I recently had the opportunity to guest post on Jami Gold’s fabulous writing blog. She has a ton of helpful information for writers, from beginner to pro. And she let me talk about one of my favorite topics: grammar.
But don’t start sweating. I hate diagramming sentences too. Instead, when I write about grammar, I keep things upbeat, practical, and simple.
Here’s a taste of the post, with a link to follow:
As Jami has pointed out, it’s worthwhile having a copy editor take a look at your manuscript. Poor grammar can interrupt the flow of your story, and no matter how good you are with language and grammar, we all make mistakes.
But you know what? Some mistakes I see in manuscripts are easily fixed by the author, if they know what to look for. Since no copy editor is above missing something themselves, and some copy editors offer discounts for clean manuscripts, it makes sense for you to correct what you can.
Let’s talk about four common issues I see in manuscripts and how you can quickly edit them yourself.
So a week and a half ago, I wrote a post on Blogging: What’s the Point? And then I skipped a post on Sunday. Which might have looked like I was backing away from blogging, but honestly, I just flat-out missed it.
Yet I have been thinking more and more about my blog and what I want to offer. So without further adieu, I’m giving this a shot!
Wednesday Word Tip
For a long time on my blog, I had Wednesday Words and then Amazing Word Wednesdays in which I gave grammar tips, explored words and phrases, and tried to make the hodgepodge language of American English semi-understandable. I’ve had a few people wistfully refer to those posts, with almost a nudge-nudge in their comments. And I appreciate that! I guess it means I was doing something right.
In the interest of time and to reach more people, I’ve decided to try out a Wednesday Word Tip — which will be a quick video with a vocabulary word, a phrase, or a grammar usage highlighted and explained. It could also be a book-related video. We’ll just see how this goes…
We’re supposed to be all wrapped up by tomorrow, but I will probably need until the end of the week to feel really good about things.
1. Finish editing Sharing Hunter, young adult contemporary novel. So. Very. Close. My read-through showed a few issues, but nothing that stopped me cold. I’m tweaking now and super-excited about this story!
2. Edit, polish, and release two more short stories in my Paranormal Playground series. So let’s just move this goal to the next round, shall we? 😉
3. Read 12 books. Read Sass and Serendipity by Jennifer Ziegler and Unleashed by Rachel Lacey. That makes 13 books for the round!
4. Attend RWA Conference and Day of YA in San Antonio and follow-up as needed. Just about done. A thread or two still dangling, but I can tie it all up pretty easily.
What do you think of videos and vlogging? What word tips would you like me to cover? And how was your week?
Among the words listed are some I’ve used with fair frequency, like alacrity, egregious, gratuitous, hubris, poignant, sycophant, and veracity. But there are plenty I almost never use, like copacetic, fatuous, insipid, misanthrope, polymath, and unctuous — even though I know that they mean. (I won’t talk about the ones I had to look up!)
But there are plenty of other words I use, which maybe we don’t use quite enough. Here’s my own list of 10 words you might want to include in your vocabulary:
Boondocks.I thought everybody used this word, until I recently had a teenager read a story of mine and comment that she didn’t know that word and didn’t think anyone in her age cohort did. *sigh* It means way out there in isolated country. Like “I had to drive an hour outside of town to reach his lone shack out in the boondocks.” Although I’m more likely to use it as in, “Where is my car in this mall parking lot? Oh, yeah. I parked out in the boondocks.”
Conniption (Fit). So the word is conniption, but I never say it without immediately following with the word fit. What’s a conniption fit? Well, conniption means the full range of hysterics. So a conniption fit is what you have when you discover your two-timing boyfriend is at it again or your children have left another mess in the middle of your living room or the election ballot once again provides two completely unacceptable choices.
Eschatology. Ever wonder when the world will come to an end and how? Then, you might be intrigued by eschatology, a branch of theology that deals with the end of the world’s history and/or humankind. It may sound a little depressing, but it’s quite interesting to hear all the theories of what a grand finale might look like.
Flabbergasted. Why go for simply “surprised” when you can amp it up and say you’re flabbergasted? Synonyms include “astonished,” “perplexed,” and “amazed.”
Gobsmacked. Need something even more than flabbergasted? Hello, gobsmacked. You gotta love a word that sounds like its meaning. Gobsmacked is like “surprised” on steroids. When you just can’t believe something, you’re gobsmacked.
Hippopotami. Sure, you say hippopotamus, but do you look for opportunities to say hippopotami? Personally, I’m not entirely happy if I see a single hippo; it just sort of takes away from the pronunciation fun of punctuating that final long i. You can also extend the fun with other -us to -i words, such as cacti and octopi and radii and alumni. (Yes, I know you can also say hippopotamuses, but where’s the fun in that? 😉 )
That last entry is in honor of “Hip Jenny,” who is recovering from recent hip surgery.
Lackadaisical.Welcome to summer with teenagers! However, this word gets used in my house throughout the year. It means lazy, listless, idle, unambitious, slothful. You may live with someone who qualifies as lackadaisical or have a few days when you meet that definition yourself.
Persnickety.Got a nitpicking, finicky person in your life? This word entered my routine vocabulary with the arrival of my second son and his picky eating habits. But persnickety has come in rather handy in a number of other situations, when someone is a bit too fussy about this or that.
Rambunctious. Anyone who has children or has been to a rock concert needs this word. Google’s dictionary defines it as “uncontrollably exuberant; boisterous.” If you’re trying to imagine this word in action, just think Chuck E. Cheese. Pretty much everything going on in there describes rambunctious.
Surreptitious. I likely hear this word in mysteries more than any other place. Which makes sense, since it means “done in a secret way,” or on the sly. Surreptitious brings to my mind such actions as peeking, sneaking, and spying. That guilty pleasure of yours? Do that surreptitiously.
Which of these words do you use or want to add to your vocabulary? And what words do you use with some frequency that you don’t think we all use enough?
Sarcasm often gets a bad wrap. Look up the word sarcasm on Google, and this is the first definition you’ll see: “the use of irony to mock or convey contempt.”
Indeed, one can be sarcastic with a mean motive. But what many people tend to call sarcasm today is really comic irony. Perhaps a better definition for modern usage is the first one given by Merriam-Webster: “the use of words that mean the opposite of what you really want to say especially in order to insult someone, to show irritation, or to be funny.”
Yeah, those last two are what I do. Not really the first.
In case you need some alternatives for the word sarcastic, here I come to the rescue!
Snarky. This has become my favorite. Although around since 1906, it’s been used more often in recent years. It derives from a word meaning “snort,” which is about the way a good snarky comment can come across.
Sarky. In case that word above just has too many letters, you can go with the British (or more specifically, Cockney) slang version of sarcastic — sarky. Which really just sounds like you’re too lazy to use three syllables and shortened it to two.
Quippish. You know what a quip is — “a clever usually taunting remark.” But did you know there’s an adjective version? Yep, it’s quippish. It’s not often used or even included in some dictionaries, but we can bring it back into fashion.
Witty. Let’s face it. If you’re good at sarcasm, you’re witty, which is defined as “showing or characterized by quick and inventive verbal humor.” You can be witty-mean or witty-funny, and that part is your choice.
But if you’re looking for someplace to celebrate your sarcastic wit, you can share your sarcasm with me or you can check out the Sarcasm Society (also on Facebook).
And now here’s my un-sarcastic report on my progress for A Round of Words in 80 Days, the writing challenge that knows you have a life.
1. Read 12 books. I read No More Christian Nice Girl: When Just Being Nice–Instead of Good–Hurts You, Your Family, and Your Friends by Paul Coughlin and Jennifer D. PhD Degler (nonfiction obviously). And I’m two-thirds through Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight Swain. 9 2/3 of 12 finished!
2. Finish editing SHARING HUNTER, a young adult contemporary novel. Yay, I got quite a bit of plotting done this week! I’m working on summarizing scenes and seeing where I need to beef up and where I need to press delete. Call this week a win! (Finally.)
3. Edit one short story to publication quality. I found two teenage girls to read the short story and give their feedback. Once I get their comments, I’ll finish editing and polishing. On hold.
4. Publish and promote two short stories. My Sister’s Demon is available on Amazon and coming soon to Barnes & Noble. Half done!
5. Stay on top of ROW80 sponsor duties. Visited 7 blogs this week. Lots of great progress and exciting news out there! Done.
So are you a sarcastic person? What word do you use to refer to yourself or others who use comic, or abrasive, irony? And how was your week?
P.S. I wasted a ton of time enjoyed spending time creating a superhero, which you can do as well at Marvel.com.
Welcome BACK to Amazing Words Wednesday. I took a hiatus for a bit while working on some other projects, but I’m back to walk us through the labyrinth of language to see what we can find.
Today’s post, though, is really about what we would not find. Language and grammar rules are not etched in stone. They can change as need and usage dictates. Now this doesn’t mean that Jane Citizen gets to ignore proper grammar and make up her own rules. The whole point of grammar and punctuation is to facilitate communication, which requires some mutual parameters. Just as we have road rules to make sure we get where we want to go, grammar and punctuation help us achieve our goal of effectively communicating and receiving messages.
But I’ve got a few suggestions for punctuation I’d like to see changed.
Drop the spaces between ellipses dots. The standard for using ellipses is to insert spaces between the words and dots, as follows:
“We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be . . . we shall never surrender.” – Winston Churchill
Have you noticed that accepted style finally changed to nix the two spaces between sentences in favor of a single space? Scalable fonts allowed better spacing, making the additional space unnecessary.
Likewise, I suggest that the extra spaces between ellipses are unnecessary and a real pain when dealing with line breaks. It would save time and assist formatting to finally drop the spaces between ellipses dots.
Add a comma before “because.” For reasons I have never fully understood, the standard has been to insert a comma before a conjunction in a compound sentence EXCEPT when using the word “because.” So I would write:
“She shirked her duty, but I wasn’t surprised by her laziness.” YET . . .
“She shirked her duty because she was lazy.”
Why is there no comma before “because”? It’s one of those rules that simply doesn’t make sense to me. Grammar works best when it’s consistent, so could we please add a comma before “because”? It would make the rule consistent across the board, alleviating the need for poor explanations for this exception.
Adopt a punctuation mark covering both question and exclamation. How many times have you seen this someone’s writing:
There are times when a question is indeed exclaimed. As in:
“What were you thinking?!”
“You want me to go into the woods where the serial killer is?!”
“You like roaches?!”
You’re really supposed to pick one or the other. If a question is exclaimed, grammar experts say to use the exclamation point, and we’ll all figure out it’s a question. There is a whole other punctuation mark we could use. It’s called the interrobang, and it gets rid of any confusion and that moment of the author wondering just where the line is drawn between questioning and exclaiming. Let’s use it.
Get rid of the comma with “also” and “too.” This has started to disappear, but it’s still common enough to see a sentence written as “She ordered a piece of cake, too.” It’s grammatically correct to include a comma before the words too and also.
But it’s superfluous. The meaning of the words too and also are so clear as to not be confused with other meanings such that a comma is required to set them off. I simply don’t think we need it.
Now it’s your turn: What do you think of my suggestions? What punctuation changes would you like to see?
Today is Amazing Words Wednesday, the day we enter the labyrinth of language and see what we can find. As a matter of fact, I turned a corner and ran into my favorite vocabulary teacher, Miss Spelling. I convinced her to share another lesson with us regarding words that are commonly misspelled. Welcome back, Miss Spelling!
Thanks for the invitation. Since I was last here, I’ve been researching some icky, sticky, tricky words. You know, those words that somehow stick in language as being spelled one way when in fact they are spelled a different way. What do I mean? I shall point a few examples today and help everyone learn the correct spellings.
Chomping champing at the bit. “Chomping at the bit” is not literally wrong because you can find reputable sources defending its usage. However, the original saying, and thus preferred spelling, is “champing at the bit.” Champing is biting or chewing noisily, so this phrase refers to a horse biting on the bit in its mouth, eager to go. If you are in conversation, chomping is probably fine. However, if you are writing this phrase into an essay or novel, go with champing.
Peaks piques interest. I have mentioned this word confusion before. However, it bears repeating because it is one of those mistakes that has been particularly sticky in common usage. Your interest may peak at some point–meaning it reaches its climax. But what one usually means with this phrase is that your interest has piqued–pique meaning to excite or to arouse.
For all intensive purposes intents and purposes. When said quickly, “intents and purposes” may sound much like “intensive purposes.” Surely, this was the impetus for the mix-up. However, the meaning of this phrase is for any and all reasons–described as “intents and purposes.” What exactly would an intensive purpose be anyway?
Heighth height. One might assume that if it’s length and width, then surely it must be heighth. No, indeed. There is no “h” in height. Toss out that extra letter, and punctuate that final “t.” Then you’ll have the correct word: “height.”
With baited bated breath. Unless you have placed a fishing lure on your oxygen supply, your breath is not baited. The word bate is not commonly used except with this idiom. Thus, many people assume that it is the more common word, bait. However, to bate means to restrain; thus, the phrase “with bated breath.”
That’s it today! A short class, and you all did beautifully!
Thanks, Miss Spelling! We’ll be sure to keep those icky, sticky, tricky words in mind.
Have you had trouble with these words or phrases? What words do have difficulty remembering how to spell?
Welcome to Amazing Words Wednesday when we enter the labyrinth of language and see what we can find. Today I’ve got my grammar hat on.
I don’t really own one of those, but I should. Because I want to talk about pronouns. When do you use the pronouns I, he, she, we, they and when do you use me, him, her, us, them?
Remember in school when students used to speak up in class and say things like, “Me and you can do the project,” and the teacher would interrupt with “You and I“? It got to the point where it seemed like it was never “you and me” and always “you and I.”
So let’s talk about when you should use I and when you should use me.
Linking verb. “It is I!” Yes, believe or not, that is correct. Long before cell phones and even caller ID, we used to get phone calls at the house and someone might ask, “May I speak to Julie?” I would answer, “This is she.” The reaction I got from the boy calling indicated whether I should keep dating him or relegate him to the wouldn’t-know-good-grammar-if-it-slapped-him discard pile. (Just kidding.)
Honestly, it does sound a little weird because we’re used to hearing “It is me” and “This is her.” But a sentence with a linking verb is like the symmetric property in math: If A = B, then B = A. Since there is no action verb, the linking verb functions like an equal sign. So if “She is this,” then “This is she.” We certainly wouldn’t say, “Her is this.”
When there is only a linking verb, even when the pronoun is at the end, the proper word is I, he, she,we, they. So it’s “What a jerk is he!” and “The coolest girls are we!”
And since that sounds weird, you could always change up the order of the words or the sentence to flow better, like “What a jerk he is!” and “We are the coolest girls!”
Comparison. “The tree is taller than we.” “Everyone is better dressed than he.” “No one is as happy as I.” Why do these comparisons call for the subjective pronoun (I, he, she, we, they)?
Because the final verb is not stated, but rather implied. If you really finished the sentences, they would be “The tree is taller than we are.” “Everyone is better dressed than he is.” “No one is as happy as I am.” You certainly wouldn’t say, “The tree is taller than us are.”
Direct object. Flashback grammar lesson! (Stop groaning in the back row there.) A direct object is the object at which the action is directed. Since I know that didn’t clear it up, here are some examples:
Hunger makes my stomach growl. “My stomach” is the direct object of “makes.”
My stomach wants breakfast. “Breakfast” receives the action of “wants.”
For breakfast, I eat bacon. “Bacon” is the object of the action “eat.”
Bacon makes me fat. “Me” is what gets fat when I eat too much bacon.
Direct objects are only present with action verbs because they receive the action. And they are always me, him, her,us, and them. The alternatives of I, he, she,we, and they are actors, not receivers, of action in a sentence; they are the ones that do things. Me, him, her, us, and they are acted upon. So if the action is directed at a pronoun, make sure you use me, him, her, us, and they:
He kissed me.
I kissed him.
Kisses? I like them.
Kissing thrills us.
Object of a preposition. A preposition is a word that expresses spatial, temporal, or other relationship, such as with, in, around, for, below, under, during, etc. When the pronoun is the object of a preposition, it’s me, him, her, us, them. Example: “Joe went to the store with Anna and me.”
If you’re unsure, you can easily tell by removing the other object of the preposition (in this example, “Anna”): “Joe went to the store with me.” It’s obviously “me” in this situation, but it might be less obvious with a longer sentence and an additional object in the mix. If you’re not sure, try it out with each pronoun and you’ll likely hear what you need to do.
When you’re not sure what the proper pronoun should, shift things around in the sentence and try out different forms. It might help you to determine the appropriate choice.
Or just check back here for these tips!
Have you struggled with pronoun usage? Do you have any sentences from your writing you want to check with me?
And if you’re looking for extensive copy editing, click on the tab above. I’d be happy to consult with you about your project.
Welcome to Amazing Words Wednesday, when we enter the labyrinth of language and see what we can discover together. I have a short post today with resources for anyone in the midst of writing or editing–whether that’s a novel, an essay, a resume, or a love note from the little red-haired girl.
Does anyone even use a paper dictionary anymore? I have one on my shelf, but I am far more likely to look up the definition of a word online. To that end, here are links to internet dictionaries.
Merriam-Webster Dictionary. The first American dictionary was written in 1806 by Noah Webster. When he died, George and Charles Merriam purchased publishing rights. Since then, we’ve had Merriam-Webster–which is now a subsidiary of Encyclopaedia Brittanica. (See Merriam-Webster on Wikipedia.)
Dictionary.com. Dictionary.com uses several sources for its word meanings, including Random House and Heritage dictionaries.
OED Online. For the dedicated language lover, there is always the Oxford English Dictionary online. Recognized as the definitive source for all-things-English, you will have to pay, however, for this privilege. Annual subscriptions for individuals are $295.
Synonyms are the embodiment of the call for “the same…but different.”
Thesaurus.com. Run by the same people who brought us Dictionary.com, this is my go-to place for What’s that word? I can’t think of it. It’s kind of like “small,” but not small… Or when you’ve typed “tingled” so many times in your manuscript that your beta reader is uncomfortable, and you know you need a different word with a similar meaning.
Roget’s Thesaurus. Roget.org provides the 1911 edition of Roget’s Thesaurus online, from Project Gutenberg. The site is easy to use, but just note that newer word usages won’t be there. Most word meanings remain the same, but the English language is fluid and some things change.
A word about Synonym.com. It also promises to provide, as one might expect, synonyms for words you input. However, the database is entirely based on Microsoft Word so you’re not getting much there, plus the site is so riddled with advertisements that I clicked off within seconds of my arrival.
I also keep a Rhyming Dictionary, published by Random House, on my bookshelf. I have written several poems and songs, and that little dictionary came in super-handy for those projects. Even writing prose, however, I sometimes want a rhyming word. Check out the following.
RhymeZone. RhymeZone allows you to find both exact rhymes and near rhymes. For instance, exact rhymes for “corn” would be “born” or “torn,” but near rhymes include “barn” and “turn.” Results are categorized by one-syllable, two-syllable, etc., making it easy to also find the rhythm you’re seeking.
Rhymer. Rhymer is also easy to use and you can filter your search by type: such as first syllable, last syllable, and double-syllable. If you find a word in the rhyming results you’d rather use, you can also click it and find rhymes for the selected word.
English language usage can be confusing, and we all need to look up a grammar question from time to time. I have several books on my shelf for reference, but I also go online.
Grammarly Handbook. Grammarly advertises itself as the “World’s most accurate grammar checker.” The site has specific articles on grammar, punctuation, mechanics, and style–for instance, “Prepositions of Spatial Relationship” and “Quotations within a Quotation.” The Grammarly software, or rather plug-in, can be added to existing software to check your text for grammar and style, as well as checking for possible plagiarism. I haven’t used this feature, so I don’t know whether it’s worth it. I will say that nearly anything has to be better than Microsoft Word’s anemic efforts to master grammar and language usage.
Chicago Manual of Style. In addition to my well-worn paperback Strunk and White, this site is my usual place to check current rules of grammar and style. I have a subscription, but at $35 a year, I figured it well worth my investment.
Grammar Girl. I am also partial to Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing. Grammar Girl, aka Mignon Fogarty, covers a wide range of grammar, language, and writing topics, and also answers questions sent to her by listeners and readers. You can search her articles for an answer to your specific question.
Your turn. What are your favorite resources for checking your words?
Not good at this yourself? If your manuscript needs a thorough copy-edit by someone who knows and loves spelling, grammar, punctuation, and all of that stuff, check out my Copy Editing services. Oh, and if you find a mistake in this post, let me know. 🙂
Have you ever written a sentence and stopped to think, “Is it that or which? Which? That?” Sorting out which/that and who/whom can leave even the most grammar conscious scratching their heads. However, today on Amazing Words Wednesday, we’re going to try to sort it all out.
Let’s start first with deciding whether you need to use that/which or who/whom. How about the following sentence?
The guy ____(who/that) asked me out looks a lot like Hugh Jackman.
Would you fill the blank with who or that?
If you are certain that it is a person, use who. It’s more specific. In conversation, you may find people using that, but when writing you can be more accurate.
But what about an organization? The Supreme Court is now treating corporations like persons. Should the English language do the same?
The company ____ (who/that) hired me is owned by Disney.
Did you use who or that?
In spite of the Citizens v. United decision by the Supreme Court, companies are not people. They are not who. A company is a collective noun, or more specifically a thing, and thus can be referred to as it. For instance, a team is the same way. You would say of a team that it did better this year than last. So the correct choice with a company, team, etc. would be that.
However, we don’t usually even talk that way. To be precise, you may wish to say, “The Texans, who did better this year than last, still didn’t make it to the Super Bowl.” In this case, you have avoided that less precise collective noun and recognized that players (aka people), are really the ones who did well (but not well enough).
Now let’s distinguish when you should use that and when which is more appropriate.
Restrictive versus nonrestrictive is the primary issue here. Clauses within a sentence are restrictive if they are necessary to the meaning of the sentence. In this case, the proper word to use is that. Here are some examples:
The way that he looked at his watch gave me the impression that he wanted this date to end.
The final straw that sent me storming out was when he took a phone call from his ex-girlfriend.
In both cases, the clause in italics is pertinent to the message of the sentence as a whole. It communicates necessary information.
Contrast that with a non-restrictive clause, which provides perhaps interesting but unnecessary information:
He kept looking at his wristwatch, which was a pretentious gold-and-diamond Rolex, throughout our date.
This evening, which reminded me why I hated first dates, made me swear off dating for a good six months…or at least six weeks.
In these examples, the sentence would have the same essential meaning without the italicized phrases, and thus use the word which. It is also why the phrases are set off by commas.
Of course, it isn’t always this easy to spot. Sometimes you may need to pause and ask yourself whether the information is extraneous or integral to your primary meaning. A phrase introduced by which may still be important, even if it isn’t necessary to that particular sentence. Sometimes, it’s a judgment call.
The lights that would indicate someone was home were smashed.
The lights, which would indicate someone was home, were smashed.
Which is right? In this case, I think it’s up to the writer. What meaning do you wish to emphasize? Using that or which gives the reader a subtle clue.
Finally, let’s look at the use of who versus whom. This one is easiest to determine if you use the replacement principle. Who is a subject, like he/she/they. Whom is an object, like him/her/them. So if replacing the word with a specific would require he, she, or they, who is the word you need. If instead, you would use him, her, or them, go with whom.
Who is going to the party? He is going to the party. She is going to the party. They are going to the party.
Whom are they going to the party with? (Or for the sticklers, With whom are they going to the party?) They are going to the party with him. They are going to the party with her. They are going to the party with them.
All too often, the order is what throws us for a loop. Test yourself with this these:
I’ll go out with ________(whoever/whomever) buys me a three-course meal.
_______(Whoever/Whomever) you date will end up as an ex or your lifelong mate.
These are harder, right? I suggest using the same replacement principle, but extending it. Try both out:
I’ll go out with the guy who buys me a three-course meal OR I’ll go out with the guy whom buys me a three-course meal.
Reading it aloud, hopefully you cringed at “whom buys.” So in this example, whoever is the way to go.
The second example can be determined the same way:
The guy who you date will end up as an ex or your lifelong mate OR The guy whom you date will end up as an ex or your lifelong mate.
A little less clear, but it’s whom. You date him, not he. You is clearly the subject and whomever is the object.
By the way, it’s always bugged me: “Who’s zooming who?” (Aretha Franklin, 1985) should really be Who’s zooming whom? He’s zooming her. She’s zooming him. Now, if I could just figure out what zooming means.
Did that clear anything up? Or just confuse you more? Do you have any tricks for keeping who/whom and that/which straight?
Thankfully, she’s returned to explain the proper use of quotation marks. Please welcome back our favorite word nerd professor, Professor Punctuation!
PP: Man, it’s been too long–like we left off with an ellipsis. But hey, I’m here now. So while I sip my cup of doctored java, let’s talk quotation marks.
Quotation marks seem pretty straightforward most of the time. You want to say something, you put the dialogue in the middle of quotation marks:
“Where does your tattoo say?” he asked.
“It reads, ‘I hate tattoos,'” she said. “You know, irony.”
What gets confusing is when you introduce other punctuation along with quotation marks, or you start using quotation marks for titles, or you indicate a wink-wink meaning with quotation marks–like using air quotes if you were conversing. Let’s take a look at these instances.
Quotation Marks with Other Punctuation. The rules are a little different with American and British usage. I’ll cover the Americans and let the Limeys take care of themselves. (They’re more than capable.) As usual, we had to make it a little complicated.
So pay attention closely, or just bookmark this page for later reference–especially that bleary-eyed guy in the back.
Commas and periods always go inside the quotation marks, whether or not they were part of the original quote.
“A true friend is someone who lets you have total freedom to be yourself,” Jim Morrison (comma not in original quote)
Jesus said, “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (periods originally inside quote)
Colons and semicolons won’t appear at the end of a quote, so they go outside the quotation marks.
I recited, “There’s no place like home”: that famous quote from The Wizard of Oz.
Our biology teacher wanted us to read “The Life Cycle of the Plant”; instead, I cracked open my copy of The Catcher in the Rye.
Question marks, exclamation points, and dashes go inside when part of the original and outside when not.
“O happy dagger!” Juliet said.
Who said, “To be or not to be”?
Quotation Marks with Titles. Quotation marks are used to enclose titles of short works–such as short stories, poems, TV episodes, speeches, etc. But NOT longer works, such as books, television series, and films, which should be italicized.
Sometimes it’s hard to tell where a title would fall. For example, when an Oscar speech starts out with the hope that its title could fit in quotes and moves into the world of italics before someone finally, mercifully, sends the smiling girl out to collect the verbose award winner and walk away to the sound of goodbye music. Or when your start writing your brilliant epic novel and suddenly realize that the story worth telling is only about 10,000 words long after all.
But most of the time, we know what would get quotation marks and what would get italics (or in the past, underlining).
“The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost
“Once More, with Feeling” from Buffy, the Vampire Slayer
But NOT “War and Peace” by Leo Tolstoy or “Saw XLIII” (what number are they on?)
Quotation Marks asWink-Wink. Sometimes quotation marks are used to emphasize an ironical use of words. For instance, if your good-for-nothing, drug-dealing cousin offers you some “donuts” with air quotes, he ain’t selling you donuts. Tell him you get high on life and help him find the nearest rehab center.
The quotation marks in such usage indicate a hidden meaning. The word in quotations is a euphemism, substitution, or even the opposite of what the speaker/writer wants you to understand.
People, however, are starting to throw out quotation marks all over the place like they are confetti from your New Year’s party. Thus, this sign is confusing.
Is “No Sitting” really the intended meaning? Did we just get a wink-wink message? Quotation marks here are unnecessary. The sign makers could have used NO SITTING to highlight their point.
Congress is using some “creative” math to work out the issues.
Joan Rivers had some “work” done.
But NOT to the police officer who stopped you: Yeah, there’s just “medication” in that bag.
Quotation Marks with Understood Phrases. One last tip about saying hello, thank you, and other typical phrases in a sentence. There is no need to include quotation marks in a sentence like, “I sent a thank you note.” Yes, the note said “thank you” somewhere in it, but this meaning is less of a quotation and more of a description. The quotation marks just get in the way.
I’m calling to say hello.
We wish you a Merry Christmas.
But NOT: They send their “best wishes” to all of you.
Now that I’ve had a lotta latte and we’ve covered the basics, I need to head home. My main man is waiting for me so that I can “research” my romance novel, Hippie Hubbies Are Heavenly.
JG: Well, on that note I guess we’ll take leave of Professor Punctuation. Our heartfelt thanks for giving us another lesson on the proper use of punctuation.
What other questions do you have for Professor Punctuation about the use of quotation marks? Do you get tripped up anywhere? What do you think about the overuse of unnecessary quotation marks?