English is Nonsensical

By Tracy Jones

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Sometimes people have no excuse for grammatical mistakes. But let’s face it, sometimes English grammar just doesn’t make sense. Take the word ‘nonsensical’ for instance. Currently, ‘sensical’ is not a word in the dictionary. That’s right. We have a non-something but not the something itself.

Way to think things through, English.

But don’t worry. We are here to help you navigate the confusing and nuanced parts of English grammar and punctuation. Here are a few nonsensical English matters for today.

Punctuation with Quotations
Have you ever gotten confused about where your punctuation goes in relation to your quotation marks? Here’s the break down for American usage:
Periods and commas always go inside the quotation marks.

Colons and semi-colons always go outside the quotation marks.

Exclamation points and question marks depend on whether the punctuation pertains to the quote itself (in which case they would go inside) or the sentence as a whole (in which case they would go outside).
Example:
She said, “Will you remember this promise?”
Vs.
Do you remember if he said, “The wall color should be orange”?

Now in Britain, all punctuation is treated like this latter rule, which seems to make more sense to me. But if you’re American and writing in America, you’ll want to follow the American way, no matter how confusing it can be.

Insure, Ensure, and Assure
Most people think these terms are interchangeable. Really, they are not. Now, one could argue that ‘insure’ and ‘ensure’ mean the same thing (technically the first is a variant of the latter), but in writing nowadays ‘insure’ should only refer to what an insurance policy does for you. To ‘ensure’ is to make sure something does or doesn’t happen.
‘Assure’ is similar. It still involves something happening or not happening, but it also always involves people. A person says that something will or won’t happen, most often to allay someone else’s fears, but that person cannot absolutely guarantee anything.
Example:
She assured her husband that the insurance company ensured that they would insure what they had discussed.

Because Commas
Does the comma go before the ‘because’ in a sentence or not? The basic thing you have to remember is that handling this issue depends on whether the clause before ‘because’ is negative or positive.
It’s easier if it’s positive. Having a comma or not creates a slight shift in emphasis for the sentence, though the use of either is technically grammatically correct. With the comma, you emphasize the affirmation of the positive clause. Without the comma, you emphasize the reason why.
Example:
I will do the dishes, because it will keep my mother sane. (Emphasizes me doing the dishes.)
Vs.
I will do the dishes because it will keep my mother sane. (Emphasizes me keeping my mother sane. Always a good idea to keep your mother sane.)

Now, it gets a little more complicated when the clause before ‘because’ is negative. Here, having a comma versus not having a comma actually changes the meaning of the sentence.
Example:
I will not do the dishes, because I’m tired. (Means the reason that I’m not doing the dishes is because I’m tired.)
Vs.
I will not do the dishes because I’m tired. (Means I’m not doing the dishes, but it’s not because I’m tired. It’s because of some other reason. Usually, you would only use this type of sentence with the context of that other reason so that reader would understand your meaning.)

I hope these are a little more sensical now (I’m going to use the word anyway, English). For further reading, see The Elephants of Style by Bill Walsh and The Copyeditor’s Handbook (Second Edition) by Amy Einsohn, where you’ll get more information on nonsensical things than you could ever want.

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