Self-Editing Part 2
In Self-Editing Part 1 (blog article number 13), we talked about some specific tasks that can be done while self-editing. Today we’re going to talk about tasks involving grammar. Grammar was developed to make writing understandable since you’re not there to correct any misunderstandings. Your writing needs to stand on its own two feet!
Using commas properly. The first use of the comma is to replace the word “and.”
I went to the store and bought apples and pears and bread and milk.
I went to the store, buying apples, pears, bread, and milk.
The first example is not wrong, but the excessive use of the word “and” makes it hard to read. A comma is generally not used with the word “and” except for the last item in a series (if you are using the serial, or Oxford, comma):
Incorrect: I went to the store, and I bought apples, and pears, and bread, and milk.
Some writers insert commas where they would pause while speaking the sentence aloud. This can be a helpful way to punctuate, but some of the commas will not be correct and it may lead to unnecessary commas.
The second use of a comma is to separate segments (or clauses) of sentences so they are more understandable to the reader or indicate exactly what the writer intends. An example is this famous sentence. The placement of commas around the middle segment changes the meaning of the sentence:
Woman without her man is nothing.
Woman, without her man, is nothing.
An editor may add commas to such a sentence based on the context of the surrounding sentences, but a good editor will add a question mark or a query stating the meaning is unclear and indicating they’re a suggestion only. The final decision must be made by the author, who is the only one who knows exactly what they intended to write.
There are other uses of commas, but we’ll leave it at that for today.
If a comma is a pause in a sentence and a period (or full stop) is a complete stop, then the semicolon is somewhere in the middle. It indicates a pause longer than a comma but shorter than a full stop. It is used to join two full sentences with the same ending punctuation together, like this:
Tell me what you need; I’ll help if I can.
You cannot use a semicolon to connect two sentences with different ending punctuation. I see this common, incorrect construction frequently:
Why don’t we go that way; we have to go by there anyway.
The first sentence is a question, which requires a question mark.
Why don’t we go that way? We have to go by there anyway.
Semicolons are also used in lists of objects where a comma is needed in the middle of the list to separate other items. If you used all commas, confusion might result:
We’re going to take Paul White; Sandi Smith; Heather DeLand; Rick, Isabelle, and Rocky Fox; the Martinelli’s; and Patty Braun to the party with us.
Fred went out with Janet, his girlfriend; and his secretary.
Please note that Microsoft Word’s spell and grammar check is not reliable when it comes to commas and semicolons. It particularly does not like semicolons.
We’re Dun for today, so keep on Writin’!
Owner, Adirondack Editing