The Grammar Factor – June 2011

etc. and commas

Reader’s question: Do you need a comma before etc. in a list?

Answer: Traditionally, a comma was always used before etc. in a list consisting of two or more words. This is now regarded as a style choice.

He bought tomatoes, peas, oranges etc. (my preference)
He bought tomatoes, peas, oranges, etc.

Remember that many people dislike this little word etc. They feel it is a lazy word for ‘I can’t think of anything else to include’. I use it in informal writing or within brackets, but in formal writing prefer for example or such as.

The word etc. is not needed after a list preceded by for example or such as.

and commas

Reader’s question: Do you need a comma after e.g.?

Answer: You don’t need a comma after e.g. However, you should use a comma after the unabbreviated form (For example, …).

Both e.g. and etc. have full stops because they are Latin abbreviations, but some in-house style guides now recommend no full stops (eg, etc).

Indenting quotations

Reader’s question: How long should a quote be before you indent it rather than use quotation marks?

Answer: According to the Australian Government style manual, quotations that are more than about 30 words are usually indented and set in smaller type. They are called block quotations and do not need quotation marks.

Punctuation with greetings

Reader’s question: Do you need a comma after a greeting in a letter or email?

Answer: Such commas went out of letters long ago and they are unnecessary in emails. You don’t need a comma after endings either.

Hi Jane


Subject–verb agreement (ESL question)

Reader’s question: Why do the following sentences have a singular verb when the sentences are about more than one dog?

Being hungry makes the dogs love to eat.
The sound makes the dogs bark.

Answer: The agreement is with Being hungry and The sound, not the dogs.

Words of the month

A reader commented on the use of ‘freemium’ and ‘pop-up’ in newspapers.

The Herald Sun
(7 June) said it would introduce a ‘freemium’ model of the paper in October – a mixture of free and subscriber-only content.

The Sydney Morning Herald (1 March) called ‘Greenhouse by Joost’ Sydney’s newest ‘pop-up’ restaurant.


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