Posts Tagged ‘Punctuation’

“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


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.


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.


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


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.