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In my last blog, I wrote about the two main functions of commas. First, they show readers where to pause and take a breath while they are reading. Second, they also indicate the grammar of a sentence. Nowhere do these two functions come into conflict more than with the infamous comma splice.

When I tell people that I devote an entire three-hour class to teaching the comma, they are often incredulous. The comma seems like such a simple little device. But of all the punctuation marks we use in English it can certainly be the most costly. And by “costly” I mean, quite literally, “costing money.”

Imagine receiving the following email from a friend at your college.  

I’m wondering if you can help me. Admin has set up a series of info meetings next week for local high school students who are thinking of coming here, and I got an invite to act as a group leader. There shouldn’t be too much prep involved except for making some promo materials like posters and a brochure. I thought of writing inserts for the brochure using quotes from senior students. Have you heard any good ones I could use as ammo to help convince the students to come here?

Did the sender’s word choices seem fine to you? Or did any of them strike you as odd? Depending on how sensitive you are to formal English, there are eight words in that message that will strike some people - especially professors - as being incorrect. Do you know what they are?

Where did the (e)d go?

Sometimes when you read a sentence in English and the grammar seems a bit off, but you aren't sure why.

For example, what if I write "I am suppose to know these things; I have a PhD"? Does that sentence seem correct to you? Some grammar and spell checkers won't be able to find the error in that sentence, because, after all, there are many times when “suppose” is the correct verb form to use. Just consider the sentences I suppose you want more money? or What do you suppose happened? However, in my sentence above, it should say: "I am supposed to know these things." 

So why is "suppose" correct sometimes, and "supposed" correct sometimes?

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