Archive for the ‘Punctuation’ Category

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


Sloppy proofreading detracts from company image

Monday, December 31st, 2012

Happy New YearFirst, I'd like to wish all of my Grammar Glitch Central readers a Happy New Year. May your writing be error-free and easy to read in 2013. Many thanks to those who have taken time to comment during 2012. Your observations and questions always add value to this blog.

 

Today's Grammar Glitch point involves an advertisement for a spa and hot tub company that contains several glaring errors. Simple proofreading should have caught these and kept them from downgrading the company's public image.

 

GRammar Glitch on spas

 Unfortunately, the first error occurs glaringly in large print. The city name should be BIRMINGHAM, ending in M, not N.

The second error is at the beginning of the final sentence. OVER 20-MODELS ON DISPLAY is poorly worded and punctuated. There should not be a hyphen between 20 and MODELS. The number 20 simply modifies the word MODELS. Perhaps space was the issue here, but the phrase MORE THAN works much better than OVER here.

The third error is a verb form error. CHOSE is the past tense verb, but the buyer would CHOOSE in the present. Also, I believe the word FROM is missing here.  The buyer is not choosing 4 colors or 8 acylic colors. The buyer is choosing FROM among those options.

Here is my edited version of that last sentence:

More than 20 models on display. Choose from 4 different cabinet colors and 8 different acrylic colors.

 

 


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.


Choosing Correct Plural Forms–Even on Route 66

Monday, July 23rd, 2012

A friend sent a nostalgia email the other day with memories of the 1950s. Although I don't wish to admit having a pretty good memory of that decade myself, I do want to share the two "plural goofs" in that message. Here is the first one:

If you didn't grow up in the fiftys,
You missed the greatest time in history

 Whoops! I wonder if the person who put this message together paid attention in grammar class during the FIFTIES. As with most words that end in Y, the way to make FIFTY plural is to change the Y to an I and add ES. I wouldn't necessarily agree that the FIFTIES was the greatest time in history, but here is how the statement should read:

 If you didn't grow up in the fifties,
You missed the greatest time in history

 The second plural goof appears in the beautiful tapestry shown below:

Whoops again! As I keep pointing out, the plural of a word is NOT formed by adding an apostrophe AND an S. The word KICK is made plural by simply adding an S. The statement at the bottom of the tapestry should read this way:

Get Your Kicks on Route "66"

The Fifties had some great experiences, and I love traveling chunks of Route 66–especially at Temecula and Santa Rosa–but I'd like to think that maybe the greatest time in history is still ahead for the world.  Sure hope so.

 

 

 

 

 

 


The patients’ what? Apostrophe problems continue.

Tuesday, June 19th, 2012

Writers continue to misinterpret the correct location for an apostrophe. As I have said numerous times, an apostrophe should NOT be used to make a word plural.  Consider this example:

Payments were made, but patients' and their family members kept receiving notices that their payments were due.

 

This sentence simply refers to more than one PATIENT.  The way to make PATIENT plural is to add an S, not an S plus an apostrophe. Yes, the FAMILY MEMBERS belong to the PATIENTS, but the word THEIR takes care of that possessive point.  The sentence should read this way:

Payments were made, but patients and their family members kept receiving notices that their payments were due.

 

 


The rigors isn’t??

Thursday, May 31st, 2012

Grammar Glitch returns once more to subject/verb agreement.  Here is a sentence that appeared in an article about the recent Secret Service scandal:

The agency enjoys vaunted prestige in American popular culture, but the rigors of a protective detail–jet-setting the globe at a moment's notice to protect a dignitary, being on-call around the clock–isn't for everyone.

 

Whoops! The subject of the second part of this sentence (after BUT) is RIGORS, which is plural.  No matter how much wording appears between the dashes, the verb for that part of the sentence is ISN'T, which is singular.  It should be AREN'T to go with RIGORS.

NOTE: The phrase ON CALL is written as two separate words that are not hyphenated like JET-SETTING.

The sentence should read this way:

The agency enjoys vaunted prestige in American popular culture, but the rigors of a protective detail–jet-setting the globe at a moment's notice to protect a dignitary, being on call around the clock–aren't for everyone.

 

  A note of welcome to those who participated in my Advanced Business Writing workshops in Troy, Mobile, and Tuscumbia the past two weeks. Note the usage of hyphens and dashes in the example sentence above. We covered this in the workshop.

 

 

  

 

 


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.

 

A WORD OF WELCOME TO ALL THOSE TAKING MY ADVANCED BUSINESS WRITING WORKSHOPS DURING APRIL AND MAY.  I HOPE YOU WILL VISIT GRAMMAR GLITCH CENTRAL OFTEN.  PLEASE USE THE COMMENT SECTION FOR QUESTIONS AND OBSERVATIIONS.  YOU CAN ALSO INDICATE IF YOU WISH TO SIGN UP FOR EMAIL NOTIFICATION OF FUTURE POSTS.