Long live the Oxford Comma!

Proper grammar is one mark of professional communicator.

 

“The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.”

-Ludwig Wittgenstein

Good grammar can not only help a reader comprehend your writing correctly, but it prevents you from committing writing faux-pas. Have you ever read an article from a reputable source and found a glaring grammatical error? It may have you suddenly doubting the source’s credibility.

Often, the mere mention of commas or participles can lead to glazed-over eyes or doodling, but grammar plays a critical role in the meaning and interpretation of communication, the effect of our efforts to persuade, and overall professionalism.

We recently sent our content specialists to a grammar seminar in Atlanta to update their grammar repository and pass along the p’s and q’s of language etiquette. In the spirit of National Grammar Day, here are some best practices and common pitfalls to avoid for good.

The Oxford Comma

                              credit: Odyssey

Some consider the Oxford comma simply stylistic—I mean, we aren’t in Oxford, right? Does this comma apply to us Americans? The seminar instructor highlighted the importance of the Oxford comma with this example:

“I’d like to thank my parents, Mother Teresa, and the Pope.”

versus

“I’d like to thank my parents, Mother Teresa and the Pope.”

In the first version of the sentence, the comma indicates four people, but the second version seems to imply that Mother Teresa and the Pope are the speaker’s parents. The use of the comma can drastically change the understanding of the sentence. In America, the use of the Oxford (sometimes nicknamed the serial comma) is generally always necessary when listing.

Subject/Verb Agreement

Sometimes, collective nouns are mistakenly paired with the plural form of ‘to be.’ For example:

“The collection of pieces are worth millions.”

The subject of the sentence is ‘collection,’ not ‘pieces.’ Collection is a singular noun, so the proper sentence should read,

“The collection of pieces is worth millions.”

Hyphens

A hyphen’s job is to join. We typically know to use a hyphen when adjoining a number with a word (“100-meter dash”) or when creating a compound word (“accident-prone”), but other scenarios can get confusing. Here are some examples of when to use hyphens in your writing:

  • An adjective and a noun to make a compound word (accident-prone)
  • Double numbers (twenty-four)
  • “Self” and “well” words (self-employed, well-known)
  • Ethnic labels (Irish-American)
  • New word blends (cancer-causing, cost-effective)

Apostrophes

Apostrophes can sometimes lead to language catastrophes when used incorrectly. Apostrophes are tricky, as they can indicate both contractions and possession. Here are some rules for navigating the use of apostrophes in your writing.

  • Pronouns never need apostrophes. It’s true that pronouns show possession of an object, but they don’t need an apostrophe because they already indicate possession

X: “It’s impact was significant.”

✓: “Its impact was significant.”

In this sentence, Its signifies a pronoun, and the impact belongs to ‘it.’

  • Plurals don’t need apostrophes either. It may be tempting to tag an apostrophe onto a plural form of a word, but they don’t belong there!

X: “Apostrophe’s can be tricky.”

✓: “Apostrophes can be tricky.”

Commonly Misused Words

Did she lie down or lay down? Did he run further or farther than the rest of the group? Here are some useful tricks for distinguishing between commonly misused words.

  • Much versus Many
    • Much → is… as in, “How much is that shirt?”
    • Many → are… as in, “How many shirts are there?”
  • Further versus Farther
    • Further → progress… as in, “The project is much further along than we originally expected.”
    • Farther → distance… as in, “The office was farther away than we expected.”
  • Affect versus Effect
    • Affect → impact… as in, “The moon can affect the tide.”
    • Effect → cause… as in, “The effect of the moon on the tide was noticeable today.”
  • Lie versus Lay
    • Lie → sit… as in, “I lie here every day.”
    • Lay → set… as in, “She lay the blanket down before she sat.”

Whether you’re writing a business email, social media post, or academic assignment, knowing the right way to write is paramount.

With that being said, happy National Grammar Day from flourish!

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