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Picture of Chris J. Strolin
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A new OEDILFer recently posted something with punctuation along the lines of:

She screamed, "Help!".

When he was advised that the ending period was not needed, he replied that that was what he had thought but that he had been corrected elsewhere on a similar point and that the "rule" was that you should be able to lift quoted material out of a sentence and still have what's left make sense as far as the punctuation is concerned.

What a handy little rule! It doesn't make a whole lot of sense but it's certainly easy to remember.

Another "rule" of this sort (#766 on my list of linguistic pet peeves) is that the word "none" is always followed by "is" and not "are" because "none" stands for "not one" and, of course, "not one" would take the "is" and not the "are."

Again, great little rule. I only wish it worked. The example I like to give in this regard uses a scenario where you are at a party and you've just wolfed down the last of the peanuts in a small bowl set out for everyone's use. The host or hostess asks, "How many peanuts are left?" Do you answer:

A.) "None is left" (following the "rule") or

B.) "None are left" (and make grammatical sense)?


Are there other "rules" that you have heard of that will only lead someone down the wrong path?
 
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There is a whole web-site devoted to it: the apostrophe protection society.
 
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I don't like I would ever say "none is left", that sounds terribly ungrammatical to me, while "none are left" is everyday language. There must be some historical reason as the change from singular to plural, as in common vernacular, "none" can have just about any different semantic meaning of nothing.

How would you say "none are left" without none? "Zero are left" sounds awful, as does "there are zero left".

There aren't any left / There are none left

These mean the exact same thing to me.
 
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None of 'em!


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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I don't like I would ever say "none is left", that sounds terribly ungrammatical to me, while "none are left" is everyday language.

That is really an interesting point. At first I thought that I always say "none is." Then I thought of the sentence, "There is none left." That just doesn't sound right. Is there some sort of rule about using "is" or "are" with "none?"

BTW, zmj, your link didn't work for me.

CJ, that post about where the quotation marks go reminded me of this post of yours.
 
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So, I would never say "There is none left", however, I would certainly say "There's none left", which boggles my mind.
 
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BTW, zmj, your link didn't work for me.


Here's plain text, Kalleh. You can copy and paste.

http://alt-usage-english.org/excerpts/fxnoneis.html

quote:
With mass nouns, you have to use the singular. ("None of the wheat is...") With count nouns, you can use either the singular or the plural. ("None of the books is..." or "None of the books are...") Usually, the plural sounds more natural, unless you're trying to emphasize the idea of "not one", or if the words that follow work better in the singular.

The fullest (prescriptive) treatment is in Eric Partridge's book Usage and Abusage (Penguin, 1970, 0-14-051024-9). In the original edition Partridge had prescribed the singular in certain cases, but a rather long-winded letter from a correspondent persuaded him to retract.


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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She screamed, "Help!".

Although it looks wrong and overpunctuated it is actually correct. Were the sentence to have read 'She screamed, "Help!" very loudly.' then nobody would have a problem with the terminal full stop. And were it to have read, 'She screamed, "Help!" loudly.' then again, the sentence would look positively wrong without the terminal full stop.

And just because there is no text following the quotation, why should the rule change? Because it looks wrong that doesn't mean it is wrong. A sentence needs some sort of terminal punctuation and, simply because there is subsidiary punctuation in the body of the sentence, this does not remove the need for the terminal punctuation.

When you understand its rationale the rule actually makes quite a lot of sense.

To avoid the awkward combination of three punctuation marks I would suggest re-casting the sentence rather that getting it wrong.


Richard English
 
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After she had screamed "Help!" a number of times and got none, she let time pass, listening to the discussion, fearing that it was related to her period. This brought her to a full stop. Irresistible hunger forced her to shriek, "How many peanuts are left?", and the WordCrafters, considering all options, avoiding none, replied, gooberlessly, "They're all gone."
 
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Regarding re-casting sentences in order to sidestep awkward issues, I do it all the time but each time it comes up it bugs me a little. I understand the logic of the punctuation:

She cried "help!".

but, on one hand, dislike the way that all that ending punctuation looks like someone has thrown a handful of confetti at my sentence and, on the other, resent the fact that to avoid this, I have to re-cast it as:

She cried "help!" loudly.

which certainly looks better but obviously doesn't add anything to the sentence besides redundancy. The word "cried" and the exclamation point are more than enough to convey the idea of increase volume. Sometimes, in order to try to have it both ways, I'll introduce some completely unrelated or unneeded angle such as:

She cried "Help!" and then "Ayudame!", slipping into the native Spanish she had learned in a previous lifetime but which, before this traumatic event, had remained dormant in her subconscious.

Also notice I used "had remained dormant..." instead of "had lie dormant..." or "had lain dormant..." which was just so much more re-casting to avoid that verb that almost no one is 100% comfortable using.

And, yet again, I tacked on the final part of that last sentence (beginning with "which was just...") so as to avoid the logical but weird looking:

had lain dormant...".

which looks like either so many ants at a picnic or an inept attempt to convey meaning via Morse Code.

I'm sure we all re-cast our writing on a regular basis for a dozen different good reasons but my feeling is that in a perfect world (or with a perfect language), we wouldn't have to.
 
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In your previous post, CJ, you had agreed that it's, Did you say "Wow!"? I don't see how, She screamed, "Help!". is any different. I agree with Richard on that.

Zmj, now your link works for me! Go figure.

Sean, I agree with you completely. I'd not say, "There is none left," but I would say, "There's none left." That is odd! [The worst of it is, the more I say "There is none left" to myself, the more accurate it sounds!]
 
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quote:
She cried "help!" loudly.

So why not re-cast it as, "Help!", she cried. Then you have a comma intead of a full stop (which is what, I suspect, you find irritating).


Richard English
 
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To be honest, the "She cried, "Help!". just doesn't bother me at all.
 
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CJ asks, Do you answer:
A.) "None is left" (following the "rule") or
B.) "None are left" (and make grammatical sense)?
I would simply answer "None".

But I disagreed that B but not A makes grammatical sense; I'd say its the other way around.
 
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Originally posted by Chris J. Strolin:
A new OEDILFer recently posted something with punctuation along the lines of:
    She screamed, "Help!".
When he was advised that the ending period was not needed, he replied that that was what he had thought but that he had been corrected elsewhere on a similar point and that the "rule" was that you should be able to lift quoted material out of a sentence and still have what's left make sense as far as the punctuation is concerned.


The advice given to your OEDILFer is nonesense.

By the logic of that advice, you'd have to write the latter of the following alternatives, not the former:
    She said, "I did my homework."
    She said, "I did my homework."
    .
But that is simply not so. You'll see, by checking the actual use of quotations in any reasonable text-sample, that the former is what is used.
 
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But I disagreed that B but not A makes grammatical sense; I'd say it's the other way around.

It wasn't grammatical sense we were talking about; it was which sounds right. However, after saying it dozens of times to myself, I may have changed my mind. But you're right...it's so much easier to just say "None!" and be done with it! Wink
 
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She said, "I did my homework."
She said, "I did my homework.".


I'd say they're both wrong. One doesn't write:

She read, a book.

Or at least if one does, it doesn't mean the same as:

She read a book.

Rather, try instead:

She said "I did my homework."
She said "I did my homework".
She said she did her homework.
Ad·fussy·nauseam.

"Punctuation? We ain't got no punctuation. We don't need no punctuation. I don't have to show you any stinking punctuation." [Punctuated by St Isidore of Sevilla, patron saint of bloody prescriptivists.]

quote:
It wasn't grammatical sense we were talking about


That's because grammar is not punctuation or vice versa. Grammatical sense sounds an awful lot like military intelligence to my tin, civilian ear.

[Edited to fix a typo.]

This message has been edited. Last edited by: zmježd,


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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That's because grammar is not punctuation or vice versa.

I know that we've discussed this before, but what exactly is the difference between grammar and the use of punctuation (in my mind, a part of grammar)? I obviously still don't get it, though Zmj I don't believe you were with us when we had discussed this earlier.
 
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what exactly is the difference between grammar and the use of punctuation (in my mind, a part of grammar)


Punctuation is, at best, a part of orthography (or spelling), and grammar is the set of rules for how sounds (phonology), roots and affixes (morphology), and words (syntax) are combined together to form coherent and meaningful utterances, that is phrases and sentences. Leonard Bloomfield once wrote: "Writing is not language, but merely a means of recording language by means of visual marks." Remember not all languages use a phonological writing system. I am not saying that punctuation is useless or unnecessary, just that I would not include it under the rubric of grammar. And, I believe that most linguists would agree with me. While orthography (in the English "spelling" sense of the term) deals with the mapping of letters and sounds, punctuation deals with what are called suprasegmental features like stress, pitch, and rhythm (prosody).


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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Often you will hear the concept of a Universal Grammar. That is the idea that our brains are hardwired to understand language. That is, the rules of grammar are built into our brains, and we are born with them. Obviously, the rules of punctuation are not innate, since langauge was around for a long time before writing systems developed. Whether or not a Universal Grammar exists is a matter of contention, but when you wonder about the linguistic definition of grammar, think about Universal Grammar, which will logically tell you things like puncutation, are not a part of it.

One caveat, I am using the definition of grammar in the same manner as Chomsky, which is descriptive grammar. There is the other definition, which is prescriptive grammar, which seeks to tell us in what manner to speak/write in.
 
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Thank you, Zmj and Sean, for such cogent replies. I just went to Dictionary.com to see what that has to say about "grammar" (punctuation is more clear to me). Interestingly, here are a few of their definitions:

- The study of how words and their component parts combine to form sentences.

- The study of structural relationships in language or in a language, sometimes including pronunciation, meaning, and linguistic history.

- The system of inflections, syntax, and word formation of a language.

- The system of rules implicit in a language, viewed as a mechanism for generating all sentences possible in that language.

- A normative or prescriptive set of rules setting forth the current standard of usage for pedagogical or reference purposes.

The first three seem to support what you are saying, zmj, while the last two get a little more precriptive. Interestingly, I was at Borders in Georgetown a few days ago, and they had a whole table labeled "Grammar" with many prescriptive books. I thought of Wordcraft when I saw that!
 
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I'd say they're both wrong. One doesn't write:

She read, a book.

Indeed, one does not - because this is a quite separate construction and a comma is not required before an object.

However, when direct quoted speech, which does not start a sentence, is involved, then a comma finishes the introduction and the first word of the quoted speech is capitalised. Thus:

They said, "We are going away," and went.


Richard English
 
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She read "a book".
She read a book.

I'm sure you learned your rule someplace, Richard English, but I find the commas in your examples surperfluous and unsightly. Use them by all means, but they add nothing in the way of disambiguation.

If punctuation were really used to indicate pauses, we'd be able to write such things as:

She read, a book.

With the comma indicating a pregnant pause or beat.

[Added an extra comma.]

This message has been edited. Last edited by: zmježd,


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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I don't have my "prescriptive" books with me right now, but, Richard, I do think that Zmj is right. We used to put a comma before quotes, but I believe the books now are suggesting we don't do that, for the reasons that Zmj gives. It really doesn't seem to be needed, if you think about it.
 
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It really doesn't seem to be needed, if you think about it.


And you've got a comma there, Kalleh, that you don't need. No comma is needed if the 'if clause' follows the main clause. If the 'if clause' introduces the sentence, then a comma is needed.

Punctuation and spelling can be very sticky issues and a lot of rules are in a state of flux. Some accept the new ways (usually a simplification of a rule) more readily and others like to hang onto the old ways for as long as possible. I guess you could say this is the difference between descriptive and prescriptive grammar.

One example I've noticed lately is the rule concerning putting commas before and after the word 'however'. I was taught that you always set off 'however' with commas, but more and more frequently I notice there are none in many reputable publications.

There are lots of problems with hyphenated words too. It seems to me that words go through the following stages:
1) two words are used together repeatedly;
2) these two words are used together so often that they grow a little hyphen, as if they are officially married; Smile
3) then gradually these two words become so closely connected that they eventually lose the hyphen and become one compound word (a lot like marriage too, come to think of it!).

Problem is that people/publishers/dictionaries often disagree about when a word is hyphenated and when it is not. My computer, for example, cannot make up its mind if it's 'world-wide' or 'worldwide'. I use the hyphenated form and the spell checker suggests spelling it as one word. I get rid of the hyphen and it suggests putting it back in!
 
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I don't remember where I found this, but I thought you might find it interesting.

History of English Punctuation

While to us it may seem that Dexter’s disregard for proper punctuation was one of his idiosyncrasies, this casual approach is absolutely in keeping with the heritage of our written language. The earliest hieroglyphic and alphabetic inscriptions had no punctuation symbols at all: no commas to indicate pauses, no periods between sentences. In fact, there weren’t even spaces between words. Nor did the early Greek and Roman writers use any form of punctuation.

It wasn’t till later, in formal inscriptions, that word divisions were indicated by a dot centered between words. Still later, spaces were used in place of the dots, and by the seventh century the convention was quite common. In some early medieval manuscripts, two vertically aligned dots represented a full stop at the end of a sentence. Eventually one of the dots was dropped, and the remaining dot served as a period, colon or comma, depending on whether it was aligned with the top, middle, or base of the lowercase letters.

When the English scholar Alcuin established a consistent writing style for all scribes in the Holy Roman Empire in the ninth century A.D., one significant result was the Caroline minuscules – the forerunners of our own lowercase letters. Alcuin also attempted to standardize the marks and use of punctuation. Aldus Manutius, the Renaissance typographer and printer, helped establish Alcuin’s reforms through consistent usage. Manutius used a period to indicate a full stop at the end of a sentence and a diagonal slash to represent a pause.

The basic form of the question mark was developed much later, in sixteenth-century England. Most typographic historians contend that the design for the question mark was derived from an abbreviation of the Latin word quaestio, which simply means “what.” At first this symbol consisted of a capital Q atop a lowercase ‘o’. Over time this early logotype was simplified to the mark we use today.

In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, quotation marks, the apostrophe, the dash, and the exclamation point were added to the basic set of punctuation marks in consistent use. The initial configuration of the exclamation point, which is descended from a logotype for the Latin word io (“joy”), was a capital 'I' set over a lowercase ‘o’. As with the question mark, the design of the exclamation point was gradually streamlined to its present form.

Our repertoire of punctuation continues to expand. As recently as the 1960s, a new mark called the interrobang was proposed. A ligature of the exclamation point and question mark, the interrobang would serve as a way to punctuate sentences like, “You did what?!”

Dexter, "Lord" Timothy [born Timothy Dwight] (1747-1806) American writer [noted for his A Pickle for the Knowing Ones (1802)]
 
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I'm sure you learned your rule someplace Richard English,

Well, I could cite several authorities and will mention just one - Michael Temple's Guide to Written English. This is quite clear about the use of commas to set of direct speech.

Your own suggestion "...If punctuation were really used to indicate pauses, we'd be able to write such things as:

She read, a book..."

would have merit if if there were some need to put in a pause to indicate that this is some special kind of book. But as the sentence is normally pronounced, there is no pause and no need for a comma. A pause happens before a passage of direct speech and thus punctuation is needed.

If there were need to indicate a pause in your suggested sentence (maybe the object is a surprising one), then I would suggest a different punctuation mark - maybe a dash, as in:

"She read - a Harry Potter book!"

The purpose of punctuation is not simply to prevent amibiguity, but also to indicate pronunciation and inflection - as anyone reading an unpunctuated work could confirm.

I am happy to listen to quotes from other authorities and style guides, of course.


Richard English
 
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quote:
Originally posted by Richard English:
If there were need to indicate a pause in your suggested sentence (maybe the object is a surprising one), then I would suggest a different punctuation mark - maybe a dash, as in:
"She read - a Harry Potter book!"


An ellipsis, I feel, is the required mark.
 
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Good grief, reading in ancient times must have been painful! i hate it when trying to read something someones written on the internet or by hand or whatever when theres no punctuation whatsoever and you really dont know whether theyre asking a question or stating something sometimes it can go on for pages and pages but usualyy ive given up by that point

Ugh. *shudder*

I use commas (and/or other punctuation marks) when I want the reader to pause at a particular point. I imagine reading what I've written out loud, and put the commas in where the pauses/breaths should go. Kind of like rests on a musical stave (I think I've mentioned that before; sorry if I'm repeating myself). Because I sometimes want a different effect, I may appear to contradict myself with similar sentences by putting no comma in where previously I've inserted one at the same point. For example, taking Kalleh's sentence that museamuse commented on above:

"It really doesn't seem to be needed, if you think about it."

One time I might keep the comma; another time discard it - all depending on how much of a pause I want my reader(s) to put in when they get to that point. It all goes on how it feels, and as such is difficult to describe.

Works for me, anyway Big Grin.
 
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It seems to me that the "rules" of punctuation are of a different order than the rules of grammar (e.g., syntax).

As for commas before quoted direct speech, yes, most of the authorities, (e.g., Chicago Manual of Style), have it thus.

The terms for the comma and period are borrowed from Greek words κομμα and περιοδος (komma and periodos, literally 'stamp, impression of a coin; piece' and 'going round'). They were rhetorical terms that originally applied to sub-sentential clauses and sentences respectively. The blank between words was an earlier invention, as most ancient writing was run together without spaces. In fact, the Ancient Greeks used to write in a style called βουστροφηδον (boustrophedon, 'turning like an ox while ploughing') in which the directions of writing alternated between left to right and right to left: the letters flipping over and facing the direction of which the line was going.

As far as the em dash is concerned: I was taught not to place space on either side of it. Also, I've noticed that people who are sticklers for using the em dash rarely use the en dash for ranges of numbers, but find the hyphen sufficient.

If we cannot indicate the intricacies of normal speech with our punctuation marks, then writing surely is secondary to speech, as Platon suggested. The "rules" of punctuation are suggested directions at best.


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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And you've got a comma there, Kalleh, that you don't need. No comma is needed if the 'if clause' follows the main clause. If the 'if clause' introduces the sentence, then a comma is needed.

I suppose I overuse commas. I tend to place a comma where I naturally pause, and that placement isn't always acceptable. I have had a few OEDILF limericks where the sentence started with a contraction, and often I put commas after contractions in sentences because when I speak, I often pause after the contraction. For example, I might say "But, (thinking to myself, 'in retrospect') maybe I wouldn't do it that way again." There is a natural pause in my speech, but, as I've been told by many OEDILFers "You never place a comma after a contraction that starts a sentence." They have then followed that with 17 sources supporting their stance!

So...I understand your point, Muse. I think I tend, however, to think more like Zmj when it comes to punctuation (Chicago Manual of Style is shuddering as I write this!).
 
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