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Archive for October, 2016

 

Let’s Talk Grammar 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:

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.

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

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.

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)

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 next time. 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

Watch for updates concerning next July’s Montrose Christian Writers Conference. We have a dynamite faculty lined up including film actor Torry Martin, Jim Hart from Hartline, four editors/authors representing publishing companies plus eleven other best-selling authors and the music specialists, Donna and Conrad Krieger.

http://www.montrosebible.org/OurEvents/tabid/113/page_550/1/eventid_550/58/Default.aspx

www.marshahubler.com

P.S. If you haven’t been receiving my periodic Montrose Christian Writers Conference newsletter and you’d like to be on the mailing list, please contact me. A tremendous faculty has committed and promises to present dynamite classes for all aspects of writing.

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Let’s Talk Grammar for a While

(Post Number Four)

Mr. Em—Dash and Nanny En-Dash

 

 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:

************************************************************************

Example  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 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.

************************************************************************

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. For instance, if I type two hyphens simultaneously after the last word without any space then hit “Enter,” the computer converts that to an em dash. But if that doesn’t work, 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 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 Two: the post – Vietnam era;   a brother – sister relationship

Example Three: Penn State University – State College, PA

 

 ************************************************************************

 

“And, pray tell,” you might ask, “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

http://www.montrosebible.org/OurEvents/tabid/113/page_550/1/eventid_550/58/Default.aspx

www.marshahubler.com

P.S. If you haven’t been receiving my periodic Montrose Christian Writers Conference newsletters about the exciting 2017 conference and you’d like to be on the mailing list, please contact me. A tremendous faculty has committed and promises to present dynamite classes for all aspects of writing.

More shameless promotion:

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Let’s Talk Grammar for a While

 (Grammar Post Number Three)

The Too Common Comma

Let’s continue discussing grammar, in particular punctuation, and have a look at the too common comma. What can we say nice about this little squiggly line that seems to get in the way of our good writing more than we care to admit?

In all my editing jobs, I’ve seen the comma misused and abused more than any other punctuation mark. Maybe it’s because it’s so easy to type or write; it just kind of slides onto the paper without anyone noticing. But I think it’s time we look at a few rules that will spruce up your writing and help your readers actually get a grip on what you’re trying to say!

The cardinal rule for using commas is when in doubt, don’t use them. But if you want to, or you HAVE to use them, (and you do), then let’s use them correctly. Here are a few pointers that seem to trip up everyone:

  • When you have two compound sentences, use a comma to separate them. Now remember that a compound sentence (two independent clauses) has two subjects and two verbs:

 

Example: Bruce bought a brand new red car, but his brother Ed bought a use blue truck.

Example:   Sally baked a cake for Tom’s birthday, and she bought him a new watch.

Example: (Exception: If the compound sentence is real short, there’s NO COMMA) Harry played but Bill slept.

  • Do NOT use a comma in a simple sentence with a compound verb. This is the most frequent misuse of a comma. I see this again and again in the manuscripts that I edit and critique:

 

Example:   Sally baked a cake for Tom’s birthday and bought him a new watch.

 

NOTE: There is no comma after birthday because there is only one subject in this sentence: Sally. The compound verbs are “baked” and “bought.”

  • Use a comma before the word “and” in a series. Now this can be confusing because grammar rules seem to change frequently. A few years back the rule was that you shouldn’t use a comma before the word “and” in a series; but over the last year or so, the grammar gods decided to change it. Who does the changing and why? I don’t have a clue:

 

Example:   Tyler washed the dog, cut the grass, changed the oil in his car, and went to the store on Saturday.

Example:   Bill invited Sue, Ellen, Marcy, Joe, and Kim to the grand opening.

  • Use a comma after the year in a date only if the month and day are mentioned first:

 

Example: On December 25, 2011, we celebrated the birth of Christ.

Example: (NO COMMA) In December of 2011 we celebrated the birth of Christ.

  • Use a comma after an introductory phrase or dependent clause that introduces a main clause:

 

Example: After Claude started his new job, he fell and broke his leg.

Example: If Charlie doesn’t soon get a haircut, he’ll look like a lion.

Example: (Exception: NO COMMA in a short introductory phrase) In winter the snow falls frequently in the northeast.

  • Although there are several more comma rules that we don’t have the time or space to consider, we’ll discuss one more use that is frequently misused. (Dig out your Chicago Manual of Style or Strunk and White’s Manual of Style for more uses and misuses.)

 

 Use a comma in a nonrestrictive clause (not needed clause), in particular, with   names and titles:

Example:   My husband, Richard, was a marine.

(The commas set off the name “Richard,” indicating that my husband and Richard are one and the same; therefore, “Richard” could be deleted, and the sentence would still be accurate and correct grammatically.) My husband was a Marine.

Example:   (NO COMMA in a restrictive clause: a word or phrase that is necessary)

My dog Bailey is a little tornado and loves to run. (I have two dogs, so I don’t use commas before and after Bailey. If I would use commas here, you could delete the word “Bailey;” but then you wouldn’t know to which dog I’m referring.)

Now that you are totally confused about the use of commas, would you like a cup of egg nog? How about some cookies? How about a brand new Chicago Manual of Style that might confuse you more? Maybe you should start on your Christmas wish list already. ☺

Next time, we’ll discuss “em” dashes and “en” dashes.

Marsha

http://www.montrosebible.org/OurEvents/tabid/113/page_550/1/eventid_550/58/Default.aspx

www.marshahubler.com

 

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Let’s Talk Grammar for a While

The Snippy Semicolon

Next to apostrophes, I’d say semicolons are probably the most misused punctuation marks used in the English language. I dare say most people aren’t really sure what to do with the little period with the comma dangling underneath, so they either guess, and guess wrongly, or they avoid using the punctuation mark altogether, which is probably a wise decision.

Sometimes semicolons can be used in a long series when commas are also needed, but this is such an unusual complex situation, I don’t think we even need to go there today. This information might be useful to someone who’s possibly writing a textbook on the classification of flora and fauna, but it’s not needed for the average writer. So let’s look at the two times when a semicolon is preferred in “normal” writing:

  1.  Sometimes when you have two compound sentences closely related, you can use a semicolon instead of a period and a capital letter to separate them:

Example: Mary decided to remodel the kitchen; she purchased new linoleum first.

Example: George booked a midnight flight to Paris; but his flight was cancelled due to snow.

Now, you’re probably wondering why you can’t just use a period and a capital to separate these sentences in the examples. Well, you can. It’s a writer’s preference. Often it might just add a little flavor to your voice to throw in a few semicolons instead of brand new sentences, especially when the two sentences are so closely related. Also, in the second example, there’s no reason why you couldn’t separate the two compound sentences with a comma either. Again, it’s the writer’s preference. Here’s the next common use for the semicolon:

  1. Use a semicolon to separate two clauses of a compound sentence or two compound sentences when divided by an adverb such as: however, then, thus, hence, indeed, besides, accordingly, and therefore. This example is the one I see misused the most. Here are some correct uses:

Example: Jack bought me a birthday gift; therefore, I sent him a thank-you note.

Example: I thought I was adopting a nice calm dog; however, Bailey is a little furball of energy!

Example: I started my Christmas shopping early; hence, I was done by December 15th.

IMPORTANT! Always remember to add a comma after the adverb!

So, there you have the two most common uses of the semicolon. Spruce up your writing by using it once in awhile; but use the little rascal correctly!

Next time, we’ll discuss everyone’s favorite punctuation mark—the overused comma!

Marsha

http://www.montrosebible.org/OurEvents/tabid/113/page_550/1/eventid_550/58/Default.aspx

www.marshahubler.com

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LET’S TALK GRAMMAR FOR A WHILE

THOSE NASTY APOSTROPHES

I would say that apostrophes are probably the most misused punctuation marks used in the English language. I constantly see them abused on bulletin boards, road signs, store ads, mailboxes, and all kinds of other literature in the mail. What is it about that squiggly little mark that frustrates folks to no end?

Well, the biggest problem is that most people never pay any attention in their English classes in school to learn how to use the little buggers correctly. The second reason they are so misused is because it’s just so easy to do so. And I must admit that some of the rules for usage are a little complicated. So let’s look at a few of the common mistakes we see with apostrophes:

  1. Right: It’s a shame you can’t remember how to use the apostrophe. (It’s stands for “it is.”)

Wrong: Its a shame you can’t remember how to use the apostrophe.

  1. Right: The dog chewed its bone apart in ten minutes.

Wrong: The dog chewed it’s bone apart in ten minutes. (Remember that it’s stands for “it is.”)

  1. Right: The Hublers live in Middleburg.

Wrong: The Hubler’s live in Middleburg. (That apostrophe makes the name possessive and refers to one Hubler. And what does the one dear Hubler own? Nothing in this sentence; therefore, the apostrophe shouldn’t be used. This is probably the most abused punctuation mark of any.)

  1. Right: The Hublers’ house is in Middleburg. (If you are referring to more than one Hubler.)

Wrong: The Hubler’s house is in Middleburg. (Only is correct if you are talking about one Hubler, but you wouldn’t say, “The Hubler’s house …”)

  1. Right: The kitten’s toy is a stuffed mouse. (Referring to one kitten)

Wrong: The kittens’ toy is a stuffed mouse. (This refers to more than one kitten. Does it make sense to say that more than one kitten has the same toy? I guess if you’re talking about a litter of kittens, but let’s not stretch the truth to extremes here.)

Next, example number six is another very misused form of the apostrophe. I see so many signs and announcements with apostrophes used when the word should be only the plural.

  1. Right: Hoagies Sold Here! (Plural: hoagies)

Wrong: Hoagies’ Sold Here! (The hoagies’ what are sold there? The apostrophe used here means that the hoagies own something. What do they own?)

  1. Right: Mary said you’re going to church with me. (You’re stands for “you are.”)

Wrong: Mary said your going with me.

  1. Right: Robert Burns’s poems are famous. (In some quarters, Burns’ is acceptable too)

Wrong: Robert Burnses poems are famous.

  1. Right: The children’s recess period ended at ten. (Always write the plural first, then add the apostrophe at the end.)

Wrong:  The childrens’ recess period ended at ten.

  1. Right:   The writers’ conference was held in July. (Also acceptable is “writers conference” with no apostrophe)

Wrong:  The writer’s conference was held in July. (There was only one writer in attendance?)

And just for clarity’s sake, let me share a few more tricky words that sometimes do and sometimes don’t get apostrophes:

          CDs              DVDs      dos and don’ts

no ifs, ands, or buts

          ABCs          VIPs            the 1970s

         the Joneses (Plural, not possessive)

        two Toms, three Dicks, four Harrys

        moose’s (the same for singular + plural)

There are lots of other examples of how the poor apostrophe is misused, but these that I’ve mentioned are the blatant ones.

If you’re having problems with apostrophes, feel free to print this info and use it when you’re in a pickle, wondering what you should do. It’s a good thing to master if you’re into writing.

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