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AcademicGround >> Punctuation questions...


5/16/08 4:26 PM
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Ted Bennett
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OK, two things that are bugging the crap out of me with respect to punctuation rules. I'd be curious to hear what you all think.

First, I was taught that whenever you have a listing of multiple objects such that you break them apart with commas, you always put a comma before the "and" in front of the last object. In other words, you would write the following - "one, two, three, and four" as opposed to "one, two, three and four." Yet I see it *everywhere* that the last comma is omitted (as in the second example), and this includes major newspapers whose editors presumably know a crapload more about punctuation than I do.  I've seen one book on punctuation that says the first way is correct and the second is poor grammar, and another book says either is okay. I have to say I think omitting the comma is a mistake, and I like the following example given in the first book (my paraphrasing) - "Think of someone writing a foreward in their doctoral dissertation. Suppose they write 'I'd like to thank my parents, God, and Albert Einstein.' Now remove the second comma. It would say 'I'd like to thank my parents, God and Albert Einstein.' Slight difference in meaning, isn't it?" I think so - anyone else?

Second - and this is one I see in dictation I get back on my medical notes ALL THE TIME - I was taught that after a colon, you did not capitalize the first letter of the first word. You should expect to see this, e.g. - "The patient's current medications include the following: aspirin, simvastatin, and metoprolol."  Instead, what I almost always see is this -  "The patient's current medications include the following: Aspirin, simvastatin, and metoprolol." Given that these transcrptionists go to school and are trained specifically for this, is this some new rule I didn't pick up, seeing as my last English class was 20+ years ago?

5/19/08 8:56 PM
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Hollywood Blonde
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Edited: 05/19/08 8:59 PM
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IIRC , the comma before the "and" can be in or out in normal U.S. writing.  In newspapers, I believe it is always out.  For English-speaking countries outside of the U.S., I think that the comma is standardly omitted (could be way wrong on this last point).



The word after the colon is capitalized in article titles and the like, but not in normal sentences. 

5/20/08 1:26 AM
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RGoodfellow
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For #1: It depends on what format you're writing in. AP format - no comma before the last item in a list. MLA format - the comma is mandatory between all items in a list. Not sure about APA, chicago, bluebook, etc.

For #2: This is another AP guideline about capitalizing the first word after a colon if begins an independent clause (i.e. complete sentence). I'm not sure what other formats require it, but apparently your transcriptionists have been trained to do it. If it's a phrase or subordinate clause though, they are probably doing it wrong - like capitalizing Aspirin in your example... unless they are using 'aspirin' as a brand name. My guess is that they are overgeneralizing the rule I listed above.

There are no universal rules that govern the minutiae of punctuation, only rules that function within specific formats.
5/20/08 7:40 AM
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Ted Bennett
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 Thanks to all - in the words of Stan Marsh, I learned something today :-P

5/26/08 2:00 PM
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VectorWegaLives
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It was hammered into my head that you always enter two spaces after a sentence. However, apparently that has gone the way of the dodo and you are supposed to only put one space after a sentence. I still put two though.
5/29/08 12:07 PM
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RGoodfellow
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"It was hammered into my head that you always enter two spaces after a sentence. However, apparently that has gone the way of the dodo and you are supposed to only put one space after a sentence. I still put two though."

Again, this depends on what style guidlines you are following.
7/16/08 4:07 AM
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Dan O'Connell
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4 later
7/17/08 7:18 AM
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BarkLikeADog
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There are two schools of thought regarding grammar that are responsible for the many different style formats RG referenced.

The first one is to avoid redundancy as much as possible while still maintaining clarity. This is the overarching rule that mass media is usually going to favor because it ultimately saves space & thus dollars. It is also going to find favor in common writing due to familiarity & saved keystrokes. It's major downfall, however, is that it tends to require rules with exceptions - no comma preceding a final conjunction UNLESS its absence causes confusion, etc.

You probably learned a style like this in school. Furthermore, you probably learned the rules from Strunk & White's Elements of Style, either directly or embedded in another text.

The second school is to create firm, exceptionless rules to guarantee clarity at the potential cost of redundancy. The benefit here is that any idiot reader should be able to understand what the author meant, & any idiot author can correctly convey their meaning without careful consideration, provided they follow the simple rules. This is usually going to be the preference of scholarly work, as the authors don't want to waste time getting bogged down in minutae.

You might have learned a style like this if you took anything at the collegiate level that required technical writing.
7/17/08 7:33 AM
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BarkLikeADog
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re: two spaces after a sentence:

This rule existed solely for technical reasons that are no longer relevant. Kerning is the amount of horizontal space between two letters. The correct kerning is different between certain letter combinations.

For example "CO" versus "AW".

See how the last leg of the A extends under the first leg of the W?

That's because Windows correctly kerns the letters closer to each other so there's not a ton of white space in between them, which prevents you from thinking they don't belong together.

Old computers & manual typewriters didn't do that, so sentences starting with T, V, W, Y or quotes tended to look like run-ons unless you forced them away with the extra space. Of course, you don't want to think about that while typing, thus the universal rule. Obviously, you don't need to do that anymore, unless you're typing on an out-of-date machine or your audience is crotchety old morons.
12/8/08 1:54 AM
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AlbertEinstein
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The comma before the and at the end of a list is optional. Either way is correct.

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