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Word's Grammar Checker

Switch Blayde
Updated:

I know Word's grammar checker is not perfect. But it does catch many errors, so for that I'm grateful. But sometimes it simply stupefies me.

I wrote a sentence that was not flagged as an error. Then I decided to change the noun to a proper noun and all of a sudden Word said there was a grammar error, that it was a fragmented sentence. Here are the two sentences (the first Word said was okay and the second it flagged):

The pastor, sitting on his porch when I pulled up to his house, motioned for me to park in the rear.

Pastor Harding, sitting on his porch when I pulled up to his house, motioned for me to park in the rear.

Ernest Bywater

@Switch Blayde

Don't know why it behaved the way it did, but the sentence doesn't sound quite right to me, and a little fragmented. I'd write it as:

Pastor Harding was sitting on his porch when I pulled up to his house, and he motioned for me to park in the rear.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Dominions Son

@Switch Blayde

Here are the two sentences (the first Word said was okay and the second it flagged):


In the first, Word was probably interpreting ", sitting on his porch" as a modifier that specifies which pastor.

However, Once you substitute a proper noun, that interpretation no longer applies and "sitting on the porch" is clearly an action the pastor is/was taking.

With the action interpretation in either case, don't you need a "was" between the noun and "sitting on his porch" to have a complete sentence?

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Switch Blayde

@Ernest Bywater

I actually already changed it. I was simply stumped why Word thought the first version was good while the second wasn't. They should have both been good or both bad with the difference in them.

Switch Blayde
Updated:

@Dominions Son


don't you need a "was" between the noun and "sitting on his porch" to have a complete sentence?


I actually suck at grammar so I don't know the term, but the "sitting on his porch when I pulled up to his house" isn't needed to make it a complete sentence. "Pastor Harding motioned for me to park in the rear" is a complete sentence.

When I added the "sitting on his porch when I pulled up to his house," I put commas on both sides of it (since it isn't needed).

So I don't need a "was."

EDITED TO ADD the verb that goes with the noun is "motioned."

Dominions Son

@Switch Blayde

I actually suck at grammar so I don't know the term, but the "sitting on his porch when I pulled up to his house" isn't needed to make it a complete sentence. "Pastor Harding motioned for me to park in the rear" is a complete sentence.


In that case, Word sucks at correctly identifying the noun and verb when they are separated like that.

REP
Updated:

Word has lots of problems with its grammar checker. I take its recommendations with a large grain of salt.

You know there is something seriously wrong when it flags Word A and suggests Word B. Change Word A to Word B, and it then flags Word B suggesting you use Word A.

sejintenej
Updated:

@Switch Blayde


sitting on his porch when I pulled up to his house


To me that is a simple adjectival clause describing the two words preceding it.

The pastor, sitting on his porch when I pulled up to his house, motioned for me to park in the rear.

Pastor Harding, sitting on his porch when I pulled up to his house, motioned for me to park in the rear.


IMHO (which is probably wrong) both sentences are acceptable. I even agree with the placement of the commas!

OK so just occasionally it messes up but, using two different languages, I am constantly amazed how good it actually is in each one especially as the other language has accents which have recently been changed.
Now, if Micro**** could come up with a UK English spell check I would be happy

Ernest Bywater

@sejintenej

Now, if Micro**** could come up with a UK English spell check I would be happy


dare I mention the European created Libre Office has a good UK Spell Checker?

Replies:   Dominions Son
Crumbly Writer

@sejintenej

Now, if Micro**** could come up with a UK English spell check I would be happy

The M$ WORD spell-checker bases your dictionary on your main user ID (for your computer's log-in). If you change the language def for your computer, and switch it off when your done, it should be fine. Although, it's entirely possible it only sets it up when you install the account, in which case you'll want to set up a separate 'British' log-in account to use when you're working on your British stories.

You can also add alternate dictionaries, or add foreign words to your English dictionary, from the spell-check options box which pops up whenever you highlight a work and hit 7 (click the "Options" button).

Replies:   sejintenej
Dominions Son

@Ernest Bywater

dare I mention the European created Libre Office has a good UK Spell Checker?


Open Office also has a UK spell checker available. Not having used it, I can't vouch for how good it is.

sejintenej

@Crumbly Writer

The M$ WORD spell-checker bases your dictionary on your main user ID (for your computer's log-in).

My laptop is a French badged Acer running French OEM software including Office.

I have separately downloaded an English cut down version and I can run either independently but it is USofA spelling and I assume US grammar.

Two problems; the keyboard can (rarely) jump from French to English layout so a Q becomes an A etc. Simple to correct but the retyping is a pain.

Many keys cover three characters, for example the ç key upper case is 9 but the third is a circumflex (set by Alt Gr key). If the keyboard has gone to English layout the correction does not allow the third characters to be accessed - I have to reboot.

Ross at Play
Updated:

@sejintenej


To me that is a simple adjectival clause describing the two words preceding it.

The pastor, sitting on his porch when I pulled up to his house, motioned for me to park in the rear.


INHO, technically its a adjectival clause providing extra information about the pastor joined to an adverbial clause providing extra information about sitting. The entire clause MUST be enclosed in at least commas.

My suggestion would be

The pastor, sitting on his porch, motioned for me to park in the rear when I pulled up to his house.

The adverbial clause should be linked to motioning, not to how long the pastor may have been sitting on his porch before he pulled up.

Ross at Play
Updated:

@Switch Blayde


I actually suck at grammar so I don't know the term, but the "sitting on his porch when I pulled up to his house" isn't needed to make it a complete sentence. "Pastor Harding motioned for me to park in the rear" is a complete sentence.

When I added the "sitting on his porch when I pulled up to his house," I put commas on both sides of it (since it isn't needed).

So I don't need a "was."


Your analysis of the grammar was spot on here.

The test is: if I can delete all this and leave a complete sentence, I may insert it inside the sentence enclosed in commas (but you then need to check if the entire sentence then needs semi-colons).

I don't know the grammatical term either, for this type of supplementary phrase, but I'd expect to contain the word 'complex'.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Switch Blayde

@Ross at Play

I don't know the grammatical term either, for this type of supplementary phrase, but I'd expect to contain the word 'complex'.


I looked up my reference on commas (from Purdue University - https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/607/02/) to get the term, but all I got was "clause." This is what it said:

3. Use a pair of commas in the middle of a sentence to set off clauses, phrases, and words that are not essential to the meaning of the sentence. Use one comma before to indicate the beginning of the pause and one at the end to indicate the end of the pause.

Here are some clues to help you decide whether the sentence element is essential:

- If you leave out the clause, phrase, or word, does the sentence still make sense?
- Does the clause, phrase, or word interrupt the flow of words in the original sentence?
- If you move the element to a different position in the sentence, does the sentence still make sense?

If you answer "yes" to one or more of these questions, then the element in question is nonessential and should be set off with commas. Here are some example sentences with nonessential elements:

Clause: That Tuesday, which happens to be my birthday, is the only day when I am available to meet.

Phrase: This restaurant has an exciting atmosphere. The food, on the other hand, is rather bland.

Word: I appreciate your hard work. In this case, however, you seem to have over-exerted yourself.

Crumbly Writer

@Switch Blayde

Word: I appreciate your hard work. In this case, however, you seem to have over-exerted yourself.

Alternately:

I appreciate the hard work, but you're a moron and I can't use anything you've done.

Ross at Play
Updated:

@Switch Blayde


I looked up my reference on commas (from Purdue University


I have studied a similar reference recently. I'm confident I could do a fine job of editing the punctuation for a Purdue Uni. student's term paper.

Problem is, I only want to edit create writing.

There appears to be many things mandated for technical writers that authors of fiction treat as optional - because in skilled hands, they can convey different meanings with or without various marks.

In addition, there is a difference in the UK style of 'Oxford commas', and the usual style of US authors. Even using the US style, many authors are more flexible than is allowable for technical writing.

To be a complete editor, I'd need to know just how flexible authors can be with their punctuation, whether they use Oxford commas, or not.

Can anyone suggest references that identify the differences allowed in punctuation for:
(a) technical versus creative writing; and/or
(b) British versus American creative writing?

I am not feeling very playful at the moment. I'm willing to do the work, but the only references anyone has identified for me so far are having the effect of me cramping my writers' creativity - when I believe things are mandatory, when in fact, for creative writers they need to be optional!

Ernest Bywater
Updated:

@Ross at Play


Problem is, I only want to edit create writing.


offer to work on government financial reports if you want to really work with very creative documents.

Ross at Play

@Ernest Bywater

government financial reports if you want to really work with very creative documents

LOL. Financial reports are NOWHERE near as creative status reports for major redevelopments of government computing systems. It doesn't matter how many years (or decades) they take, the project is redefined, and the new estimated completion date is now 'Not next year, but the one after that'.
I'd describe this as happening 'magically', if it wasn't for the fact it's predictable and repeatable, the hallmarks of the scientific method.

Replies:   Ernest Bywater
Ross at Play
Updated:

@Ernest Bywater


government financial reports if you want to really work with very creative documents


LOL. Financial reports are NOWHERE near as creative status reports for major redevelopments of government computing systems. It doesn't matter how many years (or decades) they take, every year the project is redefined so the new estimated completion date is, 'Not next year, but the one after that.'

I'd describe this as happening 'magically', if it wasn't for the fact it's predictable and repeatable, the hallmarks of the scientific method.

Ernest Bywater

@Ross at Play

Financial reports are NOWHERE near as creative status reports for major redevelopments of government computing systems.


Oh, unless you're in the know, you'll never know the difference between why they really want something and how creatively they write up the request in the budget estimates, and then how creative they get in explaining the over-expenditure later.

Crumbly Writer

@Ross at Play

To be a complete editor, I'd need to know just how flexible authors can be with their punctuation, whether they use Oxford commas, or not.

The biggest determinates are, as you guess:
1) Whether they follow British English or American English guidelines,
2) Whether they follow any particular Style Guide. Generally, anyone traditionally published will, as you won't be published unless your work adheres to a particular style guide. If an author hasn't published they won't care, and if they're self-published they're more likely to define their own combination of rules.

As you've guessed, most Style Guides a conglomerate affairs, designed to serve fiction, non-fiction, documentary, school reports, newspapers, magazine articles, and everything in between, and thus aren't particularly useful for any of the above, but are especially shortsighted in terms of literary fiction.

Switch Blayde

@Ross at Play

Can anyone suggest references that identify the differences allowed in punctuation


I found this site when I googled it (US vs UK)
http://www.thepunctuationguide.com/british-versus-american-style.html

As to the Oxford comma, I don't think it's a UK rule. The "Oxford" is misleading. It's a "serial" comma and the Chicago Manual of style says to use it (and the CMS is used by all American publishers).

As to the other, it's really formal writing vs informal writing. School papers, business letters, etc. are formal. The narrative in fiction used to be formal. For example, you didn't use contractions. But today's genre fiction uses contractions in the narrative.

There are times I use "like" where "as" should be or "him" where "he" should be simply because it doesn't sound as stuffy (formal). But I try to make my punctuation as correct as possible.

Crumbly Writer

@Switch Blayde

I found this site when I googled it (US vs UK)

Reviewing your suggested site (which doesn't have much in it and no mention of the Oxford comma, one of the more obvious items), I was struck by the mention of the international date format (ex: "2016/07/12" vs. the American "07/12/2016" or the British "12/07/2016"). I've noticed this format showing up on more websites, but not in general fiction. Would anyone use this in fiction, after all, there's little chance of confusing the dates with this more specific format, especially with an international audience.

There a fun article in Mental Floss: Best Shots Fired in the Oxford Comma Wars, for those unfamiliar with it. It provides enough ammunition for you to defend whatever the hell you want to do! 'D

Switch Blayde

@Crumbly Writer

Reviewing your suggested site (which doesn't have much in it and no mention of the Oxford comma,


To be honest, I didn't even look at the site. I just copied the first link Google suggested.

The Oxford (serial) comma isn't British.

Replies:   Ross at Play
sejintenej

@Crumbly Writer

Reviewing your suggested site (which doesn't have much in it and no mention of the Oxford comma, one of the more obvious items), I was struck by the mention of the international date format

When I looked at it (I wonder who on earth created it) A little of it was wrong from the UK standpoint We DO use a full stop/point after abbreviations like Mr., Mrs., Messrs., etc.. (note the two full stops).

I do use an apostrophe when referring to the 1980's.

I do use the dd/mm/yyyy format and hate it; I prefer to include st, nd, rd, th, as appropriate after the day number and spell the month out in full - not the abbreviations some use.
As for the quotation clause I would try to reword so that I am not quoting within a quote.

Of course I learned a very very long time ago when we were relatively free of foreign influences.

Switch Blayde

@sejintenej

(I wonder who on earth created it) A little of it was wrong from the UK standpoint We DO use a full stop/point after abbreviations like Mr., Mrs., Messrs., etc.. (note the two full stops).

I do use an apostrophe when referring to the 1980's.


In the U.S., we do not use an apostrophe for 1980s.

I read more than once that the British do not put a period at the end of an abbreviation WHEN the letter ending the abbreviation is the same as the letter ending the word. So:

Mister = Mr (without)
Captain = Capt. (with)

Replies:   Ernest Bywater
Ernest Bywater

@Crumbly Writer

I was struck by the mention of the international date format


Which was, if my memory serves me right, initially thought up by, and promoted by, an International committee on record keeping. by placing the date in the order year - month -day on a file it meant it was easier maintain the files in chronological order. The most common usage of record keeping like this is with medical practices so they minimise the risk of mixing people's files up when they have the same name, since few would be born on the same day and the files are kept by date of birth - also helps with privacy.

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ernest Bywater

@Switch Blayde

In the U.S., we do not use an apostrophe for 1980s.

nor do we down here in the Great Southern Land.

Mr, miss, Mrs, Mz - titles no full stop after them

Ranks like Capt or Capt. and Lt or Lt. is optional full stop, but most don't unless it's an abbreviated rank that can be confused for another word - then we'll tend to write it in full, anyway.

Dominions Son

@sejintenej

When I looked at it (I wonder who on earth created it) A little of it was wrong from the UK standpoint


The International Standards Organization created it.

The international date format YYYY/MM/DD is ISO 8601 standard date format.

While it is not in general use anywhere, it is being used internally by the EU and other international organizations.

Some business is the US are using it internally as well. The reason is that dates stored is strings in ISO 8601 for with or without delimiters will sort correctly without special processing.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Dominions Son

Some business is the US are using it internally as well. The reason is that dates stored is strings in ISO 8601 for with or without delimiters will sort correctly without special processing.

Except dates are stories by their digital values (hundredths of a second since a specific date, most often 1950), instead of sorting the text display (ex: "1950/01/25"). Thus the sorting argument is completely wrong, instead it's so users can visually scan it quickly with less chance of obvious mistakes.

Ernest Bywater

@Crumbly Writer

Except dates are stories by their digital values


Although that's the way the date is stored in the BIOS, not all software stores dates that way. Many programs have date files where the date is stored as a static value and not a relative value. Which a programmer uses will depend on what they intend to do with the date. Also, not all computer system BIOS have the same initial date, and that can cause issues when a relative date program is transferred between systems.

I've seen a program where the date field is actually three fields, on for year, one for month, and one for day. It was done this way so they could easily search on either aspect of the date by itself., something extremely difficult to do when the date is stored as a relative field.

The dates are stored as a binary code, but all computer data is stored as a binary code. It's how you have it set out and used that's important.

............

I'm sure some remember the big furor about the Y2K bug that was expected to crash a lot of systems. The funny thing about that is there was no confirmed case of any hardware that would crash a system because of the expected turn over from 1999 to 2000, but they did find some software that would have a problem, simply because the software had been written a long time before and only used a two digit year date. However, none of the software tested crashed any critical systems because of the issue. This was because few programs on critical systems used dates in a critical way, while the software that did sue dates in a critical way didn't manage critical systems.

Replies:   Dominions Son
Dominions Son

@Crumbly Writer

Except dates are stories by their digital values (hundredths of a second since a specific date, most often 1950), instead of sorting the text display (ex: "1950/01/25"). Thus the


There are still a lot of business systems, accounting, payroll, etc. that store dates as strings. I have dealt with a few of them in my professional career in IT.

Particularly mainframe based systems. And there are a hell of a lot of mainframe systems out there in the corporate world. IBM still sells mainframe computers, though these days, only a few units a year.

And that's the corporate world. Governments are even further behind.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Dominions Son

@Ernest Bywater

The funny thing about that is there was no confirmed case of any hardware that would crash a system because of the expected turn over from 1999 to 2000, but they did find some software that would have a problem, simply because the software had been written a long time before and only used a two digit year date.


I spent 15 years working in a corporate IT department doing application development. I work for a consulting company now, but I still do corporate IT work.

Y2K was at the beginning of my career (I started in 1997). A 500 employee corporate IT department spent 2-3 calendar months in 1999 doing nothing but testing for and fixing Y2K/two digit year issues. That's 83-125 man years of work for one company.

There were software systems written in 1995 that were using 2 digit years.

Oh and there were some operating systems that had date issues with the system date. The Unix operating system used a system date/time stored as a binary integer offset in milliseconds from 1/1/1970. I don't remember exactly when the system date was supposed to roll over but it was sometime in the 2005-2020 range.

While the whole system wouldn't crash, any applications running on it that were dependent on knowing the current date would have issues when the system date rolled over. And they would have issues that most business would consider worse than crashing. The issue would end up causing data corruption in potentially business critical data without raising any errors.

Replies:   Ernest Bywater
Crumbly Writer

@Dominions Son

There are still a lot of business systems, accounting, payroll, etc. that store dates as strings. I have dealt with a few of them in my professional career in IT.

Now that you've reminded me, I too remember using date strings, separate day, month and year word strings, which correlated to the double word (16-bit) binary date fields (I worked in financial systems for banks and international traders, so they had to communicate data between international banks).

I rescind my objections, merely arguing that there were alternate accounting date fields.

Ernest Bywater

@Dominions Son

any applications running on it that were dependent on knowing the current date would have issues when the system date rolled over.


True, and the concern for some was the two year date issue in banking programs, and many of us mentioned this was an issue to be fixed, but it didn't affect anything else - no one listened to us. However, the Y2K doomsday people were listened to, and they were predicting power management programs, planes, etc crashing due to it. Not a single power or utility management or plane controller program was found to have software relying on the date. Millions was spent in a panic, when only a few thousand need to have been spent on the accounting software.

Replies:   Dominions Son
Dominions Son

@Ernest Bywater

Not a single power or utility management or plane controller program was found to have software relying on the date.


The company I worked for was an electric utility. And yes, there were critical systems impacted by Y2K issues.

Nothing that by itself would have crashed the grid, but systems that the company depended on for efficient outage response were affected.

Had the company not done remediation of critical systems, the first major storm in their service territory could have taken 3-4 times longer to recover from than they would/should have.

These issues themselves could have cost lives, and not just for linemen.

Were there no critical systems affected? Or were there no problems in 2000 because millions were spent fixing the potential issues?

We'll never really know for sure.

Replies:   Ernest Bywater
Ernest Bywater
Updated:

@Dominions Son


Were there no critical systems affected? Or were there no problems in 2000 because millions were spent fixing the potential issues?


Most countries ran Y2K programs where the various companies, especially utilities, had to report back to a government agency on what they were doing and what they had done, and what they found, for about a year or more before 1 Jan 2000. The agencies also issued status reports. Most of those reports were made available to the public, to help quell fears. In a job I had at that time I had to read piles of the suckers, and not one report had a single instance stating a system would have ceased working at 12:01 a.m. 1 Jan 2000. Many organisations noted their accounting software, especially their charging software, needed fixing, but the controllers and management software of the general operation would work straight on through.

I know of one program related to electricity that would have had an issue, but all it did was track individual power usage at high usage sites to ensure proper charging based on time frames, it would not have cut the power flow at all. The worst would have been an incorrect usage charge arising from the system.

One of the early reports I saw pointed out date management was not a part of the management software, but day management was. The software had a program where the company entered times to take actions based on the day of the week, and it ran the software in a seven day loop. This was used to help manage peaks and flows based on work fluctuations. However, it operated on a Monday public holiday the same as it did on a Monday work day, because it had no way to know different. When it is loaded or reloaded the operator tells it the day of the week and the current time, adds in the variations wanted, and leaves it be. The only date used in the system was in the log, which was data recording only.

typo edit

Replies:   sejintenej
Ross at Play

@Switch Blayde

But I try to make my punctuation as correct as possible.

Thanks for the UK vs US guide. I've only had internet access for limited periods of the day recently, so you finding that for me is very helpful.
Regarding correct punctuation, I totally agree, but the part of my research project into that is what things can creative writers treat as optional, AND remain within correct boundaries. If they know and are consistent in their practices, they can then include or exclude marks on occasions to create nuances that would be harder to do in other ways. But, thanks again for getting me one step closer towards that

Ross at Play

@Switch Blayde

Ditto everything I just said to Switch Blayde.

Actally ... as SB noted, the site you suggested is rubbish ... but it's the thought that counts in my book

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play
Updated:

@Ernest Bywater


since few would be born on the same day and the files are kept by date of birth - also helps with privacy.


There's another Australian with an identical name (which does not include anything very common) and date of birth.

We know a lot about each others medical history when Medicare combined our records for a few years.

Poor bugger must have nightmares too when I went into bankruptcy.

Replies:   sejintenej
sejintenej

@Ernest Bywater

Most countries ran Y2K programs where the various companies, especially utilities, had to report back to a government agency on what they were doing and what they had done, and what they found, for about a year or more before 1 Jan 2000.

I think the greatest problem was journalistic terrorism. One program might have a problem so therefore (144 point headline in red) Every computer program anywhere in the world will fail, ICBMs will be launched. The end of the world is nigh etc.etc.

There were articles stating categorically that (to save memory) computers only remember the last two digits and automatically add 19 in front so 2000 becomes 1900.
The man in the street knew nothing except what he/she read and politicians saw an opportunity for sound bites and other profitable excursions into unreality so all computer users were under public pressure to be seen to being "doing something" and extolling their virtues from Big Ben, the Empire State building et al.

Therefore software producers had a good 1996-1999 and a miserable 2000 to 2006 or later.

sejintenej

@Ross at Play


since few would be born on the same day and the files are kept by date of birth - also helps with privacy.

There's another Australian with an identical name (which does not include anything very common) and date of birth.

We know a lot about each others medical history when Medicare combined our records for a few years.

Poor bugger must have nightmares too when I went into bankruptcy.

That demonstrates the stupidity of most forms of personal records. Americans seem to use their infinitely long references numbers but I cannot remember my NI number or NHS number (of which more anon).

What I can remember is my Identity Card number - four letters, a space and three numbers which was issued within 24 hours of birth (I have the proof of that time period)not too much less than four decades ago.

Because of the basis of that number there can never be another person with that number - the name is irrelevant and they are still issued and recorded to this day.

Along came the Americans and that went by the board. For the health service they changed nice simple ID numbers like ABCD 123 to huge great numbers which no one could possibly remember and are not written down anywhere and are not even used by the tax people who have their own two parallel huge number systems.

Then we got Blair (I think it was) who wanted to issue ID cards incorporating details of the scars on everyone's arses as well as more personal details.

Gimme the (old and modern) ID numbers issued at birth out of a book of serially numbered forms

Replies:   Ross at Play
Dominions Son

@sejintenej

I think the greatest problem was journalistic terrorism.


I don't disagree with that, however, I worked in the IT department of an US electric utility from 1997-2013, so I have direct personal experience with Y2K.

There were also people out there saying that there were no issues and nothing at all needed to be done and that even if nothing was done, nothing bad would happen.

Those people were just as wrong as the fear mongers.

Replies:   sejintenej  Ross at Play
Ernest Bywater

@sejintenej

There were articles stating categorically that (to save memory) computers only remember the last two digits and automatically add 19 in front so 2000 becomes 1900.


This was true of accounting software. However, no programmer included code to manipulate dates unless it was needed by the software to do what it had to do. So most other software never included the code to manipulate dates or work out the differences between them, it just wasn't needed to do the job.

There were a few cases where people tried to go the cheap way and incorporated accounting software in with other software as an integrated package instead of two programs that talked to each other. But they were rare and far between. There was a hell of a lot of software that recorded dates, but since they never did date manipulation or worked out the variations between two dates it was never an issue with them. The software that recorded the date as a static field were never going to have an issue with the Y2K problem. Systems and software that used the BIOS date to record a date and to manipulate the date were never going to be an issue for the Y2K problem, but some would have later issues when the BIOS rolled over - but that was not a Y2K issue.

Generally computer programs that used dates instead of just remembering them as a static data field remembered the dates as a binary number provided by the BIOS, when it had to display the date it calculated it and displayed whatever the software told it to display. When it had to calculate the difference between two dates it subtracted the earlier figure from the later figure and calculated that back into days etc. Most software auto-displayed the '19" and added the last two digits from the calculation of the year. The only clear examples of an uncorrected Y2k date use resulted in a display of 19100 because of the use of this display method and coding.

One problem was any software bug occurring at that time was attributed to being a Y2K bug without being properly chased down and sorted out.

For computer systems themselves there are, were, a few dates with roll over issues where they reset, and the wikipedia page below has info on them. This was due to the earlier hardware using a specific limited data field size for the date, and thus put a restriction on how far the date would go before it reset.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Time_formatting_and_storage_bugs

During the Y2K panic for nothing, a lot of hardware and software that was going to have an issue in later years due to the issues int he above article (totally unrelated to Y2K itself) were replaced or changed to resolve the later issue. The link below shows what they feared would happen with Y2K, but it was never going to be like that, due to the fact the Y2K was based on the human display of the figures, not the underlying figures used to calculate it.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Year_2038_problem

The only way the issue as stated for Y2K to cause a problem would be for bad programming to not use the data properly, and most such software was the large accounting packages.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
sejintenej
Updated:

@Dominions Son


I think the greatest problem was journalistic terrorism.

I don't disagree with that, however, I worked in the IT department of an US electric utility from 1997-2013, so I have direct personal experience with Y2K.


As a sideline to my job I was responsible for risk assessment and contingency planning for the non- American (ie Europe, Africa, Asia) side of an American (not US) bank during that period. My biggest problem was Head Office bosses reading the rags.

Our own technical people handled everything quietly and competently.

Switch Blayde
Updated:

@Ernest Bywater


There were articles stating categorically that (to save memory) computers only remember the last two digits and automatically add 19 in front so 2000 becomes 1900.

This was true of accounting software. However, no programmer included code to manipulate dates unless it was needed by the software to do what it had to do.


I worked on many mainframe application programs in the 1970s, both from the programming and database side. All dropped the 19 in date fields to save disk space.

awnlee jawking
Updated:

@Switch Blayde

With memory at a premium, both RAM and hard disc (to use today's parlance), database design courses taught that it was extremely bad practice to include the 19 in dates.

There wasn't today's philosophy of writing slow, inefficient, voluminous crap in the expectation that, by the time a project is finished, hardware will have improved sufficiently to run the software.

AJ

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Ernest Bywater

@Switch Blayde

All dropped the 19 in date fields to save disk space.


Which usually related only to the presentation and not the actual data storage if a it was to be sued for a calculation. If it was for static storage, then it was only stored as two digits but represented no hazard to anyone at all.

Dominions Son

@Ernest Bywater

Which usually related only to the presentation and not the actual data storage if a it was to be sued for a calculation. If it was for static storage, then it was only stored as two digits but represented no hazard to anyone at all.


I have direct experience with corporate mainframe software that stored dates as a mmddyy string and were doing both sorting and elapsed time calculation on those dates.

These were business critical applications for an electric utility.

One of those applications was a outage ticket management system and the date related calculations were vital to the way the application worked.

Many accounting systems do critical calculations using dates. At the time, most large corporate accounting systems were still running on mainframes.

Nobody in the mainframe world used binary integer date formats even for database storage.

Replies:   Ernest Bywater
Switch Blayde

@Ernest Bywater

Which usually related only to the presentation and not the actual data storage if a it was to be sued for a calculation.


If I remember right, and that's a big "if", when the date was stored for calculation is was yyddd (where the yy dropped the 19 and the ddd was the Julian days).

Switch Blayde
Updated:

@awnlee jawking


With memory at a premium, both RAM and hard disc


I hate to admit my age, but I started out with computers using core, not ram. And if I remember right, we had the largest IBM mainframes running MFT with each partition only having 4k of core. And those 4,000 bytes had to hold the program and data.

Replies:   Capt Zapp
Capt Zapp

@Switch Blayde

...only having 4k...


I remember my first computer, a TRS-80 model I Level I. Came with whopping 4k of memory. Programming was either in BASIC or Assembly. Storage was on a cassette tape.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Switch Blayde

@Capt Zapp

I remember my first computer, a TRS-80 model I Level I. Came with whopping 4k of memory.


This was a mainframe. An IBM 360. And it was core, not memory. I don't know if the term "core dump" is still in use, but back then you were able to print out the contents of core. Unlike memory, it was a magnetic setting (of 1 or 0) that was still there when you lost power.

My first PC was an IBM PC with 64K and two floppy drives. When the hard drive came out I had someone replace one of the floppies with a 10mg hard drive (basically the IBM XT) and upped the memory to the max (256k ?). I thought I would never run out of storage.

Ernest Bywater

@Dominions Son

Nobody in the mainframe world used binary integer date formats even for database storage.


The actually data was always stored and manipulated as binary data, simply because that's the only way the damn software and hardware could handle it.

During the 1980s I worked for a company that was the world leader in third party computer maintenance, all we worked on at that time were mainframe systems. In my office I had an old IBM core memory unit, it consisted of a wood frame with glass sheets and wires going from top to bottom and left to right. Where the wires crossed it could store a charge or have no charge. The charge status decided if that point was a 0 or a 1. There were eight wires going in each direction, so each line was a byte of information. The data was stored on long tapes or on platter disc packs, it was stored as binary information of a 1 or a 0. All the computer programs and data storage was in binary, there was no way around it.

The way the programs sent the data to be displayed or printed was in whatever way the programmer had written the software to display it. Every time a date was handled or manipulated the computer did it by processing the binary code, and then processed the result to display the answer.

Ross at Play
Updated:

@sejintenej


the health service they changed nice simple ID numbers like ABCD 123 ... Then we got Blair (I think it was) who wanted to issue ID cards incorporating details of the scars on everyone's arses as well as more personal details ... Gimme the (old and modern) ID numbers issued at birth out of a book of serially numbered forms


The scrapping of simple numbers looks like a tragedy to me. There's only a handful of countries with a population large enough to use a fourth digit.

One driving force for that trend is computer programmers wanting to use primary reference numbers, or parts of them, to sort and select various sub-groups.

The programmers and departmental boffins get together and decide what is most convenient for their administration. Did anyone ask, "Do simple and unique reference numbers save lives?" Probably, but nobody would have wanted to answer that.

Retrospective issuing of numbers doesn't work either. A similar ID card was proposed in Australia, and howled down by the public. They knew that once created the boffins would find incremental expansions of its use into areas the public does not want, even without considering what the spooks would do without them ever knowing.

I have one policy in response to all this. I do not simply trust doctors in hospitals. I know they're accustomed to being treated like demigods, but I make it clear I, alone, make decisions about my health. I try to assuage their egos by saying "I trust you, but people die in the best of hospitals because of mistakes in the system. I insist you explain everything going into, or done to my body, so I can check what others are intending to do is correct." They may not like it, but they'll accept it is best practice. There is only one person in a hospital who has a vested in triple checking everything about your treatment is correct, yourself!

Replies:   sejintenej
Ross at Play
Updated:

@Dominions Son


I don't disagree with that, however, I worked in the IT department of an US electric utility from 1997-2013, so I have direct personal experience with Y2K.


I worked from 1980 onwards on a system that was created in the late 1960's, and has been growing ever since. The BIG ISSUE at the time the system was written was the cost of magnetic tape. Things like not storing two digits for the century saved a lot of money. Much of the code to do that is still in that system, although the big issue now is the time needed for mechanical movements to read a selected piece of data from most storage devices.

It was known yet appreciated just how difficult and dangerous it was going to be make large scale changes to a complex 'legacy system'. Decisions to make changes needed before 2000 were so terrifying, they were put off until they could no longer be avoided.

The fear generated by journalists as 2000 approached was massively overblown, but the fear of programmers with the job of ensuring their system would not fail was very real.

Ross at Play
Updated:

@Ross at Play


Actally ... as SB noted, the site you suggested is rubbish ...


@CrumblyWriter

Actally ... the site you suggested was a revelation!

My apologies for being dismissive before reading it carefully.

It cited 8 (in)famous quotes (4 each from both sides) by people claiming the use (or not) of the Oxford comma was creating (or preventing) ambiguities.

After considering those quotes, I have become a committed adherent to benefits of using the Oxford comma.

Firstly, the expression does NOT indicate it's the preferred style in Britain. In fact, the reverse is true. The name comes from the fact that Oxford University (or perhaps OU Press) was one of the few institutions in Britain has insisted for some time it be used.

I am going to start using the other expression for this style, the 'serial comma'.

The serial comma is used widely in the US (but not in newspapers). The non-serail comma is most common in UK (but not at Oxford).

To me, the choice is quite simple. The serial comma allows creative writers more flexibility in the meanings they can convey. It never (based on an analysis of the infamous quotes cited) CREATES ambiguities -- provided it is used correctly.

Almost all of the examples quoted, by both sides of the debate, were not actually ambiguities created by the use or not of the serial comma. Mostly were simply sentences in which ONLY commas were used for punctuation, despite the need for more than one type of separator in those sentences.

There are other separators that may be used freely when needed (semi-colons, dashes and parentheses). If the writers of the suspect sentences had used commas for one purpose (a list of items), and anything else for separating clauses, then all potential ambiguities disappear.

My example sentence ...

'She took a photograph of her parents, the President and the Secretary of State.'

I am hoping to see sentences like that quite often over the next 9 years, and I will KNOW if the writer is using serial commas, the photographer could only be Chelsea Clinton!

Writers NOT USING serial commas will have difficulty conveying that meaning. The only easy way I can see they could achieve that is by inserting 'own' before the word 'parents'.

Writers USING serial commas will have two options:

(1) 'She took a photograph of her parents, the President and the Secretary of State.'

(2) 'She took a photograph of her parents, the President, and the Secretary of State.'

There is NO AMBIGUITY with either of these sentences!

Sentence (1) can only mean Chelsea Clinton took a photograph of two people.

Sentence (2) can only mean someone, whoever they may be, took a group photograph of four people.

(I ask the forgiveness of the LGBT and other communities in presuming all people have two parents. I'm trying to make an important point here!)

IMHO, the serial comma should be preferred by creative writers, because it allows greater flexibility of meaning to be conveyed without the need for extra words to prevent ambiguities. It appears to have the benefit of already being used more frequently, by most in the US and Canada, plus minorities elsewhere (that are probably growing).

I note that both forms are correct, and both are used on both sides of the Atlantic. It is a matter of personal choice, and for your readers being consistent and accurate in whatever choice you make is more important than which you choose.

Replies:   sejintenej
sejintenej

@Ross at Play

I have one policy in response to all this. I do not simply trust doctors in hospitals.

The wife of a work colleague went into hospital; the birth of her child went well for both her and their baby. Then she started going downhill until eventually she was given perhaps 12 hours to live. A student doctor wandering down the ward asked if tests had been done; of course they hadn't but as soon as she was treated for that she recovered completely (except for that specific condition of course).

Years previously I had come back from Africa and went straight into hospital for a week to find out the cause of abdominal problems. The hospital had the full medical records since birth and from Africa. I was discharged with the symptoms and no diagnosis. A month later, guiding a party of Norwegian medical students one of them saw the problem I was having inside many layers of clothing and said
"you have had malaria, haven't you?
Answer, "yes".
"Those are symptoms occasionally caused by malaria".

The hospital knew I had had malaria but it took a student doctor with no knowledge of my medical history to spot the problem and know the diagnosis.

I had a GP who knew me and my lifestyle and treated me taking my lifestyle into account. Unfortunately he has retired and instead of getting a routine appointment that or next day they have been quoting over a week to see whichever of the practice doctors who might be free.

sejintenej
Updated:

@Ross at Play


My example sentence ...

'She took a photograph of her parents, the President and the Secretary of State.'

I am hoping to see sentences like that quite often over the next 9 years, and I will KNOW if the writer is using serial commas, the photographer could only be Chelsea Clinton!

Writers NOT USING serial commas will have difficulty conveying that meaning. The only easy way I can see they could achieve that is by inserting 'own' before the word 'parents'.

Writers USING serial commas will have two options:

(1) 'She took a photograph of her parents, the President and the Secretary of State.'

(2) 'She took a photograph of her parents, the President, and the Secretary of State.'

There is NO AMBIGUITY with either of these sentences!

Sentence (1) can only mean Chelsea Clinton took a photograph of two people.

Sentence (2) can only mean someone, whoever they may be, took a group photograph of four people.


Sorry, I beg to disagree.

I don't know how many Presidents since photography was invented have had daughters and we don't know if this refers to the USofA or another country.
Unless this is clarified elsewhere the President and Secretary of State of ****land could be married and the photographer is their daughter.

The comma after President in one example is simply one of the differences in systems. Depending on where you were educated the two sentences can easily mean exactly the same thing, the UK reader of example 2 simply thinking that the author is a Yank.

The statement "Sentence (1) can only mean Chelsea Clinton took a photograph of two people" might be valid in America but elsewhere it can mean there were four people in the picture.

Ernest Bywater

@sejintenej

I don't know how many Presidents since photography


whatever you were saying and got cut off, won't matter much.

For a person to be taking a photo of their parents who hold the two positions of US President and US Secretary of State it would have to be someone in the last few decades, because prior to that both positions were all held by men, and gay people wouldn't get elected. Thus you're down to female US Presidents and female US Secretary of State with a spouse in the other position - only one candidate so far. That may change in the future, but not at the moment.

Replies:   sejintenej
sejintenej

@Ernest Bywater


For a person to be taking a photo of their parents who hold the two positions of US President and US Secretary of State it would have to be someone in the last few decades, because prior to that both positions were all held by men, and gay people wouldn't get elected. Thus you're down to female US Presidents and female US Secretary of State with a spouse in the other position - only one candidate so far. That may change in the future, but not at the moment.

There is no mention of the USA; many many countries around the world have Presidents but the real argument is between the systems of having or not having a comma before the "and"

Crumbly Writer

@sejintenej

There is no mention of the USA; many many countries around the world have Presidents but the real argument is between the systems of having or not having a comma before the "and"

Again, the argument here isn't whether to always use the serial comma, but that authors frequently break their own style guidelines to call attention to their absence (i.e. "Pay attention: the following sentence requires additional care!").

Ernest Bywater

@sejintenej

real argument is between the systems of having or not having a comma before the "and"


True, the use of the serial comma leads to clarity. For most of my life my evening meal has consisted of a piece of cooked meat (lamb, or beef, or pork) with carrots, peas, and mashed potatoes. Each is served in a different spot on the plate. However, for most of my life while still living at home what I ate was meat, carrots, peas and mashed potatoes. This was because I mixed the peas and potatoes into a single pile and ate them both with the fork. The presence or absence of the commas can change how it's viewed.

In another example, most Saturday evenings during winter, after getting home from playing soccer (football for those in Europe), my father and I would have dinner. I'd heat up the stew while he made the mashed potatoes. now, here's where it got interesting, he'd use a large bowl to put his mashed potatoes in and place the stew in with it, mix it up and have mashed potatoes and stew, while I'd use a plate and bowl to eat my stew, and mashed potatoes because I ate them one after the other. Same items, different presentation and usage, and the comma is the only way to make that clear.

richardshagrin

There are breakfast cereals made like little "O"s. If one were made to look like commas, would it be a cereal comma? Or if a serial killer killed someone with a comma would that make it a serial comma?

sejintenej
Updated:

@Ernest Bywater


cooked meat (lamb, or beef, or pork) with carrots, peas, and mashed potatoes. Each is served in a different spot on the plate. However, for most of my life while still living at home what I ate was meat, carrots, peas and mashed potatoes. This was because I mixed the peas and potatoes into a single pile and ate them both with the fork. The presence or absence of the commas can change how it's viewed.


I disagree with your second assertion. In modern English an adjective refers to the word(s) following it. It does not imply that the peas were mashed onto the potatoes; from the second clause the meat, carrots and peas might or might not have been placed on top of the mashed potatoes, mixed with the spuds or placed, each on its own plate, to be eaten together.

Replies:   Ernest Bywater
Crumbly Writer

@Ernest Bywater

True, the use of the serial comma leads to clarity. For most of my life my evening meal has consisted of a piece of cooked meat (lamb, or beef, or pork) with carrots, peas, and mashed potatoes. Each is served in a different spot on the plate. However, for most of my life while still living at home what I ate was meat, carrots, peas and mashed potatoes. This was because I mixed the peas and potatoes into a single pile and ate them both with the fork. The presence or absence of the commas can change how it's viewed.

Luckily, few readers give a damn how a particular character eats their mashed potatoes. 'D It might be clearer, but some items are more central to a story's plot than others.

Replies:   Ernest Bywater
Ernest Bywater

@sejintenej

I disagree with your second assertion.


Disagree, and I never implied or said the peas were mashed (in fact they weren't mashed, just mixed), but the use of the comma after peas makes it clear the peas and the mashed potatoes are two different items on the plate or plate, while the lack of the comma makes it clear the peas and the mashed potatoes are in together.

In a similar vein, chips and gravy are chips with gravy on them, while chips, and gravy are chips with gravy provided in a separate container.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Ernest Bywater

@Crumbly Writer

Luckily, few readers give a damn how a particular character eats their mashed potatoes.


True, CW, but it shows how the comma can change the meaning of what's being said, which is the point of using a real life example.

Switch Blayde

@Ernest Bywater

In a similar vein, chips and gravy are chips with gravy on them, while chips, and gravy are chips with gravy provided in a separate container.


The serial comma comes into play ONLY if there are 3 or more items. If there are two, there is no comma. So in both cases in the example above, it would be "chips and gravy" as in "I went to the store and bought chips and gravy" or "I ate chips and gravy." If you need to let the reader know the gravy was on the chips, you need to tell him that.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Switch Blayde

The serial comma comes into play ONLY if there are 3 or more items. If there are two, there is no comma. So in both cases in the example above, it would be "chips and gravy" as in "I went to the store and bought chips and gravy" or "I ate chips and gravy." If you need to let the reader know the gravy was on the chips, you need to tell him that.

"I went to the story and bought gravy to put on my chips (chalk it up to weird cravings!)"

Ross at Play

@sejintenej

Writers USING serial commas will have two options:

(1) 'She took a photograph of her parents, the President and the Secretary of State.'

(2) 'She took a photograph of her parents, the President, and the Secretary of State.'

There is NO AMBIGUITY with either of these sentences!

Sentence (1) can only mean Chelsea Clinton took a photograph of two people.

Sentence (2) can only mean someone, whoever they may be, took a group photograph of four people.

To those who did not understand from my PREVIOUS naming of Chelsea Clinton my example was implied as being in US, I will spell this out for you more clearly!

Writers USING serial commas will have two options:

(1) 'In January 2017, She took a photograph of her parents, the President of the United States of America and the Secretary of State of the United States of America.'

(2) 'In January 2017, She took a photograph of her parents, the President of the United States of America, and the Secretary of State of the United States of America.'

If you are still capable of noticing the extra comma in sentence (2), Note there is NO AMBIGUITY with either of these sentences!

Sentence (1) can only mean Chelsea Clinton took a photograph of two people.

Sentence (2) can only mean someone, whoever they may be, took a group photograph of four people.

Do you disagree with my analysis of the grammar in those two sentences, NOTING the writer uses serial commas routinely, and their readers are aware of that.

Ross at Play

@sejintenej

There is no mention of the USA

Yes, there was.
There was mention of Chelsea Clinton and the next 9 years during which her mother is quite likely to be POTUS.

Capt Zapp

@Ross at Play

There is no mention of the USA
Yes, there was.
There was mention of Chelsea Clinton and the next 9 years during which her mother is quite likely to be POTUS.


IMO, If Chelsea Clinton has the opportunity to take that picture, the USA will cease to exist before the end of her mother's first term.

Replies:   Ross at Play
Dominions Son

@Ross at Play

There was mention of Chelsea Clinton and the next 9 years during which her mother is quite likely to be POTUS.


Her maximum term would be 8 years.

The maximum possible term a president can serve is 9 years 11 months 30 days.

The only way to go over 8 years is for a vice president to take over from a sitting president mid term and then get elected twice. However, if the vice president takes over at or before the half way point in the prior president's term that term counts against the vice president for his/her own presidential term limit

So if a VP took over at the 2 year mark the VP could only run for re-election once and would max out at 6 years. One day later and the VP can run for re-election twice, maxing out at just under 10 years.

However, Hillary is not VP, she wouldn't be taking over mid term from Obama, so she maxes out at 2 full terms for 8 year total.

Dominions Son

@Ross at Play

There was mention of Chelsea Clinton


I don't think Chelsea would get the opportunity to take that picture even if Hillary gets elected.

Bill has already termed out, so it would create a significant constitutional issue if she named Bill as her VP as you would have a VP who is arguably ineligible to take over if Hillary died, resigned or was impeached.

I say arguably because some have argued that the 2 term limit only applies to consecutive terms, however no president/presidential candidate has attempted to push that issue since the 2 term limit was enacted.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
richardshagrin

Another objection to a husband and wife team as President and Vice President at the same time is that the constitution requires the two occupants of those positions be residents of different states.

Ernest Bywater

@richardshagrin

President and Vice President


Don't know how we got here, but what was said before was about President and Secretary of State, not VP.

Replies:   Dominions Son
Dominions Son

@richardshagrin

I forgot about that one, but you're right, the husband and wife president and vice president is almost impossible.

Though I suppose if you had a mixed gender pair, the could get married after assuming office.

Replies:   Ross at Play
Dominions Son

@Ernest Bywater

Don't know how we got here, but what was said before was about President and Secretary of State, not VP.


The Secretary of state is also in the successor list. So my original objection on a constitutional issue over Bill not being able to take over as president would still apply.

Replies:   tppm
richardshagrin
Updated:

"Bill has already termed out, so it would create a significant constitutional issue if she named Bill as her VP as you would have a VP who is arguably ineligible to take over if Hillary died, resigned or was impeached."

From Dominions Son's penultimate paragraph. Hillary as President and Bill as VP would raise the issue how a married couple would meet the constitutional requirement that President and VP be from different states.

Switch Blayde
Updated:

@Dominions Son


Bill has already termed out, so it would create a significant constitutional issue if she named Bill as her VP as you would have a VP who is arguably ineligible to take over if Hillary died, resigned or was impeached.


What are you talking about? The sentence was:

"She took a photograph of her parents, the President and the Secretary of State."

Former presidents are always referred to as President. So when Hillary was Secretary of State and Chelsea took a picture of her mother and father, the sentence would apply.

Replies:   Dominions Son
Dominions Son
Updated:

@Switch Blayde


Former presidents are always referred to as President.


In person and by name only. And not every one agrees with that.

"She took a photograph of her parents, the President and the Secretary of State."

Former presidents are always referred to as President. So when Hillary was Secretary of State and Chelsea took a picture of her mother and father, the sentence would apply.


No, you are wrong. With the sentence as stated, 99.99% of US readers will assume you mean the current president. If the statement had said "former president" or "president Clinton" or "Chelsea took a photograph" you might have a point, as is, you don't.

tppm
Updated:

@Dominions Son


The Secretary of state is also in the successor list. So my original objection on a constitutional issue over Bill not being able to take over as president would still apply.


Other than the VP (whose only reason for existence is as the president's successor) others in the line of succession can be skipped over if they're otherwise ineligible.

Alternate sentence that could have happened in real life. She took a photograph of her uncles, the President and the Attorney General.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@tppm

Alternate sentence that could have happened in real life. She took a photograph of her uncles, the President and the Attorney General.

Then again, we might be discussing Ivanka or Tiffany if Trump appoints Melania as Attorney General.

Ross at Play

@Capt Zapp

IMO, If Chelsea Clinton has the opportunity to take that picture, the USA will cease to exist before the end of her mother's first term.

And I will be among many who would be delighted by that outcome.

Replies:   Capt Zapp
Ross at Play

@Dominions Son

Some of us are attempting to have a serious exchange about an issue of great importance to new writers - is the use serial commas in lists less likely to result in them writing ambiguous sentences?
Anyone interested in the purpose of this forum would have accepted I may not have identified every precondition for the interpretation of one statement to be factual, and it was merely a convenient illustration they would easily understand, so I could make a point about grammar.
I suggest you think seriously about the name of this President of the United States - the main character on House of Cards!

Capt Zapp

@Ross at Play

IMO, If Chelsea Clinton has the opportunity to take that picture, the USA will cease to exist before the end of her mother's first term.

And I will be among many who would be delighted by that outcome.


I do not believe the 'many' you refer to would be in the majority. And I also believe that any that are delighted at the fall of the USA would soon regret it.

Dominions Son

@Ross at Play

is the use serial commas in lists less likely to result in them writing ambiguous sentences?


You picked the worst possible example. The only condition under which it is remotely ambiguous is nearly impossible.

As the originating statement stands, no one who has ever passed a US civics course will read it as anything but four people in the picture no matter how you punctuate it.

If you want to have a serous discussion, get over it an pick a better example.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Ross at Play

Some of us are attempting to have a serious exchange about an issue of great importance to new writers - is the use serial commas in lists less likely to result in them writing ambiguous sentences?

Getting back on target, I'm still unsure whether blanketly using serial commas makes anything clearer, or whether your only assuming it does because you're more familiar with that form. Personally, I can't differentiate how serial commas would make anything clearer than non-serial commas, since the lists often detail different items requiring different punctuation to clarify the sentence. That's why I've started gravitating to changing individual sentences, adding commas to my non-serial commas to clarify any unclear cases.

Can someone kindly explain to me, how this is any clearer than making all sentences non-serial as a matter of course?

Crumbly Writer

@Dominions Son

You picked the worst possible example. The only condition under which it is remotely ambiguous is nearly impossible.

My earlier point, that said infrequent occurrence is unlikely to trip readers up. My adding an occasional comma was meant simply to slow the reader--not stop them--so they'd read it more carefully, but in either case, I can't see anyone losing any sleep, or not understanding the plot, because of a single missing serial comma.

Replies:   Ernest Bywater
Ross at Play

@Crumbly Writer

blanketly

NEVER, EVER suggested anything remotely like 'blanketly', and in fact I have stressed the opposite repeatedly on this thread.

Ernest Bywater

@Crumbly Writer

Can someone kindly explain to me, how this is any clearer than making all sentences non-serial as a matter of course?


CW, I didn't used to use the serial comma, but two of my editors kept putting them in, so I had a closer look at it. What finally got me to start using it was a story by another author where they were talking about a group going somewhere together, four single people and three couples. I forget the names used, but what they had went like this:

All of those going climber into the mini-bus, it was quite a group with Mary, John, Frank, Tim, Jane and Will, Ann and Bill and Betty and Ron.

Now it's clear they're treating the couples as a single entity (like bow and arrow, or mum and dad), but the three 'ands' without a comma just looks totally weird. This was by an author who never uses the serial comma. After seeing this I started using the serial comma as a general rule, and I now use it in all lists, but not always when not part of a list.

Ernest Bywater

@Crumbly Writer

y earlier point, that said infrequent occurrence is unlikely to trip readers up.


Only if they're aware of the rules that make it infrequent, most people outside the US wouldn't have a clue about the restrictions on the US electoral system. Thus they'd be confused.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Switch Blayde

@Crumbly Writer

Can someone kindly explain to me, how this is any clearer than making all sentences non-serial as a matter of course?


This is what Grammar Girl says:

Although the serial comma isn't always necessary, I favor it because often it does add clarity, and I believe in having a simple, consistent style, instead of trying to decide whether you need something on a case-by-case basis. I also think using the serial comma makes even simple lists easier to read. Really, unless space is incredibly expensive, I can't imagine why anyone would decide the best method is sometimes leave it out and sometimes add it in.*

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Ross at Play
Updated:

@Crumbly Writer


I can't differentiate how serial commas would make anything clearer


IMHO, Neither style is more clear WHEN used correctly.

For example, with the sentence 'He met A, B and C.' - where 'B and C' could be interpreted as a description of 'A'.

If used correctly, both styles require:

'He met A, B and C' when he only met A, but

'He met A, B, and C' when the three are different.

I am not convinced by the arguments of you or EB that correct use of either style by the writer is more or less likely to result in misinterpretations by readers.

I am convinced as a new writer I would be more likely make mistakes myself if my usual style was non-serial comma.

I will glad elaborate on why I am convinced of that - BUT ONLY to other new writers who have not yet formed an opinion either way.

On that basis my recommendation to other new writers on this issue is:

Ignore what all obstinate, experienced blowhards are saying on this this issue. For this issue you should trust a dedicated newbie instead, and this dedicated newbie is convinced he will make less errors if he adopts the serial comma as his usual practice, BUT neither style can diminish the need to understand what you are doing, and showing due caution while writing.

Ernest Bywater
Updated:

@Ross at Play


For example, with the sentence 'He met A, B and C.' - where 'B and C' could be interpreted as a description of 'A'.

If used correctly, both styles require:

'He met A, B and C' when he only met A,


True, in this case B & C are part of an expansive phrase describing what is in A, and not a three part list. Use of the serial comma makes it clear when it's a list and when it's an expansion. An example of the expansive use above would be:

John met with Anna's brothers, Fred and Mike.

This clearly shows Fred and Mike are Anna's brothers, and she has only two brothers.

However, this wouldn't have the same meaning:

John met with Anna's brothers, Fred, and Mike.

This would indicate he met with four or more people because Fred is there, Mike is there, and so are Anna's brother - number and names not stated (hopefully that was set out earlier in the story).

Now to move on to another variant.

John met with Anna's brothers - Jim and Harry, Fred, and Mike.

This shows Anna's brothers are Jim and Harry, and there were four people he was meeting.

Also it could be:

John met with Anna's brothers (Tom, Dick, and Harry), Fred and Mike.

Thus it shows Anna's three brother's names and the two other people at the meeting.

Now back to the first one with three brothers.

John met with Anna's brothers - Harry, Fred and Mike.

In this the use of commas to show the expansive phrase could lead to confusion, so you side step it with a dash, although some people will sue a colon, semi-colon, en-dash, or em-dash, or brackets in this situation (and the earlier ones where I used a dash). The idea is to leave the content linked while showing a clear separation.

It doesn't really matter what you use as long as you're consistent with it and it makes what you're saying clear to any reader.

typo edit

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Capt Zapp

@Ross at Play

Ignore what all obstinate, experienced blowhards are saying on this this issue. For this issue you should trust a dedicated newbie instead


I say ignore what they are all saying and write the way you are used to. If someone calls you on it and can show you it is better the other way, consider the opinion and make the call yourself.

Replies:   sejintenej  Ross at Play
sejintenej

@Capt Zapp

I say ignore what they are all saying and write the way you are used to. If someone calls you on it and can show you it is better the other way, consider the opinion and make the call yourself.

The important thing is to be clear, especially where there are competing grammatical systems at play.

As an example EB wrote "John met with Anna's brothers (Tom, Dick, and Harry), Fred and Mike. " which is clear though I personally find the brackets a mite off-putting.
I would have written that sentence as
John met with Anna's brothers Tom, Dick, and Harry as well as Fred and Mike. (You can argue until the cows come home whether there should be a comma after Harry; I simply look for clarity)

Ross at Play
Updated:

@Capt Zapp


I say ignore what they are all saying and write the way you are used to.


(This reply applies equally to sejintenej)

THANK YOU for a voice of moderation.

I get your drift, but I was fully aware of those principles. I have some other considerations now.

Firstly, I cannot write as I'm "used to", that would be like in my pre-creative writing days, and NOBODY would want that.

I want my writing to employ consistent styles, SO THAT, different meanings can be conveyed WHEN I do something unusual for me.

I have made my choice about serial commas, or not, and have moved onto other choices I need to make, for example, choosing the circumstances I use unquoted italics and quoted italics.

Mundane stuff really, but I do not want my readers distracted from the insight, wit and beauty of my words because of inconsistencies in my punctuation or fonts.

Crumbly Writer

@Ernest Bywater

Now it's clear they're treating the couples as a single entity (like bow and arrow, or mum and dad), but the three 'ands' without a comma just looks totally weird. This was by an author who never uses the serial comma. After seeing this I started using the serial comma as a general rule, and I now use it in all lists, but not always when not part of a list.

Again, this is an example of what NOT to do, but it doesn't highlight any essential flaw in the use of the non-serial comma. More importantly, it doesn't suggest that using a serial comma in every case (the whole consistency argument) will prevent errors being committed by inexperienced authors.

I still see the serial/non-serial comma choice as being a simple matter of preference and not a matter of improper use of the language. If you always use the serial comma, you'll likely encounter the same number of 'exceptions' as when you always use the non-serial comma. Frankly, I see absolutely no difference between the two camps.

People always make stupid mistakes, but that doesn't justify making random decisions about your style. I'll admit, I'm clearly in the minority here--both in terms of using the non-serial comma and in my using 'case by case exceptions', but so far, I haven't heard any convincing arguments that the non-serial comma is inherently flawed beyond anecdotal evidence consisting of bad writing by novices.

Crumbly Writer

@Ernest Bywater

Only if they're aware of the rules that make it infrequent, most people outside the US wouldn't have a clue about the restrictions on the US electoral system. Thus they'd be confused.

That's an argument to always apply the same rule, whether it improves clarity or not. However, it doesn't justify using the serial comma over the non-serial comma, not does it lead to LESS errors due to misunderstood comma usages.

Crumbly Writer

@Switch Blayde

Really, unless space is incredibly expensive, I can't imagine why anyone would decide the best method is sometimes leave it out and sometimes add it in.*

I understand her argument, and I followed it in this case until recently, when I realized I could clarify a lot of sentences by adjusting confusing lists--something apply another sweeping 'in all cases' style resolves.

I'd counter that by arguing, if you're going to have confusing sentences in either case (with or without the serial comma), then why NOT use whichever form clarifies an individual sentence? After all, there are clear reasons for using one form or another in these isolated cases, whereas using either style guarantees MORE confusing cases.

So far, everyone agrees that readers are unlikely to notice a single missing/additional comma, so why does the entire future of literature balance on abandoning the non-serial comma in every potential usage?

Crumbly Writer

@Ross at Play

I am not convinced by the arguments of you or EB that correct use of either style by the writer is more or less likely to result in misinterpretations by readers.

Sorry, but I don't understand this criticism at all. Ernest and I are taking different positions on two different, unrelated positions (the use of serial commas and making individual adjustments). So how does that make us both guilty of the same crime?

If used correctly, both styles require:

'He met A, B and C' when he only met A, but

'He met A, B, and C' when the three are different.

Which argues apply either rule selectively, based on the individual sentence. Any author (with luck) will a consistent style, but blatantly using one form which confuses a sentence makes NO sense to me. The whole point is less confusing writing, not more!

Otherwise, your suggestion makes sense. A consistent style choice is a sensible choice, but in the end, you're agreeing that neither the serial comma rule or the non-serial comma rule will eliminate more errors!

Frankly, I'm befuddled by this entire discussion. I stressed my preference, and how I've modified my prior decision based on what I've encountered in my writing, and everyone here insists that I'm clearly in the wrong and committing a moral writing mistake for making a personal choice.

Crumbly Writer

@Ernest Bywater

It doesn't really matter what you use as long as you're consistent with it and it makes what you're saying clear to any reader.

I completely agree. However, my "consistent" technique is to use whichever form makes the meaning of the sentence clear, rather than purposely confusing the meaning simply because the your style insists you write something in a confusing style!

However, at this point we'll have to agree to disagree in perpetuity, because I have yet to hear anything that clarifies either of these points. I'll apply the techniques which improve my own stories, you use whichever friggin' style helps yours. Otherwise, this extensive discussion in multiple threads is going NOWHERE which blanketing the entire forum with minor disagreements.

Replies:   Ernest Bywater
Ernest Bywater

@Crumbly Writer

However, my "consistent" technique is to use whichever form makes the meaning of the sentence clear,


CW, if you switch from using the serial comma to not using and back to using it in the same story you are not being consistent. And that is the only part of this discussion where I disagree with you. I said, very early, if you don't want to use a serial comma, that's your choice. But switching back and forth will only confuse readers on what you mean because you get them used to expecting one process and then change it on them, and they still apply what you've led them to expect.

Ross at Play
Updated:

@Crumbly Writer


So far, everyone agrees that readers are unlikely to notice a single missing/additional comma,


Finally, a cogent point from you that there may be something better that using serial commas with care.

I will give it the consideration it seems worthy of.

EDIT TO ADD

To CW, I apologise for the intemperate tone of this post. I have become somewhat frustrated trying to drag this (and the other) thread back to the question of what is the better choice for NEW writers. I think the answer for experienced, quality writers is obviously - whatever they feel more comfortable using!

Ross at Play

@Crumbly Writer

So how does that make us both guilty of the same crime?

Neither guilty of anything! Merely, with the particular points you were contesting, I (inexperienced little old me), cannot see any compelling case from either that one side is better, BUT ONLY in regard to frequency of misinterpretations by readers,

Ross at Play

@Crumbly Writer

everyone here insists that I'm clearly in the wrong

My impression is 'everybody here' will stop saying anything as soon as you stop insisting they are not seeing your point.
I think we all accept your personal choice is entirely suitable for you, but the only point that has ever interested me is what will be easiest for NEW writers to use to reduce THEIR ERRORS, and if possible minimise reader misunderstandings.

Ross at Play

@Crumbly Writer

you're agreeing that neither the serial comma rule or the non-serial comma rule will eliminate more errors!

I'm agreeing experienced writers can be error free using either style, I'm asking what's best for writers who may still male some mistakes.

Ross at Play
Updated:

@Crumbly Writer


The whole point is less confusing writing


I can see this benefit for readers if writers use the serial comma style CORRECTLY.

As soon as a reader recognises a list has started, every comma they encounter indicates another item in the list is coming.

As soon as they see comma then and (or equivalent) they know the coming item is the last in this list, and the list ends with the next punctuation mark.

It REALLY is that simple. Although items in lists may be complicated monsters, the comma always tells them what type of thing what is following will be.

EDIT TO ADD -

I was short of time when posted this. I was using internet access in a cafe, over an hour after the cafe had stopped serving new customers and the mall had turned the lights off for the outside area.
I think I have something here, but it's definitely INCOMPLETE.
If it's useful at all, it would need a qualifier to 'every comma they encounter'.
I think that could be 'every comma they encounter in a position where it could be ending an item in a list'.
I want to experiment with that. I want to test below after writing the Lock Ness Monster of all 'items' possible in a list - a 60+ word atrocity with 20+ punctuation marks. I want to TEST if a reader parsing that could decide every comma within that item MUST be there for a purpose other than to end the current item in a list.

Ernest Bywater

@Crumbly Writer

So far, everyone agrees that readers are unlikely to notice a single missing/additional comma


I think this is another area we'll have to agree to disagree. Many readers who are used to seeing the serial comma will see it's absence as having the two items each side of the and as being linked in the same way bow and arrow is linked. Depending on the context, that can change the meaning of the sentence. It's a risk you take by not being consistent in its usage - either always with or always without.

Switch Blayde
Updated:

For people who don't use the serial comma, when they see the Oxford comma it's jarring.

For people who use the serial comma, when they don't see the Oxford comma they assume the "and" is joining the two words on both sides of it.

In both cases the reader is probably pulled out of the story to figure out what the writer is saying.

So for me, since I've always used the serial comma, what CMS and Grammar Girl say makes perfect sense. For someone who doesn't use it, it doesn't. There's no right answer.

But there is a right answer to another comma situation which I saw used incorrectly earlier. There's a difference between the following two sentences:

1. John met Sally's brothers, Joe and Jim.
2. John met Sally's brothers Joe and Jim.

In #1, Sally only has 2 brothers.
In #2, Sally has more than 2 brothers.

EDITED TO MAKE THE SENTENCE MORE COMPLEX TO TIE IT BACK TO THE SERIAL COMMA

1. John met Sally's brothers, Joe and Jim, Steve[,] and Jenny.
2. John met Sally's brothers Joe and Jim, Steve[,] and Jenny.

(I put the Oxford comma in brackets)

Crumbly Writer

@Switch Blayde

EDITED TO MAKE THE SENTENCE MORE COMPLEX TO TIE IT BACK TO THE SERIAL COMMA

1. John met Sally's brothers, Joe and Jim, Steve[,] and Jenny.
2. John met Sally's brothers Joe and Jim, Steve[,] and Jenny.

Or, in the case of gay marrages:

John met Sally's brothers: Joe and Jim, and Steve and Jeffrey.

Ross at Play
Updated:

@Switch Blayde

Your example above discussed the correct usage for what I think are called 'restrictive appositives'.

I recently posted this on another thread:

I'm not certain I understand the grammar for this, but I think 'Mr. Smith' is a 'restrictive appositive', a noun that identifies the preceding noun, and they are shown with NO punctuation mark. If that is so, the best option [to show Mr. Smith was the donor of the cup] is simply:

'Those at the ceremony were the commodore, the fleet captain, the donor of the cup Mr. Smith, and Mr. Jones.'


Did I get that right? Does that sentence identify the FOUR people at the ceremony correctly?

I think very few readers would understand that distinction, but I still think if writers care about their readers' experience, they should seek to use grammar and punctuation correctly (or when options exist, consistently using whatever style(s) they prefer.
I KEEP ON noticing examples where punctuation rules/guidelines DO NOT MANDATE anything to writers. Instead, the take the way language is actually spoken and IDENTIFY how a writer may use punctuation marks so readers will naturally 'hear' what is written in the way the writer 'said' it.

The brothers case above seems another example of that. If there are only two brothers, a speaker would not pause before listing their names, but they would pause if it was only two of the brothers being listed.

Readers do not need to know this rule. If writers punctuate correctly, most readers will hear the implication there are only two brothers when a read the version without a comma.

Would you be kind enough to elaborate further on the conditions where commas are NOT optional, anf the absence of a comma indicates something is identified, or narrowed down.

As I understand it, that is required to be correct in circumstances beyond the naming of the preceding noun, and includes (but is not restricted to) phrases beginning with 'who' and 'which'.

In particular, are there circumstances where the comma should not be omitted for phrases beginning with 'who' and 'which'.

In the future I will simply look things up in my copy of CMOS, but it will be at least a few weeks before I am in a country where I can buy that book.

Switch Blayde
Updated:

@Ross at Play


The brothers case above seems another example of that. If there are only two brothers, a speaker would not pause before listing their names, but they would pause if it was only two of the brothers being listed.


It has nothing to do with the reader pausing. It has to do with something that, if removed from the sentence, can be eliminated.

1. Sue's brother, Joe, went home.

In this case, since Sue only has one brother, the sentence would be correct as:

1. Sue's brother went home.

So you put commas around "Joe" since it's not needed. But:

2. Sue's brother Joe went home.

Sue has more than one brother so if you remove "Joe" from the sentence the reader doesn't know which of Sue's brothers went home.

I used to always put commas around (in this example) "Joe." Then I read a NY Times article on strange rules for commas and learned this.

EDITED TO ADD:

I never heard the term "restrictive appositives" so I just looked it up. It's actually what my Sue example in this post is. I just never knew what it was called. This is what CMOS says about it: http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/qanda/data/faq/topics/Commas/faq0005.html

So in your:

'Those at the ceremony were the commodore, the fleet captain, the donor of the cup Mr. Smith, and Mr. Jones.'


it seems that you need commas around "Mr. Smith" assuming he's the only donor of the cup. But if you did that it would seem like the list included two people — the donor of the cup AND Mr. Smith. So I'm not sure how you would punctuate that.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Switch Blayde

@Ross at Play


Would you be kind enough to elaborate further on the conditions where commas are NOT optional, anf the absence of a comma indicates something is identified, or narrowed down.


I can't. I'm not good at grammar (which is why I try so hard to get it right). But this is the bible on commas from Purdue University:

https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/607/01/

and extended rules:

https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/607/02/

If you look to the left on those pages you'll see links to other comma rules, one being "commas with non-essential elements" which is what we're talking about.

Replies:   Ross at Play
Crumbly Writer

@Switch Blayde

I used to always put commas around (in this example) "Joe." Then I read a NY Times article on strange rules for commas and learned this.

Ah! Now that I've learned something new, I can quit for the day--though I'm unsure how often I'll get a chance to use it. I'd just like to thank the author Switch for that information!

Ross at Play
Updated:

@Switch Blayde


I'm not good at grammar


For someone who claims they're not good at grammar, you've been helpful something I can use in practice AGAIN here. Like CW, I've learned something new today. The terminology 'restrictive appositives' is something I'd always be prone to get wrong. My example was wrong because I'd answered that test question incorrectly.

BUT, Is this non-essential? Does the sentence mean the same if you delete it?, They are questions I probably can answer correctly in the future, and not be at risk of a trip to the loonie bin.

My alternatives for my example sentence (to show only four people) where either brackets around Mr. Smith, or semi-colons to separate all elements of the list.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Switch Blayde
Updated:

@Ross at Play

For someone who claims they're not good at grammar


What I mean is, I know what tense is, a subject, verb, adjective, and adverb, to some extent a conjunction and preposition, not so much an object, but that's about it. Ask me to define the parts of a sentence and I'll fail.

A lot of what I do is by ear. And I use Google a lot, especially Grammar Girl.

As to your sentence, I don't know what the right answer is about the comma, but the solution is to restructure the sentence to avoid confusion. Something like:

'Those at the ceremony were the commodore, the fleet captain, Mr. Smith who was the donor of the cup, and Mr. Jones.'


And you might need a comma after "Mr. Smith."

Replies:   Ross at Play
Tim Merrigan
Updated:

@Ernest Bywater


All of those going climber into the mini-bus, it was quite a group with Mary, John, Frank, Tim, Jane and Will, Ann and Bill and Betty and Ron.

Now it's clear they're treating the couples as a single entity (like bow and arrow, or mum and dad), but the three 'ands' without a comma just looks totally weird. This was by an author who never uses the serial comma. After seeing this I started using the serial comma as a general rule, and I now use it in all lists, but not always when not part of a list.


I must have blacked out, or something, as I don't remember that party at all.

And the quartet at the end of the list? I see six "groups" listed, four individuals, one couple, and one quartet.

Replies:   Ernest Bywater
Ernest Bywater

@Tim Merrigan

And the quartet at the end of the list? I see six "groups" listed, four individuals, one couple, and one quartet.


Woulda been more, but da barbershop was still open.

Ross at Play

@Switch Blayde

but the solution is to restructure the sentence to avoid confusion

It WAS NOT my sentence.

It came from the 1934 style book of the New York Herald Tribune. That suggested for the vesrion below, 'With the comma, it reads as if Mr. Smith was the donor of the cup.'

"Those at the ceremony were the commodore, the fleet captain, the donor of the cup, Mr. Smith, and Mr. Jones."

I think (If you are consistently using serial commas in lists) then that version must be five people - because every new comma shows another item in a list is coming.
If such a writer needs to show only four people, they cannot have a comma before Mr. Smith. I can think of three versions that would show only four people:
1. Those at the ceremony were the commodore; the fleet captain; the donor of the cup, Mr. Smith; and Mr. Jones.
2. Those at the ceremony were the commodore, the fleet captain, the donor of the cup (Mr. Smith), and Mr. Jones.
3. Those at the ceremony were the commodore, the fleet captain, the donor of the cup Mr. Smith, and Mr. Jones.

The last I believe is valid because 'Mr. Smith' could be deleted without changing the meaning of the sentence - it shows he was the donor of the cup.

I may reconsider these opinions in a few weeks time when I am in a country where I can find a copy of CMOS.

Replies:   Switch Blayde  tppm
Switch Blayde

@Ross at Play

The last I believe is valid because 'Mr. Smith' could be deleted without changing the meaning of the sentence - it shows he was the donor of the cup.


If "Mr. Smith" can be deleted, then the comma is needed. However, in this example, the comma should not be there to make it clear the donor and Smith are not two separate people. I actually like #1, using semicolons.

Ross at Play

@Switch Blayde

If "Mr. Smith" can be deleted, then the comma is needed. However, in this example, the comma should not be there to make it clear the donor and Smith are not two separate people. I actually like #1, using semicolons.

I will wait until I have CMOS in my hands before suggesting to my authors they could rely on my opinion.
I agree with #1 too, a considerate author would know that is something readers will easily understand.
As I said, it was not my sentence.
Even if they know when it correct to not use a comma, many readers will not. I would not use that in fiction, but if I was submitting a paper as a university student I could regard it as something my marker should know.

Ross at Play

@Switch Blayde

If "Mr. Smith" can be deleted, then the comma is needed. However, in this example, the comma should not be there to make it clear the donor and Smith are not two separate people. I actually like #1, using semicolons.

I will wait until I have CMOS in my hands before suggesting to my authors they could rely on my opinion.
I agree with #1 too, a considerate author would know that is something readers will easily understand.
As I said, it was not my sentence.
Even if they know when it correct to not use a comma, many readers will not. I would not use that in fiction, but if I was submitting a paper as a university student I could regard it as something my marker should know.

tppm

@Ross at Play

"Those at the ceremony were the commodore, the fleet captain, Mr. Smith (the donor of the cup), and Mr. Jones."

I think this would also be valid.

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play

@tppm

Yes, I agree. Using either brackets or semi-colons were my options for what an author should do to ensure there is no ambiguity.
I stress, it was not my sentence. It comes from a NY Times Style Guide in 1934, and I've been discussing where their advice to writers was wrong.
Apparently back in those days, commas were very cheap, but all other punctuation marks expensive. I can see no other reason for their poor advise to writers then.

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