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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):

How could Barry possibly have lifted that!

“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!

Marsha

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

(Post Number Six)

The Punctual Period

Kissy.Smiley.Face

Are you kidding me? We’re going to talk about periods? That little miniscule dot at the end of a declarative sentence that everyone knows belongs there to complete the thought? “Why waste the time?” you’re probably asking. “Let’s move on. I know everything there is to know about periods.”

Well, let’s see if you do. I’m going to list some of the most frequent uses (besides its obvious use at the end of every declarative sentence) and some of its misuses. You’ll either yawn your way through this blog post or you’ll raise your eyebrows in wow-I-didn’t-know-that surprise.

Let’s play “Which one is correct?” Below are samples of different uses of periods. In each set, one use is correct; the other is not. Choose one from each set that you think is the right one. The correct answers are listed at the end of the blog. If you’re a period genius, and you get 100%, let me know, and we’ll brag about you on Facebook. (Today you’re getting a taste of what it’s like to be an editor):

Sample One:

A.) When John wrote, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1), he was referring to Jesus Christ.

B.)   When John wrote, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1), he was referring to Jesus Christ.

Sample Two:

A.)   When God asked Adam where he was after the fall, Adam said, “I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” (Genesis 3:10 KJV)

B.)     When God asked Adam where he was after the fall, Adam said, “I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself” (Genesis 3:10 KJV).

Sample Three: (A block quotation)

A.)     Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths (Proverbs 3:5-6).

B.)     Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

Sample Four – a postscript after the salutation in a letter:

A.)   P.S. Tell Susie I’ll be at the game on Friday.

B.)     PS  Tell Susie I’ll be at the game on Friday. (No periods after the “P” and “S.”

Sample Five – abbreviation of the state of North Carolina:

A.)   N.C.

B.)   NC

Sample Six:

A.)     The Smithsonian Institute is in Washington, D.C., for many years.

B.)     The Smithsonian Institute is in Washington, DC, for many years.

Sample Seven:

A.)   Brian’s new third grade teacher is Ms Batdorf. (No period after Ms)

B.)   Brian’s new third grade teacher is Ms. Batdorf.

Sample Eight:

A.)   Margie just moved to 678 N.W. Lane Street in Albany.

B.)     Margie just moved to 678 NW Lane Street in Albany. (No periods with the abbreviation for North West)

Sample Nine:

A.)     The time period “Before Christ” is represented with the letters B.C. on legal documents.

B.)     The time period “Before Christ” is represented with the letters BC on legal documents. ( No periods with BC)

Sample Ten:

A.)   Herbie’s appointment at the dentist was for 11:00 am, but he forgot all about it. (No periods with the abbreviation for ante meridiem)

B.)   Herbie’s appointment at the dentist was for 11:00 a.m., but he forgot all about it.

Answers:

Letter B is correct for all samples except for samples five and six; both answers are correct for samples five and six.

So, do we have any period geniuses in the crowd? If you think any of my answers are wrong, then you’ll have to argue with 15th edition of The Chicago Manual of Style, over which I labored for over an hour, studying these period options. There are many other period issues addressed in the CMOS, of which I have not the time nor the space to mention. So if you’re into mastering the Period Technique, get your CMOS out of the closet and start studying!

Hopefully, this little bit of information I’ve shared will help you handle the little speck of ink we call a “period” more skillfully the next time you tackle one of your writing projects. If you’re brave enough, go to the Writers of Any Genre group on Facebook, and let us know how you did.

Next time, we’re going to look at the flippant ellipsis.

Happy 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 from publishing companies plus eleven other best-selling authors and the music specialists, Donna and Conrad Krieger.

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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

 (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

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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