That fake FaceBook post that caught so much attention recently only captured me for a second. Remember? It was the one telling us that the date for Marty McFly to zoom into the future in Back to the Future 2 had arrived. Turns out the date was wrong; that won’t happen for another three years in 2015.
What caught my attention wasn’t the bad date but the bad spelling. The word “arrives” was spelled wrong; it had only one “r.” Note to self: if I am going to try to pull off a hoax or spread an internet rumor, I should check my spelling and grammar first so I look more legitimate. Then again, if you are “brilliant” enough to want to waste your time on such a stunt, good spelling and grammar will not occur to you.
Sorry–did that sound judgmental?
If you want more of that, take a look at the book Eats, Shoots and Leaves. (Did you notice that I didn’t put a comma before the book title? More on that later.) The author tackles ridiculous grammar with humor. The title is even part of a bad grammar story.
This reminds me of a couple more comma errors made all too often. I see these in my students at times, but I also see them in blogs and news articles.
When you use a conjunction (and, but, or, so, etc.), you don’t always need to use a comma. Only use a comma when what follows the conjunction is an independent clause. In other words, what follows the conjunction could stand alone as its own sentence. For example, “I had the pork chops, but she enjoyed the spaghetti.” The comma goes BEFORE the conjunction, not after. What followed the conjunction was a complete sentence (or independent clause).
Try this one: “I loved the pork chops but hated the green beans.” What follows the conjunction (“hated the green beans”) is not an independent clause; it could not stand by itself as a sentence. There is no comma after the conjunction.
One more comma problem. See the book title above: Eats, Shoots and Leaves? I’m not going to give away the story that goes with that title; you should find the book and read about it. However, someone put a comma after “eats” in order to introduce what comes after. That’s wrong punctuation. Let me give you another example. “Samuel went to the store to buy, milk, eggs, and cheese.” Why is this poor comma having to be somewhere he shouldn’t? A comma does not introduce a list. A colon does, but not here. Why? The list is integrated into the sentence. Use the colon when it can introduce the list. “Here’s what Samuel got at the store: milk, eggs, and cheese.”
A few paragraphs above here I did not put a comma before the book title. That’s because the comma does not introduce the book title. There is no reason for it.
Almost all of my examples involve food today. Sorry about that. Happy writing; happy eating!