Tag Archives: grammar

Brian Clark of Copyblogger,on Grammar Goofs

This is a post where I basically get to go, “What he said!” Brian Clark,, at Copyblogger, produced a great illustrated chart that covers several spelling and grammar errors that can make one’s writing look bad. Make no mistake: if you use “your” when you really meant “you’re” (as in “you are”), it does get noticed, and it does plant a subliminal idea that you may not be as great a writer as you think. So if you’re prone to these mistakes, study the right usages till you know them — cold.

I give you, with permission: 15 Grammar Goofs That Make You Look Silly:

15 Grammar Goofs That Make You Look Silly
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Filed under * Language

Elements of Style vs. Eats, Shoots & Leaves

When you’re looking for writing resources, often the first thing people mention is a little book called The Elements of Style by William Strong & E.B. White. (The book is frequently referred to not with its title, but simply as “Strunk & White.”) It’s a collection of a few grammatical rules and some style rules that Strong, and his later editor White thought everyone should follow if they wanted to write properly.

I’m not the only voice in the wilderness that speaks against this book, but those of us who don’t like it much are certainly in a minority.

It’s not that I think it doesn’t matter that you write grammatically or with proper style — I do. I just don’t think this book is that great at teaching what good style is. There are a few useful tidbits in there, so I still think the book is worth reading. I’m in general agreement, for example, about trying not to overuse the passive voice (e.g. instead of the passive “the field was covered by now,” I’d prefer the more active “snow covered the field”).

But other style books, in my opinion, are more useful. And when it comes to a quick-yet-entertaining summary of good grammar, in my opinion nothing beats Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynn Truss. I have never seen a book that helps you understand commas, apostrophes, other punctuation, and general grammar so thoroughly, while still making it interesting and fun.

Truss and I don’t agree completely; few grammarians do. If you saw my earlier post on the Oxford Comma, you know my opinion about that. Truss’s very book title demonstrates why it’s needed — at least sometimes. As an illustration of how she handles even thorny topics like this with great humour, notice how she remarks,

There are people who embrace the Oxford comma and people who don’t, and I’ll just say this: never get between these people when drink has been taken.

So I’d suggest looking in other places for style suggestions, but as a quick resource you want on your desk, Truss’s book is the best.

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Filed under * Punctuation, * Style tips

My brother and me

I bet you’re just wanting to cringe right now, or take a pen and correct the title of this post right on your screen. I can hear people shrieking, “It’s supposed to be ‘my brother and *I*‘!!”

Well, no. And that’s an error that a lot of people make, partly because teachers have been hammering it home for years: you can’t say things like “My brother and me went to the mall.” You have to say “My brother and I.”

And yet both usages are correct, in certain circumstances. But how do you know the right circumstances, so you get it right every time? I could go into the grammar (because there is a grammatical explanation for both, subject versus object, blah blah blah), but I’ve got a method that’s much easier to remember.

Any time you would just say “me” if you were only talking about yourself — you still say “me” if you’re talking about yourself and someone else. And any time you’d say “I” instead, you say “I” when you add someone else to the sentence.

You’d never say, “Me went to the mall.” So you’d never say “My brother and me went to the mall.” In that case, “My brother and I” is the correct form.

Similarly, you’d never say, “She talked to I.” No, you’d say, “She talked to me.” So that means if your brother is there, it would be, “She talked to my brother and me.”

Isn’t that easy?

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Filed under * Writing tips

This, that, and the other reason for the Oxford Comma

I have to say that I’m very happy when I read this post, from Tomato Nation, about why we need the Oxford Comma.

That’s the comma which, in a long list of things, either comes before the second last thing or — in some people’s view — does not get inserted there, so that the last two things in the list don’t have a comma between them.

An example of such a list would be, say, a list of colours: red, orange, green, blue, indigo, and violet. The Oxford Comma is the one between indigo and violet. Those who are opposed to this usage would do the list like this: red, orange, green, blue, indigo and violet.

The fight between the pro- and anti-Oxford camps has been long and sometimes full of rage. The trend these days seems to be to remove the comma, so if I’m editing in a style that goes that way, I try to comply. I suspect this goes with the current trend to try to remove as many commas as possible while retaining the sense of the sentence.

But if left on my own (or in my own writing), I will always use the Oxford Comma, because as far as I’m concerned, it fulfills the requirement of good editing and writing: it makes things unambiguous and clear.

Take a list of pairs of things. Here’s how such a list would look without the Oxford comma:

A cup and saucer, knife and fork, cream and sugar and bowl and platter.

I suppose the anti-Oxford people would say that it’s still clear that “bowl and platter” are one entity, separate from “cream and sugar;” otherwise there wouldn’t be that “and” between them. But there are other sentences, with several things in a list, that are much less clear.

When I was a kid in grade 7, I worked this out for myself, having no idea there was any controversy about it. I decided that I would use a comma after every item prior to the last one, to make it absolutely clear which items were individual entities. I wouldn’t risk anyone confusing the last two items as one thing. It seemed so logical to me that I wasn’t even aware that it could be disputed.

As I said, when I’m editing I follow the style chosen by the writer or, more often, the publisher or organization putting out the document. But whenever I’m allowed to have my own way, I go with the choice that makes things clearer. At least I know I’m not alone.

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Filed under * Editing choices