Archive for the ‘comma’ Category

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.


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. 


Sales & Performance Tips Newsletter Needs Comma Tips

Tuesday, July 2nd, 2013

Most writers tend to "sprinkle" too many commas in their writing. Today's post includes examples from a "sales and performance tips" newsletter that does not use enough commas. The problem involves this comma rule:

An introductory phrase or clause containing three or more words should be set off by a comma.

Whoops #1: If you are struggling with what to delegate use the 70% rule.

The introductory clause in this sentence begins with IF and ends with DELEGATE (8 words). It should be set off with a comma after DELEGATE.

Whoops #2: If you choose a less experienced team member then Direction is the best course of action.

The introductory clause in this sentence begins with IF and ends with MEMBER (8 words). It should be set off with a comma after MEMBER. 

Whoops #3: For the delegation process to be results-centric you have to focus more on the "what" and the "why" and less on the "how".

The introductory phrase in this sentence begins with FOR and ends with RESULTS-CENTRIC (7 words). It should be set off with a comma after RESULTS-CENTRIC. Also, the period at the end of the sentence should be moved inside the quotation marks. (Periods and commas always go inside the quotation marks in the United States.)

Here are all three examples written correctly:

If you are struggling with what to delegate, use the 70% rule.

If you choose a less experienced team member, then Direction is the best course of action.

For the delegation process to be results-centric, you have to focus more on the "what" and the "why" and less on the "how."


Seven errors in one article?

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013

In my last post, I promised to continue discussing the frequency of errors in newspaper articles. Last week I tried to read an article in The Birmingham News about a woman who had been recruiting homeless people to cash counterfeit checks for her. By the time I reached the end of the article, I had highlighed seven errors, which I will share with you here, along with their corrections.

Whoops #1: As written, this sentence makes it sound as if the woman was driving a car that had a typewriter for a sidecar.

Law enforcement recovered $22,000 in counterfeit checks from the car she was driving along with a typewriter, he said.

The problem here is poor word order. The phrase about the typewriter belongs next to the counterfeit checks because both things were recovered.  The sentence should read this way:

Law enforcement recovered a typewriter and $22,000 in counterfeit checks from the car she was driving, he said.

 

 Whoops #2: The problem with this sentence is subject/verb agreement.

According to a preliminary estimate, a little over $110,000 in counterfeit checks were seized by law enforcement from Tate's home and car the day she was arrested, Bailey testified.

 A LITTLE OVER $110,000 is a lump sum of money and should be considered singular. It should not be used with the plural verb WERE. The verb should be WAS.

 NOTE: An even more efficient way to improve this sentence and avoid the WAS/WERE decision is to make it active rather than passive:

According to a preliminary estimate, law enforcement seized a little over $110,000 in counterfeit checks from Tate's home and car the day she was arrested, Bailey testified.

 

Whoops #3: This glitch has to do with verb tense.

…her role was to show others involved where the banks are and where the homeless people congregated, he said.

The writer should decide whether he is speaking in the present tense or the past tense. If he says HER ROLE WAS, then he should not say WHERE THE BANKS ARE (present tense) and then flip back to the past tense with THE HOMELESS PEOPLE CONGREGATED. If they congregated in the past, why would you need them where the banks are now? The sentence should read this way to be parallel in structure and verb tense:

…her role was to show others involved where the banks were and where the homeless people congregated, he said.

 

 Whoops #4 and #5: Strings of phrases can confuse meaning. The writer should also remember that AN rather than A is the correct article (noun determiner) in front of a word that begins with a vowel.N N writer should also remember that An    g. The also 

Investigators had been looking into Tate and others  after a  incident in the fall of 2011 after authorities were alerted to a incident in Trussville where someone tried to cash a counterfeit check.

The two AFTER(s) confuse the time frame.  The two uses of INCIDENT make it sound as if there are two separate incidents.  WHERE should refer to location, not function. Here is what I consider a better version of this sentence:

 Investigators had been looking into Tate and others after authorities were alerted to an incident in Trussville in the fall of 2011 during which someone tried to cash a counterfeit check.

 

 Whoops #6: A comma should not needlessly separate one clause from another. If a subordinate clause comes after an independent clause, it should not be set off with a comma.

The woman from Atlanta tried to hide about $15,000 in counterfeit checks under the vehicle, when police approached.

NOTE: This sentence might be more effective if the WHEN clause were placed at the beginning. If it is placed there, the comma would come after APPROACHED: 

When police approached, the woman from Atlanta tried to hide about $15,000 in counterfeit checks under the vehicle.

 

Whoops #7: When using pronouns like THEIR and THEM, it should be clear to the reader who THEY are in the sentence:

Between six and 12 homeless people have identified Tate as having recruited them during their investigation.

As written, this sentence makes it sound as if the homeless people were conducting the investigation.  THEM refers to the homeless people Tate recruited, but THEIR is meant to refer to the police investigators. That won't work. The phrase DURING THE INVESTIGATION should probably be left completely out of this sentence because I doubt that Tate was doing the recruiting during the investigation. Here is how the sentence should read:

Between six and 12 homeless people have identified Tate as having recruited them.

 

Seven errors in one article would suggest that the writer did not proofread what he wrote. It would also suggest that The Birmingham News is no longer making good use of copy editors in the newsroom.


Three errors in one sentence. Too many?

Saturday, February 16th, 2013

crack the whipAs newspapers evolve in these fast-changing times, it appears to me that they are placing less and less emphasis on careful copyediting. Frequent errors in grammar, spelling, punctuation, and usage not only detract from the quality of the journalism, they also distract the reader. Too often lately, I read a sentence and then ask myself, "What was that? What is this reporter trying to say?"

Apparently, I am not alone in my frustration with this. My friend Mark, an excellent copyeditor in New York, sent me an email string recently that contained the following dialogue, which occurred after his friend Stephen came across the following sentence in a New York Times article:

More than 2200 flights for Friday had been cancelled, according to the Web site FlightAware, the majority originiting or departing from the areas affected by the storm.

Stephen sent this email to the Executive Editor of The New York Times:

Doesn't the copy desk edit copy anymore? The number 2,200 requires a comma; the American spelling of "canceled" has only one l; and "originiting" requires no comment.

The Executive Editor replied:

Thank you for bringing this to our attention. We all make errors, but you're absolutely right–three in one sentence is far too many. We'll get this fixed soon.

Stephen then emailed Mark:

In my opinion, three errors in the entire newspaper is far too many.

Mark responded with this:

Well dun, Steven. (Just kidding.) At least he didn't reply, "Your absolutely write…" On "cancelled," it is acceptable, not an outright error, but not the spelling preferred by Merriam-Webster. You and I as copyeditors would strike that second ell.

Keep on 'em. Keep crackin' the whip.

 I wonder what Mark and Stephen would think about a recent article (not an isolated example) in The Birmingham News that contained no fewer than SEVEN errors–in one article! In my next post, I will share those errors and their corrections.

In the meantime, I'd like to hear from any readers who have also noticed an increase in copy errors in local newspapers. Examples are always welcome, along with your comments, at Grammar Glitch Central. Mark asked me to encourage you to write to the editor(s) of your newspaper if you see examples of particularly careless writing or editing. He also said (and I agree) that it's good to write in and compliment the writers and editors when you see especially well-written pieces.

If your paper does not make it easy for readers to give feedback (say, with an email address at the end of an article or on the editorial page), contact the paper and ask them to open up for reader comments.

Like Mark, I would like to say, "Keep on 'em. Keep crackin' the whip." crack the whip


Luncheon topic headline has agreement problem plus a missing “earring comma.”

Monday, October 1st, 2012

A headline in the newsletter of a local ladies club caught my eye last week. Here it is:

Meteorologist James Spann, along with Karen Spann  present  "Beauty after the Storm"

The subject of this headline is JAMES SPANN (one person). The phrase ALONG WITH KAREN SPANN should be set off with two commas (which I like to refer to as "earring commas")–one at the end as well as the one at the beginning.  ALONG WITH KAREN SPANN is a dropped-in phrase, but it does not affect the relationship of the subject JAMES SPANN to the verb, which should be PRESENTS because its subject is one person. The headline should read this way:

Meteorologist James Spann, along with Karen Spann, presents "Beauty after the Storm"

 


Without commas, three-year-old follows boss’s orders for his mom.

Tuesday, September 25th, 2012

Here is an interesting sentence from an article about ongoing gambling issues in Alabama:

Spina said he will argue that Pouncy is a hardworking mother and wife with a 3-year-old son who reluctantly followed her boss' orders because she feared losing her job.

 

As written, this sentence makes it sound as if the three-year-old son reluctantly followed the boss's orders. Two well-placed commas would clear up the confusion.  Here is a clearer version of the sentence:

Spina said he will argue that  Pouncy, a hardworking mother and wife with a 3-year-old son,    reluctantly followed her boss' orders   because she feared losing her job.

Putting commas around the phrase A HARDWORKING MOTHER AND WIFE WITH A 3-YEAR-OLD SON lets the main clause of the sentence (POUNCY RELUCTANTLY FOLLOWED HER BOSS'S ORDERS) stand out and make sense.


One article okay for two nouns? It depends.

Monday, April 30th, 2012

I came across this caption under a photograph in the local newspaper this week:

A  Canadian investment firm and entrepreneur  have acquired Eastwood Festival Centre and intend to add a police sub-station to the shopping center, as well as making other changes.

One thing or another has to be incorrect in this sentence. The verb is HAVE, which suggests that the subject is two separate entities (one CANADIAN INVESTMENT FIRM and one ENTREPRENEUR). However, if that is the case, the word AN should appear before ENTREPRENEUR, and it does not. As written, it sounds as if one entity–A CANADIAN INVESTMENT FIRM that is also an ENTREPRENEUR–HAS ACQUIRED the shopping center.

When I read the first paragraph of the article, it became clear that two entities are involved in the project. One is a CANADIAN INVESTMENT FIRM, and the other is an ENTREPRENEUR.  Therefore, the verb HAVE is correct, but the second entity requires its own article, AN.

I was also bothered by the lack of parallel structure between TO ADD in reference to the POLICE SUB-STATION and MAKING in reference to OTHER CHANGES.

In addition, I do not use a comma before AS WELL AS in the phrasing of a sentence.

Here is my suggested rewrite for this caption:

A Canadian investment firm and an entrepreneur have acquired Eastwood Festival Centre and intend to make changes to the shopping center, including the addition of a police sub-station.

 

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