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Remember the old saying that when you take a breath you should add a comma.
Not true!! There really are rules and none of them have to do with breathing.
Use a comma to
- Set off an introductory word, phrase, or clause.
"Haltingly, Jim answered the question in class."
"Even though tired from lack of sleep, Sally made an A on her Greek test."
- Separate clauses in compound sentences (make sure you also use a coordinating conjunction).
"Alan built a snowman yesterday, and he also shoveled the driveway."
- Set off nonrestrictive elements (clauses, phrases, and words that do not limit the words they modify).
"Gene March, who attended Austin Seminary, is a wonderful professor and a great asset to LPTS."
- "Who attended Austin Seminary" is not essential to the meaning of the sentence because it does not limit who it modifies.
- If there were two Gene Marchs at LPTS then "who attended Austin Seminary" would be essential information distinguishing between the two Genes and the commas would not be added.
- Set off appositives (a noun or phrase that renames a nearby noun).
"John Grisham's new book, Skipping Christmas, is an easy read about a middle age couple who decide to forgo all the social conventions of Christmas."
- Separate three or more items in a series (back to the "old" way of doing it!).
"Spring semester I am taking Scripture II, HCE, and NT Exegesis.
- Introduce a quotation
"Raymond Brown opines that, 'NT writing about Jesus and his disciples relate a story enacted on the stage of history.'
Colons and Semi-colons
Writing well is a lot more than just correct grammar, but it is an important element.
Do you know the difference between colons ( : ) and semi-colons ( ; )? Here are the rules.
- between the hour and minutes-8:15
- after the salutation of a business letter-Dear Madam:
- to introduce a list, examples, a series of statements, or a long quotation. The only trick here is that the part of the sentence that comes before the colon must be a complete sentence. Correct-Jim took three courses last semester: Old Testament, Hebrew, and HCE. Incorrect: My favorite foods are: spinach, okra, and turnips.
- between two clauses of a compound sentence when they are not connected by a conjunction. Correct: It's going to snow this weekend; I need to get out the shovels. Incorrect-It's going to snow this weekend; and I need to get out the shovels.
- between independent clauses which are joined by a conjunctive adverb such as therefore, hence, however, nevertheless, accordingly, then, and thus. Correct-I partied too hardy last night; consequently, I failed my Greek test.
Don't rely on the grammar checker on your computer. It often does not catch these. These are but a few of the rules for colons and semicolons. Check a grammar handbook for more details.
Parentheses, Dashes, Slashes, and More
Remember that academic writing is extremely formal. This advice may not be true for other types of writing.
- enclose material that is of minor or secondary importance to the sentence, use vary sparingly
"Since I am from Florida, I bought a winter coat before coming to Louisville (someone told me that they often have snow).
- insert a comment or highlights material-use only in moderation
"Learning Greek in J-term-who wouldn't remember that experience-was a challenge."
- mark a sudden change in tone
"Mother's suggestions were unsolicited-although helpful."
Slashes separates alternatives
- The writer should try to circumvent the use of slashes as they are awkward to read and can be misleading.
"We are going to the movies and/or to dinner."
- Shy away from the slash he/she when trying to avoid gender specific language. It is usually better to rewrite the sentence.
"A student needs to study for many hours in order for him/her to earn an A." This construction is awkward. Usually the pronoun can be left out, or the sentence can be rewritten.