So today we take a fun look at English grammar. Traditional English grammar and fun is normally a contradiction. However, I promise that in this English lesson we take a fun look at English punctuation. I will also explain the Oxford comma and use this as an excuse to talk about lovely pandas.
I don’t even remember the conversation I was having this week where the importance of punctuation in English sentences came up. It might have been in my French-speaking group, as I still remember ‘virgule’, ‘point’, ‘point d’exclamation’ from school. Or it might have been talking to my youngest about an English assignment.
It doesn’t matter what is important is the wonderful fun example I will use to help explain the problem of poor use of punctuation in English (and probably most languages).
Let it be known, I am a fan of the comma; it gives cadence to my witting. Those who disagree are in their usual hurried state…not giving pause where a breath is due.
⭐ Nanette L. Avery, Author
If you like what we do here at Adept English. If you find that we have helped you with your English language learning, then please could you help us? We would like to share what we do with more English language students, and the easiest way for you to help us do this is to rate us on your podcast player app.
Contradiction Punctuation Dictation Neglected Commas
|Eats, Shoots And Leaves||3|
|Course Will Help You||1|
Hi there and welcome to this latest podcast from Adept English. This is the second English lesson from us, the second podcast of the week.
Just a reminder first of all – because I haven’t mentioned it for a couple of weeks – a reminder of our course, the Most Common Five Hundred Words Course from Adept English. If you find the level of our podcasts, our free online English lessons quite difficult, but you do enjoy listening to Adept English, then the 500 Most Common Words Course will help you.
What we’ve done for this course – we’ve restricted the words, so that you can practise and make sure you know [only] the most common words in English. Yet at the same time, you are getting used to hearing English spoken and understanding automatically. This course is unique – that means there are no others like it. And don’t assume the course is easy because it says ‘500 words’. There are actually a lot more than 500 words in this course – because I’ve only counted each verb as one word. So of course, there are lots of different parts to a verb.
The course will help you become familiar with the most commonly used verbs, in different tenses. Verbs are often where language learners struggle – so it’s worth working on. Go to our website at adeptenglish.com and check out our ‘Courses’ page.
I was reminded this week of a book, published in the UK in 2003 about punctuation. Punctuation, PUNCTUATION of course means all those little marks – the things that make up English sentences, besides the words. So examples would be the full stop ‘.’, the comma ‘,’ and the question mark ‘?’ or the exclamation mark ‘!’. Have a look at the transcript, if you don’t know what they look like.
I remember learning these in French because we did ‘dictation’ in school, where the teacher read out a passage and we had to write it down. So I still remember ‘virgule’, ‘point’, ‘point d’exclamation’. So if you’ve done English dictation at school, you may be familiar with the names of the various marks which are punctuation. If you haven’t done dictation, you may not remember them. So dictation can be helpful in learning them.
The book I was reminded of is called ‘Eats, Shoots And Leaves’ and it was written by Lynne Truss and published in 2003 in the UK. The point she was making with this strange book title – is that commas, COMMAS can change the meaning of a sentence in English – and therefore that the comma, and other elements of punctuation in English are important. And that people, primarily English native speakers she was addressing here – are bad at punctuation!
So behind this book title is a joke – and it goes like this (courtesy of Wikipedia).
A panda walks into a café. He orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and fires two shots in the air. "Why?" asks the confused waiter, as the panda makes towards the exit. The panda produces a badly punctuated wildlife manual and throws it over his shoulder. "I'm a panda," he says at the door. "Look it up." The waiter turns to the relevant entry in the wildlife manual and, sure enough, finds an explanation. It says "Panda. Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves."
OK, so let me explain. A panda? Well, PANDA - I think that that’s a similar word in many languages. A panda is a black and white bear, from China – that looks a bit like a racoon! They are shy, quiet creatures, who just like to eat – and who are endangered. There aren’t many of them in the world. And they don’t often seem very keen to produce baby pandas either – zoos celebrate whenever a baby panda is born. And what do pandas eat? Well, they eat shoots and leaves. So bamboo shoots, SHOOTS – are the stems of the bamboo plant. And leaves, LEAVES means the leaves of the bamboo plant. Like ‘panda’, I think the word ‘bamboo’, BAMBOO is similar in many languages.
A photograph of a man dressed as a cowboy holding a gun. When we hear the word shoots we probably think more about guns than bamboo.
So this joke works because the description of the panda in the wildlife manual is ‘Eats, <comma> shoots and leaves’. And this is what the panda does in the café – he orders a sandwich and eats it, shoots his gun and leaves the cafe, giving the badly punctuated wildlife manual to the café waiter to read.
What the entry in the wildlife manual should say is ‘Eats shoots and leaves’ –
no commas, meaning ‘Black panda - eats shoots and leaves’ – that is bamboo shoots and leaves. So if you put a comma after the word ‘eats’ in this sentence, the point is - it entirely changes the meaning! And that’s the joke – and the book title.
So although punctuation may not seem a priority, it is worth learning so that you can produce good written English. If you want to, we can spend a bit of time on punctuation in English in future podcasts. It’s a neglected area. And it’s an area that English native speakers or writers are not necessarily great at either.
The so-called ‘rogue apostrophe’ – when apostrophes appear in places that they shouldn’t be – that’s common mistake amongst native English writers. So if you want to improve the impression given by your written English, it’s good to work on this. I can even do some dictation in podcasts, if you like – it’ll help you remember the names of the various punctuation marks.
How about I give you some practice right here? How I about I read the joke about the panda again, but as a dictation for you to practice writing. And reading it as a dictation – it means I read out to you the punctuation marks, then you can remember to put them into your writing. Here goes – just for practice. Have you got a pen and [a] paper ready?
A panda walks into a café.<full stop>He orders a sandwich,<comma>eats it,<comma>then draws a gun and fires two shots in the air.<full stop> <open quotation marks>"Why?"<question mark, close quotation marks>asks the confused waiter,<comma>as the panda makes towards the exit.<full stop>The panda produces a badly punctuated wildlife manual and throws it over his shoulder.<Full stop> <open quotation marks"I'm a panda,"<comma, close quotation marks>he says at the door.<full stop, open quotation marks>"Look it up."<full stop, close quotation marks> The waiter turns to the relevant entry in the wildlife manual and,<comma>sure enough,<comma>finds an explanation.<full stop>It says<open quotation marks and in italics>"Panda.<full stop>Large black and white bear-<hyphen>like mammal,<comma>native to China.<fullstop>Eats,<comma>shoots and leaves."<full stop, close quotation marks>1
OK, that’s enough of that. How did you do? Maybe you need to pause it, then you’ve got a bit more time to write. Obviously, all English lessons from Adept English have a transcript, the written words which you can use to check.
So let me know whether you’d like more lessons in punctuation and whether you’d like more dictation for practise. So there’s an English lesson in punctuation for you. Let me know if you want more English lessons – grammar or punctuation!
Enough for now. Have a lovely day. Speak to you again soon. Goodbye.
You may notice in the book title and on the Wikipedia entry, the title is ‘Eats, Shoots, and Leaves’. The second comma (after shoots) is valid and can be used. It’s known as ‘the Oxford comma’ – but it’s optional and not much used these days, so I’ve omitted it. Just in case you were wondering!