commas and restrictive nouns

Commas are pesky things, aren’t they? You’re either using too many or not enough.

Commas around a word or a phrase make the word or phrase non-restrictive, or in plain terms, not essential. The word or phrase bracketed by the commas conveys additional information. This applies in a number of situations, but today let’s talk about using commas with proper names.

Consider this:

Your teammate, Afiq, hasn’t been in the office for three days.  ❌

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printable calendars—2021 (full year) and January 2021

Anyone still in need of a 2021 calendar? Here are some PDF files. The monthly calendar is only for January.

2021 full year calendar

2021 calendex

I wasn’t planning on sharing these, but some of my friends liked them and l might as well record how terrible I was when I first started learning to use a graphics editing software, right? Right. 

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‘stressed’ and ‘stressful’

Anyone else feeling stressed out? I’ve been editing an article about stress, and now I’m all jittery and restless, both because of the content and the misuse of the word ‘stressful’. 

Working from home is stressful.  ✅

I feel stressful when I have to work from home.  ❌

Okay, so what is the difference between stressed and stressful? Both are adjectives. However, they don’t mean the same thing. 

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my love affair with the Lymond Chronicles by Dorothy Dunnett

So. My favourite book series is the Lymond Chronicles, written by the incomparable Dorothy Dunnett. You’ve probably never heard of it. It’s historical fiction, following the life of one fictional Scottish nobleman named Francis Crawford of Lymond (Lymond to you and me, Mr Crawford to irritated young girls trying to save him from himself, Francis to his very few friends) over the span of a decade or so. Here’s the thing: historical fiction is a genre I tend to avoid, but Dorothy Dunnett is just that good.   

My love for the series started quite accidentally. I was browsing in an old bookshop sometime in 2008 when I found myself eyeing a copy of The Game of Kings, the first book in the series, thinking that the title sounded familiar. Upon reading the blurb I realised it wasn’t what I expected at all—it was about a minor nobleman turned outlaw in 1547 Edinburgh who was trying to trace three men. I considered it for a while. On the one hand, if the title stuck to mind it probably was because someone had recommended it. On the other hand, I didn’t even read much historical fiction (my primary genre of choice had always been science fiction and fantasy), and knew nothing at all about sixteenth-century Scotland.

It was on sale. The cover had a castle and horses. Maybe it’ll have interesting sword fights, I thought, so I picked up the book, paid for it, and took it home with me.

Thus began my love affair with the Lymond Chronicles by Dorothy Dunnett.

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phrasing questions correctly

I’ve never been strict about using correct grammar in speech, especially when it’s in informal settings like in everyday conversation. It’s a bit of that ‘it’s okay as long as it’s understandable’ attitude that quite a few of us have, since we’re throwing so many languages into the mix and it’s impossible to set any standard of correctness anyway. However, it shouldn’t carry over into formal writing. Even if you’re writing a short story or a novel, it should only make an appearance in dialogue.

This is understandable to almost anyone, especially when said with the right intonation:

Why Susan didn’t go with her family?  ❌

Or the slightly worse offender: 

Why Susan not go with her family?  ❌

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all creatures great and small

The discussion about favourite authors (the ones we read, not the ones we worked with) came up in a conversation once, while we were driving back from lunch. It was the radio’s fault, probably; it was talking about the Big Bad Wolf book sale. 

‘I like James Herriot,’ said Jenna, when Mei asked who hers was. 

I drew a complete blank at the name. ‘I don’t think I know him, sorry.’

Disbelief radiated from both the passenger side and the back seat. I wasn’t sure whether it was because he was a very popular author, or it was because I was disabusing their notion that I was very well-read. I concentrated on the road instead. 

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‘discuss’ and ‘have a discussion about’

Here’s a pretty common mistake I see in Malaysian English:

We are here to discuss about the long-term effects of social isolation. ❌

It doesn’t sound wrong, does it? But here’s the thing: it’s either you ‘discuss’ something or ‘have a discussion about’ something. 

We are here to discuss the long-term effects of social isolation. ✔️
We are here to have a discussion about the long-term effects of social isolation. ✔️

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fifty shades of ridiculous, more like

Despite all the years I worked in publishing, I didn’t really meet that many readers. Sure, we talked about things we were working on, often in exhaustive technical detail, but there wasn’t really much discussion about books and reading in general. Once in a while, though, something really ridiculous would come up.

It was a team lunch, and there were the usual complaints about authors and schedulers and typesetters and marketing people and what-have-yous. Somehow, EL James got dragged into it. ‘It’s not like you have to be good to be published,’ scoffed Prema as I tried to flag down a waiter. ‘Just look at that Fifty Shades book.’

‘Has anyone actually read that book?’ I wondered, looking around the crowded restaurant. Too many people and too much noise; you could barely hear what the person across the table was saying. ‘Why do we keep bashing it?’

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‘extend’ and ‘extent’

A report I’m editing keeps using the phrase ‘to a certain extend …’. It is slowly driving me up the wall. You need a noun there. To a certain extent. To a large degree. In some measure.

When you say both parties agree with each other to a certain extent, it means they agree up to some limit. There are still things they don’t agree on. If something is true to a certain extent, then not all of it is true.

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