Easy Comma Lesson

I chose this example of the importance of correct comma usage partly because the article I found it in was interesting.

Here’s the rule:

Words between two commas are an aside, and can be removed from the sentence; the sentence still stands.

Here’s the example. Think about the meaning if you take out that second comma.

In June, Amazon bought online pharmacy PillPack, a startup that ships medication directly to customers, for $1 billion.


See the difference? As the sentence stands, they bought PillPack for a billion dollars. If you take that comma out, you have PillPack shipping meds for a billion. More than I’d want to pay for some pills!

The article in the link is interesting—Amazon is rather diversified.

“May” Gets Misused a Lot

I remember in grade school being taught that we should use “may I” when we want permission, and “can I” when we’re talking about ability.

That rule seems to have fallen by the wayside. I remember writing some math curriculum for IBM twenty years ago, and the subject matter experts insisted we use “can” in the word problems when we writers would have used “may.” Sigh.

See below.

Mutts - 12/28/2018

To add insult to injury, I frequently see “may” used, especially in writing, when the writer means “might.”

I know, linguistic change and all that, but you lose precision when you take away meanings.

Can—ability. You can do it if you try.
May—permission. You may do it if someone lets you.
Might—possibility. You might get permission if you ask nicely.

You can still get away with using the correct words, and no one will criticize you. And your writing will be better.

A Writing Warning!

Okay, the comic is dated, but the message isn’t:

Don’t trust the spell checker!


One Difference Between a Comma and a Semicolon

Here’s a rule:

Semicolons separate independent clauses.
Commas separate parts of a sentence.

An independent clause is a sentence that happens to be attached to another sentence. An independent clause has its own subject and verb, and could stand alone. In fact, the decision as to whether to make something a stand-alone sentence or an independent clause is often a matter of preference—the choice can affect the tone of the writing, but both choices are grammatical.

Here’s a sentence that gets it wrong:

A transition is a one-way link, if an issue moves back and forth between two statuses; two transitions should be created.


That comma should be a semicolon. Even a period would work. And that semicolon should be a comma. The “if…” part goes with what follows; it’s a dependent clause (called a protasis, if you want to know the technical term). So here’s what the sentence should look like:

A transition is a one-way link; if an issue moves back and forth between two statuses, two transitions should be created.

Feels better now, doesn’t it?

Haven’t Mentioned This in a While

Redundancy is when you unnecessarily repeat yourself. Conciseness is when you’re not redundant. (Terseness is when you take out too many words) Good writing is concise. No unnecessary words. This applies to especially to expository writing. If you’re writing a love letter or a poem, it’s okay to not be concise. But when you want to explain something, be concise.

Here’s an example of not being concise:

The [watch and clock] tax was repealed after a campaign by the Clockmakers’ Company, and promptly replaced by Income Tax, which U.K. citizens still pay to this day.


You could write, “…which U.K. citizens still pay” or you could write, “which U.K. citizens pay to this day.” Both have exactly the same meaning, and each way of writing concisely has more punch than the original.

So write punchily!

PS—here’s a picture of a timepiece designed to minimize that tax.


Two Words for a Generic Human

A word that I don’t see used very often to represent a generic human is one. As in “How does one get this horse to stop?” Better, perhaps, to be more specific and say “rider” instead, but “one” works.

Here’s another such word. First panel, and the punch line.


If I run into a contemporary use of “one,” I’ll add it to the post.

A Clever Play on Grawlixes

A grawilx is a string of random punctuation used in comics to represent profanity. Today’s lightweight post is a pun on grawlixes.


They’re even all six-sided!

Another Correct Verb

The past tense of the intransitive verb”lie” (as in I lie down) is lay. We tend to use “laid” (past tense of “lay,” which is transitive, as in” I will lay the book on the table”) because we’re used to having a -d on the end of our past-tense verbs. This guy gets it right:

Phil Mckenna, writing for Inside Climate News. https://insideclimatenews.org/news/18122018/tyndall-military-hurricane-cost-2018-year-review-billion-dollar-disasters-wildfire-extreme-weather-drought-michael-florence

The caption is: “Aircraft hangars lay scattered in pieces across the flight line at Tyndall Air Force Base after Hurricane Michael made landfall on Oct. 10, 2018. The storm had exploded from a tropical depression to a major hurricane in two days over warm Gulf waters. Credit: Staff Sgt. Alexander C. Henninger/U.S. Air Force”

Good for him!

Parenting and Grammar

Changing the subject is a common defense mechanism, I think.


The kid is right about the grammar, though. “Whom” is the object of a preposition.

Two Verbs and Two Commas

I run into this mainly in spoken English. Saying “is” twice.

“The reason that technology is interesting is, once you do this process of focusing the light to get heat, you can store heat much more cheaply than you can store electricity,” says Asegun Henry, lead researcher on the study. 


Having “is” in there twice seems wrong, doesn’t it? It’s not!

Let’s parse the sentence. The subject is “reason”; “that technology is interesting” is a subordinate clause that functions as an adjective describing “reason.” So what’s the main verb? It’s that second “is.” (Everything from “once” to “heat” is parenthetical, so you can set that part aside.) Then we have “you can store heat…” and that’s a noun clause, a predicate nominative.

So we end up with “The reason is (that) you can store heat.” It’s a perfectly grammatical sentence, if somewhat cumbersome.

Woof! Let’s do a comic in the next post.