Every writer has their own mixups with grammar. Most grammar is best taught after you have screwed it up. For those who are too timid to flaunt their errors in public, here’s what trips people up the most.
Their, There, They’re
They won’t be there until sundown (a place)
They’re going to be late (they are)
It’s their own fault (it belongs to them)
It’s - the contraction for it is. If “it is” doesn’t fit, then you meant to use “its.”
His, Hers, and the androgynous their
Grammar snits have forever rallied against using they and their as anything other than plural cases.
- He/Her - singular
- His/Hers - singular possessive
- They/Their - plural/ plural possessive.
It was maddening to have to read about how the writer needed to change up his or her’s
writing style because some antiquated rules might get confused about what he or she
was trying to say.
We know exactly what they
are trying to say. A person shouldn’t have to jump through extra hoops to make their
Fortunately, late in 2019 the American Psychological Association had enough of the redundancy and welcomed “they” as a singular third-person pronoun. I enjoy it for clarity’s sake. Also, we’re living in a time when “he” and “she” no longer cover the expanse of gender, do they?
In the early days, I remember teachers introducing the idea of commas as a way to “give the reader a pause.”
If the reader needs a pause, then you need a shorter sentence. Your reader should remember where the sentence began. You’re allowed to use short sentences. Permission granted.
Without getting too deep, A majority of comma use falls into one of four camps:
- Lists and the dreaded Oxford comma debate
- Connecting independent clauses when they are joined by coordinating conjunctions.
- Connecting dependent clauses to main clause.
- A pair of commas used mid-sentence to set off a phrase to provide added context or emphasis to the rest of the sentence.
I swear, it’s not so difficult.
1. Lists, orders, and a string of things to pack.
I like drinking my cold beer but not my job.
Yeah, throw some commas in there.
I like drinking, my cold beer, but not my job.
George Thorogood said it best.
I’ll have one bourbon, one scotch, and one beer.
A comma separating each item, and before the final conjunction.
She stood up, shook her head, and fell over.
Now, some would say the last comma isn’t necessary. Or is it? It all depends on what caused her to fall over. Was it the act of standing up or shaking her head? Or where all three events independent of each other? The Oxford comma will remove doubt 99% of the time. While you’re learning the intricacies of commas, throw that last one in there. Anyone that takes the time to point out how it’s “wrong” isn’t worth your attention.
Before we move on, put this idea in your head: A clause is a group of words containing a subject and a verb. Clauses are not complete sentences. Only complete sentences are complete sentences.
2. Connecting independent clauses when they are joined by coordinating conjunctions.
Independent clauses could stand alone as complete sentences.
A comma is what makes this:
David explained the importance of grammar. The students weren’t quite picking it up.
David explained (verb) the importance of grammar (subject), but (coordinating conjunction) the students weren’t (verb) quite picking it (subject) up.
3. Connecting dependent clauses to the main clause.
When this bottle(subject) is(verb) empty, we shall get(verb) another(subject).
On their own, the clauses on either side of the comma couldn’t hold their own as a sentence.
When this bottle is empty. We shall get another.
Those aren’t sentences, but they might pass as lyrics to a Sinatra song.
4. A pair of commas used mid-sentence to set off a phrase to provide added context or emphasis to the rest of the sentence.
The bartender, oddly enough, didn’t have anything else to serve us.
The pair of commas go around the emphasis. “The bartender didn’t have anything else to serve us.” stands on its own just fine. By switching things around, whatever is inside the commas becomes a dependent clause.
Oddly enough, the bartender didn’t have anything else to serve us.
On that note, it’s time to move on.