August 26, 2009

Language Tips: predominant/predominate & commas

Posted in commas, predominant/predominate at 10:17 am by dlseltzer

Sighting (1):

Obsolete Technology: 40 Big Losers
Old tech friends we used for years are now deceased or on life support. Remember shrieking modems, paper phone books, and the C:\ prompt?

JR Raphael, PC World
Wednesday, August 12, 2009 09:15 PM PDT

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27. Holding Up a Lighter at a Concert

Status: Showing signs of illness

Listening to a power ballad in a dimly lit stadium without a sea of gently undulating lighters for company is like spending time at Twitter without a sea of social media experts offering their insights and informed criticism: Something about it doesn’t feel right. Sure, holding up thousands of illuminated cell phones might be safer–but even if the phones have virtual lighter apps installed, it just isn’t the same.

28. Watching a Movie on a Laser Disc

Status: Deceased

The only proof that anyone ever actually watched movies on laser disc is the (at this writing) 5282 entries posted on eBay by people trying to dump their LDs. But whether fact or fiction, the technology is definitely obsolete now.

29. Using Proper Grammar and Punctuation

Status: On life support

txting and iming has made proper grammar seems kinda old skoo, dont u thnk? heres hoping 4 capitalization & punctuation 2 make a comeback in emails & other writing. the gr8 gatsby probly wuld hv been way less gr8 if it wuz written like this. lol

Sighting (2):

What’s this? In a google search with 31 million hits, our language tips blog was #1!

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Comment:

A reader writes:

I just wanted to comment on your examples using the phrase ‘a number of.’ Â My personal opinion is that this phrase should be banned from academic writing. I see it often in grant proposals and manuscripts and it always makes me cringe because it is so vague as to be completely uninformative. Presumably, when this phrase is used, the author really means something like ‘many,’ Â ‘several,’ or ‘multiple.’ Â However, because ‘a number of’ can be interpreted as any number at all (including zero), the phrase is meaningless.

That is my soapbox for the day.

The reader is exactly right. If you DO use ‘a number of,’ use it with a plural verb, but it really should not be used, especially in scientific writing. The phrase is pale and vague and is a sign of a weak argument. Be precise and strong in your writing!

Tip 1: Predominate or predominant

A reader writes:

Can you address the difference between predominantly and predominately (or predominant vs. predominate)? I use the former but my students like the latter, and I don’t have a good argument against it.

Sure, I addressed this about a year ago, but after reading my old explanation, I think I can give a better account that I did before.

My response was fine, as far as it went. I said that the meanings were much the same but ‘predominate’ was a verb and ‘predominant’ was an adjective and, thus, could not be used interchangeably. By the way, ‘predominate’ requires a preposition after it.

The speaker predominates the room. WRONG

The speaker predominates over the room. RIGHT

What I said is completely true, but I think the more confusing issue relates to the reader’s initial phrasing of the issue, asking about the adverb forms: ‘predominantly’ and ‘predominately.’

Here is the correct answer. Reader, your students are wrong. The correct adverb is ‘predominantly.’ An adverb is made from an adjective, and the adjective, as noted previously, is ‘predominant.’ So there is your argument.

That being said, some (only some) dictionaries accept the use of ‘predominate’ as an adjective and ‘predominately’ as an adverb. This is an example of sloppy usage worming its way into the mainstream.

But it’s not there yet! And in using ‘predominately,’ you run the risk of being considered wrong by your readers. So Reader, tell your students to cut it out. Stop using ‘predominately.’ Reader, you had it right all along!

Tip 2: Commas

Some weeks, I have to admit, I am hard-pressed to come up with a topic for the WLUT. That is why I really appreciate your suggestions. Please keep them coming. However, sometimes, especially when I’m reviewing multiple proposals, topics seem to appear right before my eyes. Right now, I have a plethora of topics that will take us into the foreseeable future. All quotations have been edited to mask the identities of the erring writers.

I want to start with some particular uses of commas. I usually try to stay away from punctuation in this blog (I recognize that some of you may laugh at the latter statement, but, hey, it’s my blog), but recently, I have seen the same mistakes so frequently, that I thought I had to address them. I’m not getting into every use of the comma but a few places where I often see mistakes.

1.) When did we stop using commas in numbers?

We found more than 1900 patients who had not been seen by an attending physician. WRONG

We found more than 1,900 patients who had not been seen by an attending physician. RIGHT

Use commas to separate every three digits in numbers.

Why is this important? Well, it is especially important in cases like this recent sentence I read.

Using 2006 data, 2008 cases in which the chart was not complete were identified. WRONG

Using 2006 data, 2,008 cases in which the chart was not complete were identified. RIGHT

You see? It makes a difference.

2.) Use commas in compound sentences when the two clauses are separated by a conjunction (e.g., and, but, for, or, yet).

As a quick reminder, a clause is a group of words that has both a subject and a verb–essentially, it is a sentence. A compound sentence is a sentence with two clauses.

Clinic visits referred by an attending physician were more likely to be scheduled quickly and patients were more likely to be satisfied with the treatment received. WRONG

Clinic visits referred by an attending physician were more likely to be scheduled quickly, and patients were more likely to be satisfied with the treatment received. RIGHT

BUT…

Don’t use a comma when the conjunction is separating a clause from a phrase (a phrase is a group of words that does not have BOTH a subject and a verb–it is not a self-contained sentence).

I’ve been asked to look into this further, and see if there is another time that is good for you. WRONG

I’ve been asked to look into this further and see if there is another time that is good for you. RIGHT

The Principal Investigator is a health services researcher with an appointment in General Internal Medicine, and an appointment in Psychiatry. WRONG

The Principal Investigator is a health services researcher with an appointment in General Internal Medicine and an appointment in Psychiatry. RIGHT

3) Use a comma after an introductory phrase.

In a follow-up study we assessed whether the age and sex of the health care provider accounted for the variation in rates of diagnosis. WRONG

In a follow-up study, we assessed whether the age and sex of the health care provider accounted for the variation in rates of diagnosis. RIGHT

In order to carry-out our analysis we need to accomplish the following 5 steps. WRONG

In order to carry-out our analysis, we need to accomplish the following 5 steps. RIGHT

There are other things, but these are the ones that have been making me crazy lately.

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