Saturday, July 17, 2010

Five Quick Rules

1. If it “goes without saying” then don’t say it. If it doesn’t, in fact, go without saying, then don’t say it does.

“Obviously, the sky is blue.” Putting the “obviously” doesn’t suddenly make the statement insightful.

2. True or false: a comma must precede any use of the word “and”?

FALSE. Commas should only precede and, but, for, or, nor, so, or yet when they introduce an independent clause. For example, “We laid out our music and snacks, and began to study.” Placing a comma after “snacks” is incorrect. The subject of the sentence has not changed, “we” still “began to study.”

An example of correct comma use: “The game was over, and the crowd began to leave.” The game and the crowd are different subjects and the clauses are independent. The crowd could still be leaving regardless of what is happening with the game.

A comma can also precede “and” when it is used in a list of three or more items. However, in a list it is entirely optional and called an “oxford comma”.

3. Once upon a time, the English language had a way to modify both nouns and verbs. Adjectives did the trick on the former and adverbs on the latter. You didn’t just have to walk, you could walk quickly!

Adverbs modify verbs. For example, you accomplish a task with ease. What do you say?

WRONG: I can do that easy!
RIGHT: I can do that easily!

You accomplish a task with more ease than your colleagues. What do you say?

WRONG: I can do that easier than they can.
RIGHT: I can do that more easily than they can.

4. Et cetera: a useful Latin-derived tool for shortening lists. However, unless you are a lawyer, using it (and especially overusing it) can make you sound unprofessional.

If you must, use it once. A second or third occurrence in the same document essentially says, “I really don’t know what I’m talking about, so I’ll just jam etc. on the end and try to pretend I do!”

Another et cetera mistake is using it when you should use “et al.” Listing a set of objects? Use etc. Listing a group of people? Use et al. It also is derived from Latin and means “and others.”

5. Some people seem to think that throwing an “i.e.” into a paragraph makes them look smarter. Unfortunately, most of those people are using i.e. to mean “for example.”

WRONG: “I have sold many products, i.e. washing machines.” This doesn’t make any sense.

i.e. is an abbreviation of the Latin words id est, literally translated as “that is.” In English, i.e. is used synonymously with “namely.” It specifies and limits.

e.g. is also a Latin abbreviation but of the words exempli gratia, meaning “for example.” E.g. implies, “This is one of several possible options.”

2 comments:

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  2. I always thought "i.e" meant "in essence", but I guess that means approximately the same as "namely". Thanks for straightening me out.

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