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Although I’ve been posting quotations lately (it’s been busy in my neck of the woods), I do have a new site where future content will be posted:

Grammar and Style Quotation

Arguments over grammar and style are often as fierce as those over IBM versus Mac, and as fruitless as Coke versus Pepsi and boxers versus briefs. —Jack Lynch 

Using the Serial Comma: A Matter of Style

I am a fan of the serial (Oxford) comma because it clearly distinguishes the difference between the first object, the second object, and the third object. I am not alone in my preference; Chicago and The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation strongly recommend use of the serial comma.

The Associated Press and newspaper publications, such as The New York Times, traditionally have omitted the serial comma in a series in which a meaning is clear: tigers, lions and bears. However, the serial comma is included when a sentence can be confusing or the meaning would be altered without it: The architect, builder and designer decided to move forward with the construction plans. There is a possibility that someone would think the architect is also the builder and designer, therefore, adding a serial comma after builder would clearly distinguish that the series includes three people.

So what’s the final ruling on using the serial comma? Include it when clarity dictates such usage. However, consistent application of the serial comma would help writers to err on the safe side.


1. University of Chicago Press, The Chicago Manual of Style, 16th ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010), 312.

2. Jane Straus, The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation, (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2008), 54.

3. Perlman, Merrill. “Talk to the Newsroom: Director of Copy Desks Merrill Perlman.” The New York Times. Last modified March 6, 2007. Accessed January 30, 2012.

Subordinating and Coordinating Conjunctions

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Two main kinds of conjunctions are subordinating and coordinating conjunctions. (Remember, conjunctions join words or groups of words.) Subordinating conjunctions join clauses of unequal standing and coordinating conjunctions join clauses of equal standing. Examples of subordinating conjunctions include after, although, because, before, if, since, unless, until, when, and while. The seven coordinating conjunctions can be remembered with the acronym FANBOYS:


Subordinating conjunction example: I have not seen him since he left. The word since connects “I have not seen him” to “he left.” This also is an example of an independent clause (“I have not seen him”) that is joined to a dependent clause (“since he left”). Remember, dependent clauses that stand alone are sentence fragments.

Coordinating conjunction example: Jane ordered soup and salad for her meal. The word and connects two things of equal standing as part of Jane’s meal, “soup” and “salad.” Cutting out “and salad” would be inappropriate because “soup” was not Jane’s entire meal.

In grammar school, I was taught to avoid beginning a sentence with conjunctions. But it’s a practice I’ve since eschewed in informal writing. Grammar Girl’s explanation for this practice is spot-on:

The answer is that many teachers cautioned students against starting sentences with conjunctions (especially in the past) because if you don’t do it right, you can create sentence fragments.

However, it is perfectly all right to use a conjunction to start a sentence. (In case you didn’t know, however can be used as a conjunction.) The Chicago Manual of Style also refutes this popular myth:

There is a widespread belief—one with no historical or grammatical foundation—that it is an error to begin a sentence with a conjunction such as and, but, or so. In fact, a substantial percentage (often as many as 10 percent) of the sentences in first-rate writing begin with conjunctions. It has been so for centuries, and even the most conservative grammarians have followed this practice.

Using a subordinating conjunction to begin a sentence is more acceptable in formal writing than using a coordinating conjunction (FANBOYS). Beginning a sentence with a coordinating conjunction tends to be dramatic or, as Grammar Girl put it, adds “punch.” And too much punch is never good—whether it be a drink or in writing.

So it’s okay to use a conjunction at the beginning of a sentence. Just make sure that it doesn’t create an unnecessary sentence fragment.


1. Mignon Fogarty, Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing, (New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2008), 77–81.

2. Mark Lester and Larry Beason, The McGraw-Hill Handbook of English Grammar and Usage, (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2005), 20–21.

3. James A. Chapman, Handbook of Grammar & Composition, 3rd ed. (Pensacola: A Beka Book, 1996), 25.

4. University of Chicago Press, The Chicago Manual of Style, 16th ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010), 257–258.

5. Mignon Fogarty, The Grammar Devotional, (New York: Holt Paperbacks, 2009), 41, 104.

Editing Quotation

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I’m a big fan of editing and keeping only the interesting bits in. —Sarah Vowell

“Affect” vs. “Effect”

After publishing my “affect” vs. “impact” post, I received a few comments from people who weren’t sure when to use affect or effect. (I purposely avoided this before because it’s a widespread topic.) For the most part, it can be easy to determine.  Affect often functions as a verb and effect generally is used as a noun. If you’re not a doctor and tempted to write “the affect,” as an LOL cat would say, “Ur doin’ it wrong.”

Merriam-Webster defines affect as “to produce an effect upon.” Grammar Girl says affect “most commonly means something like ‘to influence’ or ‘to change.'” Merriam-Webster uses the following words to define effect: “intent,” “appearance,” or “accomplishment.” Effect can also be defined as a result of something.

To determine whether to use affect or effect, my trick is the same as Grammar Girl’s: remember to use effect with an when using an article such as an or the. The ends in an e and effect begins with an e. Therefore, “the two e‘s butt up against each other.” Here’s Grammar Girl’s example: The effect was eye-popping. If the sentence still makes sense with the word result then the word is likely being used correctly, e.g., The result was eye-popping. If you were to write, “The affect of the situation is dire,” you would be wrong. However, “The raging blaze affected the house adversely” is correct. (Notice the is not used with affected.)

There are exceptions to many rules and affect and effect have them. (For example, if you’re a psychologist and use the word affect as a noun in reference to a patient’s demeanor, you’d be correct. Or sometimes effect can be used as a verb.) However, if you stick to the general guidelines above, you’ll be right most of the time.

Do you know of any other tips or tricks to differentiate when to use affect or effect?


1. Mignon Fogarty, Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing, (New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2008), 8–11.

2. Merriam-Webster, s.v. “effect,” accessed February 16, 2012,

4. Merriam-Webster, s.v. “affect,” accessed February 16, 2012,

“Affect” vs. “Impact”

Grammar Girl recently wrote about this, but it’s something I’ve been running into with my work so I thought I’d address it too.

The word impact has taken on the meaning of “to influence” in the way the verb affect often does. According to Grammar Girl, impact is often used this way in business jargon, but I contend that impact’s use to mean affect has grown beyond the business world.

Merriam-Webster defines impact as “to fix firmly,” “to strike forcefully,” or “to have a direct effect or impact on.” Affect as a verb can be defined as “to produce an effect upon.”

Grammar Girl advises using impact as a noun:

Quick and Dirty Tip: If you can put an article such as “an” or “the” in front of “impact,” you are using it in the most proper way—as a noun. He wondered what the impact of the changes would be.

I prefer to replace affect for impact when it functions as a verb, but not always. Sometimes when the writer wants to make a point about a forceful effect, I don’t edit the use of impact or impacted. It may not be what grammar sticklers like or wholly correct, but I allow for exceptions if the writer’s audience will understand its usage.


1. Mignon Fogarty, Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing, (New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2008), 33–34.

2. “Is “Impact” a Verb?” Grammar Girl, last modified January 16, 2012, accessed January 17, 2012,

3. Merriam-Webster, s.v. “impact,” accessed January 30, 2012,

4. Merriam-Webster, s.v. “affect,” accessed January 30, 2012,