Saturday, February 23, 2008

為何很多美國同事寫Email 英文時都不喜歡加逗點?

大家都知道文法是寫給外國人看的,很多美國人並不知道英文文法結構為何,就如同很多華人一樣,並不知道中文文法結構為何?

在美國工作幾年, 我發覺一個很有趣的現象。平常大家會用Email互相溝通,但是很多美國同事寫Email 英文時都不喜歡加逗點, 甚至我好幾個主管也是一樣。我那時覺得難道他們不知道這樣的寫法是錯的嗎? 像下列這些句子大家一定會加逗點,這乃是英文文法所教的。

Once everyone follows this suggestion, I will follow you too.

If you come to my company tomorrow, I will show you around.

但是這幾年我實在看過太多美國同事及老闆寫Email時,上述這些句子是不加逗點的,我因而覺得很好奇。後來無意間在一本英文小說上也看到有此寫法, 於是興起了一股有趣的念頭:不加逗點難道是正確的嗎?

有一天我回到學校請教一位美籍老教授,我問她這個有趣的問題。她說現在的英文文法並沒有那麼嚴謹。如果你想要一口氣將話說完,可以不加逗點。若你想符合文法規定而加逗點,這樣是最好的,因為你會讓他們對你印象深刻(impressive) 。

聽完教授說完後,我的疑惑完全解除。平常在公司大家已將 Email 變成一種溝通的工具, 所以英文文法沒有那麼嚴謹實屬正常。更何況這些美國同事及老闆都想把一些事情趕快交代清楚,所以也就不想加逗點了。

其實若以正式的文法來說,他們寫法真的不對, 所以我還是會以美籍老教授的建議,加逗點,讓人對你印象深刻。

下次你若有機會,不仿注意這些美國同事的Email 英文是否不加逗點? 至於你想不想糾正他們,取決你的決定。

延伸閱讀:
在美國工作的第一步,加強Email 英文

16 comments:

MoleWisdom.M said...

Whether to use commas really depends on the audience and the purpose of the email. Emails to customers and superiors can be very formal; emails to co-workers can be much more informal. It is good to use different punctuation and diction styles for different audiences.

That said, there are some people who simply don't know the rules of punctuations. Others do know the rules but choose to ignore some of rules - this can be considered "poetic license."

Ray said...

For people who take buisness English class and do not use the formal writing, the professors will say the English writing is wrong. Modern English grammar is not so strict now. We had better follow the rules. Right?

MoleWisdom.M said...

Modern grammar rules are not so strict now, especially in the U.S. - partly because of convenience and partly because of the poor education system in the U.S.

I think there are at least these categories: formal and correct, informal and correct, informal and wrong.

Formal and correct (FC):
No, he is not happy.

Informal and correct (IC):
No, he isn't happy.

Informal and wrong (IW):
No, he ain't happy.

In official papers and letters, I definitely use FC. Using FC in emails can sound unwieldy and pretentious, so IC is usually the better choice, though FC has its applications as well. IW should never be used.

Also, grammar rules are sometimes controversial, so right and wrong is hard to determine - such as the comma before "and"; for example:

"I have a dog, a cat, and a bird." vs. "I have a dog, a cat and a bird."

Both structures have their supporters.

The following is considered poetic but is actually wrong according to "official" grammar rules.

"I have a dog, a cat, a bird."

Finally, some U.S. grammar rules are different from British rules, such as where to place a period after a quote. Depending on where the sentence is read, each of the following can be right or wrong.

U.S.
He is sometimes called a "giant."

British
He is sometimes called a "giant".

As a side note, have you ever considered the following? Which is right?

a: He is a happily married man.
b: He is a happily-married man.

Ray said...

Yes, you are right. You divide these rules into FC , IC and IW, which is so interesting. I like these 3 rules.

Some rules are controversial as you mention as follows:
"I have a dog, a cat, and a bird." vs. "I have a dog, a cat and a bird."
---I saw this before and asked my US teacher. She felt suprised too.
Usually , more than 3 nouns needs ",". But sometimes it seems not.

As you mention, which one is right?
a: He is a happily married man.
b: He is a happily-married man.

I always say a. But it seems b now. hehe


Another example is interesting, but many Americans are wrong as follows:

"What I am trying to do is to finish my project?" vs "What I am trying to do is finish my project?"

which one is correct?

MoleWisdom.M said...

For 3 or more items, I have seen both using and not using a comma before "and" in grammar books. In high school, I did not use the comma; but since college, I have used the comma - I think that having the last comma "looks" better.

You are right. The correct answer to "the married man" is (a) - according to a very old grammar book I had. However, both are common these days - in fact, (b) seems to be more popular.

The first sentence is correct (... is to finish...) - but I can understand why people tend to eliminate the "to" in speech - it sounds smoother that way. I am quite tolerant of "bad" grammar in speech; less so in writing.

Ray said...

"What I am trying to do is to finish my project?" vs "What I am trying to do is finish my project?"

-You choose first sentence. Why?
Long time ago, I asked some teachers about this and they said the second sentence is right because you have aready had "to" first . The second "to" is useless.


Another teacher had another opinion: To+V ...to+V is Parallel.

I found the grammar book and the second one is right. It seems that modern English Grammar is not strict.

MoleWisdom.M said...

If the grammar book said the second one is right, it is (until another grammar book says otherwise - and that does happen). After all, grammar cannot be "explained"; it just is - according to which book is used.

That said, I think the parallelism explanation is better than the "useless" explanation. To eliminate something because it is "useless" is a poor and arbitrary explanation for English grammar. If we were to eliminate something because it is "useless", then we won't have much grammar left. Using that explanation,

"He goes to the bank." can be "simplified" to "He go to the bank."

"es" after "go" can be eliminated because it is "useless" and doesn't add anything. But the second sentence obviously is not correct - so useless or not is a bad explanation.

My explanation is this:

"What I am trying to do is to finish my project." is similar to "To finish my project is what I am trying to do."

"What I am trying to do is finish my project." is similar to "Finish my project is what I am trying to do."

The first one ("To finish my project is what I am trying to do.") seems more correct.

But you are right, modern English grammar is less strict. And I think that is good because the purpose of language is to communicate; grammar that is too strict hinders communication.

Well, the sentence should simply be reduced to "I am trying to finish my project." Cleaner, simpler sentence. End of story.

Interestingly, assuming Spanish grammar is similar to English grammar, a to-infinitive would be used in this situation.

Ray said...

"What I am trying to do is to finish my project." is similar to "To finish my project is what I am trying to do."
-- Maybe it is not a good idea to say "smiliar" here

"What I am trying to do is finish my project." is similar to "Finish my project is what I am trying to do."
-- Maybe it is not a good idea to say "smiliar" too


When I find the grammar book, it explains as follows.

"What I am trying to do is to finish my project".
---It has to+V here, we only add Verb here. Do you think so? hehe

Another example is the same and also interesting.

"What I want to do in the future is to help people" vs "What I want to do in the future is help people"

MoleWisdom.M said...

"similar" is not the best word to use; I wanted to refer to its "commutative" property, but couldn't find the right word - something like:

x * y = y * x

I am confused. Which is correct according to the grammar book: "is to finish my project" or "is finish my project"?

I like:
"What I want to do in the future is to help people"

Ray said...

Sorry. It is my typo.
The grammar book says the following examples are correct:

1.What I am trying to do is finish my project.

2.What I want to do in the future is help people.

The grammar book says: If you have the sentence with what, why...in the beginning and use to +V later, there is no second "to". Maybe it is the old grammar.

I asked some of my American friends. But they needed to think about it for 1 minute. Finaly they gave me the answer, which is the same as yours. hehe

MoleWisdom.M said...

Interesting. We are re-learning "new" grammar all the time.

Another interesting example of changing grammar:

"He is taller than I." is definitely correct.

However, I have seen "He is taller than me." justified by some grammarians - but I forgot the "official"-sounding justification.

Ray said...

Americans told me that "He is taller than me." is only for spoken English.
When you write something,use "I". hehe

MoleWisdom.M said...

Here is the justification for using "me" - I personally prefer using "I." It is not the page I saw a long time ago but it should be similar.

http://andromeda.rutgers.edu/~jlynch/Writing/t.html

Scroll to the section:
"Than I versus Than Me"

Ray said...

wow, interesting. "He's taller than me" sounds more natural to most native English speakers. I believe so. But I don't know if Americans will write it in his essay.

Do yo think this sentence currently belongs to Informal and correct (IC)? :)

MoleWisdom.M said...

I think it is in a fourth category - "informal and between correct and wrong" (ICW); the justification is good enough for me but I don't know whether the "World Conference of Grammarians" will accept it.

Ray said...

ICW is good. I don't think most American teachers will accept "me", not "I" in writing.

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