To or Too: Guide to Proper Grammar & Punctuation
I have been wanting to write something like this for some time now, as this subject matter is a pet peeve of mine. I try really hard when reading someone’s writings to remember that not everyone is as picky as I am about proper grammar and spelling, but it’s hard. To me a lot of it seems like common sense (like their vs. there). Now don’t get me wrong; I did not major in anything to do with this subject matter, nor am I an expert on it, but I do feel that I have a pretty good base of knowledge simply because I pay attention to it. I actually enjoy proof-reading other peoples’ writing.
Like I said, I’m no expert. I think my first sentence up above sounds just fine, but the Microsoft Word Spelling & Grammar checker tells me that it should read “I have wanted,” rather than “I have been wanting.” You be the judge.
I’ve compiled a list of errors I see often and here are some of them (you can click each one individually to be taken directly to that section):
Some of the above topics are open for interpretation or preference, such as the use of a colon and hyphen. Some are absolutes that everyone should be aware of. I know there are many people here on HubPages from Europe or other countries and I have no idea if the rules are different there, but I would think that most of this is pretty universal. I hope no one takes this as an insult. I know there are many people out there that just simply don’t give a damn and if you’re one of those people you’ve probably already stopped reading. If you do care, I hope that this “guide” will be a handy resource for you. Feel free to make suggestions if you think there’s anything else that should be covered and I would be glad to edit the article to fit it in. Here we go:
Proper Use of the Comma
The rules for commas are somewhat complicated, but make a huge difference in meaning. Consider the difference between “No dogs please” and “No dogs, please.” Many would understand the first to mean the same as the latter–please don’t bring any dogs in here. But in fact the first does not really say that–it is a wrong generalization that dogs do not please when, in fact, many dogs do please. Dogs love to please!
Another great example is the title of one of my favorite books on punctuation, “Eats, Shoots & Leaves.” On the cover is one Panda bear erasing the comma, and another walking away with a gun in hand. With the comma, you picture someone eating, shooting, and then leaving. Without the comma, it states what a Panda eats: shoots & leaves.
Amazon is the premiere online place to go for books, and you'll find tons on grammar & punctuation. These all received great reviews:
This one is my favorite - the subject matter may appear dry, but this was a very entertaining book to read!
This one's on my Amazon wish list!
Here are the rules:
- Commas for lists
Commas divide items in lists. The rule here is that the comma is correct if you can replace it with the words and or or. "I went to the store, grabbed some lunch, and then returned home." It could also be said as: "I went to the store and grabbed some lunch and then returned home."
Many people were taught that commas are not required before the and at the end of a list. The rule here is very controversial. According to an expert linguist I met, "There are two conventions and you simply have to be consistent with the one you have chosen to follow." Some people prefer the example given above (comma before the final and) and some are against it. I prefer it.
Commas in lists of adjectives follow basically the same rule when thay are "coordinate adjectives." Coordinate adjectives are adjectives that are placed next to each other in a sentence wherein both adjectives hold equal importance and function independently. There exists two tests to determine whether or not a comma is necessary between adjectives. If the answers to these two tests are "yes," then a comma should be used.
- Can an "and" be placed between the adjectives without changing the meaning of the sentence?
- Does the sentence sound okay if the adjectives' order were reversed?
Here are some examples:
"It was a clear, sunny day." "It was a clear and sunny day" sounds smooth. "It was a sunny, clear day" also sounds smooth.
"She was a tall, beautiful woman." "She was a tall and beautiful woman" sounds good, as does "She was a beautiful, tall woman."
Where it can get confusing is where word pairs act as a single word, like young woman or disc jockey, making the comma unnecessary. In this instance, the use of the comma, albeit correct in both of the below examples, changes the meaning of the sentence. Here's an example:
"He was a smart, young man."
"He was a smart young man."
- Commas for joining
Commas are used when two clauses are joined together, using such conjunctions as and, or, but, while, and yet. Example: I wanted to remodel my kitchen, but I really couldn’t afford it. However, when using however, nevertheless, or therefore to join two sentences, you must use a semicolon before these words instead of a comma, and place a comma after the however, nevertheless, or therefore (also discussed below under "semicolon" rules).
- Commas fill gaps
Is this almost over? I hope so, but I doubt it. Kade had dark hair; Quince, fair. This one involves missing words implied by a comma.
- Commas before direct speech
This one is a pause-for-breath comma: The poor girl said, “Doesn’t anyone like me?”
- Commas setting off interjections
“Stop, or I’ll shoot!”
- Commas that come in pairs
Bracketing commas are used to mark both ends of a weak interruption to a sentence or a piece of additional information. If the interruption or information was to be lifted out of the sentence, no damage to the sentence would be done. Example: “I am, of course, dragging this on too long.” Also, “Poor John, who never did harm to anyone, really got the shaft this time.”
When to Use a Semicolon
A semicolon is used between two related sentences where there is no conjunction (and, but) and where a comma would be ungrammatical. I remember when she couldn’t even stand up; now she’s running all over the place.
The semicolons also acts as a sort of policeman when too many commas can cause confusion, such as:
"Fares were offered to Buenos Aires, Argentina’s capital, Peru, Chile, on the South Pacific coast, and Venezuela. She thought about it. She’s been to Venezuela once and found it dull, to Argentina, and found it too busy."
The semicolon can restore order:
"Fares were offered to Buenos Aires, Argentina’s capital; Peru; Chile, on the South Pacific coast; and Venezuela. She thought about it. She’s been to Venezuela once and found it dull; to Argentina, and found it too busy."
When using however, nevertheless, or therefore to join two sentences, you must use a semicolon before these words instead of a comma, and place a comma after the however, nevertheless, or therefore.
When to Use a Hyphen
Many words require hyphens to avoid ambiguity. A re-formed rock band is very different from a reformed rock band. Get it? Also, it is necessary to use a hyphen when spelling out numbers, such as forty-four. Certain prefixes require hyphens, such as "pro-Americans" or "anti-Obama."
Of course, a hyphen is also used to indicate that a word is unfinished and continues on the next line.
Lastly, when a hyphenated phrase is coming up, and you are qualifying it beforehand, it’s necessary to write, “I have a three- and four-year-old.”
Use of a colon for dialogue:
KYLE: What is she talking about?
TRACY: I have no idea!
KYLE: I sure hope it will end soon.
TRACY: Me too!
When to Use a Colon
A colon is used to announce what is to come and is usually preceded by a complete sentence. Colons introduce the part of the sentence that restates, exemplifies, explains, undermines, elaborates, or balances the preceding part.
More formal roles of the colon are to start lists, set off book and film sub-titles, and separate dramatic characters from dialogue (above).
To or Too?
Uuugghh – this is the one that I find most frustrating! It’s really quite simple, though. If in the context of your sentence you are using it to say also, or to refer to an extra or excessive amount of something, use too. For instance:
"I’m too tired to cook dinner."
"I ate entirely too many beans."
"I would love to have a million dollars, too."
Please, people, this one is so easy to remember, yet it seems almost no one gets it right! You just need to make a conscious effort to think about it each time you start to write to.
Your and You're
People get this wrong all the time. It’s simple-the apostrophe indicates a contraction, so pronounce it and see if it makes sense in your sentence. A contraction is the shortened form of a word or phrase in which an apostrophe indicates the omitted letters or words
Your is used when talking about something that belongs to someone. “You forgot your briefcase.”
You’re is the contraction of you are. Would you use that in the sentence above? “You forgot you are briefcase.” No, I don’t think so.
There or Their
This may sound extreme, but I pulled my 4-year-old daughter out of preschool and switched her to a new school because her teacher did not know the difference between there and their. On the second day of school, her teacher handed out a letter to the parents that basically outlined what her plans were and how she likes to teach the children. In it she discussed how she prefers to have the children learn to spell there first names first, then once they master that she helps them master there last name. It went on and on like that and there were a total of around six or seven sentences that called for their, but she used there every time!
If it had happened only once (maybe twice) then it could have possibly been overlooked and thought of as an innocent mistake, but getting it wrong every time – six times! – that tells me that she just doesn’t even know the difference. That’s pretty inexcusable for a teacher, and she was very young so she hadn’t been out of school very long. I know it was only preschool and my reaction was perhaps harsh in some eyes, but I felt pretty strongly about not wanting my daughter to be taught by a teacher who doesn’t know proper grammar.
Here’s the difference:
There is used to describe a place. "The magazines are over there."
There is a possessive form of they and is used to indicate possession. "My friends have lost their tickets."
Let’s just throw in they’re for good measure; remember, it is the contraction of the words they and are. "Hurry, they’re coming!"
When to Use I or Me
There’s a very simple way to figure out which is correct. Let’s say the sentence is “Harriet and I/me went shopping.” All you have to do is drop the ‘Harriet and’ and say it with both options and you’ll know which one is right.
Obviously, “Me went shopping” doesn’t sound right, whereas “I went shopping” does. Therefore, “Harriet and I went shopping” Is the proper sentence.
"They did it for Mike and I." Applying the test, "They did it for I" doesn't sound right, but "They did it for me" does. So the correct wording would be "They did it for Mike and me."
This is a huge pet peeve of mine, so I just had to add this after seeing someone in a forum thread actually use it correctly (thank you WriteAngled), which is unusual...
I constantly hear people saying "I couldn't care less" about something and it drives me crazy! If you can care less, then do it! If it's already at the bottom of your care list and if what you are trying to say is that you don't care, then it's "I couldn't care less," as in "I could not care less." Please work on this people!
If you've made it this far, thank you for being interested! I hope this serves to help many, many people - or at least one?
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