Thursday, June 11, 2009

Your Simple Rules to Grammar, part 5

Don't believe me when I say those rules actually work?

Lemme prove it to you.

Here's the most complicated sentence I could think of on the fly:

After eating supper with my husband, I decided to go to the movies, but he didn't want to go; we stayed inside and watched TV instead, and it may not be as exciting, but I enjoyed spending extra time with him because it is something we so rarely get to do.

  • After eating supper = prep phrase. It should be followed by a comma, but it's not because there's another prep phrase behind it.
  • with my husband = prep phrase. It's the last prep phrase, so it's followed by punctuation (a comma).
  • I decided to go to the movies= independent clause, not followed by punctuation...
  • ...except that the next word is "but" followed by an independent clause--"but he didn't want to go"-- so, you follow this rule: IC, cc IC.
  • we stayed inside and watched TV instead = independent clause following an independent clause; therefore, the rule is: IC; IC, so you separate it with a semicolon.
  • and it may not be as exciting = IC (so it's joined with conjunction + comma)
  • but I enjoyed spending extra time with him = IC (see above)
  • because it is something we so rarely get to do = dependent clause, so it must be followed with punctuation--and it is: the period.
If you wanted to break down this sentence into it's parts, it would look like this:

PP PP, IC, cc IC; IC, cc IC, cc IC DC.

It's a thing of beauty, isn't it?

The rules work whichever way you do them. Let's say I make up this series of ridiculously long phrases and clauses:


If I make a sentence made of those parts, the commas and semicolons would be the same. See:

When I make pizza, my husband is happy; he loves pizza after a long day of work, it's his favorite food because when I cook it, it reminds him of home in the summertime.

Told ya so. That's the exact same components, just with the words filled in. The commas and semicolons still stay the same. Don't believe me? I'll do it again, just using different words.

After I graduated college, I wanted to move to England; it wasn't in the cards for me, I fell in love with a man who loved me back, and we got married within a year.
Exact same set-up as the other sentence--DC, IC; IC PP, IC DC, IC PP--just with different words. But the words don't matter--the commas and semicolons are still in the same place.

And that's it. With the IC/DC rules, along with the PP and rule exceptions, you know all you need to know about those tricky commas and semicolons.

Final word. Now that you know the rules, feel free to break them. Good writers do. But good writers KNOW THE RULES FIRST.

Questions? As far as I'm concerned, this is it for the grammar post. But if you've got other pressing grammar questions--or if my IC/DC rules don't make sense to you--feel free to yell at me in the comments below.
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