Monday, June 8, 2009

Your Simple Rules to Grammar, part 2

If you're not up on your grammar definitions, check yesterday's post here.

So, now you know all about the basics definitions, and what makes a sentence be a sentence (hint: sentence = subject + predicate).

But how do you hook them together?

Note: You do NOT put commas just "wherever it feels natural to pause in the sentence." BECAUSE THAT MAKES NO SENSE AND YOUR ENGLISH TEACHERS LIED TO YOU.

Here's how I teach my tenth graders: the IC/DC rules. IC = independent clause, DC = dependent clause, cc = coordinating conjunction (and, but, or--etc.)

  1. IC.
  2. IC DC.
  3. DC, IC.
  4. IC; IC.
  5. IC, cc IC.

That's it. Now you know grammar. See? Told ya it was simple.

OK, some explanation.

Rule 1: IC. Whenever you have an independent clause, all you need is a period at the end. IC.

Rule 2: IC DC. Whenever a dependent clause follows an independent clause, you don't need a comma, just a period at the end.

Rule 3: DC, IC. Whenever a dependent clause is in front of an independent clause, you DO need a comma to separate them.


Rule 4:
If you're joining together two independent clauses, there needs to be a semicolon separating them, or...

Rule 5: You can also join together the two independent clauses with a comma + a conjunction.

  1. The monkey flings poo. One independent clause = only a period at the end.
  2. The monkey flings poo when he sees you. Independent clause is before the dependent clause. Punctuation follows the dependent clause, so there's only a period at the end, after the dependent clause.
  3. When he sees you, the monkey flings poo. Because the dependent clause is now at the beginning of the sentence, and because punctuation follows a dependent clause, then the comma has to go after the dependent clause.
  4. The monkey flings poo; he laughs at you. Two independent clauses--hook them together with a semicolon, or...
  5. The monkey flings poo, and he laughs at you. ...or you can join them together with a comma and a conjunction. Same difference.
Rant. I think one reason (lazy) English teachers tell kids to just put a comma wherever it feels natural is because these rules do allow for natural pauses. It makes sense to pause in my third example where the comma is, and it doesn't make sense to pause in the second example, where there is no comma. BUT. We don't put the comma there because it's "natural" and "we feel like it." We pause because the comma is there BECAUSE THAT IS THE RULE OF WHERE TO PUT THE COMMAS. (Can you tell that English teachers who don't teach grammar really bother me?)

Easy-peasy, right? With those five simple IC/DC rules, you know when, where, and why to put a comma (or semicolon) in a sentence.

Questions? Feel free to ask below. I am a grammar nerd, and I love grammar questions.

Tomorrow: But what about prepositional phrases?!


Joyce Wolfley said...

Beth, I love you. This is so easy, and yet I've always struggled with commas. Thank you for doing these posts.

PJ Hoover said...

I've been really noticing punctuation these days in my writing and the writing of others. I think while reading The Graveyard Book, I brought up the subject of commas (or the author's lack thereof), and asked the husband about it. His thoughts were that though the comma is normally used in the "IC, cc IC." case, it is not required.
So there were tons of "IC cc IC." cases with no comma.

Your thoughts?

Casey Something said...

I've never seen it put so simply before. *Heart*

Unknown said...

PJ: I think, in Gaiman's case at least, it's a matter of style, much like Cormac McCarthy chooses not to use, well....nothing much but periods.

Do I think it's a sign of GOOD style? No. Although I think that what Gaiman's trying to do is create immediacy and urgency (much like many writers use with present tense). However, I also think it's a bit of lazy writing, and doesn't really improve the style.

Robyn Campbell said...

Hug, hug, hug, hug! Thanks for doing this. I loves you for doing this. You know I do! My English teacher really bothers you and me too! I can look up her phone number and give her a piece of my mind. HMM, think I'll do that. :)

Unknown said...

This is great! I try to tell my students that they should be thrilled when we do a grammar lesson because there are rules to follow ... rules that make sense (unlike whether or not an essay's introduction is effective and engaging or something else that has a subjective element). Naturally, they don't listen to me. Sigh ...

Danyelle L. said...

You are awesome, you know that, Beth?

*has sinking feeling she just flubbed some serious grammar*

These posts have been so helpful. Thanks!

Unknown said...

Glad you all liked! :) And glad it's not too confusing. I'm a very interactive teacher, so I was worried this wouldn't translate too well in writing.

Kate said...

I gave up halfway through the first post. I got the first half of it, and then I failed. I think I'm just unteachable. I can't split a sentence in to parts, to me it's just a sentence. This is all down to years of schooling. They have made me analyse EVERYTHING to the point where breaking down anything else just seems like a lot of work. I might have another go at commas. Great posts :)

The Screaming Guppy said...

You mind punching my line editor in the face? Since, you know, she's just decided to take out 90% of the commas she sees?


Mindy said...

You know, I wish my teacher had used the poo flinging monkey example. That would have been burned into my brain for all eternity. These examples are so helpful!

VikLit said...

I love this - so easy to remember and so handy to refer to! More grammar tips please ;)

Samantha said...

Thanks so much for posting this, Beth. I've enjoyed looking over the simple-to-follow rules you've established.
I have one question for you (I often confuse myself because I overanalyze all my writing, so just know it's not that you didn't explain yourself well because you did).

In the case of rule #5. I usually find myself not wanting to repeat the noun with a pronoun and I wondered if that is right/wrong and what you think about it. For example if I were to write:

Mark sat on the bleachers and laughed at the cheerleaders.

How wrong is that? It seems more like rule #2 now except for the addition of the cc. (p.s. I didn't place a comma in front of the cc because I don't in my regular writing life and I wanted to know if it was wrong.)

Thanks for any answers/help you have! I love these Writing Wednesday posts.

Susan Vanderbilt (Irfan Aleem) (Ray) said...

Very interesting... and yes, very simple. But, I do have a thought/question to put forth... when writing something like... say poetic type text, like a simple paragraph or so of thoughts that blend together... how do you seperate them?
I'm asking because I find myself writing a bit, and the reason I really don't submit the works or consider publishing them is because I know that "gramatically" they wouldn't be 'properly' written. . . so do the rules apply only in formal writings? and if they need to be applied to a persons certain 'style' of writing how do you do that without changing the flow or rythme of the piece?

Susan Vanderbilt (Irfan Aleem) (Ray) said...
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