Notes From A Word Nerd, Issue 4

Here are a few simple rules to help all the wonderful Movie Pilot Creators produce cleaner copy, sleeker stories and appropriately edited exposés.

1. Oxford Comma


When you place a comma before the word “and” in a simple list — i.e., a series — it’s called an Oxford or serial comma. We generally don’t use the Oxford comma in a simple series.

Captain America’s catsuit is red, white and blue.

However, an Oxford comma can be used in place of the word “and” or “or.”

Frank Castle is a man of pure, uncontrollable, animalistic rage.

There are some people who might argue that we must use the Oxford comma at all times so as to avoid confusion or ambiguity, as in the case of:

I love my parents, Tywin Lannister, and Hodor.

The thought in this case might be that if we do not use an Oxford comma, then it is as if we’re saying: I love my parents who are Tywin and Hodor.

However, this sentence can easily be rewritten as: I love Hodor, my parents and Tywin Lannister. And thus no Oxford comma is needed.

When To Use An Oxford Comma

There are always exceptions to the rule, such as if an integral element of the series requires a conjunction: There were many adventures in Westeros, including those of Ned Stark, Theon Greyjoy, Arya and the Hound, and Varys.

Also, use a comma before the concluding conjunction in a complex series of phrases for the sake of clarity: The main points to consider are whether Jaime Lannister is skillful enough to compete in the tourney, whether his loss of hand will impact his dexterity with a sword, and whether he has the proper mental attitude to stop schtooping his sister and start schtooping Brienne.

And here is another example, courtesy of a Creator: Seeing Cap go up against Iron Man, Spider-Man fighting alongside the Avengers, Bucky getting well-deserved screen time, and dozens of other exciting moments makes for a cohesive, explosive and fun movie.

2. That Vs. Which

If removing the words that follow would change the meaning of the sentence, use “that.” Otherwise, “which” is fine. You use “that” before a restrictive clause and “which” before everything else. A restrictive clause is part of a sentence that you can’t get rid of because it specifically restricts some other part of the sentence.


Vampires that sparkle often elicit the dropping of panties.

The words “that sparkle” restrict the kind of vampires you’re talking about. Without those words, the meaning of the sentence would change. Without them, you’d be saying that all vampires elicit the dropping of panties, not just the vampires that sparkle. And we all know that vampires with mullets elicit the most dropping of panties.

What Is A Nonrestrictive Clause?

It’s something that can be left off without changing the meaning of the sentence. You can think of a nonrestrictive clause as simply additional information.

Vampires, which feed on blood, often elicit fear and arousal.

Vampires are always bloodsuckers, so leaving out the words “which feed on blood” doesn’t change the meaning of the sentence. (Also note that the phrase is surrounded by commas. Nonrestrictive clauses are usually surrounded by, or preceded by, commas.)

A quick tip is to remember that you can burn the “whiches” and no harm will be done. So when using “which” in nonrestrictive clauses, if you eliminate said nonrestrictive clause, the meaning of the remaining part of the sentence will be the same as it was before.

On the other hand, if it would change the meaning to throw out the clause, you need a “that.”

Are all Starks wargs? No. So you would say: Starks that are wargs can skinchange into their direwolves. Is every Lannister an inbreeder? No. So you would say: Lannisters that are inbreeders are very attractive.

It would change the meaning to throw out the clause in those examples, so you need a “that.” (Also note that the “that” clause isn’t surrounded by commas. Restrictive clauses usually aren’t set off by commas.) Remembering to use “that” with restrictive clauses and “which” with nonrestrictive clauses is the best method, but the quick tip of burning the “whiches” will also get you to the right answer most of the time.

BONUS: Surprisingly Commonly Misspelled Names

Ian McKellen, noted wizard and X-Man, is oftentimes misspelled as Ian McKellan.

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