Archive for March, 2012

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

(Post Number Nine)

The Excitable Exclamation Point!

Today we’re looking at a “quicky” punctuation mark because its uses are quite limited.

Most writers agree that the exclamation point is not in much danger of being used incorrectly. But I would venture to say that its greatest misuse is OVERUSE!!! (Case in point: Never use more than one exclamation point consecutively, no matter how emphatic or dramatic you’re trying to be!!! The second and third exclamation points in a row actually negate the effect or mood you’re trying to portray, so take it easy. Use just one!)

So, when do we use the exclamation point and how often? Well, the obvious use of the exclamation point is to inflect fear, panic, surprise, irony, pain, anger, or a command. To use more than one every several pages of your writing is also OVERUSE! So watch that excitable little mark well! (I’ve already used nine in this blog [ho hum]; are you getting the point?)

Since this mark’s use is limited, we’ll just cite some popular examples for this little guy:

Example One (Fear): “Watch out,” Susie cried. “The tiger got out of his cage!” (Note that the exclamation point is inside the quotation marks.)

Example Two (Panic):  Mabel forgot to turn off the stove, and the house is burning down!

Example Three (Surprise): I can’t believe I just won that car!

Example Four (Irony): Bill boarded one plane and his wife boarded another!

Example Five (Pain):  Ow!

Example Six (Anger): “Stop kicking the door!” Jane screamed to the top of her lungs at Herman.

Example Seven (A command): Stand up and shut up!

Let’s mention one more example, which is perfectly legal, even though many “English pros” might call it into question, since it IS a question:

Example Eight (At the end of a question that is essentially an exclamation):

A.  How could Barry possibly have lifted that!

B.  “When will you ever learn!” Carrie’s anger with her puppy was obvious.

So there you have the eight most common uses of the exclamation point. Use it sparingly and wisely, and your writing will have an extra spark that will impress even the editors!

Next time we’ll have a look at quirky quotation marks. These can be quite confusing, especially when you have a quote within a quote, so until next time happy writing!


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

(Post Number Eight)

The Itinerant Italics

Are you a writer who used italics frequently? Or perhaps you’re not quite sure when to use this little punctuation perk? Such was the case with me until I did a little research and study to make sure I was using italics correctly.

I’m sure you’ll agree that the most common way to use italics is mostly in fiction when using Direct Internal Discourse.

What in the world is Direct Internal Discourse?

Oh, that’s the “formal” fancy term for expressing someone’s inner thoughts. This is the most frequent use of italics. So let’s look at some examples of that plus some examples of other uses for italics:

Direct Internal Discourse

Example One:  Bill looked at Susie and thought, Now’s the time to ask her to marry me.

Example Two:   That’s just the sweater I want!  Marge asked the clerk, “How much is that pullover cardigan?”

Exception: Do NOT italicize an inner thought that is indirect or paraphrased.

Example: Steve had been telling himself not to buy that car for the last week.

 Citing Sources

Although the AP Stylebook says to put all “composition” titles in quotation marks except the Bible and reference books, the CMOS prefers using italics for large titles:

Example One:  Gone With the Wind is one of the most powerful movies ever made.

Example Two:  One of my favorite books is The Christmas Box by Richard Paul Evans.

Example Three:  Have you subscribed to the Reader’s Digest again this year?

Exception: Smaller components of such works, such as articles, chapter titles,

song titles, poem titles, and episodes should be in quotation marks.

Example: Barry read an amazing article about chipmunks entitled “The Nuts’ Best Friend” in this month’s Pennsylvania Magazine.

Animal Noises, Sounds, Ringing Phones, Etc.

In fiction, words that depict sounds other than dialogue are written in italics:

Example One:   Woof! Woof! Barney, Pete’s dog, barked his head off!

Example Two:   S-q-u-e-a-k …. “Who’s there?” Angie screamed.

Example Three:  R-i-n-g …. Philip hurried to the front door, hoping he’d see Angie.

Foreign Words and Phrases

Unless you’re writing about Russian spies or Amish Ordnungs, this italics rule might mean little to you. However, whenever quoting foreign words or phrases, use italics. In the case of using the foreign words in fiction, they are usually italicized the first time as an introduction but are not italicized throughout the novel.

Example One:  Henrietta’s German mother taught her to say ich liebe dich, (I love you), which helped Henrietta express her true feelings.

Example Two: In her Amish Ordnung, Ruth was the only alt maedel over twenty-five years who wasn’t married yet. 

Italics for Emphasis

Often, in trying to express emphasis, writers will mistakenly use quotation marks instead of italics in a sentence. However, the italics is the proper way to go to express emphasis in a sentence:

Example One:  Fritz made a very conscious effort to go on a diet this time.

Example Two:  “Are you really going to drive toFlorida by yourself?” Harry asked Bob.

Quoting a Word or Phrase

This use of the italics is probably most used in nonfiction. When citing words or discussing phrases, italicize the word or phrase in discussion:

Example One:  The use of the word salvation in many of our traditional hymns has a powerful message.

Example Two:  The shed blood of Jesus is one of the foundational doctrines of the Christian faith.

So, there you have the most common uses of the italics. Take a look at your own writings, see if you can incorporate a few italics here and there, and give your manuscript a little extra spice. As long as italics are not overused, this little punctuation perk can add some life to your work. So go for it.

Next time we’ll look at the exclamation point! This little jot and tittle is probably one of the most misused punctuation marks in the English language!

Happy writing!


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