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Archive for January, 2012

On Writing: Let’s Talk Grammar and Punctuation for a While

(Post Number Five)

The Elusive Colon

 What can we writers say about the elusive little colon that some people abuse so much, they should have a colon-oscopy!  Colons should be used infrequently, but when used properly, they can be a very effective little tool to get your point across. Let’s take a look at the little punctuation mark that looks like one period stacked on top of another. Here are its main uses and examples of each:

  1. The colon is used to introduce a list or a series: (case in point!)

Example 1 – Our seasonal calendar is divided into four main time periods: winter, spring, summer, and fall.

Example 2 – Freddie said his best friends were also his brothers: Bill, Mike, and Ed.

*Notice that the only time you cap the word after a list or series is if the first word is a proper noun.

2.    The colon is used to introduce a speaker or dialogue in a skit or play.

Example –

      Ben:  When my birthday comes around, I’m going to go on a skiing trip.

      Susie: When my birthday comes around, I’m going to be forty!

*Notice that the dialogue starts with a capital letter but has NO quotation marks in a play script. 

3.    The colon is used to introduce two or more sentences in close sequence.

Example –

      Bud had two job choices: Should he work at the mini-mart? Or should he work at the hamburger joint?

*Notice that the word “Should” is capped after the colon because it’s a full sentence.

4.   The colon is used in the greeting of a business letter or in the introduction to a speech.

Example 1 – Dear Senator Huey: (Letter)

Example 2 – To Whom It May Concern: (Letter)

Example 3 – Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury: (Beginning of a speech)

5.  The colon is used when writing scripture references.

Example – One of my favorite verses is 1 Corinthians 15:10.

So there you have a quick review of the most important uses of the little colon. Use them sparingly, but use them correctly, and your writing will move to a higher level.

Next time, we’ll look at periods. “Periods?” you’re probably thinking. “Everybody knows how to use periods. Well, check in on February 6th. You might be surprised to learn a few new things about this little dot that adds meaning to everything we write.

Keep on writing!

Marsha

 

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On Writing: Let’s Talk Grammar for a While

(Post Number Four)

Mr. Em—Dash and Nanny En-Dash

 

Pennsylvania Ice

 Although many folks use these little dashes interchangeably, there is a correct use for each one. I dare say that some beginning writers might not even know there is an em dash and an en dash. They might think they’re one in the same. So let’s go to the Grammar Dashboard and discuss these two punctuation marks’ appearance and use.

“The Em Dash—”

This “long” hyphen denotes a sudden break in thought that causes a sharp change in the structure of the sentence. It can be used anywhere in a simple sentence with the insertion of a shorter sentence or phrase to change the thought or it can be used to complement a certain part of speech (usually a noun). When the em dash appears at the end of a line of dialogue, it represents an interruption by another person’s following remark or an abrupt end to the line of dialogue. Let’s look at some examples:

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Example Number One: 

With Mayor Combs’ health problems, will he—should he—run for office again?

Barry gave away all the puppies but one—the brown one with the pink nose.

Three gorgeous horse breeds—the Arabian, Tennessee Walker, and Quarter Horse—are my favorites.

George W. Bush—a past governor and U.S. president—now lives in Texas.

 

*NOTE: there should be NO spaces before or after the em dash in the previous examples.

A word to the wise writer: don’t go overboard with em dashes. They should be used sparingly. Never use more than one em dash—or a pair of them—in one sentence. Also, if you think a comma, parenthesis, or a colon would work, then by all means use one of them instead of the em dash.

 

Example Number Two:

Mable yelled at her brother, “Stop that or I’ll—”

“Or you’ll what?” her brother yelled back.

 

“What is that bright light in the sky?” Susie asked her friend. “Is it a—” Susie was so frightened, she could no longer speak.

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Now, you might be asking, “Where in the world do I find the em dash on my keyboard? Can I just plug in two hyphens? Some word processors automatically convert hyphens to en dashes and em dashes. But if they don’t, like mine doesn’t, do this to insert an em dash: hold down the CTRL key and ALT key simultaneously and hit the hyphen on the numeric keypad.

 

“The En Dash –”

 

I’ll be the first one to confess that I don’t use the en dash the way I should. I usually use a hyphen instead because it’s just easier to insert.

Anyway, an en dash has three distinct uses. They connect inclusive numbers as in dates, pages, and Bible verses. They are used in compound adjectives with open compounds or when two or more elements are open compounds or hyphenated compounds. And they are used to link a city to the name of a university that has multiple campuses. Here are the examples:

Example Number One: The date 1934-35; the pages 190 -191; Genesis 3:2 – 4 (My computer chose not to convert my hyphens to en dashes. It is acceptable to use hyphens in this way)

Example Number Two:  the post –Vietnam era;   a brother – sister relationship

Example Number Three:Penn State University – State College, PA

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“And, pray tell, where does one find this little rascal on the keyboard?”

Well, now that you asked, here’s the answer: (If your computer feels like cooperating) –type your word, insert a space, then type a hyphen and the next letter or word immediately without a space, and the computer should convert the hyphen to an en dash. Try it and see what happens. Sometimes my PC does it; sometimes it doesn’t. Go figure.

So have some fun with em dashes and en dashes; learn to use them sparingly and spruce up your writing style with a little extra flavor. You just might catch the eye of an editor—or an agent—as you write the best you know how!

Next time, we’ll look at colons, the little double periods stacked on top of each other.

Keep on writing and have a successful new year!

Marsha

 

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