Archive for the ‘Punctuation’ Category

“Pokemon Go” Articles Need Copy Editor

Friday, July 15th, 2016

Pokemon GoThe Birmingham News must have been in a hurry to rush its Pokemon stories to press on Wednesday. Their copy on Page A2 is full of errors. The first Glitch is in a headline:

"Games digital popularity also warping real life"

Whoops! #1: Assuming the headline creator means the digital popularity of Pokemon Go (one game), this headline needs an apostrophe before the S in "Games." It should read this way: Game's digital popularity also warping real life."

Whoops #2: Although I am not a Pokemon expert (yet), I do know that the phrase "a Pokemon" refers to one creature and that THEM is a plural pronoun referring to more than one of something, like Pokemon (plural) in general. Consider this sentence"

"Once you catch a Pokemon, you can take them to a gym where they can battle other Pokemon."

Okay, so what pronoun is appropriate for a single captured Pokemon? I'm not sure that has been worked out yet–it? she? he? The best solution, for now, is to avoid the pronoun completely, like this: Once you catch a Pokemon, you can take your captive to a gym for battles with other Pokemon.

Whoops #3: I had to read this sentence a couple times to figure out what the reporter was trying to say. One apostrophe and the correct spelling of THAN would have solved the confusion:

"AR (augmented reality), as its known, is different that virtual reality in which a completely computer-generated world is created."

It should read this way: AR, as it's known, is different than virtual reality in which a completely computer-generated world is created.

Whoops #4: Subject/verb agreement is the crime in this sentence. PERMISSIONS is plural, but the reporter chooses the singular verb MEANS to go with it:

The permissions, according to Engadget, means Niantic has access to your Google drive docs, search history, private Google photos and other items tied to your account."

For grammatically correct agreement, the sentence should read this way: The permissions, according to Engadget, mean Niantic has access to your google drive docs,….

Whoops #5: The reporter of the side story made the correct choice with  IT'S (IT + IS) but failed to recognize that the second ITS (correctly possessive) refers to the plural word PEOPLE.

"Niantic issued a statement assuring people it's not accessing its personal information and will only have access to a person's Google user ID and password."

The problem here is that the use of ITS makes it sound as if Niantic is not accessing Niantic's personal information, but they are referring to the PEOPLE'S personal information. It should read this way: Niantic issued a statement assuring people it's not accessing their personal information and will only have access to people's user IDs and passwords.

Whew! And all those Glitches appeared on ONE page.


Hyphenation error has cows milking robots.

Thursday, October 22nd, 2015

Regular reader Joe C. sent along this odd caption, which suggests the exact opposite of what it is supposed to convey. More and more small farms in Florida are now using ROBOTS to milk COWS. However, by inserting a hyphen between ROBOT and MILKING, the caption writer created an adjective (ROBOT-MILKING), which describes the cows. The caption should read something like this: ROBOTS NOW MILKING COWS.

Joe also posed a question I have often asked. "Do they even teach the proper use of hyphenated words in journalism classes?"
Robot milking cows


Reporter locates apostrophe correctly, then forgets the rule before the end of the sentence.

Tuesday, July 28th, 2015

One short article about taxes and sewage contains two Glitches.

Here is the first Glitch, which is puzzling because the reporter uses the apostrophe correctly in the first part of the sentence but then uses it incorrectly later in the same sentence:

Evans also said he met with the USDA about the agency's grant and loan programs to help with the towns old sewage system.

It is correct to show that the PROGRAMS belong to the AGENCY (agency's programs). Okay, so why would it not be correct to refer to the SEWAGE SYSTEM as belonging to the TOWN (town's old sewage system)? The sentence should read this way:

Evans also said he met with the USDA about the agency's grant and loan programs to help with the town's old sewage system.

This same reporter does not know the difference between THERE (location) and THEIR (possessive). Here is the second Glitch:

The USDA told the town in there meeting that they needed an audit to go forward.

Whoops! The meeting belongs to the town, so it should be spelled THEIR.


Newspapers Still Need Copy Editors!

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2015

Newspaper reporters and columnists can no longer rely on copy editors to polish their usage and grammar. More than one of them has actually thanked Grammar Glitch Central for pointing out an error or two. There should be someone at the newspaper office whose job it is to know good writing standards and apply them while proofreading. These days that is not happening. Reporters write their own copy, do their own proofreading, and click SEND.

Recently, a new problem is cropping up. Even if the reporters get it right, whoever creates the photo captions, headlines, and sidebars is making careless errors that detract from the quality of the reporting. That person ought to have a good command of standard writing skills and a desire to proofread for correctness. In ONE issue of The Birmingham News this past week, the following errors appeared in headlines, captions, and sidebars:

Whoops #1: In an article about the gyrocopter that landed in DC, the Tribune News Service reporter correctly stated that the pilot must stay away from the CAPITOL (the building), but the photographic caption says that "Doug Hughes landed on the grass in front of the United States CAPITAL on Wednesday." CAPITAL refers to the entire city. CAPITOL is the building in front of which Hughes landed.

Whoops #2: Columnist Edward Bowser correctly named the Birmingham Children's THEATRE when he referred to it numerous times in his article about their wonderful program of taking performances to schools. However, the headline for his column is this: "Birmingham Children's THEATER brings magic of stage to schools." Perhaps the incorrect spelling of a proper name is not a big deal, but I'm sure that group consciously chose to use the THEATRE spelling, and it would not have taken the headline creator more than a minute to check the website for the proper spelling–especially since Bowser had handed that person the correct spelling.

Whoops #3: In Mike Oliver's creepy but informative article about Alabama's 58 spider varieties, Mike correctly spelled RECLUSE when he listed the brown recluse as one of the three highly venomous spiders in the state. However, the caption next to the photo of this spider refers to it as the Brown RECLUDE Spider.

Whoops #4: In a sidebar that summarizes the details of an article about Alabama's pro-life legislature and the abortion issue, the first bullet contains this grammatically incorrect sentence: "Women must receive counseling designed to discourage her from having an abortion." WOMEN is plural. Therefore, the correct pronoun would be THEY. The sentence should be worded one of two ways: 1) WOMEN must receive counseling to discourage THEM from having ABORTIONS. or 2) A WOMAN must receive counseling to discourage HER from having an abortion.

Whoops #5: Those who create photo captions should understand where commas should go and, more importantly, where they should not go. One comma "rule" is that, if a title comes before a person's name, it is not necessary to set that name off (like an appositive) with commas. A second "rule" is that a subject should not be separated from a verb by a comma. In this sentence from a caption about a tour of a school campus, the comma between WILLIAMS and LEADS is incorrect: "Here, former Hoover schools Superintendent Connie Williams, leads faculty and parents from Shades Mountain Christian Schoool on a tour…."

It should not be unreasonable to expect a better level of correct usage than this. These are not acceptable errors.


Two spaces after a period? Kelly Kazek column has great answer!

Thursday, March 26th, 2015

Kelly KazekDuring business writing workshops, I am often asked about the proper number of spaces after a period at the end of a sentence. There is usually disagreement among the participants. Some say two spaces, absolutely. Others say one is enough.

The simple answer in 2015 is that one space is enough. Unlike typewriters, word processors automatically apportion the correct amount of space between letters and punctuation marks. If you doublespace after the period in something you've keyed in on a word processor, the receiver might have to make adjustments in the copy for your extra space.

In her column in The Birmingham News on Sunday, March 22, 2015, Kelly Kazek, who writes for Al.com from her base in Huntsville, offered a humorous look at this dilemma as well as some good examples of how that doublespace after a period is often viewed:

  • It makes you look older than carrying an AARP card in your wallet.
  • People will know you are now old enough to be a Walmart greeter.
  • Some HR folks use this to screen job applicants.
  • It is obsolete. No one teaches typing anymore.
  • Editors have to rekey copy submitted with two spaces after the period.
  • It is a "travesty" that bugs Kelly Kazek.

If you'd like to read Kelly's complete column, which is as hilarious as it is informative, you can find her on Pinterest at "Odd Travels" or "Real Alabama." Kelly says she writes about "the quirkiness of human nature from a humorous point of view," and this column is a perfect example. You can contact her at kkazek@al.com, find her on Facebook, or use this link to read her actual column: http://www.al.com/living/index.ssf/2015/03/for_the_love_of_punctuation_st.html. If you follow this link, you can also read the amazing array of comments.

Speaking of Facebook, please check out my post from March 25, 2015, which chastises Birmingham News reporters for using an apostrophe to form the plural of a word. As of this afternoon, this has been my most popular Facebook post yet at Grammar Glitch Central. That apostrophe error bugs me as much as the extra space after the period bugs Kelly.


COMMA OR SEMICOLON? THERE IS A DIFFERENCE.

Friday, February 27th, 2015

I am often asked about semicolons and how to use them correctly. Sometimes the writer wants to know if semicolons and commas can be used interchangeably. The answer is no. I think the two example sentences posted here will help clarify that answer:

In an article about an abandoned mausoleum in Bessemer, Alabama, a Birmingham News reporter created this statement:

The others buried there were: Peter Smith, Geneva Ann Jones, a 6-month-old girl who died from a heart condition in 1993; Vivian Lawrence, 49; Robert Samuel Vaughn, 74: Emily Parsons, 93; Annie Rae Stevens, 56.

NOTE: The names in the above example have been changed. 

Whoops: When people are listed in a series, their names should be separated by commas. If additional information is given about some of the people, that information should be separated from the name with a comma. In that case, each person/information combo should be set off from the next person or person/info combo by a semicolon. This should be done consistently throughout the sentence.

 

In the example above, PETER SMITH is separated from GENEVA ANN JONES by a comma. The punctuation should be a semicolon to be consistent with the rest of the sentence.  The word AND should be added after "93;" to indicate that ANNIE RAE STEVENS is the last person in the series.  Also notice below that it is not necessary to use a colon after WERE in this sentence. It should read this way:

The others buried there were Peter Smith; Geneva Ann Jones, a six-month-old girl who died from a heart condition in 1993; Vivian Lawrence, 49; Robert Samuel Vaughn, 74; Emily Parsons, 93; and Annie Rae Stevens, 56.

When several items are in a series but none of them contain additional information that should be set off by commas, the items can be separated by just a comma. Notice below that there is no good reason for the semicolon after the word INVOLVED in this sentence from another article in The Birmingham News:

The notice says that anyone who wants to report an allegation should do so in writing to the court with as much information as possible, including the person or persons involved; the date on which the alleged violation occurred and specific details of the incident.

For business writing prose (as opposed to journalism style), I would add a comma before AND after OCCURRED, to indicate the end of the series. The sentence should read this way:

The notice says that anyone who wants to report an allegation should do so in writing to the court with as much information as possible, including the person or persons involved, the date on which the alleged violation occurred, and specific details of the incident.


Commas are like breadcrumbs: They mark the trail through a sentence.

Friday, December 6th, 2013

When I teach business writing workshops, I like to explain commas as trail markers through the meaning of a sentence.One important trail marker is the comma at the end of an introductory clause or phrase. If it is left out, the reader can get lost trying to find the main subject and the focus of the sentence.Hansel and Gretel

A recent newsletter from the Gulas group makes some good points about email clutter and how to avoid it, but several of the sentences are difficult to read because this important trail marker has been left out. Take a look at these examples:

"Armed with this knowledge you will make better decisions."

"Set correctly your Calendar view will show your appointments,…."

"As more and more people synchronize their smartphones and mobile devices they are being distracted by email alerts, meeting reminders at all sorts of inconvenient times."

Each of the above sentences is difficult to read because of the missing comma, which would point out the location where the main clause begins. Here is how these sentences should be punctuated–with a comma after the introductory phrase or clause:

Armed with this knowledge, you will make better decisions.

Set correctly, your Calendar view will show your appointments.

As more and more people synchronize their smartphones and mobile devices, they are being distracted by email alerts (and) meeting reminders at all sorts of inconvenient times.


Compliment? Or Complement? With wine, it depends.

Sunday, November 17th, 2013

wine dinnerThe Greystone Living review of a recent wine dinner was riddled with Grammar Glitches. Here is the first problem sentence:

"The event was held at the Legacy Clubhouse and featured Silver Oak representative Jeffery Flood, who gave a speech and had a great selection of wines for the guest to compliment the excellent dishes prepared by Executive Chef Daniel Mitchell."

Whoops #1: Logic (and the accompanying photos) show that more than one GUEST attended this event.

Whoops #2: The wines were there to ENHANCE the dishes prepared by the chef, not pop their corks and shout out COMPLIMENTS about the good food. COMPLEMENT, meaning to partner with something in order to enhance it, is the correct choice here. 

This sentence should read as follows:

The event was held at the Legacy Clubhouse and featured Silver Oak representative Jeffery Flood, who gave a speech and offered the guests a great selection of wines to complement the excellent dishes prepared by Executive Chef Daniel Mitchell.

Here is the next problem sentence: 

"We try and feature wine dinners once a quarter at Greystone."

Whoops #3: The proper usage here is TRY TO, not TRY AND. It should read this way: We try to feature wine dinners once a quarter at Greystone.

And finally, this sentence:

"The next dinner will be held on November 5th and the guest of honor will be Juelle Fisher Proprietor from Fisher Winery."

Whoops #4: When writing a date within a sentence, the ON can be left out. Even though we pronounce FIFTH, it is not necessary to write the TH at the end of the numeral. 

Whoops #5: Because PROPRIETOR renames JUELLE FISHER, there should be a comma between FISHER and PROPRIETOR. 

Whoops #6: Proper usage is that JUELLE FISHER is the PROPRIETOR OF, not the PROPRIETOR FROM the winery. There is no reason to capitalize PROPRIETOR when it does not come before the person's name.

This sentence should read as follows:

The next dinner will be held November 5 and the guest of honor will be Juelle Fisher, proprietor of Fisher Winery.


To use or not to use? (A grammar checker, that is.)

Wednesday, October 9th, 2013

brain in gear

I use Grammarly's grammar checker because I don't want to misplace a comma and end up eating Gramma (as in "Let's eat Gramma!" instead of "Let's eat, Gramma!").

When I teach business writing workshops, I often remind participants to use grammar checkers with “brain in gear.” A grammar checker can point out possible problems in your writing, but if you choose to use one, you must have enough self confidence to recognize when the grammar checker has misinterpreted your meaning. After all, grammar checkers are NOT human, and they don’t catch all the nuances of what we humans write.

That said, I recently reviewed Grammarly.com, which bills itself as “the world’s most accurate online grammar checker.” I tried it out on several pieces of my own writing as well as a newspaper article. It spotted one overlooked typo and offered good suggestions for two overly wordy sentences. It also detected an incorrect indefinite article (A vs. AN). However, it declared EVERY proper noun I used (e.g. TALLASSEE, TUKABAHCHI, and WOODALL) to be a misspelling. Using the Grammarly.com scoring system to rate myself, I ended up with a horrible score, based mostly on properly spelled proper nouns that were declared incorrect.

Grammarly.com failed to spot a missing apostrophe in this sentence from an article about new education standards in Alabama:

“The change is intended to more closely align students education with the ACT, improving high school seniors’ scores….”

SENIORS’ SCORES is correct, with the apostrophe after the S, but STUDENTS EDUCATION should also be possessive (STUDENTS’ EDUCATION). As I write this, I see that the Word grammar checker put a green squiggly line under that one, but overall, I don't think Word's grammar checker is as effective as this one.

Grammarly.com also missed the incorrect plural form in this sentence:

“However, the director of student academic support at Auburn University said low ACT scores tend to be a better indicators of which students won’t perform well in college than high ACT scores are of which students will do well.”

A BETTER INDICATORS (plural) should be simply BETTER INDICATORS without A in front.

I do think Grammarly.com does an excellent job of explaining the errors it spots, and the examples it offers for correction are clear and easy to understand. As someone who writes virtually every day, I would say Grammarly could be a useful tool IF you keep your own brain in gear and view Grammarly as a helper rather than a quick cure for all errors. 


Carried Away with Semicolons!

Saturday, September 14th, 2013

pill dropperA huge advertisement promoting drops instead of pills for health problems offers several excellent examples of when NOT to use semicolons. The purpose of a semicolon is to link two independent clauses (statements that are related but can stand alone). It should replace a period or ", and" but NOT be used as it is in the following sentences:

Whoops #1: "Why, with all the medications we take to improve our health; are people still getting sicker?"

The semicolon above should be a comma. The basic statement is: WHY ARE PEOPLE STILL GETTING SICKER? The words WITH…HEALTH make up an introductory phrase, not a separate clause. I would also stick with WE instead of switching to PEOPLE. It should read this way:

SOLUTION: Why, with all the medications we take to improve our health, are we still getting sicker?

Here is the second semicolon error, which seems to involve confusing the semicolon with a colon:

Whoops #2: The problem is; there's no escape!

SOLUTION: Leave out the inner punctuation completely. It should read this way:

The problem is that there's no escape.

The third semicolon error tries to set off a prepositional phrase that should be part of the main clause:

Whoops #3: It's the first and only product to eliminate life-sapping toxins; from virtually every organ in your body….

SOLUTION: Simply remove the semicolon.

It's the first and only product to eliminate life-sapping toxins from virtually every organ in your body….

The fourth semicolon error tries to use both the semicolon and AND. This is not necessary.

Whoops #4: Just add 5 drops of …… to any beverage, twice a day; and you'll see rapid improvements to your health almost immediately.

SOLUTION: Change the colon to a comma and use it with AND.

Just add 5 drops of …… to any beverage, twice a day, and you'll see rapid improvements to your health almost immediately. 

The fifth and final semicolon error in this one advertisement should also be a comma so that the cause/effect relationship of the two clauses is clear:

Whoops #5: We've made special arrangements with the distributor to supply our readers with a totally Risk-FREE sample of ……; so you can see for yourself, without risking a penny.

SOLUTION: Remove the semicolon before SO, remove the second comma, and change YOU and YOURSELF to THEY and THEMSELVES to keep the pronouns consistent.

We've made special arrangements with the distributor to supply our readers with a totally Risk-FREE sample of …… so they can see for themselves without risking a penny.

Whew! That is a rather large number of errors for one advertisement–and I didn't even quote the two errors that had nothing to do with semicolons!

I hope these examples will be good reminders about semicolon usage. If you have other examples to share or questions to ask, please put them in a comment, and I will respond.