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Need help with Punctuation (teacher moms, anyone?)

Moms View Message Board: General Discussion: Archive June 2004: Need help with Punctuation (teacher moms, anyone?)
By Bubbels~admin on Friday, June 25, 2004 - 08:10 pm:

OK. I know this is FAR off topic, but it's driving me crazy. As some may know, I do medical transcription, and I'm a fanatic about spelling, grammar, and such. For years, I have switched back and forth from doing this particular thing I'm about to ask one way and then the other. I've looked it up online, in my books, my children's English books, and so on, and I have gotten different answers from each source. I've polled my MT friends, and they are all about split in how they do it. I want to know the right way!! So here is my dilemma.

When writing a sentence with a list of three or more items, do you put a comma after every item, or do you leave off the comma after the second to last item. Example:

Which one is correct?

1. The patient's medications include aspirin, Plavix, and Bentyl.

2. The patient's medications include aspirin, Plavix and Bentyl.

TIA if anyone can tell me for certain the correct way! :)

By Marg on Friday, June 25, 2004 - 08:16 pm:

I was taught no coma before the word "and" in a series.

By Palmbchprincess on Friday, June 25, 2004 - 08:44 pm:

I was taught to always put the comma before "and". Hmm.. now I'm interested in the right was... PamT??? BTW Bubbels, nice to finally see you around! :)

By Tink on Friday, June 25, 2004 - 08:45 pm:

My mom teaches 7th grade English and she says it is correct either way, although it is currently "en vogue" to use one before the "and." It looks like you are going to get different answers here, too! :)

By Annie2 on Friday, June 25, 2004 - 08:51 pm:

I was taught the same as Marg. No comma before the word "and" in a series.

By Emily7 on Friday, June 25, 2004 - 09:21 pm:

I was taught to put a coma in front of the word and if there is more than two words you are joining in the series.

By Cybermommyx4 on Friday, June 25, 2004 - 09:23 pm:

Microsoft's Grammatic program prefers to have it as illustrated in example #1....I've gotten used to doing it that way, too. What I do is read the sentence out loud, and if I pause before the last item in the list (as I would in your sample sentence) I put in the comma. Let us know what you decide ;)

By Melana on Friday, June 25, 2004 - 09:30 pm:

I was taught no comma in front of and

By Ginny~moderator on Friday, June 25, 2004 - 09:47 pm:

Either is correct. BUT, if I were doing medical transcription I would use a comma for additional clarity. By this I mean that there are some idiots out there who might interpret Plavix and Bentyl as some combination of the two even if no such combination exists.

I know that in my office for normal correspondence we don't use a comma before the and but in legal briefs we do - also for additional clarity. (Oddly, in every legal office I've worked in one doesn't (does not) use contractions. Don't (Do not) know why, but that appears to be an unwritten rule).

My point is that if there is any remote but possible opportunity for confusion, always opt for the method which has the best chance of reducing confusion when you are doing critical work like medical transcription (or legal briefs). (Especially when, as in your case, many of the people who will be dictating or reading your work are people for whom English is not their first language.

(I don't much care for Microsoft's Grammatic program - or, for that matter, any "grammar" program. English is a flexible language with few hard and fast rules, unlike most non-English languages. I think this makes it difficult to "program" grammar.)

By Kay on Friday, June 25, 2004 - 09:55 pm:

I agree with Ginny on using the comma for additional clarity. I used to teach high school English, and it really bothers me that so many of the rules we used for correct English are no longer followed. (I think it all started when they included 'ain't' in the dictionary. :))

By Children03 on Friday, June 25, 2004 - 10:00 pm:

1. The patient's medications include Aspirin, Plavix, and Bentyl.

This is the correct way that you would write this sentence.

By Sunny on Friday, June 25, 2004 - 10:07 pm:

Did you ever read the book Eats, Shoots and Leaves (subtitled, 'The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation')? It's a funny little book written by a self-confessed stickler for correct punctuation (if you get a chance, skim through it. :) ) She addresses the question of the use of the comma in lists and explains it as acceptable either way (she also says that not using the comma before 'and' is more popular). I was taught in school to use a comma before 'and', but write it either way.
I would use it, though, for the reasons that Ginny listed. :)

By Annie2 on Friday, June 25, 2004 - 10:10 pm:

Well, I prefer it without the comma. :) I didn't realize that the other way was even considered. English is such a hard language to learn. It has no consistant rules. :)

By Annie2 on Friday, June 25, 2004 - 10:13 pm:

Well, I prefer it without the comma. :) I didn't realize that the other way was even considered. English is such a hard language to learn to write, speak and spell. It has no consistant rules.

By Palmbchprincess on Friday, June 25, 2004 - 10:18 pm:

"Ain't" is in the dictionary?? Are you kidding me?? Why do they keep adding all of these insane things into the dictionary, as if they are "real" words? Our language is bizarre!!

By Children03 on Friday, June 25, 2004 - 10:43 pm:

I was taught to use a comma to separate the elements in a series (three or more things), including the last two.

By Pamt on Friday, June 25, 2004 - 10:54 pm:

I always put a comma before "and" and that was the way I as taught in school....when listing a series of items. However, the rules for grammar change every few years and recently the trend was no comma before "and."

This website also says that you should use a comma BEFORE "and," but I'm sure you can probably find another grammar website to the contrary. I always put a comma before "but" also.

http://chompchomp2.com/gbfree/handouts/commatip04.pdf

By Vicki on Friday, June 25, 2004 - 10:56 pm:

I was taught no comma in front of and but dd is who is going into the 4th grade was taught to put the comma in front of and!!

By Pamt on Friday, June 25, 2004 - 10:59 pm:

BTW, Bubbels, I would LOVE for you to be an MT where I work. We have to dictate our reports and the spelling and punctuation that comes back some times is amazing. However, I must admit that I am horrible at dictating. I was used to writing all on my reports myself and then I had to write out verbatim what I would dictate. Talk about redundant--LOL! Now I just wing it when I dictate and I am sure the MTs laugh when listening because I do a lot of "umm, wait a minute" and sound stupid talking off the top of my head.

By Mommyathome on Friday, June 25, 2004 - 11:11 pm:

I was taught no comma before the word "and". There isn't a need for it, IMO. I remember very clearly going over this very thing in my College English class.

Like someone above said....the "rules" seem to change alot! I'm sure you can find evidence to support both sides of the question!

By Bea on Friday, June 25, 2004 - 11:12 pm:

When I taught English, in a series of words, a comma wasn't used in front of and.

By Marcia on Friday, June 25, 2004 - 11:26 pm:

I was taught that it wasn't used.

By Dawnk777 on Friday, June 25, 2004 - 11:48 pm:

I like the extra comma, but it can go either way. What drive's me nut's are misplaced apostrophe's! (I know they're wrong, just place for emphasis.)

I'm reading Eats, Shoots, and Leaves right now. I had it on reserve at the library and then my mom was out shopping and found it on sale, bought it and sent it to me! What a great mom! I guess I'm a stickler, for the most part.

By Mommmie on Friday, June 25, 2004 - 11:59 pm:

I was taught not to use a comma (I graduated from high school in 1981 and college in 1986.) I work at a law firm and it seems to be age-related whether to use a comma or not. The young attorneys are more likely to use a comma before and. Us old people don't use commas before and.

Another one we debate is the possessive thing when the word ends in s. I was taught just to put the apostrophe after the s and now the young people are putting s's. (ie Francis' and Francis's)

We've researched (and debated and argued) both these issues and in both cases, both are acceptable.

By Amy~moderator on Saturday, June 26, 2004 - 12:25 am:

I always use the comma before "and". It just looks better.

By Ginny~moderator on Saturday, June 26, 2004 - 06:04 am:

Oh, don't get me started on apostrophes. I really, really hate seeing signs where people have added an apostrophe just because they've added an "s". Like - we have ham and egg's. At one point in my misguided life I worked for a man who did that constantly. He also confused there/their/they're - in fact, I don't think he every heard of "they're". I had a Sunday School student who had the same problems with their/there/they're and removed all of them from his program's dictionary just so he'd have to stop to thing about it when spellchecking his papers.

The apostrophe at the end of a name which ends in "s" or "s" sound is always a puzzlement. And some people with do "Francis'es" - go figure! I always thought it was Francis', but I think people are mentally sounding it out and thinking that for the possessive they have to add another "s" sound - sort of - Mary's, Mark's, John's, Charles's (or Charles'es).

Yes, English is very inconsistent. When we had a family of Guatemalan political refugees stay at our church this was their constant lament. We really had fun one morning with glass (drinking), glasses (eye), glass (looking) and similar kinds of words. Joel finally just threw up his hands in despair and wailed - where are the rules? I think it is so inconsistent because it is so much a bast**d language, combining Saxon, Anglic, French, and with so many add-ons from other languages, not to mention the slang add-ons that have become so-called proper usage.

And while I would not ordinarily use a comma before the and in the last of a series, I still recommend that Pam use it in her medical transcription for additional clarity.

By Missymelissy on Saturday, June 26, 2004 - 08:18 am:

I was taught no comma before and
Although, my DH uses the comma
I think either way is fine.

By Rayanne on Saturday, June 26, 2004 - 08:22 am:

#1 is the way that I was taught.

By Marg on Saturday, June 26, 2004 - 09:12 am:

Food for thought~

isn't a comma used in place of the word "and"?

1. The patient's medications include aspirin and Plavix and Bentyl. (example)

By Fraggle on Saturday, June 26, 2004 - 09:32 am:

I was taught no comma, HOWEVER, I edit a lot of papers for my husband and everytime I cut the commas out his professor would add them back in. So I bought The Elements of Style by Strunk and White for him and according to them, you DO place a comma before the "and" so example number 1 is correct.

By Bellajoe on Saturday, June 26, 2004 - 09:34 am:

I would do it like #1. I don't think we are really helping you decide here, are we? LOL

By Trina~moderator on Saturday, June 26, 2004 - 11:30 am:

I was taught both ways are correct. :)

By Kay on Saturday, June 26, 2004 - 12:22 pm:

The apostrophe thing drives me crazy, too - but what really bothers me is when fellow Texans, of all people, cannot correctly punctuate our homegrown phrase "y'all". It's not ya'll, as you'll see all too often. I know - picky, picky. :)

By Kay on Saturday, June 26, 2004 - 12:24 pm:

Regarding 'ain't'...I just found it in a 1955 printing of the Oxford Universal Dictionary. It's derived from an't, but now considered 'illiterate', or 'dialect'.

By Lauram on Saturday, June 26, 2004 - 01:32 pm:

Both ways are correct! :)

By Lauram on Saturday, June 26, 2004 - 01:37 pm:

About the contraction thing, you should never use contractions in a formal document (that's why it's not ok in a legal document).

I'm blown away by the contraction thing. I have always thought adding another s to a word that ends in s (possessives) was incorrect. Is that acceptable now?! My son's name is Douglas and I ALWAYS write Douglas' coat, pencil, playdate, whatever.

Another one that bugs me is who/whom. I've used whom before and people look at me like I'm from a foreign country!

One thing I've NEVER gotten was accept and except. I pretend to get it, and I think I get it right most of the time, but it's one that I definitely struggle with myself!

By Mommyathome on Saturday, June 26, 2004 - 02:18 pm:

Marg....that is exactly how I was taught!!!
***"Food for thought~

isn't a comma used in place of the word "and"?

1. The patient's medications include aspirin and Plavix and Bentyl. (example)"***

By Amecmom on Saturday, June 26, 2004 - 02:38 pm:

A comma denotes a pause in speech, or a pause in thought. Wherever you would pause, you need a comma. I was taught both ways. In elementary school, I was taught to place a comma before the word and. In college, one professor in particular (one I didn't like) continuously edited them out. I actually brought this to his attention and he finally had to stammer that placing the comma before and is correct, but an older convention of grammar. An older convention, but not incorrect.

Grammar, like language, changes with our collective speech.

Sadly, many people have forgotten much of proper grammar and because of this, many "errors" are no longer wrong, they've just become common usage.

Ame

By Amecmom on Saturday, June 26, 2004 - 02:40 pm:

Oh! I forgot! Another reason we are seeing this rise in poor grammar is that very little grammar is taught on the elementary level anymore. Language Arts has become just another reading period.
Ame

By Happynerdmom on Saturday, June 26, 2004 - 02:40 pm:

Laura (re: accept/except)

"I will accept all of the jelly beans except the black ones."

The "X" in except makes you think of excluding things. The two "c's" in accept are snuggling together, very "accepting."

By Ginny~moderator on Saturday, June 26, 2004 - 02:51 pm:

Good one, Michele.

Another one lots of people have trouble with is affect/effect. I know which is which, but don't know a clever rule like Michele's. Anyone have one?

By Pamt on Saturday, June 26, 2004 - 03:48 pm:

I don't have a clever rule per se regarding affect/effect, but I keep them straight by remembering that an Affect causes something to happen and an Effect is the result of that...kind of alphabetical order. The affect (A) causes the effect (E).

The ones I get confused with are "lay" and "lie." Always have. And Kay, I am SO with you on the "y'all" thing. I always tell people that the apostrophe represents the missing letters and it's the "ou" in you missing, so the ' should be after the Y not the A.

And that post just reminded me of another peeve...it's/its. If it shows possession it is "its." You only use "it's" for IT IS.

Also, dialect like "them" (or even "dem") for "those," "be" for "am" (I be going to the store) et cetera are not considered incorrect from a linguistic standpoint. They are just dialectal markers indicating a group or subculture. Every dialect has its own set of rules and is not regarded as substandard. As you can imagine if you have been to SE Louisiana, there is a lot of dialect research going on around here! :)

By Cat on Saturday, June 26, 2004 - 06:21 pm:

I was also taught both ways. My grandma taught English from the 1940's-1971. She would have been a great one to ask.

I have a couple of grammatical pet peaves. :) It really irritates me when people write "alot" instead of "a lot." I'm also educating several people on the use of "good vs. well". Oh, and I don't let my kids use "ain't". I had a 4th grade teacher with a dime jar on her desk that you had to contribute to every time you said ain't. We all learned really quickly not to say it where she could hear us! lol

By Cybermommyx4 on Saturday, June 26, 2004 - 09:45 pm:

Ginny ;)

"If you are 'affect'ionate with hubby, you will see a nice 'effect' as a result of your efforts"

:) Sorry- I couldn't help myself {GRIN} had to make up an example for that one :)

By Ginny~moderator on Saturday, June 26, 2004 - 10:27 pm:

Ooookaaay, Wendy.

By Ginny~moderator on Saturday, June 26, 2004 - 10:31 pm:

Pam, I used to have a lot of trouble with its/it's, but somewhere I read that if you substitute his/hers for its you will know that that when it is the possessive neuter pronoun (gee, Mom, look at me!) its does not require an apostrophe because the word is not a contraction. I haven't had any problems since I started following that substitution hint.

By Marcia on Sunday, June 27, 2004 - 03:55 pm:

Here's something that drives me nuts - was vs were. I was, he was, she was, you were, they were, we were are all correct. Why, then, is it "if I were you"? Although it's what everyone says, and it sounds right, gramatically it's not.
You would never say "I were going to the store". How can "I" and "were" ever be paired together?

By Kay on Sunday, June 27, 2004 - 04:42 pm:

The best way to remember the 'was, were' thing is that you use 'were' in expressing a wish or condition contrary to fact.

fact: I was going to the fair.

wish or contrary to fact: If I were going to the fair,...

By Marcia on Sunday, June 27, 2004 - 05:13 pm:

I know how people use it, but I can't figure out why. Were you taught that, or is that just an observation? I'm going to have to look it up somewhere.

By Kay on Sunday, June 27, 2004 - 05:21 pm:

The 'was, were' rule was taught to me in elementary school, as it was in my college grammar class. The rule is listed in the Plain English Handbook - a staple of English teachers for decades.

By Mommmie on Sunday, June 27, 2004 - 08:38 pm:

"Whom" is always the object of a preposition. Prepositions are things you can do to a tree...to, behind, around. Whom will follow these prepositions...to whom, around whom. "To whom can I give these flowers?"

"Who" is always the subject. "Who is she?"

Even when you use "whom" correctly, people think you're nuts. But when I draft legal docs I use it correctly.

By Marcia on Sunday, June 27, 2004 - 11:50 pm:

Thanks, Kay! I did a search on it, and can't believe I found a discussion group that deals with things like this. LOL It explained the was/were thing the way you did, but also said it was correct either way. One way - your way - is more formal. Very interesting.

By Janet on Monday, June 28, 2004 - 04:27 pm:

Sunny! I LOVE that book! :)


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