Thursday, June 20, 2013

Proofreading Q & A: moon or Moon?

 From Grade Six Daily Paragraph Editing (2004).
Each day my eleventh grade class and I begin class by proofreading one of four paragraphs, which together make a short narrative. While using an older workbook designed for use with sixth graders a decade ago, I've found the level of difficulty appropriate for most traditional eleventh graders, especially given the lack of grammar and punctuation acumen many seem to come into class with. The task is simple: using appropriate proofreader's marks, bring each paragraph into grammatical correctness in the cleanest way possible. In some cases, a more "sophisticated" revision (such as combining independent clauses using a well placed semi-colon) is possible (and "correct"), but we tend to go with the more accessible comma and conjunction correction.

For my own reference, as well as though students who occasionally assist at the front of the room, I also have an answer key for each, and last week came across a question from a student (you, know, the whole "teachable moment" thing). On rare occasions in the past, we have found that corrections which are suggested seem incorrect. I suspect that some of those "mistakes" which would have previously required correcting no longer do, given evolving nature of acceptable grammar. More commonly, though, there is a correction or non-correction that the key does accurately address, but I as a teacher am unable to properly articulate at the moment--so the teachable moment is deferred until the next class when I can find a satisfactory (and clear) answer.

Question: In the paragraph above, a question came up regarding proper capitalization of the word "moon" in line two: "his/crew was on his way to the moon." One student suggested that the word moon should be capitalized because it is referring to our (Earth's) moon, as evidenced by the article "the" preceding the noun. Should "moon" be capitalized, as a specific celestial body, or is the noun suitably common and should therefore remain lowercase?

Answer: One online source reads that "Names of celestial bodies: Mars, Saturn, the Milky Way (are capitalized). Do not, however, capitalize earth, moon, sun, except when those names appear in a context in which other (capitalized) celestial bodies are mentioned. 'I like it here on earth,' but 'It is further from Earth to Mars than it is from Mercury to the Sun.'" The key here is the necessary presence of a secondary specific celestial body (Mars, Earth, Haley's Comet) if one is to correctly  proofread line two by capitalizing "moon". In this case, the answer key was correct, and reflected the grammatical rule that the names of certain celestial bodies (moon, earth, sun) are not capitalized except when those names appear in a context in which other (capitalized) celestial bodies.


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