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 Post subject: Oxford Commas - long
PostPosted: Fri Apr 29, 2005 2:45 pm 
Hello. I am a mum to four children and I'm currently preparing my eldest daughter for the 11+ and would appreciate some help with commas (apologies if this is too basic).

I was taught at school (far too long ago) that when writing a list of items a comma should be inserted between each item except for the last two items where you would use 'and'.

eg. The shop sold bread, milk, cheese and eggs.

In order to help my child I have just purchased (from The Book People) a book called Wordpower Punctuation published by Oxford University Press which describes itself as the essential guide to punctuation for 7 - 11 years. Now according to this book you use commas between all the items.

eg. The shop sold bread, milk, cheese, and eggs.

After giving many examples in a similar style it says at the bottom of the page 'Some people leave out the last comma if it is followed by and. It's up to you whether you put the last comma in or not.' Very helpful!

I've recently been reading Lynne Truss's book 'Eats, Shoots and Leaves' and she calls the comma placed before the and an 'Oxford comma'. If I remember correctly she is generally against using it except in very specific situations.

I would welcome any thoughts or comments, but most specifically some guidance on the usage that would be expected from my daughter in the 11+ exam (she will be applying to grammar school in Chelmsford, Essex if that is relevant). I'm already beginning to doubt my ability to prepare her for the exam if I'm struggling over something so basic. :(


 Post subject: Comma usage!
PostPosted: Fri May 06, 2005 2:48 pm 
See if this could help you with the commas.
    Use commas to separate independent clauses when they are joined by any of these seven coordinating conjunctions: and, but, for, or, nor, so, yet.
    The game was over, but the crowd refused to leave.
    The student explained her question, yet the instructor still didn't seem to understand.
    Yesterday was her brother's birthday, so she took him out to dinner.
    Use commas after introductory a) clauses, b) phrases, or c) words that come before the main clause.
    a. Common starter words for introductory clauses that should be followed by a comma include after, although, as, because, if, since, when, while.

    While I was eating, the cat scratched at the door.
    Because her alarm clock was broken, she was late for class.
    If you are ill, you ought to see a doctor.
    When the snow stops falling, we'll shovel the driveway.
    However, don't put a comma after the main clause when a dependent (subordinate) clause follows it (except for cases of extreme contrast).
    1. She was late for class, because her alarm clock was broken. (incorrect)
    2. The cat scratched at the door, while I was eating. (incorrect)
    3. She was still quite upset, although she had won the Oscar. (correct: extreme contrast)

    b. Common introductory phrases that should be followed by a comma include participial and infinitive phrases, absolute phrases, nonessential appositive phrases, and long prepositional phrases (over four words).

    Having finished the test, he left the room.
    To get a seat, you'd better come early.
    After the test but before lunch, I went jogging.
    The sun radiating intense heat, we sought shelter in the cafe.

    c. Common introductory words that should be followed by a comma include yes, however, well.

    Well, perhaps he meant no harm.
    Yes, the package should arrive tomorrow morning.
    However, you may not be satisfied with the results.
    Use a pair of commas in the middle of a sentence to set off clauses, phrases, and words that are not essential to the meaning of the sentence. Use one comma before to indicate the beginning of the pause and one at the end to indicate the end of the pause.

    Here are some clues to help you decide whether the sentence element is essential:

    * If you leave out the clause, phrase, or word, does the sentence still make sense?
    * Does the clause, phrase, or word interrupt the flow of words in the original sentence?
    * If you move the element to a different position in the sentence, does the sentence still make sense?

    If you answer "yes" to one or more of these questions, then the element in question is nonessential and should be set off with commas. Here are some example sentences with nonessential elements:

    Clause: That Tuesday, which happens to be my birthday, is the only day when I am available to meet.
    Phrase: This restaurant has an exciting atmosphere. The food, on the other hand, is rather bland.
    Word: I appreciate your hard work. In this case, however, you seem to have over-exerted yourself.
    Do not use commas to set off essential elements of the sentence, such as clauses beginning with that (relative clauses). That clauses after nouns are always essential. That clauses following a verb expressing mental action are always essential.

    That clauses after nouns:

    The book that I borrowed from you is excellent.
    The apples that fell out of the basket are bruised.

    That clauses following a verb expressing mental action:

    She believes that she will be able to earn an A.
    He is dreaming that he can fly.
    I contend that it was wrong to mislead her.
    They wished that warm weather would finally arrive.

    Examples of other essential elements (no commas):

    Students who cheat only harm themselves.
    The baby wearing a yellow jumpsuit is my niece.
    The candidate who had the least money lost the election.

    Examples of nonessential elements (set off by commas):

    Fred, who often cheats, is just harming himself.
    My niece, wearing a yellow jumpsuit, is playing in the living room.
    The Green party candidate, who had the least money, lost the election.
    Apples, which are my favorite fruit, are the main ingredient in this recipe.
    Professor Benson, grinning from ear to ear, announced that the exam would be tomorrow.
    Tom, the captain of the team, was injured in the game.
    It is up to you, Jane, to finish.
    She was, however, too tired to make the trip.
    Two hundred dollars, I think, is sufficient.
    Use commas to separate three or more words, phrases, or clauses written in a series.

    The Constitution establishes the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government.
    The candidate promised to lower taxes, protect the environment, reduce crime, and end unemployment.
    The prosecutor argued that the defendant, who was at the scene of the crime, who had a strong revenge motive, and who had access to the murder weapon, was guilty of homicide.
    Use commas to separate two or more coordinate adjectives that describe the same noun. Be sure never to add an extra comma between the final adjective and the noun itself or to use commas with non-coordinate adjectives.

    Coordinate adjectives are adjectives with equal ("co"-ordinate) status in describing the noun; neither adjective is subordinate to the other. You can decide if two adjectives in a row are coordinate by asking the following questions:

    * Does the sentence make sense if the adjectives are written in reverse order?
    * Does the sentence make sense if the adjectives are written with and between them?

    If you answer yes to these questions, then the adjectives are coordinate and should be separated by a comma. Here are some examples of coordinate and non-coordinate adjectives:

    He was a difficult, stubborn child. (coordinate)
    They lived in a white frame house. (non-coordinate)
    She often wore a gray wool shawl. (non-coordinate)
    Your cousin has an easy, happy smile. (coordinate)
    The 1) relentless, 2) powerful 3) summer sun beat down on them. (1-2 are coordinate; 2-3 are non-coordinate.)
    The 1) relentless, 2) powerful, 3) oppressive sun beat down on them. (Both 1-2 and 2-3 are coordinate.)

    Use a comma near the end of a sentence to separate contrasted coordinate elements or to indicate a distinct pause or shift.

    He was merely ignorant, not stupid.
    The chimpanzee seemed reflective, almost human.
    You're one of the senator's close friends, aren't you?
    The speaker seemed innocent, even gullible.

    Use commas to set off phrases at the end of the sentence that refer back to the beginning or middle of the sentence. Such phrases are free modifiers that can be placed anywhere in the sentence without causing confusion. (If the placement of the modifier causes confusion, then it is not "free" and must remain "bound" to the word it modifies.)

    1. Nancy waved enthusiastically at the docking ship, laughing joyously. (correct)
    2a. Lisa waved at Nancy, laughing joyously. (incorrect: Who is laughing, Lisa or Nancy?)
    2b. Laughing joyously, Lisa waved at Nancy. (correct)
    2c. Lisa waved at Nancy, who was laughing joyously. (correct)
    Use commas to set off all geographical names, items in dates (except the month and day), addresses (except the street number and name), and titles in names.

    Birmingham, Alabama, gets its name from Birmingham, England.
    July 22, 1959, was a momentous day in his life.
    Who lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, DC?
    Rachel B. Lake, MD, will be the principal speaker.

    (When you use just the month and the year, no comma is necessary after the month or year: "The average temperatures for July 1998 are the highest on record for that month.")

    Use a comma to shift between the main discourse and a quotation.

    John said without emotion, "I'll see you tomorrow."
    "I was able," she answered, "to complete the assignment."
    In 1848, Marx wrote, "Workers of the world, unite!"

    Use commas wherever necessary to prevent possible confusion or misreading.

    To George, Harrison had been a sort of idol.

    Comma Abuse

    Commas in the wrong places can break a sentence into illogical segments or confuse readers with unnecessary and unexpected pauses.

    Don't use a comma to separate the subject from the verb.

    An eighteen-year old in California, is now considered an adult. (incorrect)
    The most important attribute of a ball player, is quick reflex actions. (incorrect)

    Don't put a comma between the two verbs or verb phrases in a compound predicate.

    We laid out our music and snacks, and began to study. (incorrect)
    I turned the corner, and ran smack into a patrol car. (incorrect)

    Don't put a comma between the two nouns, noun phrases, or noun clauses in a compound subject or compound object.

    The music teacher from your high school, and the football coach from mine are married. (incorrect: compound subject)
    Jeff told me that the job was still available, and that the manager wanted to interview me. (incorrect: compound object)

    Don't put a comma after the main clause when a dependent (subordinate) clause follows it (except for cases of extreme contrast).

    1. She was late for class, because her alarm clock was broken. (incorrect)
    2. The cat scratched at the door, while I was eating. (incorrect)
    3. She was still quite upset, although she had won the Oscar. (correct: extreme contrast)

 Post subject: Comma Usage
PostPosted: Sun Jul 10, 2005 2:17 pm 
Wow!! Extremely useful and informative - but would my child be expected to achieve this kind of standard?!? Gulp!

 Post subject: Commas
PostPosted: Tue Aug 09, 2005 10:27 am 
The short answer is probably "No".

If your child is attempting a grammar school examination then it is likely that he or she, in most parts of the UK, will face a multiple choice examination and as such the demands will be less rigorous.

If your child is attempting entry into a private school, or a grammar school in an area such as Essex, then the likelihood is that the examination will be written (standard format), however given all the other aspects of English they need to assess your child in, it is very unlikely the mastery will need to be anywhere near as good as that noted above.

 Post subject:
PostPosted: Sun Aug 14, 2005 8:38 pm 
Hi there

I would totally agree with you. I was taught exactly the way you were and in my opinion a grammar school would expect that too.

There is also the hint from the Eats Shoots and Leaves book to only use that comma if it were exceptional.



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