by Cherie Tucker
In the New Year, may we resolve to:
Learn that the past tense of sink is sank. If you must use sunk, it has to have has, had, or have with it. Example: Three boats sank in the marina. It’s the first time any have sunk. Journalists seem to have forgotten this one.
Use semicolons when you have a number of things in a sentence that already contain commas. Recent incorrect example from the paper: “. . . they may be ordained as rabbis, read from the Torah, the Jewish holy book, and wear prayer shawls.” In this sentence, instead of interrupting the list of things to explain that the Torah is the Jewish holy book, it appears to the reader that there is a Torah and also a Jewish holy book. It should read: “. . . they may be ordained as rabbis; read from the Torah, the Jewish holy book; and wear prayer shawls.”
Reclaim the serial comma before the and in sentences. I got a cartoon from one of my students that illustrates this example perfectly. With the serial comma, the caption reads: “We invited JFK, Stalin, and the strippers.” Without the comma it reads: “We invited the strippers, JFK and Stalin.”
Refuse to start any sentences with Me. (Me can’t do anything; me gets done to.)
Refuse to end groups that receive the action of the verb with I. (Thank you for inviting Al and me. (You can’t invite I anywhere.) The same rule applies to groups after prepositions like with: Who wants to go with Jean and me? (No one can go with I!)
Promise never even to think that a list might consist of only one bulleted item.
When making a list, always have at least two bullets—or none.
If using letters or numbers in your list, remember:
1. Every A must have a B.
2. Every 1 must have a 2.
Remember that if you start a sentence with and (but, for, or, yet, so), do NOT follow it with a comma unless there is an interruption right there. The comma will not make the reader pause, as you would if you were reading aloud. It will only waste a comma and confuse the reader. Just write as if you had a compound sentence, which wouldn’t require that comma. (She made quite an entrance, and they gasped when they saw her. NOT: She made quite an entrance. And, they gasped when they saw her.)
Write right this year with firm resolve.
Cherie Tucker, owner of GrammarWorks, has taught writing basics to professionals since 1987, presenting at the PNWA conference. She currently teaches Practical Grammar for Editors at the University of Washington’s Editing Certification program and edits as well. GrammarWorks@msn.com