Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Comma Splice

I know that many people think that an excessive emphasis on grammar and spelling is pedantic and tedious. They are probably right some of the time. I have been reading many self-published books, or free samples of books lately. Perhaps I am being pedantic when I notice a spelling or grammatical error. Does it really matter that “battlefield” is one word, not two. Does it really matter if people write “it’s”, rather than “its” to indicate “belonging to it”?

Some things matter, some things don’t. Some things matter today, and won’t matter tomorrow. Language is a living , evolving thing. There are not really rules and standards, but guidelines and common usage. For the sake of creativity, these guidelines can and should be broken.

Sometimes, however, not using the correct grammatical form or spelling can result in ambiguity and misunderstanding. We are probably all familiar with the fact that Eats, Shoots and Leaves can mean very different things if the punctuation changes. This is not a trivial matter. It is not simply a matter of pedantry. The author may not realise that he or she has introduced ambiguity or misunderstanding by writing what seems perfectly clear and unambiguous to them.

Should we only care about spelling, grammar and punctuation when it makes the meaning unclear. If th meenin is cleer, duz nuffin els matter? It is a question of degree, like most things. It is good to standardise spelling and grammar so that everyone is on the same page, so to speak.

I hope that those who profess not to be concerned about spelling and grammar are not simply being lazy; or are not just ashamed about their own lack of knowledge in this area. It doesn’t hurt to know what the acceptable usage is, even if one chooses to ignore it. It gives the author a choice.

One thing I notice all the time in writing is “the comma splice”. This is the practice of linking two sentences together with only a comma, it is not good usage. I did it there, in that last sentence. Did you notice? Did you care? There are several ways of writing this sentence correctly, but the simplest is as two sentences: "This is the practice of linking two sentences together with only a comma. It is not good usage." Perhaps this doesn’t matter. Perhaps you think that the rule or guideline is silly. That’s fine. Ignore it if you wish. But don’t “ignore” it because you didn’t even know that you were doing it. For someone who is serious about being a writer, who wants to be recognised as a good writer, it is important that you try to follow these guidelines as well as you can; and feel free to ignore them when you really want to.


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