A blog post by Arlene Miller, The Grammar Diva
As a copyeditor and grammarian, I sometimes find myself having to defend my position on a point of grammar or punctuation.
For example, someone will ask me why I took out the comma before too at the end of the sentence:
I want to go to Paris too.
Or they will tell me they learned to put only an apostrophe to indicate a possessive in a word that ends with s:
This is Thomas’ book. (I will change it to Thomas’s.)
Or they will ask me if there is a comma after a short introductory phrase like of course:
Of course I will watch your dog for you.
And then, there is the debate about the Oxford comma:
- For breakfast I had eggs, ham, toast, vodka and orange juice. OR
- For breakfast I had eggs, ham, toast, vodka, and orange juice.
Mimosa or no????
There are no real answers to these questions.
Here are some facts:
- English is the official language of 67 countries (although not the United States).
- English is the third most commonly spoken language in the world (after Mandarin and Spanish).
- Over 80% of the information stored on computers worldwide is in English.
AND . . . English is the only language that has no AUTHORITATIVE organization guiding it.
- French has the Academie Francaise.
- Spanish has the Real Academia Espanola.
- German has the Rat fur Deutsche Rechtschreibung.
These organizations are responsible for controlling the evolution of their respective languages in terms of usage, vocabulary, and grammar. Here is a more complete list of such organizations.
What English has are a bunch of dictionaries and a host of style guides. Dictionaries may disagree on spelling, hyphenation, and capitalization. Style guides generally do not handle grammar per se, but punctuation (some, like Oxford commas), capitalization (sometimes), and issues such as writing headings and doing citations. Often when you write something, you will be following a certain style guide, e.g., The Chicago Manual of Style or the Associated Press Stylebook. Many companies have their own style guides with terminology, jargon, and writing standards that may be specific to them, so if you work there you may be following their style guide as well as a more general style guide (like Chicago).
Style guides don’t really handle grammar. A dangling participle is always going to be a dangling participle. No style guide is going to say these sentences are okay:
- While still in diapers, my mother remarried.
- Freshly painted, I picked up my car at the shop.
And no style guide will disagree that spoken is the past participle of speak, or have gone is the past participle of go.
- I have spoke to him many times. (NO)
- I have went to Europe three times. (NO)
In English, there are different style guides for different types of writing:
- AP (Associated Press) style for journalism and most forms of corporate communications
- USGPO style or AGPS style for government publications
- The Chicago Manual of Style for academic publishing — and for when there is no other guide you need to follow
- APA (American Psychological Association) style for the social sciences
- AMA (American Medical Association) style for medicine
- Bluebook style for legal citations
- MLA (Modern Language Association) for academic theses, particularly for citations
Then, there are the other guides that are, or have been, popular:
- Kate Turabian (I remember this one from my college days.)
- Strunk and White (meh! Similar to my first book, but mine is friendlier, I think.)
- Gregg Reference (I love this one.)
So, if you are wondering who makes the rules of the English language, the answer is no one (or everyone).
For more information about the Grammar Diva or the blog, go to TheGrammarDiva.com