1. zaffy
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    zaffy Contributing Member

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    simple sentences

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by zaffy, Feb 15, 2010.

    Do commas in simple sentences help or hinder the reader?

    Then today as I was talking on the telephone I noticed it.

    Then today, as I was talking on the telephone, I noticed it.
     
  2. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    In your examples:

    Then today, as I was talking on the telephone, I noticed it.

    the 'as I was talking on the telephone' becomes like extra information due to the commas. Maybe this is what you meant it to be like--who knows? YOU are in charge of guiding the reader. Parentheses or em-dashes could also be used here.
    However, I think you mean to say 'while', not 'as'.

    You could say:
    I noticed it while I was talking on the telephone.
    (with no commas).

    Proper punctuation is there for a purpose--it gives meaning and aids comprehension. So, how could it 'hinder'?

    Incorrect and unnecessary punctuation, on the other hand...
     
  3. zaffy
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    zaffy Contributing Member

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    Thank you.
    Yes, 'while' is better.
    Now I am wondering what 'as' actual means. I think I might have been using it wrongly for years.
     
  4. Humour Whiffet
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    Humour Whiffet Banned

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    As mentioned above, are you using as to mean because? Or are you using it to mean while? Or do you mean when? The use of the word as has produced much academic debate. It’s probably safest to decide exactly what you mean, and ditch the as in this instance. Hey, it sounds like a diet commercial—“ditch the as.”

    If you want to know a bit more about as, I’d recommend that you purchase Fowler’s Modern English Usage.

    Anyway, I'm guessing you probably mean when.

    So as not to destroy your preferred style, I would, if I were you, rewrite the sentence as follows:

    Today, when I was talking on the telephone, I noticed it.

    My personal preference would be to change the word order, but it’s unfair to impose my own tastes.

    To find out why the when clause is enclosed in commas, do a Google search for “relative clauses.”

    Before you do a Google search, have another look at your unpunctuated example. There is a big clue that something is amiss. What is it? Well, consider this part of the sentence:

    “...as I was talking on the telephone I noticed it.”

    On first reading, it is possible to interpret “I noticed” adjectivally, falsely believing that it is modifying the word “telephone.” In other words, it may be misread as follows:

    “...as I was talking on the telephone [that] I noticed, it...”

    The reader may believe that there were many telephones, and that you were talking on the telephone that you noticed. Of course, the reader will soon realise what is meant when they reach the period—but why make it difficult? :)
     
  5. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    It may not be a long sentence, but it is not a simple one in the foirmal sense. The simple sentence within is I noticed it.

    El Whiffet's advice is sound, and you should do as he says and read up on relative clauses (and other types of clauses as well).

    Google is your friend. :)
     
  6. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    It's not a hard and fast rule, but 'while' tends to be used more than 'when' with continuous ('progressive') tenses, i.e. when you have -ing.

    So, I'd still say 'while' here ('when' would actually lose you points in the terribly mechanical grammer exam for proficiency in English that they have at my university LOL)

    'as' is usually used for a briefer action, e.g
    I dropped my bag as I turned to greet him. (turning took a few seconds)
    I dropped my bag while I was running for the bus. (running took a couple of minutes)
    I dropped my bag when I saw him. (I saw him, immediately dropped my bag)
     
  7. Humour Whiffet
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    Humour Whiffet Banned

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    Good point. I forgot to change the "was" to "began." It should say:

    Today, when I began talking on the telephone, I noticed it.
     
  8. zaffy
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    zaffy Contributing Member

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    Simple- huh - I wish I'd never asked. Can of worms springs to mind.
    Thanks anyway.
     
  9. Humour Whiffet
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    Humour Whiffet Banned

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    Hey Zaffy, don’t be disheartened—even professional writers are always learning new things.

    Everyone makes mistakes. I know I do. I’ll often read things I have written a week or so ago and think, What the hell were you thinking?

    Sometimes even the pros get the basics wrong. You’ve probably heard of a book called Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss. It’s all about correct punctuation. When the book was released, The New Yorker magazine took great delight in reviewing it and pointing out all of its errors.

    So don’t give up!
     
  10. kamran
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    kamran Banned

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    sir will you explain briefly about using the punctuations. they always confused me in my writings
     
  11. marina
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    marina Contributing Member Contributor

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    It's not something one can explain briefly.

    Go here for links to useful sites:

    http://writingforums.org/showthread.php?t=21049
     
  12. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Briefly? The only brief answer you can get that is of any value is to purchase and study a good grammar and punctuation guide like The Little, Brown Handbook.
     
  13. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    Most of which were not actually errors at all -- not in British English. Even though The New Yorker explicitly stated "For some reason, the folks at Gotham Books elected not to make any changes for the American edition, a typesetting convenience that makes the book virtually useless for American readers", it still chose to hold her to American English rules of punctuation and of style. It made for an entertaining, but unfortunately not informative, read.

    If you want an informed criticism of Eats, Shoots and Leaves and other works of "language fundamentalists", try David Crystal's "The Fight for English: How Language Pundits Ate, Shot, and Left".
     
  14. Humour Whiffet
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    Humour Whiffet Banned

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    Which ones are you saying were not errors in British English?
     
  15. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    The book was recently in The Times list of top 100 books over the last decade. The first, and probably the last, time a book on punctuation makes it onto the list!
    What errors are there in the book? First I've heard of them. Usually, the 'errors' Americans find are just that commas are not used all the time. In International English use of commas is more open to interpretation, depending on where the writer wants the reader to pause.
     
  16. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    The New Yorker review is easy to find on-line. I think the hardest mistake to defend is when she says what the New Yorker house style is, and the New Yorker says that she's wrong :D
     
  17. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    Just read it: '...comma-free nonrestrictive clause...blah blah...' As I thought. Commas aren't used as frequently in International English. But the 'house style' is certainly a foot in mouth!
     
  18. Humour Whiffet
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    Humour Whiffet Banned

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    Truss pointed out, perhaps with too much glee, a mistake that The New Yorker was making. One problem: it wasn’t making the mistake! The wrath followed...

    Here’s an example of one of the errors mentioned:

    “I feel no such sympathy for the manager of my local supermarket who must have a cellarful of apostrophes he doesn’t know what to do with.”

    There should be a comma before the word “who.” The reason is that because there is only one manager, he does not need defining any further.

    For example:

    “My brother who lives in Liverpool” tells you that I have more than one brother, and I’m am only referring to the one who lives in Liverpool.

    “My brother, who lives in Liverpool” tells you that I have one brother, and he lives in Liverpool.

    This rule is followed in British English. IT IS A VERY IMPORTANT RULE. If you don't follow it, the meaning of your sentence will change. It's not just a rule for pedants.
     
  19. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    It's easier to say which are errors. Errors of fact, such as what she says about the New Yorker house style are definitely errors. And inconsistencies are inconsistencies. Inconsistencies are not necessarily errors, but probably need a bit of justification at least.

    For the rest? Well, one tutor on my English degree liked to say "who's to say it's wrong?" There are very few cases in British English punctuation where there is an absolute consensus. In The Fight for English David Crystal takes a couple of pages analysing the first accusation regarding the dedication, and points out that two sets of "rules" used in British English conflict, and that if Truss had tried to comply with all of the rules the sentence would have been so studded with commas as to be cluttered and hard to understand. Crystal seems to take the view (as I do) that Truss was right to favour clarity of communication over conflicting "rules", but notes that that is in direct opposition to Truss's claimed "zero tolerance". I'm not convinced that "printers’ marks" is a "misplaced apostrophe"; it's standard English if there's more than one printer, even if it's not the standard idiom. I can't find any rule in any of my grammars that forbids "semicolons [...] that [separate] unpunctuated items in a list" or semicolons "that [set] off a dependent clause". And so on.

    Crystal points out that Truss had a whole chapter acknowledging that punctuation is partly an art, not a rigorous science, and that "there are no absolute rights and wrongs in the matter" (Truss's words) but the New Yorker review chose to ignore that -- with some justification, as Truss did too in the rest of the book.

    It seems that things are different in the USA!
     
  20. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    Really? I agree that there's a difference in meaning between "My brother who lives in Liverpool" and "My brother, who lives in Liverpool" but what is the difference in meaning between “I feel no such sympathy for the manager of my local supermarket who must have a cellarful of apostrophes he doesn’t know what to do with.” and “I feel no such sympathy for the manager of my local supermarket, who must have a cellarful of apostrophes he doesn’t know what to do with.”

    Yes, the latter is more standard, but I suggest that in the latter case the difference is just one for pedants because both versions are clear and unambiguous, so communicative effectiveness is not impaired.
     
  21. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    Interestingly, I often get challenged by Americans for using too many commas. But that's because my British English is 1950s British English, not current British English. We used a lot more punctuation in those days.
     
  22. Humour Whiffet
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    Humour Whiffet Banned

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    Surely we should still aim to follow the rules though, even if communication is clear if we don’t follow them?

    This snetnece is esay to read even thuogh I hvae jumlbed the lettres up. But surley there is an inehrent value in benig accruate?
     
  23. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    Oh yes, I'll go along with that. Unless there's a reason not to. But the less important the "rule" is for comprehension, the less justification you need to break it.
    And there was an inherent value in jumbling the letters up, wasn't there? :D
     

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