This is the real story here I think: people invented the rule to suit their preferences, but over time we've forgotten the rule's origin and now treat it like a holy truth. (Or worse yet a matter of "grammar"! Run, run - you've made a grammatical mistake!) You are likely to discover this over and over again if you study the background of many rules that (some) writing teachers insist on and that people like Lynn Truss use as an excuse to foam at the mouth.
Here are some of my least-favorite myths, in no particular order:
+ You should never end a sentence with a preposition. (Sheer bullshit: English uses countless phrasal verbs ('throw away') and in many other cases avoiding the final preposition produces stuffy nonsense.)
+ You should never split an infinitive. (A completely made-up rule, based on mistakenly trying to apply Latin rules to a Germanic language.)
+ The word 'hopefully' can only mean 'in a hopeful spirit' and therefore you shouldn't say, "Hopefully, we'll arive before lunch tomorrow." (Sheer bullshit again: 'hopefully' there functions as an adverb modifying the entire clause 'we'll arrive before lunch tomorrow'. The sentence as a whole clearly and obviously means "It is to be hoped that..." or less formally "We hope that..." This use of 'hopefully' is no different than 'fortunately', 'sadly', 'happily' or 'luckily' in countless sentences.)
+ Don't start sentences with 'but' or 'and' or 'however'. (Just goofy.)
+ Never use the passive voice. (Overdoing it at the least: Yes, a lot of beauraucratic and other bad writing uses the passive in excess, but the passive is not per se evil or always wrong.)
The mathematician Paul Halmos loved issues like these and once constructed a sentence that ends in five prepositions:
"What did you want to bring that book that I didn't want to be read to out of up for?"
I lately lost a preposition
It hid, I thought, beneath my chair
And angrily I cried, "Perdition!
Up from out of in under there."
Correctness is my vade mecum,
And straggling phrases I abhor,
And yet I wondered, "What should he come
Up from out of in under for?"
"For what did you bring up that book from out of which I did not want to be read?"
Not a huge improvement.
I didn't want anyone to read out of that book to me. Why did you want to bring it up?
See? Contrary to what is suggested above, the whole thing is MUCH better with the active voice. Note that in the case of "bring up," "up" is an adverb, not a preposition, so I am not ending the second sentence with a preposition.
Speak normally and you don't have an issue. :-)
There is always a better rewrite.
See also http://www.ioccc.org/ .
did you want to bring that book
that I didn't want
What did you want to bring that book (that I didn't want to be read to out of) up for?
did you want to bring that
book that I didn't want to be read
So it's not entirely good enough to say "Just follow the arbitrary rules in order to demonstrate that you are a thoughtful, well-educated, intelligent person." It's always a case of pick your rules and your battles.
Similarly, perhaps online the use of American punctuation is becoming a negative signal, showing pedantic training as a "professional writer" rather than a true ability to convey ideas.
If you are looking for a technical writer, accountant, copy machine operator, security manager, etc. a rule follower is okay. These people don't ask questions, don't go against the grain and can be relied upon to simply produce output in a well structured process at a uniform consistency. In effect they are trained to produce fast food. This can be highly desirable in many cases -- but it shouldn't be lauded.
If you are looking for a novel thinker, a rule follower is the last place you want to go. You'd want them to know the rules, and be familiar with them, but not be chained to them/use them as a crutch or excuse. However, like most creative endeavors, if can be hard to get consistent, regular output. They aren't unaware of the rules, they simply ignore them. They aren't better than a person that can assemble words into sentences with the regularity of a automated assembly line, but they are definitely different.
Where it gets confusing is knowing the difference between somebody who purposely ignores the rules to achieve a desired output vs. somebody who is completely ignorant of the rules. I've personally found that people who are strict rule followers have the hardest time with this distinction.
There's something about knowing that you are breaking a rule that makes it feel more legitimate to me. You are using your license instead of your ignorance. I enjoy seeing that in what I am reading.
Edit: I wrote this in part to encourage you to relax your style and care a little less. Tell me what you think :)
So this argument seems only to hold if you a) assume that your readers are from the USA (or NA in general, no idea about Canada?) so that they value this style and b) that they don't just stumble upon your texts: They need to know where you're from.
This is necessary because it seems that a British person could easily claim that you're incompetent because you follow the exact rule we're talking about, but it doesn't apply locally for him. Okay, that's a bad example. AE and BE in writing is probably different enough so that someone speaking/writing BE will just chalk this up as another difference.
But here comes the rest of the world. We know about fall/autumn, colo[u]r and whatnot, but I'd say that it's not generally easy to say where some english text originates from, geographically/where the author lives. So if I cannot distinguish AE and BE with certainty, do I blame you or a BE person for handling this "wrong"?
Language evolves over time, and in my opinion logical punctuation has become common enough to be a credible choice. Most people these days take the "do not end sentences with a preposition" rule with a grain of salt, and I think that the MLA method of quoting is headed in a similar direction.
This is an ineffective counterexample. "Away" is an adverb, not a preposition.
I can no longer edit the original, but thanks for the correction.
Not that I particularly think the rules are inviolable. I see them as guidelines: if you're using the passive voice then make sure that it won't be better in active. If you're ending with a preposition, then perhaps there's a clearer way to phrase it.
That being said, once you know how to write well enough and you understand when these guidelines make your writing better and when they make it worse, for the love of $deity, please break them all over the place.
"You should never end a sentence with a preposition."
"Where's the library at, jerk?"
You should never end a sentence with a preposition.
I like to follow this one, but only as a hobby, and not in casual conversation unless I'm talking to another pedant. I do admit that the syntactical knots into which I sometimes need to tie myself in order to avoid the preposition at the end make the sentence harder rather than easier to parse. On the other hand, sometimes prepositions at the end can make sentences harder to understand, in instances where the sentence seems to have a different meaning until you get to the preposition at the end. (I can't think of any examples right now.)
You should never split an infinitive
Agreed, that's just plain random.
Never use the passive voice
I have never heard this from anyone except Microsoft Word Grammar Check.
Don't start sentences with 'but' or 'and' or 'however'.
Now now, here I'm really going to have to disagree with you. "However" is reasonable, but "and" and "but" really belong in the middle of the sentence, not at the beginning. There are exceptional circumstances under which you can break this rule, but they're few and far between.
An English teacher told my class that it's often used to lie. I think she was right. Maybe it'd be better to say that it is often used to mask the truth (hey, we were fourteen or fifteen, and subtlety wasn't exactly one of our strengths). Consider the difference between "mistakes were made" and "I screwed up."
(On the other hand, also consider the difference between "I screwed up" and "we screwed up." You can still play fast and loose with the truth using the active voice.)
I think it's fair to say that overuse of the passive voice is often associated with strained credibility, so you'd often be better off avoiding it, or at least using it sparingly. Of course, sometimes it reads more smoothly, and in those cases you should use it.
I tend to use a blend.
In short, I do not recommend the passive voice. The Elements of Style has a rule against it, and I read the same point later in life in a passage from Stephen King's On Writing.
But you don't have to believe them. You can figure out why they recommend it for yourself.
John Lennon was born in 1940 and murdered in 1980.
The passive voice is recommended in some situations.
Specifically, the passive voice allows you to mention the action while omitting the actor. This is sometimes useful, other times harmful.
Using passive voice is also a characteristic error of young bad writers. I would not presume to tell an old good writer how to do their job.
And incidentally, it doesn't take the awesome might of my critical thinking army, arrayed like the crusaders going to war, pennons snapping in the wind, to point out that there are better reasons to avoid the passive voice than 'MS Grammar Check says so'.
"Never" is definitely over-stated, but avoiding passive voice does tend to make writing more concise, clear, and engaging. Using passive voice habitually is probably just careless.
There is a point to standardizing these things, though, past a certain point, it's a bit absurd and your point stands.
By following your "myths" you will avoid writing bad English, when you know what you are doing you can selectively break them for a desired effect.
A preposition is a word you should never end a sentence with.
In most cases, simply follow the usual rules of English punctuation. A few points where the Wikipedia may differ from usual usage follow.
With quotation marks, we suggest splitting the difference between American and English usage.
Although it is not a rigid rule, it is probably best to use the "double quotes" for most quotations, as they are easier to read on the screen, and use 'single quotes' for "quotations 'within' quotations". This is the American style.
When punctuating quoted passages, put punctuation where it belongs, inside or outside the quotation marks, depending on the meaning, not rigidly within the quotation marks. This is the British style.
Now, the programmer style is actually different from these. You'll occasionally see a programmer write «He said "Foo.".»
That may've been part of the reason, but why were we trying to have a UK/US compromise when the user base was so small? I suggest that it's the previously mentioned programmer habit of using logical quotation, and what occupation was heavily represented among early Wikipedians...?
It seems to me the next logical question here is, "why not?" Just about the only arguments in favor of "American" punctuation are tradition and some hazy sense that periods outside qoutes look wrong, whereas the best argument for logical punctuation is that the point of writing is to communicate clearly, and logical punctuation is more clear at virtually no cost.
Now that I know doing it the 'logical' way is also considered conventional, I'm going to have a hard time doing it the American way anymore.
Wikipedia is also generally not about narration, and quotes are usually meant to be exact.
With narration, the goal is not to convey exactness rather to tell a story. Interrupting a character's quote to insert ", he said," influences the original meaning (if there even is such a thing) no matter where the punctuation lies. But that's not important because specifying precisely what a character said usually isn't the point of a story.
Furthermore, if you write your own sentence, and finish with quote of an entire sentence, why isn't there a period for both sentences? Brian said, "let's go.".
Looked at this way, it's easy to see why, given the choice, narrators would choose the more aesthetically pleasing placement inside the quotation marks.
I actually do this sometimes. But I'm not consistent with it. I think it's also correct to say <<Brian said, "let's go".>> . It's correct because we are allowed to quote just a portion of the sentence, which in this case happens to be every word of it.
 angle quotes just for the clarity that another level of normal quotes would destroy.
You'll never completely avoid ambiguities no matter what you do. Take the question mark in the following sentence:
Brian asked, "should we go?"
Is Brian asking a question or the person who's quoting Brian?
The question sentence could be resolved "logically" by placing the period outside the quotes, and possibly dropping the question mark entirely as you are already describing the quotation as a question. But if you're telling a story, including a question mark and putting it inside the quotes and leaving off extraneous periods is the best way to convey the overall meaning.
People generally live their lives within the local sphere. There is a lot said in the phase "My plane lands at Narita at 13:00/1PM" that isn't said in the phrase "My plane lands at Narita at 05:00 GMT".
With the first, I know that the locals are just finishing lunch, it's likely to be the warmest part of the day, and that it'll be busy getting to the hotel, but everything should be open.
Converting everyone to GMT means that every time you leave your region, you need to figure out what time customary activities take place - and you need to do this for every single different place you visit.
Standardized GMT doesn't work unless you are a hermit with no friends or need for communication.
If I'm in New York following the nuclear crisis in Japan, it's probably more important for me to know that the next news conference is two hours from now than that it's in "the morning" there. If I'm planning a meeting I certainly want to know the absolute time it's occurring, and only care about the relative time depending on how courteous I am.
I'm not saying we should stop caring about working hours and daylight hours in various places. I'm just saying that those vary wildly and are dynamic, and we should reflect that in our concept of "time".
But then, I'm a nerd.
India is +5:30, Nepal is +5:45, California observes DST but Arizona doesn't... the EU does, but they start and end DST a week before the US...
The initial gut reaction against this is that people would hate waking up at 18:00 and going home at 8:00, but I think people would get used to this pretty quickly. After all, we do this twice a year as it is.
There is also Namibia which used to lose hours in daylight savings time and Bangladesh which had dst in 2009 then dropped it, this makes historical time calculations tricky.
(Then again, it's the national standard of two whole countries, everyone else ignores it. :-( )
Imperial / kōki which counts from alleged founding of Japan in 660BC
Era / nengō which counts the years from the start of the Emperor's reign
European / seireki adopting the International standard date counting from the alleged birth date of Jesus Christ
Today is 平成23年5月13日 of Mikado Heisei, the 125th Emperor of Japan
Kōki is not used by anyone with a straight face in this day and age.
"Mikado Heisei" is an extremely uncommon way to refer to the emperor. "帝平成" gets 724 hits on Google, and "Mikado Heisei" gets 6, in 5 different languages---the first of which is your post above. Even the Japanese-language wikipedia page on him doesn't use the word "帝" anywhere.
I'm sick and tired of people arguing that you put the month first because "That's how you say it".
Today is the Thirteenth of May, not May 13.
I prefer dd/mm/yyyy to yyyy/mm/dd though, just to keep what is usually the most important information at the front.
1) Sorting the string representations sorts in time order.
2) It eliminates ambiguity almost completely, because extremely few places use YYYY-DD-MM. The ambiguity of most ##/##/## dates is irritating.
No ambiguity, easy to parse and 3-letter month is natural delimiter between day and year numbers.
Besides, often when you write dates you leave the year off entirely.
If only MSSQL Server wasn't broken in the way it interprets that if your user locale is set to UK English (give it a string formatted that way in other locales and the behaviour is as expected, in "English (British)" it sees the format as yyyy-dd-mm).
From memory, the safest format to use is actually yyyymmdd (without the hyphens) though, which is apparently supposed to be interpreted unambiguously by SQL Server.
I had a wonderful stack of little helper functions and views I'd cobbled together at that job and had had free rein to stick into the real databases; they made development so much easier. The downside of employment though, that sort of work gets stuck with each employer you do it for and can't so easily be carried around like a toolkit.
I experimented a bit with some of the code from http://www.simple-talk.com/community/blogs/philfactor/archiv... a while back on some toy projects; it makes some interesting reading and had me building a few similar functions around my own conventions and rules. On a larger scale, I would be sorely tempted to build something like that into the Model database and insist on a clean output as part of the approval criteria.
If you ever find yourself in that situation again, write the UDF as a in-line table-valued function. You get multiple return values and avoid the scalar UDF hit, since the engine will execute it in-line (appropriately enough).
select t.date, d.date_as_string
from table1 t
cross apply dbo.format_date(t.date,'yyyy-mm-dd') d
print "some text," function(), "moretext";
print "some text", function(), "moretext";
print "some text," function(), "moretext;"
." some text"
print "some text," function(,) "moretext;"
- And then he told me he was 'sleeping in late.'
- "What did he mean when he said he was "sleeping in late"?
- And can you believe it, he was "sleeping in late"!
I suspect this is the reason people started doing it that way in the first place.
And I suspect people started doing it that way on both sides of the Atlantic. It's just that Britain ended up standardizing one way, America the other. (Possibly yet another instance of English language usage evolving more quickly in Britain than in America.)
I'd appreciate if anybody can confirm or deny this hypothesis. And I find it disappointing that the Slate article has no historical treatment of the issue.
(Honestly, both styles look weird to me in fixed-width fonts, which basically arose in tandem with the modern computer.)
And yes, I just mixed punctuation styles. Period-in-quotes simply looks better.
Variable-width fonts basically didn't exist except in...
You're not giving enough credit to the printing press. Consider newspapers and books (even the Bible, which practically everybody read), which (I imagine) were printed with variable-width fonts for centuries, right from "the beginning" (i.e. Gutenburg).
Interesting, I did not know that.
I started ignoring the convention pretty when I started using computers because, as the article says, it's hard to defend it on merits and it just looks plain odd, especially in a fixed-width font.
I'm glad it seems to be vanishing.
Grammar should help the reader, not hinder. Logical/readable grammar all the way.
Let me see how this feels when I use "logical punctuation".
Yes, that feels good.
And I had no idea it had a name or that it was common outside the US.
I'm seriously considering putting it on the outside all the time now.
iirc Lincoln was a big proponent of it.
Though actually, many of the differences between US and proper English spellings come from Webster's attempts to rationalize the English language. It didn't work.
Last week I just made a commitment to start doing this the "correct" way. I find it's very difficult after years of programming, though.
Another problem I have is with capitalization on titles. You're supposed to capitalize only the larger words, but I have to go all initial caps. The inconsistency between caps drives me nuts, even though I know it's the "right" way to do things.
It's fascinating to see topics like this kind of float around for months or years and then suddenly become news items. Wonder if a shift is really happening? Or is the story just noticing a trend in people making the same mistakes?
The "rules" for titles are particularly stupid.
A title is almost invariably distinguished in some other way. If it's a heading, it is typically printed in bold if typeset and underlined if written by hand. Citations are normally printed in italics when typeset and written within quotation marks by hand.
Meanwhile, it has been shown beyond any doubt by now that Capitalising Every Word Except a Few in Some Arbitrary Fashion Hurts Readability, which is particularly damaging when you're talking about text that readers will often want to scan at speed.
As far as I can tell, title case is still one of those quaint ideas that you teach in English classes at school because the syllabus says so, even though it is an objectively inferior approach and is not particularly popular in real world usage any more. (See also: Almost any comma usage when handwriting letters or envelopes that you were taught as a child; not splitting an infinitive, beginning a sentence with a conjunction, or ending a sentence with a preposition; spelling out certain small integer numbers in full; and your teacher's pet view of the Oxford comma.)
The Rise of "Logical Punctuation".
He said, "I've been outside".
To me, "logical" punctuation in the first case would be as written, and in the second case would be:
He said, "I've been outside.".
indicating that both the enclosing and enclosed sentence is complete.
the collection of punctuation marks does very little for making the sentence more understandable, and (IMHO) looks ugly. The name "logical punctuation" is just a name for the style, do not take the word "logical" too literally.
He said, "I've been outside."
He said, "I've been outside.", but I don't believe him.
He said, "I've been outside", but I don't believe him.
The period within the quotes adds nothing.
He said, "The world".
He said, "The world.".
He said, "The world [...]".
Personally, it makes sense for "scare quotes" to not contain punctuation, as they are not complete sentences. But it doesn't make sense for direct quotes to not contain punctuation, as in `He said, "Hello there".' He didn't say "Hello there", he said "Hello there."
(It might seem logical to have two periods in that case, but it's ugly, so the second one can just be omitted for maximum conciseness. That's why the period goes inside the quotation marks. Similarly, it would be confusing and ugly to pretend to end a sentence in the middle of a sentence, so quotes that are not at the end of the sentence "end" with a comma. The period is a pretty strong message to pause, and you don't want to overuse it.
British: "I would not", he objected, "enjoy that".
American: "I would not," he objected, "enjoy that."
As a graphic design student myself, I am quite snobbish about using perfect typography. This includes proper quotation marks, as well as following the rule of putting periods and commas within quotes. (I also follow the rules religiously when it comes to en-dashes versus em-dashes and hyphens, and when to uses spaces around them. I also make sure to only use a single space after period.)
If you use a computer to write your text, and especially if it's going online, one space is all you should need to use.
And another thing. Using "an" when a word starts an H is followed very inconsistently. In fact, I only seem to hear it in the phrase "an historic". "An human" doesn't really speak that way.
An is the form of the indefinite article that is used before a spoken vowel sound: it doesn’t matter how the written word in question is actually spelled. So, we say ‘an honour’, ‘an hour’, or ‘an heir’, for example, because the initial letter ‘h’ in all three words is not actually pronounced. By contrast we say ‘a hair’ or ‘a horse’ because, in these cases, the ‘h’ is pronounced.(http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/page/aoranhistoric/a-histo...)
I'm from London.
(However, it does irritate me no end to hear RP speakers say "An historic", pronouncing the "h")
Is that a rule in American English? I don't remember hearing it in school.
"Historic" is pronounced differently, mostly based on region. You can go to "a historic occasion," with hard H, or "an 'istoric occasion," with a soft one.
Or, for native speakers: type what you'd pronounce.
I would say that the real rule is not about the letters (vowel or consonant), but the sounds. So, you receive 'an MBA' because it's pronounced 'an em-bee-eigh'.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but don't Americans pronounce a hard "h" on "herbivore"? How does "herb", then, lose its h?
What about the name "Herb"?