A Grammatical PSA

A Grammatical PSA September 16, 2014

Are you in seminary? Starting grad school this fall? If so, here are some hints to make your professors more happier as they grade your papers:

  • Avoid the subjunctive mood.
  • Avoid the passive voice.
  • Don’t use “scare quotes.”
  • Punctuation goes inside of quote marks. See above.
  • Book titles are italicized, not underlined or in quote marks.
  • Always use a serif font.
  • Always use the Oxford Comma.
  • Only a single space between sentences. Unless you’re using a typewriter. Which you aren’t.
  • Don’t capitalize words that are not proper nouns.

Now back to your regularly scheduled programming. 🙂

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • davehuth

    hahaha. more happier.

  • Scot Miller

    I also would recommend avoiding contractions and addressing the reader as “you.”

  • JeanM

    Thank you for this – especially the Oxford comma! But I will fight to the end for my right to use two spaces after a sentence, just like I will fight to call it Dayton’s, whatever that large department store in downtown Minneapolis styles itself now!

    • $120619225

      Two spaces. Every time. No matter what device. That is all.

  • PS you could do a special version of this for theological students. Church vs church, for example. BC vs BCE…

    • Ahhrghhh, so many capitalize “church”! (Hey, there’s an example where the punctuation goes outside the quotes.)

      • megaforte84

        The real fun is when someone is using “Church” and “church” to distinguish between the universal body of believers and the local gathering.

        And then forgets to edit properly and writes a sentence beginning with the word and concluding without providing enough context to figure out which was actually meant.

        I’ve seen it in books, blog posts, worship service bulletins…

  • David Arthur Johnson

    So If I were to say, “I have been significantly ‘impacted’ by your Blog post, Tony”, would I be barred from my seminary cohort, tarred and feathered?

  • Yes! Yes!

  • I’m in a running battle with our writing center about use of 1st person instead of 3rd person for expressing one’s own thoughts. I think saying “I think” is much better than the awkward “this author thinks.” It’s like a battle between the 20th and 21st centuries, between modern assumption of objectivity and postmodern admission of subjectivity.

    • RJAxtell

      A writing professor told me that even “I think” is unnecessary. It’s a given that since you wrote the paper, it contains what you think.

      • Yes, totally. That’s usually good advice.

        However, a good paper should have a number of things that you don’t think, but that you are arguing as part of the critical discussion.

        Moltmann would certainly clear up a few points in almost every book if
        he drew a sharper line between his opinions and those he is looking at.
        In a reflection it’s very clear, but if you’re studying the works of
        others in addition to doing your own constructive contributions, it’s a
        help to the reader to note, “This is me.”

        “I think” also adds a degree of humility to a statement rather than leaving it as a declaration of objective fact.

        “The Brits are right about quotation marks and punctuation.”


        “I think the Brits are right about quotation marks and punctuation, but it’s a losing battle in the States.”

        Mostly, I used it as an example of the first person vs. third person construction. Any number of other verbs could have shown up. “In this paper, I will…” vs. “In this paper, this author will…”

  • Gerrit Geurs

    Tony, as an English teacher, I will be sharing this post with students. Although, I hope you won’t be offended if I just share the list and avoid the use of “more happier.”

  • Simosito

    Unless one is doing a semester abroad in a place where punctuation does go outside quotation marks (i.e. UK)…

    And why avoid subjunctive? And are we talking all of it, including for conditional clauses, or just in phrases like “I demand he be removed from office”?

    Finally, wouldn’t the student have to check their department style guides about the Oxford comma?

  • Where do you stand on “their” as a third person non-gender specific singular?

  • Todd

    Tony! You’re loosing your snoot cred. Only commas and periods go inside of quotation marks. Semicolons, colons, and other punctuation go outside.

  • Todd

    Also, why avoid the subjunctive mood? Sometimes hypotheticals can advance an argument, and they typically require the subjunctive.

  • Beorn

    Is the phrase “more happier” correct? Wouldn’t “more happy,” or “happier” be preferable?

    • Might be correct but it is at least redundant if not awkward sounding

  • Since I’m committed to using a random punctuation generator in my writing, I’m afraid that this post can’t help me. But I am confused about one thing. Is a high gramatical psa score good or bad? And if that psa score is bad, what gets removed by surgery?

    Finally, as someone already asked, why get avoid the subjunctive mood? if it was good enough for the Greek New Testament, it must be good enough for us.