Sometimes my son comes to me with questions on his homework. “Sure, I can help,” I answer, convinced I can assist with a third grader’s assignment. It’s a huge blow to my ego (not that I had a big one to begin with), but he had to explain what they were doing in math because I had no clue based on the paper I held in my hand.
“Math isn’t my strong suit, anyway,” I rationalized. “Besides, I still count on my fingers.” Being numerically challenged, I’ve come up with all kinds of excuses.
All right, I’ve established I’m not a math whiz. Bring on the writing questions. Surely I can nail that, right? Sadly, my eight-year old gave me the answer: not quite. I wrote out quiz questions for each chapter of his book. In one sentence, he needed to write a list of three things:
“They would stare into space, cry or sob.”
The above sentence is how my teachers taught me when I went to school (I won’t tell you when that was, because that would make me, well, older than I care to acknowledge.) In school, they instructed us that we did not have to put a comma before conjunctions (or, and, but).
“They would stare into space, cry, or sob.”
My son put the comma before ‘or’, so I asked him about it. He looked at me like I lost my mind and he informed me that “yes, you are supposed to put the comma before ‘or,’ ‘but,’ and ‘and.’
“Oh. Okay, they changed that,” I had to admit. “Do they still call them conjunctions?” I asked.
“Yeah, why wouldn’t they?” I saw it in his eyes; the child who just yesterday thought I was so smart began to realize he’d been duped. I imagine he will have the same look when he figures out Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny.
I don’t know who “they” are, but someone out there gets a kick out of changing punctuation rules. I remember my own parents helping me with my homework; they were taught to put the commas before conjunctions (just like my son). So, I’m making a prediction now that my grandchildren will be taught that the commas aren’t necessary. I can confidently make this prediction because the rules seem to change for each generation.
The realization that I don’t have a clue about punctuation is a little disheartening because I want to be an author…and authors are supposed to know these things, right? Yeesh. I wonder what else I thought I knew, but it turns out I don’t?
Oh, he wants me to quiz him on his spelling words tomorrow. I’m terrific at spelling. At least word spelling hasn’t changed…has it?
Have you noticed changes in grammar/punctuation rules? Is there a rule that gives you nightmares? (For instance, my hang-ups happen most often with that vs. which and who vs. whom. Grammar Girl has to bail me out every time) 🙂