Posts Tagged ‘Punctuation’

 What a Difference a Comma Makes!

Which title is correct?

“God Rest You, Merry Gentlemen”

“God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen”

This carol is one of the best-loved Christmas hymns sung all around the world at this time every year. But does the song tell us about merry gentlemen resting or gentlemen who should be resting and merry?

Let’s take a look at the song’s roots:

Although the text was first published in 1833, it might have had its earliest origin among the 16th-century Waits bands (the night watchmen of that time), who travelled round London singing on the street corners and in taverns.

Some hymn arrangers of early versions decided to change the hymn’s meaning by putting the comma in the first line after the word “you,” but contemporary historians have concluded that is an incorrect interpretation.

Let’s take a look at the carol’s lyrics:

The first stanza and chorus go like this:

God rest you merry, gentlemen,

Let nothing you dismay,

For Jesus Christ our Saviour

Was born on Christmas Day:

To save us all from Satan’s power

When we were gone astray.

Refrain :

O tidings of comfort and joy,

Comfort and joy;

O tidings of comfort and joy.


At first glance you would come to this conclusion: It’s a song that depicts the gospel — Christ came to destroy the works of the devil, and now we (or the “gentlemen”) can rest and have comfort and joy. Therefore, all gentlemen can be merry. Right?

Well, not quite. If we trace the original meaning of the word “merry” in the Old English language, it could mean happy. However, it also has a second meaning: “mighty.” How many of you remember reading about Robin Hood and his “merry” men? In that case, the word didn’t mean happy. It meant mighty. Robin Hood’s men were strong and mighty, men to be feared. Therefore, “God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen” really means God rest you mighty (or in God’s strength), gentlemen.

I think you agree that knowing the origin of the words of this carol makes a huge difference in its meaning. So the next time you sing “God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen,” remember where the comma is and how meaningful that one little punctuation mark is. And we, as mighty men and women, can make a difference this Christmas by living our faith before those around us. Amid the holly and the tinsel, we can tell them that Christ was born to die and that placing our faith in Him grants us life in heaven forever.




Have a wonderful Christmas season!



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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:

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 to Florida 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 aren’t 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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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!


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.



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.





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

(Post Number Ten)

“The Quirky Quotation Marks”

“What can I say about quotation marks?” Marsha says.  “If you are a fiction writer, you need to master the technique of using quotation marks. However, over the last few years, many publishing companies of nonfiction works have asked authors to incorporate ‘fiction’ techniques in their manuscript. That entails using quotation marks, mostly in dialogue, correctly.”

Of the many times I’ve seen quotation marks used incorrectly, the following example is the most misuse I’ve noticed:

Bad Example: Bert yelled to his son Raymond in the back yard, “Throw the ball, son”.

Folks tend to want to put that period AFTER the quotation marks at the end, but it is incorrect. The proper usage is as such:

Good Example One: Bert yelled to his son Raymond in the back yard, “Throw the ball, son.

The same goes for the use of quotation marks with question marks and exclamation points:

Good Example Two: After lunch Eva asked her friend Bonnie, “Would you like to go shopping?”

Good Example Three:  When Bobby saw his puppy fall off the sofa, he yelled, “Watch out, Scruffy!”

Another frequent abuse of quotation marks occurs in a series when words that need the marks are listed. The following example shows how the list should be correctly written:

Good Example Four:  Last year, our writers’ conference featured workshops entitled “Write an Irresistible Query,” “Kiddie Lit for Toddlers,” and “It’s Time for an Agent.”

But what about double quotes in the same sentence? You might be thinking, How do I write them?  Well, here’s how the CMOS says to use double quotes:

Good Example Five:  Barney said to his cousin Elmo, “You must have heard cousin Heathcliffe say, ‘We’re going to the shore on Friday.’ ” (Note the period, the single quote, a space, and a double quote.)

I’m sure it is no surprise to you that there are exceptions to using quotation marks with other punctuation marks. The English language is one big exception, if you ask me!

Anyway, here are some examples of when the quotation marks go INSIDE the ending punctuation mark:

Example One:  Harry subscribed to “The Pennsylvania Magazine”; he loves the pictures. (A work that needs quotes around its title)

Example Two:  The sergeant asked Private Botting to state his “name and serial number”; he forgot his serial number and got in big trouble. (A phrase that is a direct quote)

Example Three:  Which of Shakespeare’s characters said, “All the world’s a stage”? (A question asked with a quoted statement within it)

Example Four: Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (Matt. 5:3).  (The period follows the Bible reference.)

Example Five:  I can’t believe Pauline said, “I’m leaving tomorrow at five in the morning”! (The exclamatory statement was made by “I” not “Pauline.” Therefore, the exclamation point comes AFTER Pauline’s quote.)

Example Six:  How can teachers motivate students to learn who constantly say, “I hate school”? (The entire sentence is a question; therefore the question mark comes AFTER the quotation mark at the end.)

There are other uses of quotation marks and exceptions, but I’m thinking this blog is enough to confuse even the best writers in the land. If you have doubts, go online to the CMOS and check out your quotation mark question firsthand.

Next time we’ll look at perky parentheses and bold brackets, which will just about wrap up our series of blogs offering punctuation advice for writers. Then we’ll move on to another venue in the fascinating world of writing and publishing.

Happy writing!


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

(Post Number Seven)

The Flippant Ellipsis

 The little ellipsis, that is, three little periods in a row … is a quirky little punctuation form that tricks many a good writer, mainly because the writer might be confusing its use with other punctuation marks that would be more effective.

Let’s take a look at the most common uses for the ellipsis and some examples of how to use it properly. By the way, the plural of ellipsis is ellipses.

A Beginning and End of a Quote

Since it is assumed that you are taking a quote from a larger context in most cases, the ellipsis points should NOT be placed before or after a scripture verse or quoted passage unless the quote is a sentence fragment:

Example One:   “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9  (No ellipsis is placed anywhere because the verse is quoted in its entirety.)

Example Two:   “For by grace are ye saved through faith ….” Ephesians 2:8a  (Ellipsis WITH a period)

Yes that’s right. When you use an ellipsis at the end of a sentence fragment, and it is followed by either a reference, another complete sentence or verse, add a period to the ellipsis.

Fragmented Speech

This is probably the most popular use for the ellipsis. The three little dots should be used to indicate faltering or fragmented speech that implies uncertainty, confusion, distress, and the like:

Example One:  “The horse … it’s running away … with the child on its back!” yelled Tom.

Example Two:  “Oh, dear, … my new glasses … where did I put them?” Bill asked his wife.

Example Three:  When Sue woke up she asked, “Where am I … huh … was I dreaming?”


Use an ellipsis anytime you are writing a sentence, passage, or Bible verse that you’ve purposely omitted part. The ellipsis in this structure is used most often with scripture verses:

Example One:  Psalm 30:5 states, “For his anger endureth but a moment; … weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.”

Example Two:  “… but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation ….”            (1 Timothy 4:12b)

When to Use the Period at the End of the Ellipsis (Known as the Four-dot Ellipsis)

Besides using the four-dot ellipsis at the end of a quoted scripture verse as in the previous example, remember to use it when you have another complete sentence following the fragment and ellipsis:

Example One:  “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for …. Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.”   (Hebrews 11:1, 3)

Example Two:  Jerry couldn’t help wondering why Jane was so late for her rendezvous with him at the restaurant. I hope she didn’t forget …. No, she didn’t forget, he told himself.  She’s just running a little late, as usual.

Spacing with an Ellipsis

Whenever using an ellipsis in the middle of a sentence, put a space before and after it:

Example:  “You may go out for recess … if you’ve finished your seatwork,” the teacher told her class.

Whenever using an ellipsis at the beginning or ending of a quote, do NOT insert a space between the ellipsis and the quotation mark:

Example One:  “Well, I believe so ….”

Example Two:  “… as I said before.”

So, there you have examples of the most common uses for the ellipsis. Just remember that when using it at the end of a sentence or a quote, the ellipsis indicates confusion or uncertainty. If you’re trying to portray a character’s speech abruptly interrupting another character’s speech, then use an em dash not an ellipsis:

Example:  Fred chased after his little brother Tommy in the yard and yelled, “You little brat! I’m going to—”

“You’re going to what?” Tommy sassed back.

(And remember to put your quotation mark at the end first then backspace to insert the em dash or your quotation mark will be backwards.)

Using an ellipsis at the end of Fred’s dialogue would indicate that he was thinking about something else to say and had time to do so. But that’s not the implication here. We want to imply that Tommy cut Fred’s words right off.

I trust this will help you to decide to be a little more daring in your writing and use an ellipsis once in a while. Different punctuation marks do make a difference. They bring your writing style to life and keep your readers hooked!

Next time we’ll look at the itinerant italics.

Happy writing!


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

(Post Number Six)

The Punctual Period


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 ofNorth 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 inAlbany.

B.)     Margie just moved to 678 NW Lane Street inAlbany. (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.



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!



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