Punctuation Myths: A Grammar Lesson

From: BusyTeacher.org
From: BusyTeacher.org

The No, It’s Not Arbitrary and Does Make Sense: Teaching the English Punctuation System article from busyteacher.org is a great place to review what you know and think you know about punctuation.

A true/false quiz is the best place to start.
1. You write a comma when you take a breath. True False
2. You write a colon before a list. True False
3. You write a period after a thought. True False
4. A letter S should always have an apostrophe before it. True False
5. A period should be written after an independent clause. True False
6. “Mother” and other important words should always be capitalized. True False

How many did you get right?

The rest of the article gives good examples of the right kinds of sentences and punctuation and is worth a review even if you think you’ve got punctuation down.

As my trusty AP Stylebook states, “There is no alternative to correct punctuation.” Sometimes it is just better to recast the sentence than to try to fix it.

Who’s vs. Whose

After explaining who vs. that, I realized I’m still getting hung up on who’s versus whose. I like apostrophes to show ownership. Unfortunately, with these two the one with the apostrophe does not equal ownership.

Who’s is who is. Or who has. It does not show ownership.
Examples: Who’s at the door? (Who is at the door?)
Who’s leave? (Who is leaving?)

Whose is for ownership.
Examples: Whose sandwich is this?
Whose children are those?

Make sense now?

Farther vs. Further

Image from: cafepress.com
It wasn’t until I had a conversation with my friend the copy editor that I finally understood the difference between farther and further.

That’s because I knew both were about distance, I just thought the right one was whichever sounded better in the sentence. Turns out there is a difference.

Farther is for physical distance. Further is for a metaphorical distance.

So if you can replace the answer with miles, feet, or centimeters then the right word is farther. For example, I’m farther away from Far, Far, Away than I was when I lived in Disneyland. And I need more coffee before I can get any further involved in this project.

Make sense now?

All Together vs. Altogether: A Grammar Lesson

Image from: http://www.unenlightenedenglish.com/wp-content
Before we can discuss the specifics, it is important to realize that this confusion is part of a bigger issue. In English, there are several words that combine all and a root word to create alroot. Follow so far?

All Together is an adverb that means at the same time or as a group. For example: One, two, three, all together, sing happy Birthday to you and let’s go to the movie at the drive-in all together, it’s much more fun that way! So if you can substitute let us or drop the all and the sentence still makes sense use all together.

Altogether is also an adverb that can mean completely, total or considering everything. For example: today’s deposit was $439 in cash and $588 in checks: $1027 altogether or altogether, it wasn’t such a bad trip, despite the sort of disastrous incident with the beehive.

The Education Bug website offers a mnemonic you can use to differentiate all together and altogether. “Remember that all together – because it’s two separate words – is the one that needs to get into a group and get in sync. This associates the meaning with the spelling to help you remember which of these easily confused words is which.”

Than vs. Then: A Grammar Lesson


Image from theoatmeal.com (always good for a laugh)


Full disclosure, in high school, I once wrote an entire paper without than. I had convinced myself it wasn’t a word. Part of that was writing the paper a little too late in the evening and part of it was general confusion. The day after I turned the paper in, my teacher stopped me on the way out of class with a laugh, turns out I wasn’t the first and I’m sure I won’t be the last to make this mistake.

So given that tidbit, it should be no surprise that nearly a decade later, I still see this same mistake in other’s writing. As you can see from theoatmeal.com’s rendition, this grammar mistake is really easy to fix.