Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Punctuation Saves Lives

I have a problem. I know I do. I try to ignore it, but it only gets worse.

Poor grammar drives me nuts.

I even say it in my Facebook profile so you know it's true. Now, I'm not one of *those* people, constantly correcting everyone else. I just so badly want people to communicate clearly - because punctuations saves lives.

Figuratively, at least.

And I'm not (not even close!) saying that my grammar is perfect, but I'm trying. I make mistakes every day, every time I write. There are probably several in this post right now. And I struggle with quite a few rules and idiosyncrasies of our ridiculous English language. So I wanted to share with you some of the tricks and tools that help me remember the more confusing rules. These are the things that worked for me after just not "getting it" from years and years of brute force instruction and explanation.

1. A lot vs. Alot

"Alot" isn't a word. Don't use it. I'll admit I had a significant amount of trouble with this one, until I saw this from Hyperbole and a Half. If you can't remember which is correct after reading that, there's not much hope for you.

The Oatmeal also covered this in his "10 Words You Need to Stop Misspelling," which I think should be mandatory reading before you're allowed to access the internet.

2. Literally? Are you sure?

When you use the modifier "literally" it means what you are saying is actually and entirely true. The girls on America's Next Top Model misuse this one often. (Yeah, so what? I watch that show. Usually while eating a giant bowl of ice cream) :-)

"I literally died when she said that."

No you didn't. Otherwise you wouldn't be here. That's an entirely different "reality" show.

3. i.e. vs. e.g. 

Think of i.e. as meaning "in other words." It's a clarification, as opposed to e.g., which means "for example." The way I remember it is i=in and e=example. Here's another post from The Oatmeal with further clarification.

4. Semicolons

It seems there's no middle ground with semicolons. Most people either love them to no end or hate them with a passion. I can't really explain their use as it's one of those things that feels organic to me, but The Oatmeal and TH Mafi have done a great job of explaining them. 

5. Dangling Participles

This rule presents a different problem from the others I've talked about in that I think everyone knows that "dangling participles are bad." What I'm recently finding, however, is that most people without an English degree don't really remember what a dangling participle actually is. I definitely didn't until I got back into writing after six years studying engineering.

Technically, it's when "a grammatical modifier is associated with a word other than the one intended, or with no particular word at all," but here's a blog with some funny examples of this error.

I hope these tips will help you like they've helped me. I'll leave you with a little poem that showcases the trouble with relying too heavily on your computer's spell checker. 

Now, if anyone has a solid way for me to remember the difference between affect and effect, that would be awesome. It doesn't matter how many times it's explained to me, I just can't seem to remember!


  1. Ah Danglers! What a learning curve we're all on. This is a great post. Now, I must go spread the word.

  2. Haha! The eating grandpa thing killed me! Literally. (he he)

    Great post. I had a battle with the 'affect/effect' this morning! Lol


    There are some bloggers that I refuse to follow (or even read their posts) because their punctuation and grammar are so incredibly bad. Commas cannot be placed willy nilly throughout a sentence - there are rules! It would be so lovely if bloggers had to pass a basic grammar quiz before being allowed to post. Alas, the Internet is more of a least common demoninator when it comes to quality.

  4. Great post; Lynne Truss would be proud! ;-)


  5. I love this!!! I cringe when I see grammar and punctuation mistakes on billboards and brochures, etc.
    Oh, and semi-colons are used to connect two complete sentences. Of course the sentences could stand alone, but some people like to connect them with a semi-colon for emphasis, like a "rolling thought".
    I recommend the book Eats, Shoots & Leaves for anyone who needs help grasping punctuation. It's a fun read!

  6. So timely! I just called my niece out on "your" and "you're" on FB. It's really hard to turn that writer's mind off!

  7. Love the "Ten Words you need to stop misspelling"! I've seen an abundance of "lose" and "loose" errors lately...on social media AND in people's "serious" writing.

    Here's one that I've had to try to teach myself: when to use a semi-colon and when to use an em-dash.
    Great post! There's always something new to learn about grammar :o)

  8. Private- No Tresspassing Permitted. Private? No! Trespassing Permitted! (that one was always my favorite!)

  9. Leigh: thanks! You're always my first comment :)

    Thanks, Morgan! That grandpa poster made me laugh out loud the first time I saw it.

    Oh, I know Amanda. I have two friends on Facebook who never use any kind of punctuation - including periods. It drives me crazy.

    Thanks Meg!!

  10. I KNOW, Wendy! The signs and publications are the worst because someone got paid for that!

    Angelica: The your and you're (and their, there, and they're) thing is annoying too. But I know it's easy to make that mistake every now and then - especially if you're in a hurry or have to deal with autocorrect - so I usually let it go in social media unless it's a repeated offense.

  11. Erin: I know, isn't it great? To vs too gets to me also.

    Haha Chelsea!

    The one thing I forgot is who vs which. Though formal English and I clash when the subject is my dog. He's a who, not a thing!

  12. Great post, Sarah! "Affect" and "effect" still get me and I'm pretty sure there's no hope of me ever understanding the difference. Haha. Sometimes I get my "their"/"there"/"they're"s mixed up, but that's usually only because I'm in a hurry.

  13. Pssst...
    Just a hint: you might want to drop the "s" on either "punctuations" or "saves" for the sake of subject/verb agreement.
    -Imp Teaser/Vernacular Jones
    Member, Grammar Nazis Anonymous (fb)
    DJ, you might want to check this out: