Category: Punctuation

My favorite form of punctuation…

I love ellipses, so much so that my 3-year-old recognizes and gleefully exclaims, “Ellipses!” whenever she sees the delightful series of dots. I actually overuse them, and sometimes I use them incorrectly, but ellipsis points are fun!

But, like most everything else in the world of grammar and punctuation, there are some rules to follow. Granted, ellipses are basically a style issue, so you can exercise a little creativity with them.

According to the Harbrace College Handbook:

“Use ellipsis points sparingly to mark a reflective pause or hestitation.”

For example, “Love, like other emotions, has causes…and consequences.”

According to the Chicago Manual of Style:

“Ellipsis points suggest faltering or fragmented speech accompanied by confusion, insecurity, distress, or uncertainty.”

For example, “The ship…oh my God!…it’s sinking!”

The most important thing is there are always three dots. Not two, and certainly not 5 or 6. That’s one of the biggest mistakes I see in people’s writing.

Also notice that it’s correct to put punctuation before the ellipses, as in the example above. Likewise, it’s not wrong to put punctuation after them when necessary (like a period, so there are 4 dots). Just watch out for those commas (tricky little devils, I know).

For example (also from the Chicago Manual of Style):

“But…but…,” said Tom.

(The only reason Tom got that comma was because it was at the end of speech.)

On the other hand, you don’t want to say,

“Well…, I plan to do some shopping…, if that’s okay with you…?”

(The commas here are unnecessary and incorrect.)

See why I love ellipses? There aren’t that many rules, and you kind of pick and choose when you want to use them. Of course, I’m not talking about using ellipses when omitting text from quotes (then there are a whole other set of rules).

So have fun using those 3 cute dots whenever you feel it’s appropriate. Just don’t go overboard….

Do you write like you talk?

944951 ico sp 2

When you write a blog post or a marketing piece for a client, do you write like you talk?

Generally, I write Crayon Writer the way I think and speak. You may notice the words “so”, “but”, and “and” a lot, for instance.

I also write like a writer (or maybe I think like a writer). When I talk or think, I see the commas, periods, hyphens, and apostrophes in my head. Weird, huh?

Is it a good idea to write like you talk? I think it depends on how correctly you speak or think. If you know that you’re prone to mixing up the subjective and objective tenses, or you know that you don’t spell while you’re thinking, you might want to take a step back after you write something down. A second pair of eyes might be a good idea, even.

But if you know the basic rules of grammar and punctuation , there’s nothing wrong with sounding like a normal, everyday human when you write. Complete with sentence fragments, run-on thoughts, and even colloquial errors.

Above all, have fun when you write. If you spend too much time nitpicking you may sound like a robot. At the same time, make sure others can understand what you mean in your writing.

Here’s an example of a writing faux pas. I saw a truck the other day, driven, I presume, by a woman. There was a cute message written on the window that took me quite a while to figure out. The layout and the missing punctuation were hard to decipher.

Silly boys trucks

are for girls.

Huh?

First I thought, “What are silly boys’ trucks? I guess she’s driving a silly boy’s truck. Interesting. But why are silly boys’ trucks for girls? Why are the trucks silly?”

Finally it dawned on me that she was mimicking the Trix commercial, “Silly rabbit! Tricks are for kids!”

So she did two things wrong. There should have been some punctuation after the word “boys” and the “trucks are for girls” should have been on a line by themselves at the least.

So (didn’t I tell you I use that word a lot?), be careful when you write like you talk, but have fun! You won’t be getting a grade on your blog, but your clients may have something to say about it if you get it wrong.

Copywriting tips of the week

110101_please_tip_your_server.jpg

Lately I’ve been noticing a lot of the same types of writing mistakes across the blogosphere.

I’m sure most of the bloggers know the correct words to use and the proper grammatical techniques. Writing online kind of makes us lazy, so we bend the rules a little (some writers seem to just throw them out completely).

This past week I decided to take note of some of the common offenders. And as I explore the blogosphere, I’ll be writing a “writing tips of the week” post from time to time.

On to the writing tips for this week!

1. Complimenting someone is saying something nice about them. Complementing, though, is when two or more items go well together.

2. When you write pretty long sentences, try saying them out loud. Even though commas don’t always go at a “natural breath” point, chances are you do have to pause at some point during the sentence. So be sure to use a comma somewhere. But be careful. I don’t know which is worse; using commas all over the place or not using any at all. Watch those commas!

3. Try not to overuse certain words in a post, unless you’re trying to use a keyword on purpose to boost your SEO. Use your thesaurus, or just go back and check to see if a certain word is repeated 5, 10, or even 15 times in a 100-word post. Nothing’s more annoying that the annoying habit of using a word that becomes annoying after a while.

Lesson 2: When you write, commas are your friends

Let’s begin Lesson 2 of our series on commas. If you missed Lesson 1, you can find it here.

Lesson 2 

When you want to introduce a sentence, commas are there to help you do it right!

A Few Definitions 

I know I said we weren’t going to focus on labels. But it will make this easier to follow.

You remember from grade school that

an adverb is a word that modifies a verb, adjective, or other adverbs (and other things, but we’ll worry about that if we have to). Basically, adverbs tell when, where, and how something happened.

Commas and Adverb Clauses 

Isn’t it cool that

a whole clause (subject and verb) can serve as an adverb?

That’s what we’re dealing with here. Clauses that are adverbs. They’re called, ironically, adverb clauses.

Introducing the Comma 

When an adverb clause begins (introduces) a sentence, and the second part of the sentence is a clause that can stand alone (independent clause), a comma comes after the adverb clause.

Just like the title of this article.

When you write, commas are your friends.”

Notice how the second part of the sentence is complete without the introductory adverb clause. That’s why we call it an independent clause. And notice how the introductory part tells us when commas are our friends.

The Exceptions 

There are exceptions, of course. That’s why commas are so tricky. It seems like every rule can be broken!

You don’t have to use a comma if the clause is short.

Put yourself in your readers’ shoes, though. If they might stumble or have to think too hard, you might want to go ahead and use the comma.

When deciding whether or not to monetize his brand new blog, he spent countless hours poring over dozens of other sites.”

Notice how unsightly it would be to omit the comma. Reading should be easy. Careful use of punctuation helps things move smoothly.

If you look inward you may find the answer is simple.”

Omitting the comma here is no problem, but you can add it after “If you look inward” if you feel like it.

Adverb Clauses at the End of the Sentence

Sometimes an adverb clause may conclude a sentence when you’re writing it.”

You don’t usually need a comma after the independent clause, though.

Just like in the first sentence of this paragraph.

Notice how “when” affects the meaning of “Sometimes an adverb clause may conclude a sentence.”

But:

My daughter is growing up in uncertain times, when violence and global warming seem to increasingly worrisome.”

Here, the adverb clause doesn’t change the meaning of the first part. So a comma works (if you want it).

That’s the end of Lesson 2. Please let me know what you think so far! Many more to come.

Lesson 1: Commas are essential, but how do you use them?

Commas are probably the most misunderstood punctuation mark. But, next to the period, they’re the most important.

So what’s all the confusion about?

Remember when you were an elementary school student? (Just a few years ago for some of you, but decades for others).

You probably were taught that you put a comma whenever you pause. Well, this can make for some horrifying sentences, filled with unnecessary commas. Or long sentences with no commas at all for those who don’t breathe when they’re talking.

On top of that, it depends on the type of sentence.

Even more confusing, the rules aren’t definite. There’s art involved. And everyone has their own style. There are some basic rules that will keep you on track, though. And make your writing appealing to almost everyone. 

Are commas really all that important? In a word: Yes! Reading is very uncomfortable when you have to think about what a sentence means. Commas make sentences flow, and help convey an author’s true meaning.

So let me reveal some of the secrets of the comma in a series of articles.

Lesson 1

Okay. Let’s get started. Here’s the situation.

Your sentence is long, and it can actually be broken down into two separate sentences.

Additionally, just like the sentence above, a special word connects the two pieces. (That special word happens to be called a conjunction, but we won’t worry about labels.)

What qualifies as that special word?

Think of the words “Foreigner” “and” “Soviet“. Then think “Forornor and Sobutyet.” Huh? Forornor = For, Or, Nor. And = And. Sobutyet = So, But, Yet. (Weird, I know. I’m just trying to make commas fun!) 

Those are the 7 conjunctions. For, Or, Nor, And, So, But, Yet. 

So, anytime one of those words connects two complete sentences, throw a comma right before the connecting word. Why before, you ask? Well, you need to take a breath before you join anything…whether it’s a club, your life partner, or two sentences.

Some examples:

“I’m going to start applying for retail jobs, but I don’t know if I want to stand up all day.”

“Blogging is one of the most fun things I’ve ever done, yet it can be a lot of hard work.”

With me so far? Here’s where commas can throw you a curve (no pun intended).

The more common joining words are and, but, and or. Right? If one of the two separate sentences is short, and a common joining word connects them, you can choose to throw out the comma.

“She ate the pie and it made her feel surprisingly happy.”

“Blogging is different but I like it more than I thought I would.”

On the other hand, if your two sentence parts are extremes, or if one part has its own commas, you can use a semicolon instead.

“Trees, both old and young, offer life-giving oxygen to our earth; yet we continue to destroy them.”

Did you already know these rules? Do you have any examples of poor comma usage to share? Stay tuned for Lesson 2 in the days ahead.