Comma Sense

It’s my contention that the rules for commas are so numerous and so conditional that there is almost no point in trying to memorize them. As with most grammar, you’re better off learning the rules in your bones just by reading a lot of well-written prose. J. K. Rowling is excellent; Tolkien is too, although a bit archaic; the same is true of H. P. Lovecraft; Stephen King is good. And now you know what IK tend to read a lot of. (Oddly, “Eats Shoots and Leaves” makes a number of comma errors.)

Anyway, try your luck on the following, not all of which are even wrong. These are from a sheet I use in my ENG 100 class (which concentrates on H. P. Lovecraft) at the University of Maine at Farmington.

Comma Sense

Right, wrong or merely acceptable? Correct, if needed, the following sentences.

A. The way, H. P. Lovecraft writes, is very convoluted.

B. The way, according to Lao-tse, that can be told, is not the true way.

C. I told him, “That’s not what I paid for”, and he agreed to make good.

D. I want you to remember three things, I was never here, I never touched anything, and I’m not saying this.

E. Where do people who come all the way from wherever they came from go?

F. I left and went to work, there was no further point in talking it over with her.

G. At the tea party were Cthulhu, the God who waits sleeping in his palace of R’lyeh, Shub-Niggurath, the Goat with a Thousand Young, and He whose Name is Not Spoken, Azathoth. [Note: Shub-N is the Goat w/ 1000 Young]

H. Why are you here, she asked me?

I. No one; not even you; could possibly be that dense.

J. He came, he saw, and, he conquered.

K. He was lying, when he said I was lying. Because I wasn’t lying.

L. The U. S. budget deficit is “our gift to the grandkids” (Shaffer, 243).



That vs Which vs Who

The realm of Jacky Clothilde and her friends

Who vs. That vs. Which
(adapted from

Rule 1: Who refers to people. That and which refer to groups or things.
More below on this…

Rule 2: That introduces essential clauses while which introduces nonessential clauses.
A clause is “essential” if taking it away seems to significantly change the meaning of the sentence—usually, taking out an essential clause leaves you wondering what the point was.

For example:
I want to find a job that allows me to exhibit my full range of weird imagination.
(Taking out the clause following “that” leaves: I want to find a job. Not the same sentence at all!)

On the other hand, nonessential clauses serve, basically, as adjectives:

I have a job already, which allows me to pay rent, but I don’t feel very fulfilled by it. And my current job does involve a bit more killing than I would prefer.

NOTE: Essential clauses…

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