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From Our Mailbag

Posted by Conni Eversull   Jul 10, 2012, 5:30:00 AM

This week, I thought I'd share answers to some questions our grammar experts have received and answered.

QuestionWould you please direct me to a source that explains if a period goes in or outside of a quotation?

Answer: Writers make mistakes with periods and commas all the time. We're here to correct them.

All American stylebooks - Chicago, AP, AMA, MLA, Greg, etc. - call for periods and commas to be inside closing quotation marks, "like this," or "like this."

Exclamation points and question marks go in or out, depending on the quote. She yelled, "Jump!"  But can you understand why I said "No"?

British rules are different with periods and commas - sometimes in and sometimes out.

 

Question:  I have a question about certain usages of the verb "to have," and whether they are grammatically correct.

Here is a sentence I read in a story on NYTimes.com: "She once had a $1,200 serving plate slide from her lap and shatter as she was pricing it. She didn’t cry." If I were the writer, I would recast the sentence as "A $1,200 serving plate once slid from her lap..."

Here is a sentence from a letter published in an online advice column: "She's had a lot of bad things happen to her in her life, and while I don't think it's fair that she might take that out on me, I'm not willing to end our relationship over this ... I mean, she's still my mom and all." Again, it seems to me that "A lot of bad things have happened to her..." would be preferable.

Are these usages of "had" grammatically correct?

Answer:  Yes, the uses you cite are correct. Refer to the Merriam-Webster 11th Collegiate Dictionary, in which the space taken up for the verb "have" is one of the longest in the book. That's because of the richness of "have" and its derivatives.

For definition 6a, MW has this: 6 a : to experience especially by submitting to, undergoing, or suffering.

I believe this is the definition that explains the cited use.

 

Question: I am an ESL teacher and I have come across a grammar question that has stumped me for a few days... I have asked several other teachers and friends but no one can give me a specific answer.

The sentence in question is the following: "For four years straight, Ullrich had finished second behind Armstrong in the Tour de France."  So this is the sentence that I believe is grammatically sound and accurate.

However I am unsure about the same sentence but using the simple past form instead. "For four years straight, Ullrich finished second behind Armstrong in the Tour de France."

If the second sentence is either correct or incorrect could you please explain the reason why to me? My train of thought was that in the second example, since Ullrich had finished second at 4 distinct moments in time that it doesn't sound incorrect to use the simple past tense.

This also leads me to my next question. If a sentence begins with "For x (units of time) ," is it mandatory to use the past perfect tense 100% of the time? I hope you can explain this to me and I appreciate your time.

Answer:  Both sentences are correct. Use "had finished" when you are going on to relate how he now did something different. The train of thought is continuing with Ullrich. You are about to tell the reader more about Ullrich.

Use just "finished" if the story ends there with Ullrich and you are going to change the thought away from him and the race.

No, it is not mandatory to use past perfect always with "For x (units of time)."

For five days in a row, Matilda gathered fresh eggs from her coop. She finally had enough to bake a pound cake.

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Topics: quotation marks, punctuation

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