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ATTITUDES THROUGH IDIOMS-8

November 19, 2017

Extracts from the book by Thomas W. Adams and Susan R.Kuder

fairbb01 

FAIR PLAY

n

1. an established standard of decency, honesty, etc
2. abidance by this standard
  1. The football coach threw Dan a curve. He assured Dan he would be picked for the team, but in the end he told him he wasn’t good enough ANOTHER SITUATION: “What a surprise! Amy really threw me a curve. All along she said that she liked me, and then suddenly she said she wanted to break up. I feel terrible!” (mislead or deceive someone; surprise someone in an unpleasant way).
  2. When Peter smashed his car, the insurance company gave him a fair shake. They gave him enough money to repair his car (honest treatment).
  3. In the divorce settlement, Margaret got burned. Her ex-husband got everything and she got nothing (to be severely wronged).
  4. Chris got away with murder. She knew her parents would not like it, but she stayed out all night at a party. When she got home, her parents didn’t say anything to her (do something very bad without being punished).
  5. When Ruth broke Kathy’s favorite bowl, Kathy raked her over the coals. She yelled and yelled at Ruth, told her she was clumsy and said that she should never touch anything of hers again (criticize sharply).
  6. When Jean cooked dinner for Nancy, she burned the food. Nancy refused to eat it. To add insult to injury, she told Jean she was not a good cook, and probably never would be (hurt someone’s feelings after doing that person harm; make bad trouble worse)
  7. When Terry failed the English test, Kelly told him he was stupid and would never learn to speak English. Kelly’s comment was a hit below the belt (be an unfair or cowardly act; do something that is against the rules of sportsmanship or justice).
  8. Erickson, the store manager, gave Larry the ax. One day Larry came to work, and with no warning, he was fired (abruptly finish a relationship; fire an employee without warning).
  9. Linda and her friends decided to go to the movies. Linda wanted to see one movie, and everyone else wanted to see another. Linda was a good sport, and went to the movie her friends wanted to see (be someone who has a good sense of fair play).
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PETE’S IDIOMS-8

November 18, 2017

teaching English

SOMETHING UP THE TEACHER’S SLEEVE

A true story that happened to me when I was doing my practice teaching way back in 1969.

Being a budding teacher at school, Pete was up to his eyes in work. He had a mentor  – Mr. Nosey – assigned  to him. The idea was that the mentor should give Pete all the back-up needed. The colleagues said Mr. Nosey would observe Pete’s lesson practically every day. “You’ll see if he doesn’t,” they said. Mr. Nosey did.
Pete’s lessons of English were carefully planned. He also ran a pedagogical diary to jog his memory when some special methods of teaching were to be applied. Pete took a leaf out of his mentor’s book.  The mentor said that if homework was given, it was mandatory that the teacher check it through and evaluate it. Whenever there was a failure, Pete was back to the “drawing board” – to his literature in methodology. You couldn’t conduct a good lesson if you didn’t have enough elbow room and if you didn’t have something up your sleeve (another of Mr. Nosey’s  instructions). Pete thought that Mr. Nosey’s  recommendations were far-fetched. Before every lesson Pete had a hang-up about his future ordeal and he never smiled until he had conducted it. He was rather sensitive about his methodological missteps. No sooner had he done something wrong than he could have kicked himself, as he knew, his faults were registered in Mr. Nosey’s log-book. He knew that if he protested, he wouldn’t have a leg to stand on, since everything was done according to school regulations. But as long as Mr. Nosey was observing his lesson, Pete felt like a cat on hot bricks. The presence of the mentor was very off-putting.

Pete’s problem was his tempo. He always scorched along the pre-planned lesson at high speed and, and as a rule, had a good five or ten minutes before the bell, when he didn’t know what to do with the class. The same happened this time. However, Pete was in luck’s way. He recalled a short verse from his diary. “Listen, folks,” he said, “I’ll recite a poem about… love.” The class (young people, all 16-17years of age) cocked up their ears for the key-word LOVE. Pete started:

“They walked in the street together, the sky was covered with stars, // They reached the gate in silence, // He drifted down the bars… // She neither smiled, nor thanked him, Because she knew not how,//  Because he was a farmer’s boy, // And she – a farmer’s cow…”

A thunderous laughter shook the walls of the classroom and lasted long enough until the final bell went.

THE CENTENARY OF THE EXPERIMENT

November 12, 2017

Russian-Rev-853x326

This year’s November 7th passed in Ukraine almost unnoticed. Just another day in late autumn – short, dark and dull. That’s not what the Communist party leaders hoped for when they celebrated the 50th anniversary of the “Great October Socialist Revolution” (that was the official name) fifty years ago. I remember 1967 very well. General euphoria flooded the three existing television channels and all the paper media were crammed with “reports” about the achievements of the working people and working intelligentsia on the “labor fronts.” There was no end to all sorts of functions and meetings, to congratulatory telegrams sent by leaders of “brotherly” parties from all over the world. My fellow student said to me then, “Can you imagine what it will be like when the centenary of the Revolution is celebrated?” However, there was nothing on November 7, 2017… Just another November day, dark and boring…

Political experts and analysts have written volumes about the collapse of the Soviet Union, emphasizing various reasons why the implementation of the communist ideology failed. All of them may be right. I am just going to present a layman’s arguments why I am strongly against this ideological experiment to be repeated now or any time in the future.

At first sight, I don’t have much to complain about. I grew in a family in which there were three more children. When our father died, two of the children were still in high school (my brother, who was three years younger, and I were already university students). Our mother, being the only bread-winner in the family with a rather small salary – just enough only to make both ends meet,  managed to raise the younger ones and they also graduated from universities.  I received what I consider to be good education and I felt (and continue to feel 🙂 ) quite comfortable in such areas as pedagogy and foreign languages. Later, when I met American and British educationalist, and then when I taught at schools of Sheffield and Chicago, I saw for myself that my level was not lower than that of my colleagues in Britain or the U.S.A. At the start of my career, I was “given” an apartment to live in. In those days apartments were not bought – they were “given” for free by the administration at your place of work if they thought that you were an efficient and perspective employee, i.e. if you “deserved” this benefit. Apartments became immediately the property of those to whom they were given, and no one could take them away from you, even if you changed your place of work and started working for another enterprise, or even if you went to another city to work.

When I began working after the university, I could afford to buy good books. I collected an excellent home library which contained the best works of world classical literature. My own children were basking in the atmosphere of books and music. When they were little kids, my wife and I used to take them to the seaside either in the Crimea or the Caucasus practically every summer.

No unemployment, residence given for free (and used in perpetuity), free education, free medicine, the motto “A man is a brother (not a wolf) to another man…” Why, then, am I AGAINST that communist experiment?

In the first place, it’s because not everything was free… You could openly say only what the Big Brother expected you to say. I had to be cautious when I was teaching classes. In one of her lectures, in the 1970s, one of my colleagues mentioned (in passing) that millions of people had been murdered on Josef Stalin’s orders. She was reported by an anonymous informer and kicked out from the university within a couple of days.

Earlier I mentioned my home library: John Steinbeck, Harper Lee, Joseph Heller, Kurt Vonnegut, William Golding, Dylan Thomas, Muriel Spark… Their works were (and are now) on my shelves at arm’s length. But to possess such books as The Gulag Archipelago by Solzhenitsyn meant much trouble if the possession was discovered. And should the owner give The Gulag Archipelago to a friend to read, that could lead to an arrest and imprisonment of the giver because such an action came under the provision of the law about anti-Soviet propaganda. Myself, I was able to read Solzhenitsyn’s work only in the United States. Earlier, in Britain, I read George Orwell’s 1984 and Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago, which were also banned in the Soviet Union.

All schools, factories, farms (there were only “collective” farms), all enterprises, offices – no matter how small they could be – each had their “party bureaus” which kept a watchful eye on the behavior of their employees. If anyone (even not a Communist party member) stepped back from the “party line,” repercussions followed right away. In my time there were no mass arrests, as they were in the 1930s,  but dismissal from work was common. There were expulsions of students from universities too. One of our students who knew English best was sent to Alma-Ata (the then capital of the Kazakh Republic in Central Asia)  to participate in an all-U.S.S.R. English competition. There he told (in private, with only a few people present) a “political joke.”  A week or two after his return from Alma-Ata, the local KGB informed the university rector about the “disloyalty” of the student. He was saved from expulsion only because he was in his last year of the university and was already assigned to a certain place to work after graduation.

Incidentally, placements after graduation were another headache for most of the students. The graduates had to work where the educational authorities sent them to – even if the students had found better places of work which were more to their liking and where they were welcomed. Places for students in the first 2-3 years of graduation were in remote (“God-forsaken”) villages, hardly accessible in late fall or winter time, and with very limited number of conveniences.

Travelling abroad was a privilege of the few who were chosen. Again, such trips had to be approved beforehand by a party bureau or a party committee, which supervised subordinated party bureaus. If any stepping back or away “from the line” was revealed before the trip, the candidate was barred from travelling. The same took place when a person returned from a trip abroad with “tarnished reputation” (usually it became known also from anonymous reports). Then, violators were blacklisted and banned from future trips. Another colleague of mine bought a crucifix (a small, next-to-skin baptismal cross) while being on a tour in Bulgaria. A few days after his return, there was a phone call from the regional party committee, followed by a staff meeting where the colleague’s behavior was discussed, and only because he was not a communist party member, the punishment was mild – just a reprimand registered in his work record book.

As regards religion, officially it was not banned, but by default (a popular word in our computer age), it was frowned upon. Scientific Atheism was a required course at all departments in all universities. My mother was a Baptist believer, and I was reticent about it knowing that I would hardly be allowed to work were I was working if the administration found it out.

As a child, I listened to what my parents told me about their childhood. In the 1930s, my grandparents (both on the paternal and maternal lines) had been dispossessed of their land and evicted from their homes just because they were a bit more successful than most other villagers, i.e. they had a few more horses or oxen, their houses were more spacious, etc. After the eviction and their property – even their kitchen utensils – taken from them, they had to go and live at other people’s homes – as a rule, with their distant relatives. And since the relatives could not physically accept the whole family in their houses, the parents lived at one place and the children at another, sometimes in another village. My father’s father was arrested for being “rich” but managed to escape, and lived secretly in another part of the country.

And then, there was so much of deception and lying behind pompous phrases and speeches from TV screens and rostrums. The party bureaucrats, unable to work the command economy, which they called “planned economy”, generated continuous shortages of food, clothes, services, etc. They tried to calm the people by their “skoro budet” (“it’s coming soon”) slogans. However, they did not tighten their own belts. They had special shops (including food shops) which had all sorts of goods inaccessible to “lesser mortals”, special  clinics and hospitals for themselves, right connections… Only one telephone call from a local party boss was enough to solve any issue — even if “to solve” meant to break the law. That was called the “telephone right.” In case with higher education, the telephone right was used, for example, to secure the admission of their sons, daughters and other relatives, or just those from their own clan, to universities, though in most cases young people who were admitted this way didn’t match the admission standards.

I have cast a glance at the latest stage of communism in my country, as I experienced it myself. I could write hundreds of more pages with thousands of examples about why I cannot accept that ideology. It looks human only on the surface – free education, free medicine, “homo homini frater est,” etc., etc. It is inhuman — basically and fundamentally.

11/11/11

November 11, 2017

flanders-fields-poppies-remembrance-dayToday, on November 11, at 11 o’clock in the morning, flowers were laid at the Cenotaph in London, as they are traditionally laid annually on this day to remember Britain’s war dead.

I felt sad reading in British papers that the poppy, the symbol of Remembrance Day, has turned into another instrument of the country’s political divide. Indignant voices are heard that those who do not wear red poppies in their lapels on this day are not patriotic enough. As an example of the patriotic position a Muslim lady was mentioned: she started wearing a poppy a few days before the date. However, some others wore not red but white poppies to emphasize that they were in opposition and their stand was that of pacifism. One of the readers says in comments that the red poppy was once promoted by the wife of the Field Marshal Douglas Haig, who was criticized for his leadership during WWI and was nicknamed “Butcher Haig” for the two million British casualties endured under his command. As an objection to some readers’ statements that the money collected as charity before Remembrance Day goes to support former military servicemen (especially those who are disabled), there are recommendations for the British moguls to withdraw the untaxed money from offshore banks and to give it to those who need it.

The war of experts over Brexit, sexual harassment, the film Dunkirk (“to see or not to see”) and, now, the poppy…

There’s at least one thing that reminds you of “good old Britain” (earlier, also “Great”). The heir to the throne Prince Charles laid the head wreath at the Cenotaph taking the Queen’s place. The Queen’s withdrawal was explained by her wish to be next to Prince Philip, who was officially retired but wanted to attend the event as a spectator. Charles’s wait for the crown has been the longest in the history of the British monarchy, but now the change is visible: Remembrance Day brings taste of kingship for Prince Charles, says The Guardian.

 

 

STUMBLING BLOCKS AS STEPPING STONES-2

November 10, 2017

the-actual-visual

ACTUAL

A typical error continuously made by Ukrainian students of English is the misusage of the words “actual/actually,” which, in English, respectively mean “real/in fact.” When a native English speaker hears the sentence “Payment backlogs are a very actual problem in Ukraine,” he won’t feel that the issue is “burning” – a semantic component contained in the Ukrainian word “”актуальний.” Even the replacements “present” or “current” recommended by dictionaries will not present a complete picture of what was going to be said. I have analyzed possible substitutes and suggest the following choices for the misused word:

…are vitally important

…are top-priority issues,

…are at the top of the agenda/list

…are exigent/challenging/relevant/currently topical/ of current concern/ pressing

 Informally, the colloquial synonym “to be on the front burner” may be used.

 

For the above sentence about the importance of payment backlogs in Ukraine, I would NOT use the following words recommended by some interactive dictionaries:

zeitgeisty (= reflecting the spirit of time);

time-sensitive (= a/ physically changing as time passes; b/ only relevant or applicable for a short period of time);

hot, or red-hot (= extremely popular; very active; successful)

up-to-the-minute (= extending to the present moment, as information, facts, or style: an up-to-the minute news report).

present-day (relating to the current period of time, as “present-day  technological developments”)

Naturally, these words may be used in other situations that relate to the lexical characteristics indicated in the brackets.

SYNONYMS-2

November 9, 2017

How to read book.IGNORANT

Ignorant, illiterate, unlettered, uneducated, untaught, untutored, unlearned mean not having knowledge.

One is ignorant who is without knowledge, whether in general, or of some particular thing <the disputants on both sides were ignorant of the matter they were disputing about – Ellis> <An ignorant person may be dangerous> <I confess I’m ignorant of mathematics>.

 One is illiterate who is without the necessary rudiments of education. The word may imply a failure to attain a standard set for the educated and cultivated person <you may read all the books in the British Museum (if you could live long enough) and remain an utterly illiterate, uneducated person – Ruskin). In its original meaning the word implies inability to read or write. Functionally illiterate is used in the sense that a person is unable to understand what he reads <illiterate voters>. When applied to the violation of English usage, the word illiterate means that the speaker/writer uses English below the status of what is considered to be standard (most teachers would stigmatize the expression “I seen it” as illiterate. The word, however, is often used merely as a contemptuous description of one that shows little evidence of education or cultivation <his speech is positively illiterate> or shows inability to read and understand <it is common knowledge that our professional students and candidates for the PhD are illiterate. One thing you learn very quickly in teaching students at the loftiest levels of education is that they cannot read – Hutchins> Another meaning of illiterate: not well-read or versed in literature: <classes for illiterate soldiers> <an illiterate mathematician>

One is unlettered who is without the learning that is to be gained through the knowledge of books. Often it implies being able to read and write, but with no facility in either reading or writing <unlettered peasants>

One is uneducated, untaught, untutored, unlearned who either has no training in the schools or under teachers or whose ignorance, or crudeness, or general lack of intelligence suggests such a lack. None of the words, however, is used with great precision or in a strict sense <untutored mind>, <experiences of an unlearned man in search for truth and understanding –– Brit. Book News> <taught so many flat lies that their false knowledge is more dangerous than the untutored natural wit of savages – Shaw>

Analogous words: obtuse, in the dark, benighted, naïve, blind to, shallow, green, unenlightened, unknowledgeable, unread, unschooled, untrained, unwitting, witless

100 MOST FREQUENT WORDS: USAGE NOTES-2

November 9, 2017

to_be_or_not_to_be_261445TO BE

The verb TO BE is trained the moment a learner makes an “English start,“ whereupon the word is “delegated” to the field of grammar, and is studied as an auxiliary verb, link verb, modal verb, etc., — in all possible forms. However, the verb is also interesting as a lexical unit. Here are some remarks that may prove useful even at early stages of acquiring language skills.

  1. Am, is and are are not usually pronounced in full. When you write down what someone says, you usually represent am and is using ‘m and ‘s. You can represent are using ‘re, but only after a pronoun.

You can use ‘m, ‘s and ‘re when you are writing in a conversational style – like writing a letter to a friend, but, definitely, not an official letter, a CV, etc.

  1. In conversation, the verb to get is often used to form passives <he got interested>
  2. To make is sometimes used instead of to be to say how successful someone is in a particular job or role. As a lecturer, I used to give my students two identically structured sentences saying that in one of the sentences the verb functions as to be: She made him a good husband and She made him a good wife.
  3. Teachers usually instruct their students that the verb to be forms its negative and interrogative structures without any auxiliaries, “forgetting” the case, when the auxiliary “do is used, like in the sentence “Don’t be long!”
  4. Depending upon a context, the structure is/are/was/were + to be + Past Participle may have not only the modal meaning of obligation (“this story is to be read”), but the meaning of possibility, making the structure be synonymous with the verb “can”: <These birds are to be found all over the world>, <Little traffic was to be seen> ( as soon as students come to know this very meaning of the structure, the teacher will probably have to emphasize every time that the home work which is set “to be done” is an obligation, but in no way a possibility 🙂 )
  5. Some more cases of usage:
  • Mother-to-be, teacher-to-be, = an expectant mother, a future teacher…
  • Let me be! = Let me be what I want! (It’s none of your business, leave me alone; drop it!)
  • What’s it to be? (in a bar, etc.) = What is it you wish? What would be your order?
  • “…been (and gone) and done” = made a mess of … <You’ve been and done it!> (Ukrainian: Ну й наламали ж ви дров!); Another variant: <You’ve been and gone and done it!>; <That dog of yours has been and dug up my flowers!>
  • the be-all and end-all = the final aim apart from which nothing is of real importance: <This job isn’t the be-all and end-all of existence>
  • to come into being = to start to exist: <When did the Roman Empire come into being?>
  • a being = any living person or thing: <beings from outer space>
  • What is it to you? = Mind your own business; It’s none of your business. This is usually used defensively, against someone who is being nosy.
  • As it is = already: <I’ve got enough problems as it is>

ATTITUDES THROUGH IDIOMS-7

November 7, 2017

Extracts from the book by Thomas W. Adams and Susan R.Kuder

'As we all know, the appearance of honesty is the best policy....'HONESTY/DIRECTNESS

  1. Bill told Steve that he really liked Steve’s girlfriend, Gail. The same day, however, he told Jim that Gail was a bore. Bill is two-faced (= to be hypocritical).
  2. Sandy talked to Jill about her most personal problems. Jill now knows just about everything important there is to know about Sandy. Sandy bared her soul to (= to tell everything)
  3. Mark was allowed to borrow his father’s car on the condition that he not take it out of town. Mark drove the car one night to a neighboring town and his father never found it. Mark pulled the wool over his father’s eyes (= to deceive).
  4. Mary didn’t do her work because she had forgotten all about it. She thought she might tell her teacher she had lost it, but she decided to tell him what really happened. She was up front (= to be totally honest) with the teacher.
  5. Barb and Maryanne room together. Maryanne often borrows Barb’s clothes without asking her. This bothers Barb, but she hasn’t said anything to Maryanne. Finally, she tells Maryanne that she has something she wants to get off her chest (= to unload a burden). She tells her what has been bothering her.
  6. Frank Smith is running for governor. In his speeches to the people of his state, he says exactly what he thinks. He hides nothing. Frank Smith tells it like it is (= to tell the truth).
  7. When Mary is with Alice, she often criticizes Bill. When she is with Bill, she often criticizes Alice. Neither Bill nor Alice knows that she does this. Mary often talks behind her friends’ backs (= to gossip about smt/smb without a person’s knowledge).
  8. Jill made it clear when she had her job interview that although she wanted to work for that company, she was planning to move to another state in a year. She thought it was important for her to lay her cards on the table (= to tell all, to be completely open).
  9. West’s daughter, Joann, broke a lamp while playing with her brother. When Mrs. West asked Joann what happened to the lamp, Joann looked her mother in the eye (= to meet or face directly) and told her the truth.

 

 

PETE’S IDIOMS-7

November 6, 2017

Canada“HE DOESN’T SPEAK ENGLISH…”

Jim, Pete’s friend from Canada, was known as a “square peg in a round hole” – he could not fit into any niche of society. Once he tried buying shares of a well-known company, but he backed the wrong horse. Definitely, this undertaking was not his scene. The economy of the country took a knock, and the company went broke (the true reason was that the more responsible and better-paid jobs at the company didn’t go by merit, but were a matter of “jobs for the boys” – these facts would come out later in the wash). Before, Jim had thought he would live in clover, as those egg-heads, whom he used to see on television every day. In the end, however, he turned out to be jobless, penniless and didn’t know what to do. Lean times came in, and the chap was nervous of other potential misfortunes lurking around every bend. Even if, economically, things turned for the better, he was too slow to cash in on any improvement. By his nature, Jim would not lean over backwards to gain his ends. As a rule, he preferred to sit back just kicking his heels.

One day he made his mind to seek his fortune in Australia. “Be as it may,” he thought, “but they speak English, and there are more chances for me to board the gravy train.”

The first night he arrived in Sidney, he went to a small restaurant to have dinner. Of course, he was jet-lagged and dead beat after a long flight, but he wanted to get the hang of what Australia was. He wasn’t prepared to pay a fancy price for a meal just because the meal was “foreign”, so he confined himself to a glass of beer only. Besides, he thought that food in an unfamiliar place wouldn’t be up too much either.

There weren’t many people in the restaurant, and Jim drew the attention of Aussies who were sitting at the table not far from him. One of them got up and approached Jim.

“G’day, where you, bloke, from?”

“Saskatoon, Saskatchewan,” Jim replied in a broken scratchy voice. He was afraid that the man was up to no good.

“Oh, alright,” said the Aussie and returned to his table.

“So, where is the guy from?” his friends asked.

“Don’t know, he doesn’t speak English.”

PUNCTUATION

November 5, 2017

A_Punctuation-Cover-PageTHE IMPORTANCE OF COMMAS

In the Internet edition of The Washington Post (November 2) I came across a criminal case of a Warren Demesme, 22, who was interrogated by New Orleans police after two young girls claimed he had sexually assaulted them. It was the second time he’d been brought in, and he was getting a little frustrated, court records show. He had repeatedly denied the crime. Finally, Demesme told the detectives: “This is how I feel, if y’all think I did it, I know that I didn’t do it so why don’t you just give me a lawyer dog ’cause this is not what’s up.” The punctuation, critical to Demesme’s use of the sobriquet “dog,” was provided by the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s office in a brief, and then adopted by Louisiana Associate Supreme Court Justice Scott J. Crichton.

Not very well versed in American slang, I went to the Urban Dictionary, which supplied the following information:

Dog: n. 1. friend of the same sex, usually male. Derived from the members of the Dogg Pound. pl.: dogs : How’ve you been, dog? Long time no see!

2. What you call a close buddy: Hey dog, you got any homework tonight?

 It became clear that the suspect, invoking his constitutional right to counsel, asked not for a canine lawyer (though I admit there can be even lawyer dogs in the country that has the highest rate of lawyers in the world) but for a normal human lawyer. However, when presented in pen and paper, without the word “dog” in commas, the suspect’s reference to an attorney was considered to be ambiguous or equivocal, due to which the cessation of questioning was not required.” Crichton then concluded: “In my view, the defendant’s ambiguous and equivocal reference to a ‘lawyer dog’ does not constitute an invocation of counsel that warrants termination of the interview.” As a result, Demesme was interrogated, he made admissions to the crime, prosecutors said, and was charged with aggravated rape and indecent behavior with a juvenile. He is being held in the Orleans Parish jail awaiting trial.

Yes, punctuation rules in English are more flexible than in Ukrainian or, say, German, but still they are the RULES and it’s not advisable to break them. I used the above example to introduce my next column: Punctuation. It’s not that I’m a go-to-guy for English punctuation, but I’m starting this column to work it out for myself too. So, the first entry is about the COMMA.

 

COMMAS

Rule 1. Use commas to separate words and word groups in a simple series of three or more items.

Example: My estate goes to my husband, son, daughter-in-law, and nephew.

Note: When the last comma in a series comes before and or or (afterdaughter-in-law in the above example), it is known as the Oxford comma. Most newspapers and magazines drop the Oxford comma in a simple series, apparently feeling it’s unnecessary. However, omission of the Oxford comma can sometimes lead to misunderstandings.

Example: We had coffee, cheese and crackers and grapes.

Adding a comma after crackers makes it clear that cheese and crackersrepresents one dish. In cases like this, clarity demands the Oxford comma.

We had coffee, cheese and crackers, and grapes.

Fiction and nonfiction books generally prefer the Oxford comma. Writers must decide Oxford or no Oxford and not switch back and forth, except when omitting the Oxford comma could cause confusion as in thecheese and crackers example.

Rule 2. Use a comma to separate two adjectives when the order of the adjectives is interchangeable.

Example: He is a strong, healthy man.
We could also say healthy, strong man.

Example: We stayed at an expensive summer resort.
We would not say summer expensive resort, so no comma.

Another way to determine if a comma is needed is to mentally put andbetween the two adjectives. If the result still makes sense, add the comma. In the examples above, a strong and healthy man makes sense, but an expensive and summer resort does not.

Rule 3a. Many inexperienced writers run two independent clauses together by using a comma instead of a period. This results in the dreaded run-on sentence or, more technically, a comma splice.

Incorrect: He walked all the way home, he shut the door.

There are several simple remedies:

Correct: He walked all the way home. He shut the door.
Correct: After he walked all the way home, he shut the door.
Correct: He walked all the way home, and he shut the door.

Rule 3b. In sentences where two independent clauses are joined by connectors such as and, or, but, etc., put a comma at the end of the first clause.

Incorrect: He walked all the way home and he shut the door.
Correct: He walked all the way home, and he shut the door.

Some writers omit the comma if the clauses are both quite short:

Example: I paint and he writes.

Rule 3c. If the subject does not appear in front of the second verb, a comma is generally unnecessary.

Example: He thought quickly but still did not answer correctly.

But sometimes a comma in this situation is necessary to avoid confusion.

Confusing: I saw that she was busy and prepared to leave.
Clearer with comma: I saw that she was busy, and prepared to leave.

Without a comma, the reader is liable to think that “she” was the one who was prepared to leave.

 

Rule 4a. When starting a sentence with a dependent clause, use a comma after it.

Example: If you are not sure about this, let me know now.

Follow the same policy with introductory phrases.

Example: Having finally arrived in town, we went shopping.

However, if the introductory phrase is clear and brief (three or four words), the comma is optional.

Example: When in town we go shopping.

But always add a comma if it would avoid confusion.

Example: Last Sunday, evening classes were canceled. (The comma prevents a misreading.)

When an introductory phrase begins with a preposition, a comma may not be necessary even if the phrase contains more than three or four words.

Example: Into the sparkling crystal ball he gazed.

If such a phrase contains more than one preposition, a comma may be used unless a verb immediately follows the phrase.

Examples:
Between your house on Main Street and my house on Grand Avenue, the mayor’s mansion stands proudly.
Between your house on Main Street and my house on Grand Avenue is the mayor’s mansion.

Rule 4b. A comma is usually unnecessary when the sentence starts with an independent clause followed by a dependent clause.

Example: Let me know now if you are not sure about this.

Rule 5. Use commas to set off nonessential words, clauses, and phrases

Incorrect: Jill who is my sister shut the door.
Correct: Jill, who is my sister, shut the door.

Incorrect: The man knowing it was late hurried home.
Correct: The man, knowing it was late, hurried home.

In the preceding examples, note the comma after sister and late. Nonessential words, clauses, and phrases that occur midsentence must be enclosed by commas. The closing comma is called an appositive comma. Many writers forget to add this important comma. Following are two instances of the need for an appositive comma with one or more nouns.

Incorrect: My best friend, Joe arrived.
Correct: My best friend, Joe, arrived.

Incorrect: The three items, a book, a pen, and paper were on the table.
Correct: The three items, a book, a pen, and paper, were on the table.

 

Rule 6. If something or someone is sufficiently identified, the description that follows is considered nonessential and should be surrounded by commas.

Examples:
Freddy, who has a limp, was in an auto accident.
If we already know which Freddy is meant, the description is not essential.

The boy who has a limp was in an auto accident.
We do not know which boy is meant without further description; therefore, no commas are used.

This leads to a persistent problem. Look at the following sentence:

Example: My brother Bill is here.

Now, see how adding two commas changes that sentence’s meaning:

Example: My brother, Bill, is here.

Careful writers and readers understand that the first sentence means I have more than one brother. The commas in the second sentence mean that Bill is my only brother.

Why? In the first sentence, Bill is essential information: it identifies which of my two (or more) brothers I’m speaking of. This is why no commas enclose Bill.

In the second sentence, Bill is nonessential information—whom else but Bill could I mean?—hence the commas.

Comma misuse is nothing to take lightly. It can lead to a train wreck like this:

Example: Mark Twain’s book, Tom Sawyer, is a delight.

Because of the commas, that sentence states that Twain wrote only one book. In fact, he wrote more than two dozen of them.

Rule 7a. Use a comma after certain words that introduce a sentence, such as well, yes, why, hello, hey, etc.

Examples:
Why, I can’t believe this!
No, you can’t have a dollar.

Rule 7b. Use commas to set off expressions that interrupt the sentence flow (nevertheless, after all, by the way, on the other hand, however,etc.).

Example: I am, by the way, very nervous about this.

Rule 8. Use commas to set off the name, nickname, term of endearment, or title of a person directly addressed.

Examples:
Will you, Aisha, do that assignment for me?
Yes, old friend, I will.
Good day, Captain.

Rule 9. Use a comma to separate the day of the month from the year, and—what most people forget!—always put one after the year, also.

Example: It was in the Sun’s June 5, 2003, edition.

No comma is necessary for just the month and year.

Example: It was in a June 2003 article.

 

Rule 10. Use a comma to separate a city from its state, and remember to put one after the state, also.

Example: I’m from the Akron, Ohio, area.

Rule 11. Traditionally, if a person’s name is followed by Sr. or Jr., a comma follows the last name: Martin Luther King, Jr. This comma is no longer considered mandatory. However, if a comma does precede Sr. or Jr., another comma must follow the entire name when it appears midsentence.

Correct: Al Mooney Sr. is here.
Correct: Al Mooney, Sr., is here.
Incorrect: Al Mooney, Sr. is here.

Rule 12. Similarly, use commas to enclose degrees or titles used with names.

Example: Al Mooney, M.D., is here.

Rule 13a. Use commas to introduce or interrupt direct quotations.

Examples:
He said, “I don’t care.”
“Why,” I asked, “don’t you care?”

This rule is optional with one-word quotations.

Example: He said “Stop.”

Rule 13b. If the quotation comes before he said, she wrote, they reported, Dana insisted, or a similar attribution, end the quoted material with a comma, even if it is only one word.

Examples:
“I don’t care,” he said.
“Stop,” he said.

Rule 13c. If a quotation functions as a subject or object in a sentence, it might not need a comma.

Examples:
Is “I don’t care” all you can say to me?
Saying “Stop the car” was a mistake.

Rule 13d. If a quoted question ends in midsentence, the question mark replaces a comma.

Example: “Will you still be my friend?” she asked.

Rule 14. Use a comma to separate a statement from a question.

Example: I can go, can’t I?

 

Rule 15. Use a comma to separate contrasting parts of a sentence.

Example: That is my money, not yours.

Rule 16a. Use a comma before and after certain introductory words or terms, such as namely, that is, i.e., e.g., and for instance, when they are followed by a series of items.

Example: You may be required to bring many items, e.g., sleeping bags, pans, and warm clothing.

Rule 16b. A comma should precede the term etc. Many authorities also recommend a comma after etc. when it is placed midsentence.

Example: Sleeping bags, pans, warm clothing, etc., are in the tent.


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