Avoiding Random
Acts of Commas

By Troy Urquhart

     When I ask writers about their placement of commas, I'm often told that the sentence "needed a pause there" or that it "was a long sentence." While these ideas are well intentioned, they are absolutely wrong. Writers often construct long sentences (such as this one) that include a number of dependent clauses and that are correctly punctuated without the inclusion of even a single comma. Consider Out of the black limousine with mirrored windows stepped a tall young woman with flaming red hair that fell well below her shoulders and a handsome six-year-old boy in a cowboy suit decorated with silver sequins. Conversely, short sentences often require commas for clarity: We ate bacon and the guests ate ham is unclear and should be recast as We ate bacon, and the guests ate ham. Further, even though readers are taught to pause when encountering a comma, the inverse is not true; commas should be placed according to grammatical rules, not to create a dramatic pause. So, when writing, keep a grammar handbook such as Real Good Grammar, Too or Elements of Style nearby, and place your commas deliberately, not randomly.


Students, Faculty, and Staff,
Lend Me Your Ears
The Loan/Lend Controversy
By Brian Hansen

     The latest edition of Webster's International Dictionary notes that loan is now both a verb and a noun; likewise, Fowler's Modern English Usage observes that loan has been passing for a verb since the 19th century. But here at the Writing Lab, we're a conservative bunch; we stand on tradition and strive to combat the degeneration of the English language at the hands of dictionary publishers. And, as far as we're concerned, a loan (noun) is still the thing we receive when someone lends (verb) us something.


Would You Loan or Lend Me Money?
By Chris Bui

     Perhaps Shakespeare should have written "Neither a borrower nor a loaner be." Even he knew that loan is not a verb, or else he might have written "Friends, Romans, countrymen, loan me your ears." Loan is a noun that is often mistaken for a verb. So do not use loan as a verb; instead, use lend. For example, banks give loans, or they lend money. So be a lender, not a loaner.

Expect your reader to read your ideas, not your mind.

- Anon


Using Words Such As Like
By Troy Urquhart

     Today's writers seem to like like like they like no other word. However, this affinity for like leads, in many cases, to overuse and misuse of the word. Consider this example from the February 2 edition of The Times: Mr. Ashcroft met with the heads of Justice Department agencies like the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Drug Enforcement Administration. Clearly, the writer does not intend agencies like (i.e., similar to) the FBI and the D.E.A., but he means to include those particular agencies in the group with which Mr. Ashcroft met, so the sentence should be recast: Mr. Ashcroft met with the heads of Justice Department agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Drug Enforcement Administration. The use of like denotes a comparison to a similar item (He acts like a child), but it does not include that item; the use of such as provides a representative example of a group.


principal expelled the student for
principle reasons.

One of the underlined words in the above sentence is  
 incorrect. Do you know which one?
Call the Writing Lab
(474-2129) for the answer.


Who Cares about Correct Grammar and Punctuation as Long as Your Creative Writing Is Creative and Interesting?
By Chris Bui

Some writers feel that grammar and punctuation have little to do with their creative work, but what good is the work if it is hard to read? Grammar and punctuation help readers understand the text. A reader might not know what noun an adjective describes if the adjective is misplaced; perhaps a reader might not know a character is speaking because quotation marks have been omitted. Any creative piece written without the proper use of grammar and punctuation rules may be difficult for readers to comprehend. Take the following sentence: David Copperfield said Tom Sawyer is a good book. Without the proper underlining or italicization and quotation marks, a reader might not know the speaker or the title of the book. So correct grammar and punctuation are not tortures used to suppress a writer's creativity. Instead, they are used to help readers understand and appreciate it.


When my students respond to a grammatically correct sentence by saying "That don't sound right!" I say, "I think it do."

-Mamie Hixon



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