Tag Archive - grammar

While Means Whereas . . . Sometimes

We usually think of  while  to mean “during the time that,” but it can be used to mean “whereas.”

In the former case, while is not preceded by a comma.

In the latter case, while must be preceded by a comma.

Example: I can’t talk on the phone while my little sister is screaming.
Example: The Pacific Ocean is often calm, while the Atlantic Ocean is rough.

Some purists and copyeditors tend to frown on the use of while to mean whereas because the meaning depends upon the comma, and points of punctuation have a habit of not being where they should be.

If you choose to use while to mean whereas, it’s important to be clear about your meaning.

Some Extraneous Words That Clutter

I often find myself trimming down words when I do content edits for my clients. I’ve mentioned in earlier posts about that and of and how you often don’t need those words. I also gave you my weasel word list and suggested you come up with your own. One author I know told me she went through one of her earlier manuscripts (she has over a hundred published novels now) and deleted as many unnecessary speaker tags as she could find. She trimmed her word count down 6,000 words!

So here are some words you can take out:

  • He thought to himself  [You can only think to yourself, so leave out those words. and if you use italics for thoughts in your novel, you often don’t need to say “he thought” since it’s clearly implied.]
  • He stood up then sat down
  • He nodded his head
  • Amidst, amongst
  • Firstly, secondly, lastly
  • Choose from among three choices [redundant]
  • I don’t like him, but nevertheless I’ll go anyway [redundant so take out either but or nevertheless.]

Serial Commas Are Serious Stuff

Serial commas are commas that separate items in a series and in particular pertain to the use of a comma with the last item listed. Many people ignore this rule, and I’m pretty sure it’s standard policy (to ignore) this rule in AP (article writing) style. which doesn’t make sense to me. It’s very important to always use a serial comma.

The example often used to show the need for the serial comma is this line: “I’d like to thank my parents, God and Mother Teresa, for inspiring me.” Well, by not using the serial comma between God and Mother Teresa,  you can see how the meaning of this sentence gets really wacky. I mean–who in their right mind would claim their parents are God and Mother Teresa? The way to punctuate this correctly so as to avoid such a weird interpretation is “I’d like to thank my parents, God, and Mother Teresa for inspiring me.”

Entire books have been written on this topic (see Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation for a great book that stresses the need to be careful with those tiny bits of punctuation).

So, whenever you have a list, be sure you use a comma after each item in that list. You don’t necessarily need one after the very last item—that depends upon the phrase to follow, but we won’t get into that in this post.

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