Wednesday's are for Grammar

All right then. Your homework was to punctuate this sentence.

I need to go grocery shopping for a few essentials i need milk eggs bread and a skein of 100 percent cashmere for a new project dear Mr Spit said did you think I wouldn't notice the addition of your essential cashmere safeway doesn't sell wool and I have told the local yarn store to ban you from their doors

Punctuated correctly, it should look something like:

"I need to go grocery shopping for a few essentials. I need: milk eggs bread and a skein of 100 percent cashmere for a new project." "Dear," Mr Spit said, "did you think I wouldn't notice the addition of your essential cashmere? Safeway doesn't sell wool and I have told the local yarn store to ban you from their doors!"

A number of you changed the sentence to be "Dear Mr. Spit", and he will tell you that there's a good reason he likes you!

Who Gets to Post This Week's Coveted Grammar Award?

Well, blogger ate homework this week.
I remember that Excavator, Julia, Alicia, Antigone and Sweet Camden Lass participated. I think there were others. If you did legitimately do your homework, please post your award.

I also got re-submitted homework from

-JuliaS, Julia, JamieD and Sweet Camden Lass.

A stern reminder - no homework, no button. If you don't do your homework, your house will be overrun by moose, Canadian geese will poop in your shoes and the left indicator light in your vehicle will cease to work. I promise.

This Week's Lesson
Ah, this week, we get to talk about what G.V. Carey calls "The Soft Punctuation Marks". This is a short lesson, most punctuation marks just aren't that cuddly. Now, there are a few cuddly, soft punctuation marks, but the most important of all (arguably the most important mark, period!) is the comma, so the comma will comprise an entire lesson. (I hate to tell you - the apostrophe will get it's own lesson too!)

The Comma

A comma is a humble mark, but oh, so important. Upon its misplacement, Lynn Truss wrote an entire book, and spurred a grammatical revolution. Don't believe me? Consider the following joke:

A panda walks into a bar. She orders a beer and wings, drinks the beer, eats the wings, draws a gun and fires two shots in the air.

"Why?" asks the confused bartender, as the panda makes her way towards the exit. The panda produces a badly punctuated wildlife manual and tosses it over her shoulder.

"I'm a panda", she says. "Look it up".

The bartender turns to the relevant entry and, sure enough, finds an explanation.

"Panda. Large black and white bear like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves."(1)

Important places to put the comma:

Between And, Or, But, For, Not, Yet. (2)

A co-ordinating conjunction can link two independent clauses to create a compound sentence.
Mrs.Spit was ominously quiet, so her knitting was not going well.

After an introductory phrase or an interjection.

Mrs. Spit, please stop talking.
To satisfy a craving for ice cream, Mrs. Spit drove to Marble Slab.

To separate 3 or more items in a series, or in a list.

Mrs. Spit adores: wool, cashmere, alpaca, silk and mercerized cotton.

Comma Caution(3)
Some people would punctuate this sentence as ". . . silk, and mercerized cotton". This is called an Oxford comma, and is not common in North America. It's not incorrect, but not commonly done. Mrs. Spit tends to believe that unless you were actually educated at Oxford, you shouldn't do this.

To separate adjectives in a sentence

Mr. Spit thinks Mrs. Spit is lovely, wonderful and a great cook.

Comma Caution:
In order to legitimately separate adjectives, the adjectives need to operate independently(4). This means that you can place a co-ordinating conjunction between them, move their order around or remove one, and the sentence will still make sense. In the above example I could have written lovely and wonderful and a great cook, I could move their order around, or even remove one, and the sentence would still work. Try it for yourself.

To Set Off a Non-Essential Element in a sentence

You use a comma if you are putting a bit of information in a sentence, but this information doesn't change the meaning of the sentence. You could take it out, and no one would notice. It's like a conversational aside. Place the comma's on either side of the non-essential element, to set it off.

Mrs. Spit, a celebrated hostess, is a great knitter.

To Set off Quoted Material

Use a comma to help your reader pause before reading quoted material.(5)

"Wherefore art Mrs. Spit", cried Mr. Spit.

In Dates, Numbers, Addresses

Between the month and year
In large numbers
Between the city and the province. You get the picture.

The General, All Purpose Comma

This is sort of an odd-duck. Sometimes sentences just don't make sense. I would urge you to re-write the sentence, try to break it up, make sure that you haven't misplaced or dangled your modifiers, that sort of thing. But, sometimes there is just nothing to do but throw a few commas in.(6)

Your Homework:

Yep, you saw it coming. Put comma's in the following paragraph.

"What" cried Mr. Spit. "You bought more wool. How could you? You have mounds great piles mountains of the stuff." I smugly thought to myself I have lots more knitting to do essential knitting that must be done. Knitting for babies for husbands for winners of Whinge-For-All Thursdays. Amazing knitting that everyone will treasure!


(1) The panda says No! You'll get it if you read the book.
(2) Geeky Grammar Speak - before a co-ordinating conjunction that links independent clauses
(3) Troyka's book on Grammar (Out of print, sorry) helpfully comes up with this term to help writers avoid panda-sized fatalities.
(4) More Geeky Grammar Speak - these are technically called co-ordinate adjectives.
(5) I think this is the dumbest rule. That's why we have quotation marks. So, you know, we know that someone else is speaking. Alas, I am not the final arbitrator of comma use. But when I rule the world . . .
(6) No, I can't give you an example. I *always* write well!