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Seriously - Who IS the grammar police?

(30 Posts)
kickassangel Tue 09-Jun-15 18:33:08

Or who ARE the grammar police? (Depending on whether the Atlantic is to your left or your right).

anyway - I teach in a school in the US. It's report writing time of year and we're having our annual debate over the use of commas. It's all good natured, but there are some big differences in opinion about when to use a comma for certain types of sub clause and/or compund sentences.

Next year we're planning to put together some statement banks of common phrases we use, so that we can cut down how much time we spend on writing reports. It would be nice if we could all agree.

However, we all have various grammar books (from various decades) which give conflicting/different answers.

So - if you're looking for a definitive answer on grammar ( in the UK or the US) Who would you see as the governing body/grammar police? Who is in charge?

Alambil Tue 09-Jun-15 21:28:38

My university lecturer pointed us towards Eats, Shoots and Leaves when we were debating grammar during my English degree. I'm not sure it's a "law" though, but it is easy to read and digest

elQuintoConyo Tue 09-Jun-15 21:31:10

Me. I've blue lights on my car and a truncheon grin

elQuintoConyo Tue 09-Jun-15 21:32:25

And... I just dropped the 'got' from that sentence...

<shuffles off>


CocktailQueen Tue 09-Jun-15 21:33:12

My bible is Fowler's dictionary of modern English usage - the new edition by Butterfield is out now. It has an answer for everything you could possibly want to know about language. (I'm an editor.)

kickassangel Tue 09-Jun-15 23:45:24

So does Fowlers out rank all other books? What about rules which apparently contradict one another? Is there a ranking of the rules?

ErrolTheDragon Tue 09-Jun-15 23:56:59

Isn't the first rule that, whatever the 'rules' may say, that whatever is most comprehensible and least ambiguous is best? In the case of commas, one of the things that crops up in style guides is the 'Oxford comma' - but following that slavishly can introduce ambiguities in some cases if you use it and in others if you don't. (the wiki) has some examples.

ErrolTheDragon Tue 09-Jun-15 23:58:09

apologies for random brackets... Muphry strikes the late-night poster.

CocktailQueen Wed 10-Jun-15 11:16:46

Ha, not sure if it outranks everything... But it lists all the various circumstances under which a rule may apply and gives examples and publications that have used it, so you have some proof for its use. Which rule in particular are you thinking of?

Agree with Errol too - plain English is generally what you're aiming for: English that is clear, easy to understand and unambiguous.

Oxford commas are used in the USA, but generally not in the UK, unless they help to clarify a sentence.

kickassangel Wed 10-Jun-15 17:18:30

OK - the main problem is when two clauses are joined. (btw, I am a firm supporter of the Oxford comma)
Apparently (according to the member of senior management who proof reads) when making a compound sentence, a comma is only used if the subject of the sentence changes. However, I would argue that the subject shouldn't be changing when making a compound sentence, and that there are times when a comma is needed. One example where it was suggested that I should get rid of a comma was a sentence like this:

"Student A is easily distracted by x and y, and should be more focused on completing writing tasks."

I think the comma is needed after y, otherwise you have "x and y and be more focused" and there is not obvious indicator of where the two clauses are joined.

CocktailQueen Wed 10-Jun-15 20:24:56

I agree with you for that sentence. Another guide is to use a comma when you would naturally pause when saying the sentence, and you would naturally pause there. It helps to split the two parts of the sentence.

kickassangel Wed 10-Jun-15 21:43:39

That's what I think, but apparently there is a rule to contradict that. So which rule rules?

CocktailQueen Thu 11-Jun-15 08:05:38

Is there?? Show me that rule, then. Where does it say that?

RustyBear Thu 11-Jun-15 08:27:46

I proof-read all the reports for the school I work at (240 a year for the last 12 years) so I've seen quite a few, written by maybe 40 different teachers.

I will add a comma if I think the sentence needs it - if I have to go back and read it again to get the sense I may well think a comma is needed - but I don't follow a strict rule and I wouldn't put in or take out commas in a teacher's report just to follow some arbitrary rule.

SenecaFalls Thu 11-Jun-15 19:45:46

I would not treat that sentence as a compound sentence because it does not have two independent clauses. I would not use a comma.

I am, however, completely devoted to the Oxford comma. I'm in the US and also do some free-lance editing. Most of they style manuals I work with prescribe the Oxford comma.

CocktailQueen Thu 11-Jun-15 19:49:46

Seneca - Yes, because in the US they use the Oxford comma! Not in the UK. US and UK grammar and language are very different!!

Also, there's not just ONE rule for commas; there are many. Doesn't have to be two clauses before you add a comma...

Also, it's freelance, not free-lance grin

SenecaFalls Thu 11-Jun-15 19:50:40

The subject changing is not the test; it's whether the clauses are independent.

SenecaFalls Thu 11-Jun-15 19:54:55

You are right about freelance. blush

SenecaFalls Thu 11-Jun-15 19:59:29

Of course there are a lot of rules about comma usage, but the OP is specifically asking about compound sentences.

SenecaFalls Thu 11-Jun-15 20:34:10

Oh, and to answer your first post, kickass, I like Garner's Modern American Usage.

kickassangel Thu 11-Jun-15 21:11:30

See, commas are tricky little urchins, aren't they?

Right, I will get myself a couple (more) grammar books.

CocktailQueen Thu 11-Jun-15 22:31:20

The Chicago Manual of Style is the book most often recommended for working on US texts, OP.

SenecaFalls Thu 11-Jun-15 22:54:04

This is also good; it's worth it for the title alone.

Woe is I

ErrolTheDragon Thu 11-Jun-15 23:40:25

Cocktail- where do you think the 'Oxford comma' was invented?wink

SenecaFalls Thu 11-Jun-15 23:48:54

It's really better described as the Harvard comma. smile

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