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  1. dillseed
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    dillseed Active Member

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    Punctuation Dan Persinger's Input (I Had to Share)

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by dillseed, May 10, 2014.

    Hi, Dan,

    I had a quick punctuation question regarding nonrestrictive appositives.
    Can we eliminate the comma below before Jennifer?
    I need to speak to my wife, Jennifer.

    <<<
    No. The comma is preferred, and I'll tell you why. There are a couple style guides around now that say the number of wives is obviously one, so the comma's unnecessary. This isn't the case with the top reference authorities, though, which know better, including the big gun, the Chicago Manual of Style. Using the comma(s) in this way is NEVER WRONG, so why not? When describing the only one, the appositive takes a comma or pair of commas, depending on where it is in the sentence; when referring to one of (possibly) more than one, it doesn't.
    I had lunch with my partner Tom Martin
    is a little clearer as
    I had lunch with my partner, Tom Martin because, even though some readers might infer from the first example that I have only one partner because many of us tend to think of partnerships as being between two people, other readers definitely won't: I certainly COULD have two, three, or eight partners. The comma makes clear that Tom is my only partner, whereas the absence of the comma muddies the water.See what I mean? Our personal determinations of when the comma(s) are necessary or unnecessary, of when the reader ought to be able to see there's obviously only one, aren't necessarily accurate barometers of what readers will take from these sentences. You can't go wrong by making the accepted, recognized choices. Your writing will almost always be more clear and will NEVER be less
    clear.>>>

    Can I omit the comma before and after Jennifer as I've done below? I have one wife, obviously.
    My wife Jennifer is running for the town board.

    <<<For the reasons given earlier: no.>>>

    To me this looks like Jennifer is being used in the vocative case, so why bother with that comma?

    <<<This isn't vocative case. The earlier sentence--I need to speak to my wife, Jennifer--isn't vocative case, either. For either of these to be vocative, Jennifer would have to be the one spoken to, not just the one spoken about.
    These are vocative:Mother, we're going to be late. You're addressing your mother and naming her, so this is vocative.
    I'll have to ask my wife first, Harvey. You're addressing Harvey, so this is vocative.
    Yes, dear. You're addressing your significant other, so this is vocative.>>>


    And:
    My wife, Jennifer; my son, Michael; and my daughter, Alexis, will be at the ceremonies. (I have one wife, one son, and one daughter.)

    The sentence above looks horrendous to me, but I think it may be technically correct. Can we forgo those unsightly extra commas and cumbersome semicolons, and render the sentence thusly?

    My wife Jennifer, my son Michael, and my daughter Alexis will be at the ceremonies.
    <<<
    No, you can't. Unless the readers you're addressing know your family, there's no way for them to know that you have only one son and daughter even if you give yourself a pass for presuming the one wife. >>>
     
    Last edited: May 10, 2014
  2. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Thanks for sharing this. He makes some very good points, though my personal preference is to exclude commas in certain cases. For example, in the context of our society, it is perfectly fine to assume that a man only has one wife.
     
  3. dillseed
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    dillseed Active Member

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    This is where I often get confused. One source will say exclude commas; another one will say keep them. OWL at Purdue said to exclude them in those very same examples; Persinger said to always include them. It appears as though punctuation boils down to one's preferences—there are no hard-and-fast, ironclad rules. The rules and guidance are all over the map.

    Many rules are not etched in stone, which allows the writer a lot of wiggle room.
     
  4. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    It also often boils down to prescription v. description, which applies to grammar and syntax overall in the world of linguistics. Some people feel that these are The Rules and people either do or don't adhere to them (prescriptive), and others say the living language is the only real language and if rules are ignored in general, then they're really not the rules anymore, regardless of what some book or academy of language says (descriptive).
     
  5. dillseed
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    dillseed Active Member

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    Descriptivism is definitely more tolerant in terms of wiggle room. My old-fashioned prescriptive grammar teacher would deduct points if she felt you misused a comma (per her beliefs).
     
  6. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    The Dan Persinger book I own (Writers' Devils) does not set itself up as THE definitive guide to all grammar and punctuation. Persinger has aimed this book at fiction writers only. His bottom line is always clarity. With a few exceptions—for example, the end of a sentence is always a full stop, question mark, or exclamation point—wiggle room is there for the taking.

    Do what makes sense and will not confuse the reader, or call undue attention to itself—as over-punctuation sometimes can.

    He makes the point that technical writing and other forms of non-fiction do require adherence to certain styles. He also makes the point that fiction writers can leave these styles behind, if they choose to do so. They do risk some confusion, as in the case of the multiple Jennifers above, but sometimes, in fiction, it's okay to take that risk.

    There is a difference between deliberately breaking rules for a desired effect, and not having a clue what the basic rules are. It's a good idea to become familiar with as many 'rules' as you can, so you can break them on purpose.

    In his Introduction to Writers' Devils, Persinger says:

     
    Last edited: May 10, 2014
  7. dillseed
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    dillseed Active Member

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    Thank you.
     

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