Letter from a Comma

Dear Students,

Some of you might have noticed that I am a rather complicated punctuation mark. There are some hard fast rules for my use but some other times using me may seem completely random. You’ve heard terms like “phrase” (a group of words that does not contain both a subject and a verb) and “clause” (a group of words that contain both a subject and a verb, but not necessarily a complete thought). You’ve probably also learned to use me in some situations but not others. Yeah, commas are complicated. But Connie Comma is here to help! Let me see if I can clarify some of my convoluted rules. (By the way, did you see the places I was missing in this paragraph?)

Sadly, I’m not a very strong punctuation mark. I’m flattered that many of you think that I’m strong enough to hold together two complete sentences, but I can only make so many trips to the gym. Check out this sentence: The dog barked at the mailman, but the mailman did not pay attention. See how I’m used? My close buddies, the conjunctions for, and, nor, but, or, yet, and so, have to help me hold these big sentences together. Some of you make the opposite mistake and flatter the conjunctions in these situations, forgetting all about me! Always remember that both of us are needed to connect compound sentences.

Oh! I have also seen many of you excluding me from lists in one way or another. I must follow every word in a list, except the last word. For example, when I go to the store, I buy bread, ham, and cheese. When I cook soup, I add chicken, noodles, and salt to the broth. Do you see where I stand in these two lists? Some of you make lists like this: trees, bushes, and leaves. That is a list of only two things: Trees then bushes and leaves. In that situation, bushes and leaves are one item in the list because I was not included after bushes. When I separate the second-to-last and last items in a list, I am called an Oxford Comma, and I am always used in academic writing.

When you connect a dependent clause to an independent clause, you need to include me at the end of the dependent clause, such as is done at the beginning of this sentence. When I am not included the sentence just keeps going on and on and the meaning of the sentence becomes confusing (just as this sentence does because I wasn’t placed after the word “included”).  Also, with phrases that begin sentences, I am needed, just as this sentence demonstrates. In other words, every time an introductory phrase or clause is used, I should follow it!

Here are some nerdy terms for ya: appositive phrases, restrictive and non-restrictive modifiers, expressions of contrast, and direct address. All of these are situations in which I am needed. Those first two, appositives and modifiers, are basically glorified adjectives. For example, Connie (aka lil ol’ me), who is a comma, is going to help you understand when to use commas in these situations. In that sentence, the phrase “who is a comma” is a non-restrictive modifier; in other words, the sentence would have made sense without it. In these situations, my necessity can be determined by how essential that part of the sentence is to the rest of the sentence. If that sentence would not have made sense without the “who is a comma,” then I would not have been needed. For example, the teacher who has the mohawk gave me an A. In this sentence, if “who has the mohawk” was not included, it would be unclear who I was talking about. Therefore, I am not needed.

In expressions of contrast, however, I am always needed (just as with the “however” in this sentence). If a part of the sentence communicates what something is not, I should be there. Ants, although small in stature, are exceptionally strong. The “although” phrase does not communicate the same idea as the rest of the sentence; rather, it gives a side piece of information.

Someone once said, “All great things must come to an end.” This letter, I am afraid, must conclude soon. Just a couple more tips, and we will be finished. When direct quotes are used, I am needed with phrases that come before or after the quotes, such as the case in the first sentence of this paragraph. “There are too many comma rules,” exclaimed the harried English student. And don’t forget, if the phrase comes after the quote, the comma always goes inside the quotation marks (as seen in the example above).

States and dates: that’s the last thing we have to talk about. When incorporating cities and states into sentences, remember that I always follow the cities and states, unless the state ends the sentence. Check out this example: I went on a road trip from Dallas, Texas, to Ouachita, Arkansas. Notice a comma follows Texas, but not Arkansas because of its location in the sentence.

A similar rule applies to dates: commas always follow the day and the year, unless the year ends the sentence. For example, the car was bought on January 31st, 2010, and tuned up January 1st, 2013. Notice the comma after 2010, but not after 2013.

I hope you now better understand how to incorporate me into your academic and personal writing. I know I’m complicated and convoluted, but I make your writing so much clearer! If you have any questions or need clarification, just visit the DBU Writing Center. There are qualified, certified consultants there that know all about me!

Written by Michelle

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What St. Patrick’s Journey Teaches Us About Adversity

Before writing this blog, my knowledge of St. Patrick’s Day read thus: it’s on March 17th,  something Ireland, and if you don’t wear green, you will be assaulted. If you live in America, I assume your knowledge of the holiday is about the same as mine. However, after doing some digging of my own, I have come to understand that Saint Patrick had to endure a fair share of hardships. Looking at his complete timeline, I now realize just how significant each one of his tribulations was to the cultivation of his impact and the legacy we see today. So, in the spirit of knowledge and cultural awareness, let’s take a look at the adversities of St. Patrick and what they teach us about our own struggles.

Saint Patrick (full name Maewyn Succat) was born in Britain near the end of the 4th century (386 AD). There is little information regarding his childhood, but when he was sixteen, he was enslaved by Irish pirates. He was then forced to tend sheep in Ireland as a slave for six years. As he became more accustomed to the Irish language and practices, Patrick began to grow in his faith. He started to pray daily and began to see his captivity as a test from God. One night, he heard a voice telling him to escape and return to his homeland. This led him to board a boat with a group of sailors venturing to Britain, and he was reunited with his family after being lost at sea for approximately a month. After escaping imprisonment, Patrick received a vision of the Irish people reaching out to him and was inspired to bring the Gospel to the citizens of Ireland. Although the people didn’t embrace him upon his initial return, Saint Patrick went on to become the most influential Christian figure in the history of Ireland, converting and baptizing individuals across the nation. He continued working with, and establishing, churches throughout Ireland until his death towards the end of the 5th century (between 461-93 AD).

As you can see, Saint Patrick endured a lot during his lifetime, but his faith carried him through such hardships. He possessed a mindset that didn’t allow him to give up when things seemed impossible to overcome. But, of course, I’m sure everyone has heard the phrase “don’t give up!” a million times in a variety of different environments. Every adult is aware of the importance of perseverance and developing a strong work ethic. The question is this: how? How can I build a mindset that helps me push through rough times? How can I look at adversity in a new light that helps me move past it? How do I not give up?

For starters, I would suggest ridding yourself of the preconceived notion that adversity has to be a bad thing. The words “adversity” and “hardship” can often come to our minds with negative connotations, which makes us want to avoid them. However, hardships can be viewed in ways that are less negative. For example, Saint Patrick viewed his enslavement as a test of his faith from God. Of course, the word “test” might also have a negative connotation for many people, but Saint Patrick understood that all good things come from God. With this in mind, he was able to view his adversity in a different way.

This transitions nicely into the next question people may have: how can I view my adversity in a truly positive light? As previously mentioned, understanding God’s goodness can certainly help us see our struggles positively. The Bible also specifically lays out how adversity leads to goodness in Romans: “we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Rom. 5:3-4). If we begin to view our tribulations more as opportunities for character development and less as burdens we have to carry, it is more likely that we will have greater hope and energy when approaching such trials. When our hopes are high, we can garner the strength and energy to tackle whatever may be in front of us.

This leads us to the last, and certainly most important, question: where do I find hope? Saint Patrick makes the source of his hope very clear in his confession, written shortly before he died: “thus I give untiring thanks to God who kept me faithful in the day of my temptation, so that today I may confidently [offer] my soul as a living sacrifice for Christ my Lord” (“The Confession of Saint Patrick”, par. 34). Because Saint Patrick put his hope in Christ, he had a renewed sense of energy when approaching adversity; he even began to view adversity more positively, which drove him to not give up when his tasks seemed impossible to overcome.

So, today as we’re pinching our friends and showing off our horrendous Irish accents, I hope this holiday can serve as a reminder of where our hope comes from. Even in our most troubled times, God is constant. We just have to remember to look up and know He’s there. Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!

Written by Ryan (NEW: Click on author’s name to learn more about him or her!)

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Letter from a Colon

Dear Students,

My name is Collin Colon. Not the biological organ, also known as the large intestine, nor the Costa Rican currency known as the colón, but the famed punctuation mark that makes the writing world go round. My use in writing is gravely important. I even consider myself as valuable as the period and the comma in the exciting realm of punctuation. Unfortunately, some of you do not quite understand my primary purpose, which is greatly upsetting to me. I’m often included in sentences where I have no business being. Other times, I’m even neglected altogether, creating a colon catastrophe. I’m nearly as misused as my poor comrade, Sam Semicolon. Instead of sulking about your horrendous misuse and atrocious avoidance of me, I’ve decided to enlighten you with ways to utilize me in your writing endeavors. Then, all of you will be able to fill your papers with captivating colons.

By definition, a colon is meant to tell readers the information which follows is closely related to the preceding clause. I am the go-to player for this move. So, when you plan to relate two similar clauses, choose me as the playmaker, and I will not disappoint. In fact, I am more effective at this skill than any other punctuation teammate of mine. Also, I typically follow an independent clause (or complete idea) and should not separate a verb from its complement or a preposition from its objective.

Here’s an example of the wrong way to use me: Living in apartments, I eat: sandwiches, fish sticks, and chocolate chips.

While I agree that this person’s diet is rather strange, the real horror here is the way I am used. I am inserted in between the verb (eat) and its complement (sandwiches, etc.). It is unnecessary to the flow of the sentence and just downright offensive to my kind.

Here’s the proper way to write this sentence: Living in apartments, I eat the following: sandwiches, fish sticks, and chocolate chips.

Both clauses are closely related. One addresses the concept of eating in an apartment while the other lists specific foods consumed in this space. In this particular sentence, my primary purpose is to list the specific dietary choices made in apartment-living. Although there are methods to specify these food choices without me, adding my punctuation talents throws in some punctuation pizzazz.

I can also be used in an appositive sentence like this one: There is one food I refuse to eat: olives.

In this circumstance, I am an indicator of what food the writer is referencing. Once again, you could write a sentence about your least favorite foods and avoid using me altogether, but you would lose the dramatic effect that I provide. I serve as a suspenseful pause that instills tension within all readers before dropping the name of the food that is your biggest nemesis: olives (dun dun dun dun). In this way, I enhance sentences, making them belong on a Broadway stage and exciting college professors lucky enough to read your skilled prose.

Additionally, I can amplify or interpret clauses in order to draw out more meaning from them. For instance, desserts can add to a healthy diet: fresh fruits, yogurt, and nuts have nutritional qualities. This sentence needs interpretation; otherwise, readers would get an entirely false idea. Without the second clause added after me, people might think that any dessert can add to a healthy diet. They might even begin eating heavy portions of cake, pie, and other unhealthy desserts thinking that they are partaking in a beneficial diet. By utilizing me, I interpret this clause to mean a specific food that some might not even consider to be a dessert at all.

I serve many other purposes in writing, all of which are valuable to know. I introduce illustrative quotes that are taken from other sources. For example, In the words of Dwight K. Shrute, Assistant to the Regional Manager: “Bears, beets, Battle Star Galactica.” Also, I am used for formal letter salutations (To Whom It May Concern: ). I am used to separate the hour from minutes in a time notation (12:30). Also, I separate a title from a subtitle and separating (Collin Colon: A Punctuation Memoir). Finally, I separate a Bible chapter from its verse (Job 12:3).

I hope that I no longer see calamitous colon creations in sentences where I do not belong. However, I do hope that you will use me more for your benefit in writing. I am a convivial punctuation mark, and I will surely jazz up your writing.

Sincerely,

Collin Colon

Written by Jack

For more information on how to properly use colons and other punctuation marks, check out our Colons handout and the Quick Reference Flyer page of our website!

 

Handling Criticism: Five Lessons from The Great British Baking Show

Handling criticism is hard. Regardless of whether the feedback you receive is constructive or destructive, listening to someone’s honest opinion about your work is never easy. If you’re a creator of anything, from art to poetry, music to prose, photography to food, you know the courage it takes to submit your work to the inspection and judgment of others.

Last year, I personally learned how challenging it can be to receive criticism. For six months, I worked to craft a short story I believed worthy of admiration. I then entered it into a contest in which a judge would provide me with feedback and I would have the possibility of winning the grand prize: publication alongside four other contestants. Waiting for the results, I told myself repeatedly that I would not be upset by the outcome. However, no amount of positive self-talk could have prepared me for the crushing blow that was dealt: no grand prize as well as negative feedback from the judge. I even missed out on being named an honorable mention.

I brooded quietly for several months after, dejected and full of self-pity, wondering why I had even tried. Then one day, as I was watching one of my favorite TV series, The Great British Baking Show (TGBBS), I got to thinking about what it means to properly and professionally handle criticism. If you have ever seen this wonderful show, you know just how brave those twelve bakers are to submit their creations to the judgment of Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry. Their often ruthless and unforgiving assessment of the contestants’ bakes can sometimes leave me cringing in my seat, but the way in which the bakers handle this feedback is always something worthy of praise.

After watching nearly every season of TGBBS, I have learned five valuable lessons about how to handle criticism.

  1. Remember that everybody has different taste buds.

Just because one person dislikes your creation doesn’t mean everyone will! There have been many times on TGBBS when bakers receive criticism from the judges on a bake that their family or co-workers adore and eat regularly. Other times, Mary and Paul disagree on the quality of a bake depending on how much alcohol the baker adds. Still other times, bakers graciously accept the judges’ criticism but share with the audience that they personally enjoy the bake. The fact is, no two persons are alike when it comes to appreciating food; similarly, no two persons are alike when it comes to appreciating art, literature, or anything else creative. Never let the criticism you receive from one person or one group of people dissuade you from sharing your creation with others.

  1. Accept when something you made is stodgy.

The ability to see your creation from another person’s point of view and accept his or her criticism is the sign of a truly confident and mature creator. It’s never easy for a Great-British-Baking-Show contestant to hear the dreaded word “stodgy,” but I have never once witnessed a baker who didn’t accept the evaluation with grace and dignity. In fact, many of the bakers are so self-aware that they approach the gingham altar knowing a poor critique is imminent and justified. Is this willingness to concede to the judge’s point of view a sign of weakness? Quite the opposite! Accepting criticism is the first step in growing to become a stronger, more experienced creator of any art form.

  1. Find your Mel and Sue!

Perhaps the greatest lesson I’ve learned from TGGBS is that you can’t make it on your own as a creator. Just as the hosts of the show, Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins, encourage the twelve bakers through thick or thin, so you must find the people in your life who will lift you up when you hit rock bottom. Much like the delicately balanced flavors of a cake, making it in this world as a creator also requires balance between the criticism you receive from judges offset by the encouragement you receive from friends and family. Only then can you truly be successful as a creator.

  1. Don’t be afraid to cry.

There’s no shame in tears; they show that you care passionately about your creations. Oftentimes on TGBBS, bakers come away from a harsh critique with tears in their eyes, asking themselves why they’re so terribly upset. “It’s only a cake, after all,” they state rationally. “Am I really crying over a biscuit?” others ask themselves, laughing through the tears. But the fact is, it isn’t just a bake, or a poem, or a painting, or a song. It’s what each of those creations represent: the hard work, time, and care put into creating it. Never be afraid to mourn a failure so long as you do not lose the will to try again!

  1. Live to bake another day.

Winston Churchill, a remarkable Brit much like the twelve Great-British-Baking-Show contestants, once said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” While the criticism that many bakers receive from Paul and Mary is often harsh, not one of them walks away from the experience lacking the will to continue growing as a baker. This lesson, although simple, is perhaps the hardest to put into action, but it is also the most important. Criticism is hard to handle, but we must, and we shall, so that we too can live to create another day.

nadia 2

Written by Meredith

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