Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Punctuation Vent

I've noticed that when I start going stir crazy, it's due in part to an astonishing lack of leisure reading. You'd think I'd get my share with all the books my kids read, because I make sure to read everything they do. Now that they're getting older, the selection is getting better. I just finished Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

Anyway, I've started reading Dark of the Moon by John Sandford. Several years ago, E introduced me to John Sandford and the Prey novels and I really enjoyed them. I have, however, lost complete track of which ones I've read, and he's written a number of them since I fell out of the Sandford habit. I need to do some homework before signing out another, because nothing irks me more than tucking into what I think is a new (to me) book and discovering that I already know the ending.

So, anyway, Dark of the Moon isn't part of the Prey series, but it branched off Prey and became another series all its own. I didn't know that, either, but I'll get over it. I like to read a series in order because the later stories tend to reference the former, and I hate having a surprise spoiled.

I'm anal retentive with commas and punctuation. I have to be in my line of work. If you sent me a letter with misplaced commas and such, I really don't care. You're taking the time to write me, and I'm happy for it. I know I'm miles away from perfect on this blog, too. It's hard to catch mistakes when you're nose is in it from beginning to end, but I'm not paying for someone to proofread my blog, and I'm not making anyone pay to read it. I think it matters when people are paying for what you've written, whether it's a lawyer paying for my transcripts or an author charging for his novels.

Sandford, in my opinion, needs to slap his editor or his proofreader or whoever it is that allowed this book to reach the store shelves. If he insisted on publishing exactly what I'm reading, then HE needs to be slapped. I'm barely sixty pages into it, and my eyes hurt from all the comma oddities.

Let's have a grammar lesson, shall we?

Sentences involve two types of clauses, the dependent clause and the independent clause.

The independent clause is exactly that. It's independent. It is complete with a subject and a verb. "I went to the store." It can stand on its own as a sentence or be joined to another with a comma followed by a coordinating conjuction (, and) or by use of a semicolon (;).

A dependent clause is one that is not complete. It needs something to finish it off. It has to depend on something else to make it whole. "Before I went swimming." Please read that aloud. It feels unfinished, doesn't it? Before you went swimming...what? What did you do? The thought is incomplete.

(Bear with me. We're getting close to why I'm so annoyed and why I can't read another page of this novel until I get this out of my system.)

Using my sample phrases, you may or may not use a comma to join them together and make a complete sentence.

"I went to the store before I went swimming." No comma required.
"Before I went swimming, I went to the store." Comma required.

DO NOT write, "I went to the store, before I went swimming" unless you plan to add more information. "I went to the store, before I went swimming, and bought a bottle of waterproof sunscreen."

In this case, "before I went swimming" is bracketed by commas because it's information that's not essential to the sentence "I went to the store and bought a bottle of sunscreen." You can pluck out that clause between the commas and still have a grammatically-correct sentence.

So, why is John Sandford's book driving me crazy?

  1. I busted him for robbery, when I was a deputy. This one is simple. Dump the comma and it's fine.
  2. Her name is Margaret Laymon and she called me up, about five minutes ago. This one is really irksome. When two independent clauses are separated by a coordinating conjunction (and, but, or, for, no, so, yet), a comma is placed before the conjunction. The rule isn't hard and fast. If the clauses are short, you can drop the comma. Her name is Margaret Laymon and she called me up. That's fine until you reach "about five minutes ago." Now it's a long clause and needs a comma, and that comma belongs before "and." Her name is Margarget Laymon, and she called me up about five minutes ago.
  3. Yes, and he's got several parcels of good land down south of here, that'll be a nice chunk of cash. "That'll be a nice chunk of cash" has no business being tied to that sentence with only a comma and no conjunction. It either needs to stand on its own as a separate sentence or be joined with a semicolon. Yes, and he's got several parcels of good land down south of here; that'll be a nice chunk of cash.
  4. The creeks and ditches sometimes collected into larger streams, usually a snaky line of oxbows cut a few dozen feet deep in the soil; and sometimes into marshes or shallow lakes. This one is like skewers to my eyeballs. I understand that the effort is to describe the larger streams as "oxbows," and the clause running from "usually" to "soil" isn't critical to the sentence. The creeks and ditches sometimes collected into larger streams and sometimes into marshes or shallow lakes. I simply don't "get" what that semicolon is for. My senses tell me it should be a comma. If you're really worried about confusing your reader with all those commas, you can use dashes. The creeks and ditches sometimes collected into larger streams -- usually a snaky line of oxbows cut a few dozen feet deep in the soil -- and sometimes into marshes or shallow lakes.

Ahhhhhh, that's better. Thank you. Maybe I'll be able to enjoy the next sixty pages this book instead of getting constantly poked in the eye with crappy punctuation.


Rusty's Mom said...

Commas are such wonderful little things aren't they. They can make reading a sentence smoother or change the meaning altogether.

The art of editing is going by the wayside these days. I could even take a red pencil to my local newspaper on a daily basis.

So sad, it can make a good book so difficult to read that it takes away from the appreciation of the story. E

Just Me said...

If this book didn't belong to the library, I'd mark everything I caught and mail it back to the publisher.

On the other hand, I'm glad I'm not the one who shucked out $26.95 to buy it.