The rules of English

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To some, the state of our language as regards punctuation may seem a trivial thing, but to others, including myself, concern about such matters reflects the fact that language is, like life itself, an art form.

I am referring in particular to the widespread habit of often separating two sentences by a comma (without a joining word), since when I was at school they told me this was a definite mistake, not just stylistically regrettable, and the same will be confirmed by any standard textbook on the subject.

Now, it can be argued that when it comes to poetry, as opposed to prose, nothing can be a definite mistake of grammar, punctuation and so on, even though it can be stylistically regrettable, but nevertheless prose requires the structural bedrock of rules of punctuation etc. in order to avoid sore wounds.

The English Language does change in time, even the rules of grammar, spelling and punctuation, but barely in the short space of my lifetime.

I write all this because the Whitby Gazette seems to be as liable as anyone else to use commas to separate sentences, and I gather that someone on becoming a member of staff was apparently told that this was ‘Journalese’ English, but this seems a poor excuse and setting a bad example.

(I do not have space in this letter to properly refer to the strange rule in the Whitby Gazette, certainly in the Letters page, that a paragraph must not contain more than one sentence, thus often making the letters appear choppy, and I have therefore in this letter made a single sentence where it would otherwise have been two.)

I hope they copy the punctuation correctly……

Peter Lyth, Falcon Terrace, Whitby by email