The English language is known for its quirks and idiosyncrasies, and one intriguing phenomenon is the presence of silent letters. Among these silent letters, the silent "p" at the beginning of certain words stands out as particularly enigmatic. In this blog post, we will delve into the fascinating world of silent "p" words, exploring their origins, linguistic evolution, and cultural influences. So, let's embark on a journey to unravel the mysteries of these peculiar linguistic anomalies.
I. The Historical Heritage: Etymological Origins
Silent "p" words often trace their origins back to ancient Greek or Latin.
The letter "p" was pronounced in the original source language, but its pronunciation changed over time.
Examples: pneumonia, psychology, pterodactyl, pneumatic.
II. The Influence of French: The Norman Conquest
The defeat of the English at the hands of their neighbours across the English Channel brought French elements into the English language.
French words with silent "p" sounds infiltrated the lexicon during this period.
Examples: receipt, pneumonia (derived from French pneumatique), pterodactyl (from Greek via French).
III. Phonological Shifts: Sound Changes and Phonetic Evolution
Pronunciation shifts in English led to the omission of certain sounds, including the silent "p."
These changes were gradual and varied across regions and dialects.
Examples: pneumonia (/njuːˈmoʊniə/ to /nəˈmoʊniə/), psychology (/saɪˈkɒlədʒi/ to /saɪˈkɑːlədʒi/).
IV. Sociolinguistic Factors: Prestige and Euphony
Silent letters were often associated with prestige and the educated classes.
Pronouncing silent letters was seen as an indication of refined speech.
Euphony, or pleasantness of sound, played a role in the preservation of silent letters.
Examples: pneumonia, ptarmigan (pronounced "tarmigan").
The presence of silent "p" words in the English language adds a layer of complexity and intrigue to our linguistic landscape. Through a combination of historical factors, phonological shifts, and sociolinguistic influences, these silent letters have become an integral part of our vocabulary. The etymological origins rooted in ancient languages, the impact of the Norman Conquest, and the evolving pronunciation patterns have all contributed to the silent "p" phenomenon we observe today. By understanding the fascinating backstory behind these words, we gain a deeper appreciation for the rich tapestry of language and its dynamic nature.
So, the next time you encounter a word like "pneumonia" or "psychology" with a silent "p," you can marvel at the linguistic journey that brought it to its current form.
A proofreader's guide to grammar
So, as promised in last week’s blog post, I’m going to start looking at some of the ‘tricksier’ aspects of English grammar and providing a proofreader’s perspective on usage and abusage.
Before I start on the elements of grammar itself, I wanted to use this first post to explain what I mean by ‘a proofreader’s perspective’.
Surely it makes no difference whether you’re the originator or proofreader of a sentence. Surely, the same rules apply. Strictly speaking, yes, the same rules apply. But there are qualitative decisions a writer makes with which a proofreader needn’t concern themselves. Remember, you’re a proofreader not an editor. You’re not asking yourself whether or not a sentence is good, you’re checking to make sure it’s correct.
Let’s take a look at the semicolon (I’m going to be talking about this in more detail next week) to illustrate what I mean.
So, a writer is trying to describe the moment in her novel when a particular character realises she has become invisible.
Melissa couldn’t see herself in the mirror because she was invisible.
She then deletes that sentence and writes:
Melissa couldn’t see herself in the mirror. She was invisible.
She then deletes that sentence and writes:
Melissa couldn’t see herself in the mirror; she was invisible.
Happy with this third permutation, she goes on to describe Melissa’s adventures in invisibility.
None of these options is incorrect. The writer’s use of the semicolon in the third version is fine; the semicolon can be used in place of a conjunction. But you might have an opinion on which version is qualitatively better. Me, I like the second option. I think it has more punch.
As a proofreader, my opinion on such matters isn’t relevant. I’ve got a job of work to do. I’m looking for errors. That’s what my client is paying me for. That’s what your client will be paying you for. If you’ve picked up The No-Nonsense Proofreading Course, followed its instruction and taken its advice, you’ll be charging your customer $35 per hour to find errors in their work. You might even be charging more if you’re proofreading in a niche area: science, medicine, law. You might have lots of clients and a stack of proofreading that’s going to keep you in new shoes and good food for the next three months. You haven’t got time to be getting into a discussion with a writer over whether or not a period would serve better than a semicolon in a particular instance.
Don’t get me wrong, if your ambition is to become an editor, proofreading offers a very effective way in. In fact, Chapter 8 of The No-Nonsense Proofreading Course deals, in part, with that transition. But on this website, we really want to focus on how to proofread, how to become a proofreader and how to create and develop your proofreading career or business. Believe me, that’s more than enough to be getting on with.
Let’s go back to our writer, and the adventures of the now invisible Melissa.
Our writer types:
Melissa raises a hand, holds it inches from her face and sees nothing.
She deletes this and decides to go with:
Melissa raises a hand to her face; and sees nothing.
Now, as a proofreader, you have grounds to take issue. The writer has used a semicolon and a conjunction, which is redundant. You only need one or the other. So, put your red pen to work and mark it up.
The writer might come back and say the usage was intentional, that she was trying to create a ‘beat’. That’s her call.
In my opinion, a period would serve better in trying to achieve that effect:
Melissa raises a hand to her face. And sees nothing.
But it’s her call.
The fact remains, you were right to draw attention to this inaccurate use of a semicolon. You were doing your job as a proofreader and you were doing it well.
In a nutshell, as a proofreader you’re concerned with wrong and right, not good-better-best. So, that’s what I mean when I say I’ll be looking at grammar usage and abusage from a proofreader’s perspective.
See you next time, when I’ll be looking at that little winking-eye emoji in a little more depth.
Spelling errors are always embarrassing. Just how embarrassing depends upon the nature and location of that spelling mistake. A spelling mistake on a large sign is a pretty big deal. When that sign is advertising the services of a school, it's an even bigger deal. And when the word that has been incorrectly spelled is 'grammar'... well, that's about as embarrassing as it gets.
But that's precisely the mistake that an absence of effective proofreading resulted in for a Christian Brothers' school in Omagh (see picture) when the word 'grammar' was spelled 'grammer'. Oops. Not only were those responsible exposed to a little local ridicule, they were also, thanks to the wonders of social media, subjected to a fair amount of international mockery.
Homophones (words with the same sound but a different spelling and meaning) can be the proofreader's worst enemy. Here's a comprehensive list of homophones. I can't claim the credit for compiling the list, by the way, as it's pretty much all over the internet. To the person who put all the work in, I offer my gratitude.
Here's the list (print it out and keep it close at hand):
1. accessary, accessory
2. ad, add
3. ail, ale
4. air, heir
5. aisle, I'll, isle
6. all, awl
7. allowed, aloud
8. alms, arms
9. altar, alter
10. arc, ark
11. aren't, aunt
12. ate, eight
13. auger, augur
14. auk, orc
15. aural, oral
16. away, aweigh
17. awe, oar, or, ore
18. axel, axle
19. aye, eye, I
20. bail, bale
21. bait, bate
22. baize, bays
23. bald, bawled
24. ball, bawl
25. band, banned
26. bard, barred
27. bare, bear
28. bark, barque
29. baron, barren
30. base, bass
31. bay, bey
32. bazaar, bizarre
33. be, bee
34. beach, beech
35. bean, been
36. beat, beet
37. beau, bow
38. beer, bier
39. bel, bell, belle
40. berry, bury
41. berth, birth
42. bight, bite, byte
43. billed, build
44. bitten, bittern
45. blew, blue
46. bloc, block
47. boar, bore
48. board, bored
49. boarder, border
50. bold, bowled
51. boos, booze
52. born, borne
53. bough, bow
54. boy, buoy
55. brae, bray
56. braid, brayed
57. braise, brays, braze
58. brake, break
59. bread, bred
60. brews, bruise
61. bridal, bridle
62. broach, brooch
63. bur, burr
64. but, butt
65. buy, by, bye
66. buyer, byre
67. calendar, calender
68. call, caul
69. canvas, canvass
70. cast, caste
71. caster, castor
72. caught, court
73. caw, core, corps
74. cede, seed
75. ceiling, sealing
76. cell, sell
77. censer, censor, sensor
78. cent, scent, sent
79. cereal, serial
80. cheap, cheep
81. check, cheque
82. choir, quire
83. chord, cord
84. cite, sight, site
85. clack, claque
86. clew, clue
87. climb, clime
88. close, cloze
89. coal, kohl
90. coarse, course
91. coign, coin
92. colonel, kernel
93. complacent, complaisant
94. complement, compliment
95. coo, coup
96. cops, copse
97. council, counsel
98. cousin, cozen
99. creak, creek
100. crews, cruise
101. cue, kyu, queue
102. curb, kerb
103. currant, current
104. cymbol, symbol
105. dam, damn
106. days, daze
107. dear, deer
108. descent, dissent
109. desert, dessert
110. deviser, divisor
111. dew, due
112. die, dye
113. discreet, discrete
114. doe, doh, dough
115. done, dun
116. douse, dowse
117. draft, draught
118. dual, duel
119. earn, urn
120. eery, eyrie
121. ewe, yew, you
122. faint, feint
123. fah, far
124. fair, fare
125. farther, father
126. fate, fête
127. faun, fawn
128. fay, fey
129. faze, phase
130. feat, feet
131. ferrule, ferule
132. few, phew
133. fie, phi
134. file, phial
135. find, fined
136. fir, fur
137. fizz, phiz
138. flair, flare
139. flaw, floor
140. flea, flee
141. flex, flecks
142. flew, flu, flue
143. floe, flow
144. flour, flower
145. foaled, fold
146. for, fore, four
147. foreword, forward
148. fort, fought
149. forth, fourth
150. foul, fowl
151. franc, frank
152. freeze, frieze
153. friar, fryer
154. furs, furze
155. gait, gate
156. galipot, gallipot
157. gallop, galop
158. gamble, gambol
159. gays, gaze
160. genes, jeans
161. gild, guild
162. gilt, guilt
163. giro, gyro
164. gnaw, nor
165. gneiss, nice
166. gorilla, guerilla
167. grate, great
168. greave, grieve
169. greys, graze
170. grisly, grizzly
171. groan, grown
172. guessed, guest
173. hail, hale
174. hair, hare
175. hall, haul
176. hangar, hanger
177. hart, heart
178. haw, hoar, whore
179. hay, hey
180. heal, heel, he'll
181. hear, here
182. heard, herd
183. he'd, heed
184. heroin, heroine
185. hew, hue
186. hi, high
187. higher, hire
188. him, hymn
189. ho, hoe
190. hoard, horde
191. hoarse, horse
192. holey, holy, wholly
193. hour, our
194. idle, idol
195. in, inn
196. indict, indite
197. it's, its
198. jewel, joule
199. key, quay
200. knave, nave
201. knead, need
202. knew, new
203. knight, night
204. knit, nit
205. knob, nob
206. knock, nock
207. knot, not
208. know, no
209. knows, nose
210. laager, lager
211. lac, lack
212. lade, laid
213. lain, lane
214. lam, lamb
215. laps, lapse
216. larva, lava
217. lase, laze
218. law, lore
219. lay, ley
220. lea, lee
221. leach, leech
222. lead, led
223. leak, leek
224. lean, lien
225. lessen, lesson
226. levee, levy
227. liar, lyre
228. licence, license
229. licker, liquor
230. lie, lye
231. lieu, loo
232. links, lynx
233. lo, low
234. load, lode
235. loan, lone
236. locks, lox
237. loop, loupe
238. loot, lute
239. made, maid
240. mail, male
241. main, mane
242. maize, maze
243. mall, maul
244. manna, manner
245. mantel, mantle
246. mare, mayor
247. mark, marque
248. marshal, martial
249. marten, martin
250. mask, masque
251. maw, more
252. me, mi
253. mean, mien
254. meat, meet, mete
255. medal, meddle
256. metal, mettle
257. meter, metre
258. might, mite
259. miner, minor, mynah
260. mind, mined
261. missed, mist
262. moat, mote
263. mode, mowed
264. moor, more
265. moose, mousse
266. morning, mourning
267. muscle, mussel
268. naval, navel
269. nay, neigh
270. nigh, nye
271. none, nun
272. od, odd
273. ode, owed
274. oh, owe
275. one, won
276. packed, pact
277. packs, pax
278. pail, pale
279. pain, pane
280. pair, pare, pear
281. palate, palette, pallet
282. pascal, paschal
283. paten, patten, pattern
284. pause, paws, pores, pours
285. pawn, porn
286. pea, pee
287. peace, piece
288. peak, peek, peke, pique
289. peal, peel
290. pearl, purl
291. pedal, peddle
292. peer, pier
293. pi, pie
294. pica, pika
295. place, plaice
296. plain, plane
297. pleas, please
298. plum, plumb
299. pole, poll
300. poof, pouffe
301. practice, practise
302. praise, prays, preys
303. principal, principle
304. profit, prophet
305. quarts, quartz
306. quean, queen
307. rain, reign, rein
308. raise, rays, raze
309. rap, wrap
310. raw, roar
311. read, reed
312. read, red
313. real, reel
314. reek, wreak
315. rest, wrest
316. retch, wretch
317. review, revue
318. rheum, room
319. right, rite, wright, write
320. ring, wring
321. road, rode
322. roe, row
323. role, roll
324. roo, roux, rue
325. rood, rude
326. root, route
327. rose, rows
328. rota, rotor
329. rote, wrote
330. rough, ruff
331. rouse, rows
332. rung, wrung
333. rye, wry
334. saver, savour
335. spade, spayed
336. sale, sail
337. sane, seine
338. satire, satyr
339. sauce, source
340. saw, soar, sore
341. scene, seen
342. scull, skull
343. sea, see
344. seam, seem
345. sear, seer, sere
346. seas, sees, seize
347. sew, so, sow
348. shake, sheikh
349. shear, sheer
350. shoe, shoo
351. sic, sick
352. side, sighed
353. sign, sine
354. sink, synch
355. slay, sleigh
356. sloe, slow
357. sole, soul
358. some, sum
359. son, sun
360. sort, sought
361. spa, spar
362. staid, stayed
363. stair, stare
364. stake, steak
365. stalk, stork
366. stationary, stationery
367. steal, steel
368. stile, style
369. storey, story
370. straight, strait
371. sweet, suite
372. swat, swot
373. tacks, tax
374. tale, tail
375. talk, torque
376. tare, tear
377. taught, taut, tort
378. te, tea, tee
379. team, teem
380. tear, tier
381. teas, tease
382. terce, terse
383. tern, turn
384. there, their, they're
385. threw, through
386. throes, throws
387. throne, thrown
388. thyme, time
389. tic, tick
390. tide, tied
391. tire, tyre
392. to, too, two
393. toad, toed, towed
394. told, tolled
395. tole, toll
396. ton, tun
397. tor, tore
398. tough, tuff
399. troop, troupe
400. tuba, tuber
401. vain, vane, vein
402. vale, veil
403. vial, vile
404. wail, wale, whale
405. wain, wane
406. waist, waste
407. wait, weight
408. waive, wave
409. wall, waul
410. war, wore
411. ware, wear, where
412. warn, worn
413. wart, wort
414. watt, what
415. wax, whacks
416. way, weigh, whey
417. we, wee, whee
418. weak, week
419. we'd, weed
420. weal, we'll, wheel
421. wean, ween
422. weather, whether
423. weaver, weever
424. weir, we're
425. were, whirr
426. wet, whet
427. wheald, wheeled
428. which, witch
429. whig, wig
430. while, wile
431. whine, wine
432. whirl, whorl
433. whirled, world
434. whit, wit
435. white, wight
436. who's, whose
437. woe, whoa
438. wood, would
439. yaw, yore, your, you're
440. yoke, yolk
441. you'll, yule
Thanks, again, to the original creator.
The period, or full stop, marks the end of a declarative sentence. As a sign it has several other uses which will appear in the paragraphs following.
Rules for the Use of the Period
1. At the end of every sentence unless interrogative or exclamatory.
2. After abbreviations.
Nicknames, Sam, Tom, etc., are not regarded as abbreviations.
The metric symbols are treated as abbreviations but the chemical symbols are not. M. (metre) and mg. (milligram) but Na Cl or CO
Per cent is not regarded as an abbreviation.
The names of book sizes (12mo 16mo) are not regarded as abbreviations.
4. The period is now generally omitted in display matter after:
Box heads in tables,
Signatures at the end of letters.
5. The period is omitted:
After Roman numerals, even though they have the value of ordinals.
After MS and similar symbols.
In technical matter, after the recognized abbreviations for linguistic epochs. IE (Indo-European), MHG (Middle High German)
After titles of well-known publications indicated by initials such as AAAPS (Annals of the American Academy of Political Science).
6. When a parenthesis forms the end of a declarative sentence the period is placed outside the parenthesis, as in the preceding example. A period is placed inside a parenthesis only in two cases.
i. After an abbreviation.
This was 50 years ago (i.e. 1860 A.D.)
ii. At the end of an independent sentence lying entirely within the parenthesis.
Lincoln was at the height of his powers in 1860 (He was elected to the presidency at this time.)
7. When a sentence ends with a quotation, the period always goes inside the quotation marks.
I have just read DeVinne's "Practice of Typography."
The same rule applies to the use of the other low marks, comma, semicolon, and colon, in connection with quotation marks. Unlike most rules of grammar and punctuation, this rule does not rest on a logical
basis. It rests on purely typographic considerations, as the arrangement of points indicated by the rule gives a better looking line than can be secured by any other arrangement.
Other Uses of the Period
1. The period is used as a decimal point.
2. The period is used in groups, separated by spaces, to indicate an ellipsis.
He read as follows: "The gentleman said . . . he was there and saw . . . the act in question."
Apologies. I got a couple of steps ahead of myself. In this post, Frederick W. Hamilton will be telling us all about the colon. After that, we’ll be looking at the full stop (or period) and then we’ll be tackling that innocuous-looking little dash.
The colon marks the place of transition in a long sentence consisting of many members and involving a logical turn of the thought. Both the colon and semicolon are much less used now than formerly. The present tendency is toward short, simple, clear sentences, with consequent little punctuation, and that of the open style. Such sentences need little or no aid to tell their story.
Rules for the Use of the Colon
1. Before as, viz., that is, namely, etc., when these words introduce a series of particular terms in apposition with a general term.
The American flag has three colours: namely, red, white, and blue.
2. Between two members of a sentence when one or both are made up of two or more clauses divided by semicolons.
The Englishman was calm and self-possessed; his antagonist impulsive and self-confident: the Englishman was the product of a volunteer army of professional soldiers; his antagonist was the product of a drafted army of unwilling conscripts.
3. Before particular elements in a definite statement.
Bad: He asked what caused the accident?
Right: He asked, "What caused the accident?"
Napoleon said to his army at the battle of the Pyramids: "Soldiers, forty centuries are looking down upon you."
The duties of the superintendent are grouped under three heads: first, etc.
4. Before formal quotations.
Write a short essay on the following topic: "What is wrong with our industrial system?"
When the formal introduction is brief, a comma may be used.
St. Paul said, "Bear ye one another's burdens."
5. After the formal salutatory phrase at the opening of a letter.
My dear Sir:
When the letter is informal use a comma.
6. Between the chapter and verse in scriptural references.
John xix: 22.
7. Between the city of publication and the name of the publisher in literary references.
"The Practice of Typography." New York: Oswald Publishing Company.
The colon has been similarly employed in the imprints on the title pages of books.
New York: Harper & Brothers, 1880.
DeVinne remarks upon this use of the colon that it is traditional and cannot be explained.
The colon is sometimes used between the hours and minutes in indicating time, like: 11:42 a.m.
DeVinne does not approve of this, though other authorities give it as the rule. It is probably better to use the period in spite of its use as a decimal point, which use was probably the motive for seeking something else to use in writing time indications. In railroad printing the hour is often separated from the minutes by a simple space without any punctuation.
Welcome back. Here's part two of my serialisation of Frederick W. Hamilton's Punctuation. Today, it's the turn of the semicolon, probably the piece of punctuation that generates the most anxiety. But it's really pretty simple. Over to you, Frederick...
The semicolon is used to denote a degree of separation greater than that indicated by the comma, but less than that indicated by the colon. It prevents the repetition of the comma and keeps apart the more important members of the sentence. The semicolon is generally used in long sentences, but may sometimes be properly used in short ones.
Rules for the Use of the Semicolon
1. When the members of a compound sentence are complex or contain commas.
Franklin, like many others, was a printer; but, unlike the others, he was student, statesman, and publicist as well.
With ten per cent of this flour the bread acquired a slight flavor of rye; fifteen per cent gave it a dark color; a further addition made the baked crumb very hard.
The meeting was composed of representatives from the following districts: Newton, 4 delegates, 2 substitutes; Dorchester, 6 delegates, 3 substitutes; Quincy, 8 delegates, 4 substitutes; Brookline, 10 delegates, 5 substitutes.
2. When the members of a compound sentence contain statements distinct, but not sufficiently distinct to be thrown into separate sentences.
Sit thou a patient looker-on; Judge not the play before the play be done;
Her plot has many changes; every day
Speaks a new scene. The last act crowns the play.
3. When each of the members of a compound sentence makes a distinct statement and has some dependence on statements in the other member or members of the sentence.
Wisdom hath builded her house; she hath hewn out her seven pillars; she hath killed her beasts; she hath mingled her wine; she hath furnished her table.
Each member of this sentence is nearly complete. It is not quite a full and definite statement, but it is much more than a mere amplification such as we might get by leaving out she hath every time after the first. In the former case we should use periods. In the latter we should use commas.
4. A comma is ordinarily used between the clauses of a compound sentence that are connected by a simple conjunction, but a semicolon may be used between clauses connected by conjunctive adverbs. Compare the following examples:
The play was neither edifying nor interesting to him, and he decided to change his plans.
The play was neither edifying nor interesting to him; therefore he decided to change his plans.
5. To indicate the chapter references in scriptural citations.
Matt. i: 5, 7, 9; v: 1-10; xiv: 3, 8, 27.
The semicolon should always be put outside quotation marks unless it forms a part of the quotation itself.
"Take care of the cents and the dollars will take care of themselves"; a very wise old saying.
And that's it for the semicolon. Next, that innocent-looking, yet surprisingly tricksy piece of punctuation, the dash.
I’ve made no secret of my surprise that many proofreading courses have the audacity to actually sell grammar instruction as part of their course content, when said instruction can be found elsewhere free of charge. So, rather than just talk about this free grammar instruction, I’m going to actually provide it, by serialising a couple of books over the next few weeks. I’m going to start with Frederick W. Hamilton’s 1920 book, Punctuation, the first chapter of which describes the uses and abuses of the comma.
The comma is by far the most difficult of all the punctuation marks to use correctly. Usage varies greatly from time to time and among equally good writers and printers at the same time. Certain general rules may be stated and should be learned. Many cases, however, will arise in which the rules will be differently interpreted and differently applied by different people.
The comma is the least degree of separation possible of indication in print. Its business is to define the particles and minor clauses of a sentence. A progressive tendency may be seen in the printing of English for centuries toward the elimination of commas, and the substitution of the comma for the semicolon and of the semicolon for the colon. Compare a page of the King James version of the Bible, especially in one of its earlier printings, with a page of serious discourse of to-day and the effects of the tendency will be easily seen. It is part of the general tendency toward greater simplicity of expression which has developed the clear and simple English of the best contemporary writers out of the involved and ornate style of the period of Queen Elizabeth. An ornate and involved style needs a good deal of punctuation to make it intelligible, while a simple and direct style needs but very little help.
This progressive change in the need for punctuation and in the attitude of writers toward it accounts for the difference in usage and for the difficulty in fixing rules to cover all cases. The present attitude toward punctuation, especially the use of the comma, is one of aversion. The writer is always held to justification of the presence of a comma rather than of its absence. Nevertheless it is quite possible to go too far in the omission of commas in ordinary writing. It is quite possible to construct sentences in such a way as to avoid their use. The result is a harsh and awkward style, unwarranted by any necessity. Ordinary writing needs some use of commas to indicate the sense and to prevent ambiguity.
Always remember that the real business of the comma is just that of helping the meaning of the words and of preventing ambiguity by showing clearly the separation and connection of words and phrases. If there is possibility of misunderstanding without a comma, put one in. If the words tell their story beyond possibility of misunderstanding without a comma, there is no reason for its use. This rule will serve as a fairly dependable guide in the absence of any well recognized rule for a particular case, or where doubt exists as to the application of a rule.
Reversed, and usually in pairs, commas mark the beginning of a quotation.
In numerical statements the comma separates Arabic figures by triplets in classes of hundreds: $5,276,492.72.
The comma is placed between the words which it is intended to separate. When used in connection with quotation marks, it is always placed inside them.
“Honesty is the best policy,” as the proverb says.
Rules for the Use of the Comma
1. After each adjective or adverb in a series of two or more when not connected by conjunctions.
He was a tall, thin, dark man.
The rule holds when the last member of the series is preceded by a conjunction.
He was tall, thin, and dark.
The comma may be omitted when the words are combined into a single idea.
A still hot day.
An old black coat.
2. After each pair in a series of pairs of words or phrases not connected by conjunctions.
Sink or swim, live or die, survive or perish,
I give my hand and my heart to this vote.
Formerly the master printer, his journeymen,
even his apprentices, all lived in the same house.
3. To separate contrasted words.
We rule by love, not by force.
4. Between two independent clauses connected by a conjunction.
The press was out of order, but we managed to start it.
5. Before a conjunction when the word which preceded it is qualified by an expression which does not qualify the word which follows the conjunction.
He quickly looked up, and spoke.
6. Between relative clauses which explain the antecedent, or which introduce a new thought.
The type, which was badly worn, was not fit for the job.
If the relative clause limits the meaning of the antecedent, but does not explain it and does not add a new thought, the comma is not used.
He did only that which he was told to do.
7. To separate parenthetical or intermediate expressions from the context.
The school, you may be glad to know, is very successful.
The books, which I have read, are returned with gratitude.
He was pleased, I suppose, with his work.
If the connection of such expressions is so close as to form one connected idea the comma is not used.
The press nearest the south window is out of order.
If the connection of such expressions is remote, parentheses are used.
The Committee (appointed under vote of April 10, 1909) organized and proceeded with business.
8. To separate the co-ordinate clauses of compound sentences if such clauses are simple in construction and closely related.
He was kind, not indulgent, to his men; firm, but just, in discipline; courteous, but not familiar, to all.
9. To separate quotations, or similar brief expressions from the preceding part of the sentence.
Cæsar reported to the Senate, “I came, I saw, I conquered.”
The question is, What shall we do next?
10. To indicate the omission of the verb in compound sentences having a common verb in several clauses.
One man glories in his strength, another in his wealth, another in his learning.
11. To separate phrases containing the case absolute from the rest of the sentence.
The form having been locked up, a proof was taken.
12. Between words or phrases in apposition to each other.
I refer to DeVinne, the great authority on Printing.
The comma is omitted when such an apposition is used as a single phrase or a compound name.
The poet Longfellow was born in Portland.
The word patriotic is now in extensive use.
13. After phrases and clauses which are placed at the beginning of a sentence by inversion.
Worn out by hard wear, the type at last became unfit for use.
Ever since, he has been fond of celery.
The comma is omitted if the phrase thus used is very short.
Of success there could be no doubt.
14. Introductory phrases beginning with if, when, wherever,whenever, and the like should generally be separated from the rest of the sentence by a comma, even when the statement may appear to be direct.
When a plain query has not been answered, it is best to follow copy.
If the copy is hard to read, the compositor will set but few pages.
15. To separate introductory words and phrases and independent adverbs from the rest of the sentence.
Now, what are you going to do there?
I think, also, Franklin owed much of his success to his strong common sense.
This idea, however, had already been grasped by others.
Of course the comma is not used when these adverbs are used in the ordinary way.
They also serve who only stand and wait.
This must be done, however contrary to our inclinations.
16. To separate words or phrases of direct address from the context.
I submit, gentlemen, to your judgment.
From today, my son, your future is in your own hands.
17. Between the name of a person and his title or degree.
Woodrow Wilson, President of the United States.
Charles W. Eliot, LL.D.
18. Before the word of connecting a proper name with residence or position.
Senator Lodge, of Massachusetts.
Elihu B. Root, Senator from New York.
19. After the salutatory phrase at the beginning of a letter, when informal.
When the salutation is formal a colon should be used.
My dear Mr. Smith:
20. To separate the closing salutation of a formal letter from the rest of the sentence of which it forms a part.
Soliciting your continued patronage, I am,
Very sincerely yours,
John W. Smith.
21. To separate two numbers.
January 31, 1915.
By the end of 1914, 7062 had been built.
22. To indicate an ellipsis.
Subscription for the course, one dollar.
Exceptions to this rule are made in very brief sentences, especially in advertisements: Tickets 25 cents. Price one dollar.
The foregoing rules for the use of the comma have been compiled from those given by a considerable number of authorities. Further examination of authorities would probably have added to the number and to the complexity of these rules. No two sets of rules which have come under the writer’s observation are alike. Positive disagreements in modern treatises on the subject are few. The whole matter, however, turns so much on the use made of certain general principles and the field is so vast that different writers vary greatly in their statements and even in their ideas of what ought to be stated. It is very difficult to strike the right mean between a set of rules too fragmentary and too incomplete for any real guidance and a set of rules too long to be remembered and used.
After all possible has been done to indicate the best usage it remains true that the writer or the printer must, in the last resort, depend very largely on himself for the proper application of certain principles. The compositor may find himself helped, or restricted, by the established style of the office, or he may at times be held to strict following of copy. When left to himself he must be guided by the following general principles:
I. The comma is used to separate for the eye what is separate in thought.
The comma is not intended to break the matter up into lengths suited to the breath of one reading aloud.
The comma is not an æsthetic device to improve the appearance of the line.
II. The sole purpose of the comma is the unfolding of the sense of the words.
III. The comma cannot be correctly used without a thorough understanding of the sense of the words.
IV. In case of doubt, omit the comma.
And that’s it from Frederick W. Hamilton on the subject of the comma. Next, the semicolon.
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