Don’t forget to turn do Quiz #2 on Canvas before 11:00 pm Friday (4/9).
Plan for the Day
- Quiz #2–Due by Friday (4/9)
- Review #3–Due next week (4/14)
- Prose Revision Assignment Review on Canvas homepage
- Ch. 13: Punctuation: Its Purposes and Its Rhetorical Effects (Kolln & Gray)
Ch. 16: Punctuation (Barrett)
What’s a comma’s favorite type of music?
Punctuation rules, especially for commas, require context. One of the most useless questions regarding punctuation is “When do you use a comma?” I can answer that correctly the following way: “You always use commas.” Also, I could answer “When do you not use a comma?” in a similar way: “Don’t use commas where they’re not needed.” Not much help, huh?
As usual, I want us to think about the rhetorical effects of punctuation. Here’s what Kolln & Gray tell us about their approach:
An important consideration throughout the book has been the effect of [your] options on the reader–hence the word rhetorical in the title. (p. 220)
How can we use punctuation to emphasize or set a tone for your prose? Let’s focus more on sentences than dates, titles, and numbers; use Barrett’s Perfect English Grammar for those questions. We’ll start with some pretty solid rules, move to less standardized ones, and then consider (optional) rhetorical effects.
For those of you enrolled in ENGL 5183 (not those enrolled in ENGL 4183), this discussion will lead us to your rhetorical analysis, which, you all know, is due Wednesday, 05/05–4 weeks from now!
Syntax, Prosody, and Semantics
We could spend entire semesters on each of these words, but Kolln & Gray give us the Cliff’s Notes version, so I’ll do the same.
- Syntax: arrangement of words; especially, proper sentence structure
- Prosody: rhythm, rhythm patterns
- Semantics: meaning…let’s leave it at that for now
As a heads up, the “For Group Discussion” on pp. 223-224 has punctuation rules and directs you to particular chapters. I recommend reviewing that well.
One more thing…you need to know that the old adage “use a comma when you pause” was a fine rule of thumb for sixth grade. Although your jokes might not have gotten better, your sophistication in writing should have. Don’t automatically put in a comma just because you feel the sentence has a natural pause.
Open and Closed Punctuation
Think of this in terms of style. The writer deliberately decides to use commas or not for setting off modifiers.
- Open punctuation: style allows some flexibility in where commas go.
- Closed punctuation: style requires commas to set off any modifier not considered essential.
There are many examples besides the “serial comma” issue, but below are a few I’ve encountered over the years. Notice where commas are used and decide what options the author had.
- In July we went to Carowinds.
- After leaving the gym Harold went to the bar.
- Now that I’m starting to learn, I feel I’m growing old.
- On the backside of your seat you’ll find the instructions.
- Before being elected to the US Senate from Arizona, John McCain was a member of the US House of Representatives from Arizona’s First District.
- Yesterday, there were so many things I was never told.
- Now, I’m starting to learn.
Notice where commas are used, and decide what options the author had.
- Before I started my undergraduate degree program, at Virginia Tech, in 1994, I worked at Linens ‘n Things in Springfield, VA.
- In 1987, at a State Department luncheon, held in Mikhail Gorbachev’s honor, Donald Trump and Barbara Walters sat at the same table.
Although I’m not asking your to turn these Exercises in for homework, I know you’re doing them, so review Exercise #44 on p. 226. I might adapt some questions for Quiz #2. I also have a page devoted to more punctuation rules for sentences. That’s more for general rules than rhetorical effects.
The Rhetorical Effects of Punctuation
Even though I want you to forget the outdated advice of using a comma when you pause, the effect of a comma is a pause. But it’s also emphasis. A comma usually emphasizes what precedes it. Generally, we find the most emphasis at the beginnings and endings of sentences (and the beginnings and endings of paragraphs). Punctuation can redirect the emphasis, creating a different tone. Notice the differences in the four sentence variations on p. 227.
- Semicolons place greater emphasis on the second clause
- Semicolon and however (conjunctive adverb) “adds a note of deliberation, a degree of thoughtfulness”
Look at the “For Group Discussion” on p. 229. Consider the effects of punctuation in the following sentences:
- We were different, loud and assertive.
- We were different, loud, and assertive.
Remember, I want you to always use the serial comma (the Oxford comma) in your prose–it’s more suited to academic writing. In other contexts, specifically journalism, you’d aim for an open punctuation style and not include the comma. Therefore, in your COMM classes, you probably won’t use the serial comma, but definitely use it in your English classes. Welcome to rules based on style and not universality.
Rhetorical Analysis Preview
This is only for students enrolled in ENGL 5183. They get bonus assignments.
I have a page devoted to a rhetorical analysis of a passage of prose. For my Master’s Thesis, I wrote over 60 pages on two paragraphs. You aren’t required to do that, but I mention it to explain that there’s a lot to write about even with a small amount of text.
Your Rhetorical Analysis isn’t an assignment you revise–it’s one and done. Run an idea by me via email or during a Zoom conference.
Keep up with the syllabus schedule for reading. Next week, we’ll cover Ch. 9 & 10 in Kolln & Gray. Your Review #3–the shortest one–is due next week (4/14). The week after next, I’ll have a quick Copyediting Assignment on Canvas (4/21). It’ll also be a quiz of sorts because Canvas will impose time constraints. I just haven’t made up my mind on what those constraints will be. The goal will be to proofread and not to re-vision as you would a portfolio assignment. Speed is part of the assessment, so you will have a time limit.