Monthly Grammar Notes: April 2017

Opus is a full-service marketing agency. As such, we consider each and every member of the Opus team to have a direct hand in marketing. Every point of contact with customers, prospects, and partners presents an opportunity to further our brand. We take pride in the quantity and quality of our communication—no matter the medium—which makes it even more important for our writing to be strong and free of errors. To that end, Opus sends out weekly “Friday Grammar Notes” with the aim of raising the bar of the written word across the entire agency. Our notes should provide utility to everyone, whether you’re a fledgling scribbler or a confirmed word nerd. 

This month we recalibrate conjunction conventions, talk about why it’s okay to care about the Oxford comma, count the Ls in “canceled,” and pontificate on particularly pointless prepositions.

IF STARTING SENTENCES WITH CONJUNCTIONS IS WRONG, I DON’T WANNA BE RIGHT

If we were to poll the room about major grammar rules learned in school, one of the most common answers would be the ostensibly criminal practice of starting sentences with conjunctions.

EXAMPLE: And now for something completely different.

But, it turns out, this is based on the idea that any sentence starting with a conjunction (words meant to connect two different clauses) is incomplete by definition. Yet, as evidenced by every sentence in this grammar note, we see that this idea is baseless.

So, feel free to start your sentences with conjunctions if necessary. Or don’t, if you don’t feel like it. As long as your sentence still makes sense with a conjunction up front, you’re good to go.

GRAMMAR WARS: THE OXFORD COMMA

Let’s discuss the infamous Oxford comma. This punctuation mark has been a topic of controversy among grammar enthusiasts for decades.

Need a refresher? The Oxford comma, also known as the serial comma, refers to the comma used before the conjunction in a list of items. Though the Oxford comma is usually unnecessary, it is sometimes needed to clear up confusion. For example:

I love my parents, Oprah Winfrey and Kendrick Lamar.

Are Oprah Winfrey and Kendrick Lamar my parents? Or do I love my parents, in addition to loving Oprah Winfrey and Kendrick Lamar? This is where an Oxford comma would be useful:

I love my parents, Oprah Winfrey, and Kendrick Lamar.

So, should we use the Oxford comma? Always include one if it provides clarification!

CANCELLED VS. CANCELED: DUAL SPELLINGS CAN MAKE LIFE A LIVING “L”

I hope everyone has fun weekend plans—none of which have been canceled because of all this unrelenting springtime rain. Or, wait, is it cancelled?

There are many such words in the English language, with slightly different—but both correct—spellings. The true grammar connoisseurs among you will recall similar topics in Friday Grammar Notes #66 (traveling/travelling) and #73 (judgment/judgement). One question popped up several times following each of those editions: How about canceled vs. cancelled?

As with most of these “dual spelling” words, the more streamlined option is the preferred American use, so it’s canceled for an American audience, and cancelled in the presumably rare instance when you’re writing for a British audience. We’ll shamelessly repurpose our pro tip from FGN #66:

Canceled, the shorter spelling, is accepted closer to home.

Cancelled, the longer spelling, has an extra letter to represent the extra distance traversed to find it in use.

If you’d like an interesting—to grammar buffs like us, at least—deeper dive on these American- vs. British-spelled words, check out this article from Grammar Girl, one of our favorite go-to language experts. But here’s the key line:

“The first question is why are British and American spellings different for certain words? The first answer is to blame Noah Webster, of Webster’s Dictionary fame. He believed it was important for America, a new and revolutionary nation, to assert its cultural independence from Britain through language. He wrote the first American spelling, grammar, and reading schoolbooks and the first American dictionary.”

WHERE ARE ALL MY EXTRA PREPOSITIONS AT?

It can be easy to get separated from your team at a large event. To get reconnected, you might consider texting the group, “Where are you at?”

This will undoubtedly help pull the team back together. However, the structure of this particular text is also a common grammar misdemeanor, in the form of an unnecessary preposition—this sentence doesn’t need the at at the end. “Where are you?” makes sense on its own.

These pesky prepositions aren’t just at the end of sentences; they can make their way to the middle of our sentences too.

EXAMPLE: The guest speaker is right outside of the door.

In this sentence, the second preposition—of—is unnecessary. It should read, “The guest speaker is right outside the door.”

As with all effective writing, the goal is to be as concise and clear as possible. So kick those extraneous prepositions to the curb whenever possible!

Do you like what you read? Whether you’re a fellow grammar nerd or you’re pretty sure a diphthong is a type of sandal, we’ve got plenty more grammar tips to go around. Until next month: good writing!

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