Tag Archives: English

Authors Answer 132 – The Oxford Comma

What is the Oxford comma? I found this definition:

a comma used after the penultimate item in a list of three or more items, before ‘and’ or ‘or’ (e.g. an Italian painter, sculptor, and architect ).

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? But why is it such a controversial topic? Is it important to use the Oxford comma? Is it even needed? In many cases, it’s absolutely required to avoid confusion. It’s not always needed in every list, but should we be using it? We talk about that this week.

Question 132 – Do you use the Oxford comma? Why or why not? Give your own example where you would need to use the Oxford comma.

Tracey Lynn Tobin

I do use the Oxford comma, and I personally think everyone should. For one thing, we really should have a set rule so that it stops being such a constant debate. For another, there are just too many sentences that can be turned into nonsense if you neglect to use the Oxford comma. For instance, “Let me introduce you to my boyfriend, my doctor and a rock star” describes one guy with an impressive resume, whereas, “Let me introduce you to my boyfriend, my doctor, and a rock star,” describes an introduction to three separate people.

Gregory S. Close

I think I prefer the Oxford comma.  It just makes sense to me.  There is and should be a difference between: “My heroes are my parents, Aragorn and Arwen. “ and  “My heroes are my parents, Aragorn, and Arwen.”  Unless, you know, your parents are actually Aragorn and Arwen, which is theoretically possible, I guess.

D. T. Nova

I use it most of the time. I would avoid it in the rare situation where it would increase ambiguity rather than decrease it.
“Universal Studios has rides featuring the Men in Black, Jimmy Fallon and Harry Potter.”

Eric Wood

I do use the Oxford Comma. I was taught that it was required and old habits die hard. “I have to thank my parents, Einstein and Beyonce.” It should read, “I have to thank my parents, Einstein, and Beyonce.” My parents are NOT Einstein and Beyonce and that’s how it reads without that Oxford.

Paul B. Spence

Yes, yes I do. I use it because it is the only way to write clearly and be understood. Those who do not use it will be misunderstood, misread, and the subject of schadenfreude. Note the use in the previous sentence.

Jean Davis

I do prefer the Oxford comma, however, I seem to find myself not automatically using it as often as I used to. There are so many good meme examples of why the comma is important, I think I’ll leave it at use the comma anywhere you don’t want to completely change the meaning of your sentence, like eating grandma or turning Hitler and Stalin into strippers.

H. Anthe Davis

I use it where necessary for the sense of the sentence, but I don’t use it religiously.  I actually find the typical construction pretty crude/boring; if I’m going to talk about a collection of things, it’s either going to be two for swiftness or a larger handful for variety.  Three drags on just a little too long for the first and isn’t complex enough for the second.  I wish I could search my documents for Oxford commas to give real examples, but I would use them for listing something that could be skimmed over and become confusing without a comma — say ‘She gathered red beets, greens, and white beans’ so that someone reading quickly wouldn’t think it was ‘she gathered red beets, green and white beans’.  The Oxford comma definitely has its use as a pause/break-up mechanism, but unless there’s a clarity-related reason for it, I don’t usually bother.

Elizabeth Rhodes

Yes, I use it whenever necessary. I have been told by some beta readers that it’s unnecessary, but I feel it’s a small gesture to make the writing as clear as possible. My favorite example to illustrate this is “We invited the strippers, JFK, and Stalin” vs “We invited the strippers, JFK and Stalin.”

Jay Dee Archer

I always use it. I’m in a habit to insert that comma before the “and” to avoid confusion. It makes it easier, really. If I’m always checking my list to see if there would be any confusion, it takes more time. The Oxford comma makes lists clearer.

When I was teaching English, I made up a few examples of where the Oxford comma was required and how it changed the meaning if I excluded it. I wish I could remember some of the sentences. But here’s one I thought of involving food: “For lunch, I had my favourite pie, calamari and coffee.” Sounds disgusting. Calamari and coffee pie? Or how about this one: “I enjoy taxidermy, animals and children.” Basically, I said that I enjoy doing taxidermy on both animals and children. Add the Oxford comma, then it becomes clear.

How about you?

Join the debate! Do you use the Oxford comma? What are your favourite examples where the Oxford comma would be required? Let us know in the comments section below.

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Authors Answer 131 – Grammatically Difficult

English is not an easy language. It’s said to be one of the more difficult languages because of inconsistent spelling/pronunciation rules, irregular verbs, articles, and so on. But do authors find English grammar difficult? Let’s find out!

Question 131 – Which rule(s) of English grammar do you find most difficult?

H. Anthe Davis

I had a rather substandard English grammar education — I never diagrammed sentences and I didn’t know what a gerund was until I learned about it in Spanish class.  I think it was because I went to a weird little private middle school…  But anyway, since I never got rigid training in English grammar, I really just do whatever I want, and damn the rules.  Sure, I tried reading Strunk & White and other such writing advisories back when I was still honing my craft and uncertain of my voice, but adhering to strictures just got in the way for me.  I’m much happier not caring.

Jean Davis

For the life of me, I always seem to get lay and lie wrong. I blame my elementary teachers for not thoroughly drilling that into our young brains.

Paul B. Spence

English was not the first language I learned, and so I sometimes have some trouble with word order. As a follower of the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis, I am a living example of how language shapes the brain. My first language was ASL (American Sign Language) and so I think kinetically.

Eric Wood

Pretty much all of them. I need to make a conscious effort to make sure my tenses agree. I often have to look up which affect/effect I should use. And if it weren’t for spell check I’d never know what was spelled write or wrong. (see what I did there?)

D. T. Nova

Subjunctive mood. The rules for it basically amount to breaking more common rules in nonsensical ways, and what’s technically “correct” invariably looks wrong.

Gregory S. Close

It’s probably better to ask this question of my editor.  I don’t have any problems with rules of English grammar.  I write what feels correct at the time and then adjust later in editing if needed, based on feedback from my editor.  He picks up on things and makes recommendations, sometimes stronger than others, based on “the rules.”  But as a fiction writer, the story is ultimately more important to me.  I want to stay within the rules so that I don’t confuse the reader, and so that my language is clear and descriptive, not out of awareness of the rules in advance.

Tracey Lynn Tobin

I don’t know if there’s necessarily any specific grammar rules that I find difficult, but in general I find that I have a difficult time separating my everyday voice and my literary voice. That is to say, I come from a place where we have a lot slang and a very, shall we say…improper dialect. We do things like pluralize things that make no sense being pluralized (“I likes my coffee”) and purposely mispronounce words for no particular reason (“She’s my cousint” instead of “cousin”). While a lot of those little bits of local flavor are easy to dissect and remove from my vocabulary when I’m writing, some things tend to sneak in and are only noticed when my beta readers (who aren’t necessarily from around here) contact me to ask what on Earth a certain word or line is supposed to mean.

Jay Dee Archer

I was an English teacher for eleven years up until about a year ago. English grammar was my life. I taught it. I thought about it. I read about it. I had to know everything. What I thought I had difficulty with was conditionals, especially explaining them. But I found that I enjoyed them. I enjoyed teaching passive versus active. I was also always good at spelling, but there was one word that always gave me trouble no matter how many times I reminded myself of the spelling, and that’s embarass. Or is that embarrass? I’m so embarrassed!

How about you?

Is there an aspect of English grammar that you find difficult? Let us know in the comments section below.

Learning to Read

My daughter is 5 years old. She’s in kindergarten, and she’s learning to read. A few months ago, she couldn’t read at all. But now, she knows the sounds of all the letters of the alphabet, as well as all hiragana. What’s that? It’s the main writing script for Japanese.

You see, my daughter also goes to a Japanese school, though not for much longer. She’s able to read both English and Japanese. Actually, she can read Japanese faster. It’s easier to learn to read Japanese than English. You might not think so, since English has 26 letters, while Japanese has 46 hiragana, 46 katakana, and thousands of kanji. It’s hiragana that she knows, and this is what’s needed to be able to read basic Japanese.

But why is it easier for her to read Japanese? Hiragana is phonetic. With a couple exceptions, everything sounds exactly as it’s written. English is a mess. There’s a meme going around:

If GH stands for P as in Hiccough
If OUGH stands for O as in Dough
If PHTH stands for T as in Phthisis
If EIGH stands for A as in Neighbour
If TTE stands for T as in Gazette
If EAU stands for O as in Plateau

Then the right way to spell POTATO should be: GHOUGHPHTHEIGHTTEEAU

I have no idea what the original source is, but this is everywhere. But you get the point, right? English spelling is stupid. I taught English for 11 years, but I managed to get children, including a 5 year old, to be able to read English reasonably well.

My point here is that if you can read English with no trouble at all, you’re doing pretty good. It must have one of the least strict rules for spelling.

I’m pretty good at spelling. When I was in grade 7, I tested at a university level for spelling. But there was one word that I had no idea how to read: paradigm. When I saw it, I thought, “paradiggum?” I knew the actual pronunciation. I’d heard the word before, but I’d never seen it spelled out. And then there’s “embarrassed.” How many r’s is it? Well, it’s two.  Don’t forget that!

What are some words you had trouble spelling or were pronouncing completely wrong?

Help Me Write a Story

I had an idea a couple days ago, and I thought I’d let you help me write a story! Here’s how it’s going to happen. I give you a list of word types, and you respond in the comments with all of those words. I’m not giving you much time to do this, as I’ll be writing these stories in a couple days. However, I’m going to try to do it in a way so that I can’t see what’s been written. It’ll be a mystery to me until I read it.

That’s right, I’m doing a mad lib story! I’ve already written the short story, but now it’s time for you to give me the words. So, in the comments section, please enter the words. Keep it PG? Actually, write whatever you want. Let’s see how silly or crazy this can get. Here are the categories:

  1. name (famous person)
  2. noun
  3. feeling
  4. noun
  5. adjective
  6. verb
  7. adjective
  8. adjective
  9. adjective
  10. adjective
  11. plural noun
  12. verb past tense
  13. verb past tense
  14. noun

I will be doing this all on video, by the way. You’ll see my reaction to the stories as I read them. I’m going to see if I can get someone to just copy and paste them into the story so I have no idea what they are until I read them.

So, let the insanity begin!

Authors Answer 90 – Writing in Another Language

All of us are fluent in English. Most, if not all, of us have studied a language to varying degrees in school. But have any of us achieved enough ability in those languages to actually write books in them? Before you read on, take a guess. How many, out of ten people, can write in a language other than English? Let’s see if your guess is correct.  This week’s question was asked by Loren Killdeer.

320px-Modern-ftn-pen-cursiveQuestion 90 – Do you write outside of your original language?

Eric Wood

Seeing as I only know English and minuscule pieces of French, my original language is all I write in. Perhaps one day my stories will be translated into hundreds of languages?

Elizabeth Rhodes

I can only write in English. I don’t know nearly enough of another language to make the attempt.

Jean Davis

I have days where it’s difficult to write in my own language, so no.

D. T. Nova

No. If I ever publish in multiple languages I will need a translator.

Paul B. Spence

No. Rhyrhan is such a literal language, and difficult to spell with our alphabet…

S. R. Carrillo

How I wish I could~ I’ve been trying to spruce up my Spanish lately, and I’ve even attempted to read a book in Spanish, but I’m far from fluent. Maybe, one day, I’d like to be able to write a book in Spanish, I think. I may make that a life goal mwahah.

H. Anthe Davis

Alas, I’ve never been fluent enough in another language to try to write in it.  I’ve created fantasy languages, and I’ve dreamed in Spanish and Japanese while I was learning them, but I don’t know them well anymore.

Gregory S. Close

No, unless you count the fictional ones!  I do dabble in Aulden, Underkin and Ancient Andu’ai.

Tracey Lynn Tobin

Nope! While I did take several years of French classes throughout my education, I don’t know nearly enough actually write in French, and I only know little snips and random phrases from other languages. It’s English-only for me!

Jay Dee Archer

I’m a language enthusiast. I’ve studied French for eight years and lived in Japan for eleven years. However, I have not achieved a high enough proficiency in either language to be able to write in those languages. Even if I were conversational in either language, my vocabulary wouldn’t be enough to write well. It would also take an incredibly long and frustrating time for me to write in another language, unless I were fully fluent. So no, I only write in English. I would love to write in another language, though.

How about you?

Are you bilingual or multilingual? Are you able to write in more than one language well? Let us know in the comments below.

How Do You Pronounce That?

Have you ever read a book, encountered a word you’ve seen many times and know the definition of, yet you’ve never heard it spoken aloud? This was asked at the Grammarly website here.

Has this ever happened to you? I have a good example of this.

I’d read the word paradigm many times. Basically, it means a model or a pattern. You can read the definition here. But I’d never heard someone read this word out. I’d heard the word spoken before, but I never connected the two. When I saw the word, I always thought, “That’s such a stupid sounding word… para-diggum.”

There are plenty of other words. Hyperbole? Is that a football game? The Hyper Bowl? Or the character Hermione from Harry Potter. Hermy-own? I know how these are actually pronounced, so no problem with those for me. But there are many who don’t know how to say them.

What are some words you knew in printed form, but had/have no idea how to pronounce? Share them in the comments below.

The Teaching Urge – English Lesson Videos

As you probably know, I taught English for eleven years in Japan. It still feels strange that I’m not doing it anymore. I spent more than a quarter of my life doing it. But I have that urge to do something, and I want to make sure I don’t forget grammar rules. I’ve been thinking about what to do, and then it came to me a couple weeks ago: easy one-point lesson videos!

There are English lesson videos on YouTube, of course. But I’m planning on doing something that I haven’t seen (although may exist). I’m going to be doing simple lessons that tackle common problems that people have with English. But the thing is, this won’t only be for English learners, it’ll also be for those who are fluent in English. You see, this is where the writing and editing part comes in. There are many problems that English speakers have with their own language, especially in writing.

This is where you come in. A lot of you are readers and writers. What are some English grammar problems you have? Let me know in the comments below. Your idea will likely become a lesson video!