12/19/2007

We Cried Awhile Upon Reading This

Mr. Rewrite has been away from blogging for a while. It took this passage in a Reuters article to bring him back:

"I think that we have been sprinting and I think we're going to be kind of jogging now for awhile," Mack said.

"It should read 'for A WHILE!'" he cried across the room to Mrs. Rewrite, who nodded dutifully. It took quite a while for her to realize, with understandable concern, that Mr. Rewrite was launching another blogging crusade.

As Mr. Rewrite's patron saint Bryan A. Garner notes, the noun form, which is part of the prepositional phrase above, is "a while." Write it together -- "awhile" -- as an adverb (i.e. "I retched awhile after reading that sentence."). This is Associated Press style as well.

Don't be upset if you've been making this mistake for a while. You'll find hundreds of articles on Google News, many of them by people sworn to follow AP style, making this mistake: for awhile.

Our second issue is a battle Mr. Rewrite has been losing for years now. There should be a comma before "and" because the sentence consists of two independent clauses with a coordinating conjunction. How do you know the clauses are independent? It's because each can be read as a stand-alone sentence.

If you aren't dealing with a quote, here are options for handling two independent clauses in a sentence, using this sentence as an example: "Jane saw a ham sandwich, and she ate it."
  • Leave it alone, with the comma before the coordinating conjunction.

  • Break it into two sentences with a period: "Jane saw a ham sandwich. She ate it."

  • Use a semicolon if the ideas are linked: "Jane saw a ham sandwich; she ate it."

  • Even better, improve the flow by removing the pronoun, making the second clause dependent and taking away the need for a comma: "Jane saw a ham sandwich and ate it."
Here's one of the many sites offering help with commas, coordinating conjunctions, etc.

Many articles make the following mistake by inserting a comma before a dependent clause: "He ran down the road, and liked it." Mr. Rewrite cries in his Cheerios each time he sees this. He'll forgive an occasional stray comma to create a dramatic pause, but on most occasions Mr. Rewrite will scream against this usage until his virtual voice is hoarse.

No comments: