!
Maria said…
I love grammar! I will be happy to participate in grammar debate and conversation with you anytime!

@Jac & @caramama: My grandmother drilled the quote/quotation rule into me mercilessly, as well as the hopefully/I hope rule (hopefully modifies a verb: "'I really want a pony for my birthday,' she said hopefully," not a sentence: "Hopefully the pony will be delivered in time."). I was an insufferable prig about using them properly.

Although, I just looked up hope/hopefully on the Grammar Girl website and she makes a strongish argument that "hopefully" ought to be allowed as a sentence modifier. Now "hopefully" is starting to look really funny to me.

I admit that now that I'm all grown up and no longer prey to my grandmother's grammar lectures I often use both "quote" and "hopefully" incorrectly because it sounds so pompous to do it right. At the same time, every time I misuse either word I do a little internal wince. It's a dilemma!
Julie said…
You were the one who helped me out with the whole lay/lie confusion. You are a QUEEN!
hush said…
Some rules were meant to be broken. Um, now I'm really self-conscious. Grammarians, please don't read my blog! :) Or if you do, please don't judge!

I am a terrible writer - I can't seem to grasp so many grammar rules. And now I live in a place where poor grammar seems to make me come across as more normal. On the bright side though-- I am a good talker, and my spoken grammar is a million times better than my written grammar.
Geeks in Rome said…
I hereby (do commas separate "hereby?") nominate Caramama and Paola to be my comma gurus.

I SUCK at commas (and mixed fractions). I must have been out sick that week in 5th grade. The only rule I remember for using them is before "but" and setting off "therefore" oh, and "however" gets them, too.

I over-compensate (see above) and would put a comma everywhere if I could. (and parentheses) (I looove parentheses)

I vote you do a special entry just on commas :)

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