1. moonlightmusic
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    moonlightmusic New Member

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    Punctuation Matters, and Confusion.

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by moonlightmusic, May 8, 2008.

    Is there anything wrong with my title?

    Well, if you haven't noticed yet, here's the issue. My teacher keeps on marking me down for everything. She says it's wrong to place a comma before 'and', 'while' or 'but'. Is it? I've seen it used in such a matter in prose more times than I can ever count. Or maybe it's because I use British English? There shouldn't be any difference in punctuation between American and British English, from what I know of. Do enlighten me, and forgive my ignorance. My English standard isn't up to par yet, and I'm trying to improve it. This is just something I'm really confused about...
     
  2. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Whether a comma should be placed before a conjunction depends on the context. In a compound sentence, where the conjunction joins two independent clauses, the comma is required.

    In your title, whether or not the comma is there subtly alters the meaning. It's not wrong, either with or without the comma. Leaving out the comma couples confusion more closely with punctuation, whereas leaving it in associates confusion more with the complete term punctuation matters.

    As for British vs. American punctuation rules, most of the British writing guides I have looked at codify the same rules as in the United States, although a number of members on the site from the UK have argued that the rules are less strictly adhered to in the UK. Certainly there are some common alternatives in British written dialects, such as the use of single vs. double quote marks for primary dialogue.

    There are a number of good punctuation guides to use as reference. Comma usage is certainly one area that causes more confusion than most, though.
     
  3. ap Oweyn
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    ap Oweyn Member

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    Just a quick introduction, because it's relevant:

    I was born in the UK, and raised there to the age of 10. Then I moved to the United States. Completed grade school, college, and graduate studies in the U.S. Including a four-year degree in English Language and Literature. And had a 12-year career as a professional writer/editor.

    I figure I've got as much insight into grammar differences between the two as the next guy. And perhaps more.

    There are differences. Absolutely. Never mind that many of the "rules" of grammar are guidelines anyway. And that "proper grammar" is going to be dictated by the style manuals of various organizations.

    I couldn't quote a specific rule. But I can tell you that, prior to relearning some things in the States, I would have put a comma in that sentence just as you did. And now, I wouldn't.


    Stuart
     
  4. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    sorry to have to disagree with you for a change, cog, but here's how i see it:

    Punctuation Matters and Confusion.

    imo, it clearly makes confusion just a second component of the piece, doesn't 'couple' it only with the word 'punctuation' ignoring the 'matters' part...

    and:

    Punctuation Matters, and Confusion

    separating ideas and such is one of the comma's major functions... and to me, the comma there definitely disassociates confusion from the punctuation matters, implying punctuation matters are confusing...

    in any case, i agree the teacher was not correct in that either way is correct and the use of the comma depends only on the intent of the writer...

    love and hugs, maia
     
  5. DNC
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    DNC Member

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    Incidentally, I hate to sound pedantic but your sentence is a title and titles don't have full stops!
     
  6. DNC
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    DNC Member

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    Oh - and Cogito - I don't know who has told you that the rules of grammar aren't strictly adhered to in the UK but they're quite wrong. Having been an English teacher here for some years I can assure you that we do try very hard to make children write correctly and that grammar is a compulsory part of the English National Curriculum. Anyone who says otherwise is probably trying to excuse their own linguistic inadequacies.
     
  7. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I've actually suspected that, DNC. Having been schooled only in the USA, and hearing that argument indignantly asserted by several different UK members, I had to accept the possibility that they were right.

    I've seen a few claimed differences between US and UK punctuation, but none of them came up as real when I've looked them up. The most common was the exchange of the roles of the siingle and double quote in dialogue. Nevertheless, when I looked up the rules in punctuation guides for UK unis, they seem to prefer the American pattern, at least in the present day.

    But I'm always open to learning I was wrong, so I can be right in the future. :)
     
  8. DNC
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    DNC Member

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    "I'm always open to learning I was wrong, so I can be right in the future" - what a nice thing to say! Sorry if I sounded didactic Cogito... too much work and not enough sleep.;)
     
  9. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    good point re the period, dnc...

    moon... listen up... s/he's right!
     
  10. Wintermute
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    Wintermute Banned

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    In a sequence, it doesn't matter if you place a comma before and or not. If she is marking you off for that, tell her to promptly return to grad school.
     
  11. Al B
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    Al B Senior Member

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    If I saw one of the people I train in writing skills type something like the title of the thread, the first thing I'd be pulling them up about is the use of initial caps. After that, I might get onto what the comma does to its inflection. Neither the one with the comma, nor the one without is incorrect, but they do read differently, and they do subtly alter its meaning.

    Note the comma before the and in the previous sentence, and indeed this one, which is there so that the reader pauses, and it emphasises the final statement.

    I suspect your teacher is mistakenly applying the grammatical rule for a list, as in: Cars, trains, boats and planes. There should be no comma in that instance.

    Al
     
  12. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    actually, there's no universal 'should' in re the 'serial comma' [often referred to as the 'oxford/harvard comma']... it's entirely optional and is used [and not used] on both sides of the pond...
     

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