Grammar Owl Post Today at Flubs2Fixes!

As the heading indicates, the Grammar Owl has flown over to my new Flubs2Fixes blog for writers, and the first post in the new location is up today. I hope you’ll fly over there, too, and learn about the difference between sometime and some time, and onto and on to. Here’s the link. See you there!

A Word with Beth — I Can Really Get INTO This Grammar Problem!

The Owl heard something on the radio the other day that got his feathers in a twist. To straighten them out again, I said I’d do a post about it. He thought it would be best if I used my own example, though. So, here’s my example. A notice appeared on the school bulletin board: “Whoever ran the gym teacher’s socks up the flagpole should turn himself or herself into the principal immediately.” There’s a problem with that sentence. Do you see what it is? You’ve likely taken note of the capitalized word in the post title, which is a rather blatant hint. The last time I checked, it takes quite a while to become a principal. It isn’t going to happen immediately. We know the student isn’t being asked to transform him or herself into the principal, but that’s what the wording implies. When someone reports to authorities, they don’t turn themselves into the authorities, they turn themselves in to the authorities. There’s a subtle difference, but it’s a difference. Turning something into something else implies transformation or movement. The caterpillar turned into a butterfly. or The car turned into the driveway. (This goes for any verb that goes with into or in, of course, not just ‘turn.’) The salient part of the intent of the example sentence is that the culprit should turn him or herself in. Then it goes on to say to whom the person should report. When in doubt, take the last part of the sentence away and see how it looks and sounds. Will he turn himself in? Or will he turn himself into? This post at Writer’s Digest suggests an easy trick for remembering which to use. Quoting the post: “‘Into’ usually answers the question ‘where?’ while ‘in to’ is generally short for ‘in order to.’” Onto can cause similar problems, although various sources that I consulted suggest that it is becoming more prevalent in American English to use onto where previously a speaker or writer would have used on to. Still, saying “We will drive onto New York this evening” evokes an image of a car perched atop the Empire State Building, having driven right up onto the city. But if you say “We will drive on to New York this evening,” it suggests that your journey will continue to New York. There’s a good test for onto and on to at the Writing Explained blog. Quoting the post: “A good trick to remember on to vs. onto is to mentally say “up” before on in a sentence. If it still makes sense, then onto is probably the correct choice.” By now I suspect you could really get into moving on to other things! If you have a question for the Grammar Owl and me, please mention it in the comments, or send an email to mail (at) flubs2fixes (dot) com. We thrive on questions!   READER SURVEY: If you haven’t already completed my Reader Survey, please take a couple of minutes to read the post linked here and to take the survey. Your thoughts and suggestions will be very valuable to me as I make plans for next fall’s blogging. Thank you!  

A Word with Beth — about ellipses . . .

The Owl and I had a question sent to us recently that we are happy to answer here in our grammar and word use feature, A Word with Beth.   I’ve heard you should have a space before and after an ellipsis. I have seen in books sometimes there is a space before the ellipsis and sometimes there isn’t. Is there a hard and fast rule on this? … And should there be a space between the dots? . . .    Ellipses are a pain in the mm-hmmm! (Ellipses is the plural of ellipsis, which I’m sure you already know.) They’re particularly confusing when, as the questioner said, they’re done differently in different books. Likely that’s because of the style guide that the publisher follows. There may be discrepancies in the way the “rules” are interpreted from style guide to style guide. The basic rule is that there should be a space before and a space after, and yes, the standard is to have a space between each one. Handily, Microsoft Word automatically adds the narrow space between dots that’s all that is necessary, when one types the … so there’s no need when typing in Word to type . . . (dot space dot space dot space). Apple’s Pages does the same. As for the space before and after the three dots, that’s standard, but just to confuse things, it does vary in some books. When in doubt, follow the standard. Grammar Girl (a resource I love, because she explains things in ordinary language) suggests thinking of the ellipsis as the word or words it’s replacing. Then a space before and after it makes perfect sense. Here’s Grammar Girl’s take on creating ellipses. Also, they’re always three dots, not two, not five, not many dots trailing off ad infinitum. Occasionally, you might see four dots at the end of a sentence, but that’s because the part of the quotation that is being omitted has a full sentence before the omitted part. So the fourth dot is really the period after the sentence preceding the ellipsis. One caveat about ellipses — they’re far too widely used. Their chief use is to indicate that something (a word, a number of words, a number of sentences) has been omitted from a quotation. They can also be used to indicate the trailing off of a spoken sentence or thought, but this shouldn’t be overused. That’s a basic take on ellipses. Feeling slightly dotty? 😉   Remember: if you have a question about a sticky grammar point, or the use of a word or phrase, the Grammar Owl and I would be glad to answer it in a future edition of A Word with Beth. You can ask your question in the comments below, or contact me using the email address of my copy editing service, mail (at) flubs2fixes (dot) com. (Do the logical thing with the words in brackets.) The Owl and I look forward to hearing from you!

A Word With Beth — About Apostrophes

  The Grammar Owl is looking at his talons again. This time, they’re making him think about apostrophes (and the grammatical catastrophes they sometimes cause.) Apostrophes should be easy. They should be… Let’s look at the apostrophe’s main uses, shall we?     They’re used to create contractions. Think of them as the blank tile in a Scrabble game (although you can’t use blanks in this way in Scrabble, unfortunately). They are equals They—blank tile to substitute for the “a”—re. They‘re. They’re used to create possessives. Think of them as a claw (or talon!) pulling some possession toward the owner. Owl‘s dinner. Note that there are several variations on this. If you were talking about a gathering of owls for a meal, you’d create the plural first, then add the apostrophe afterward, to show that the entire group possessed the dinner. The owls‘ dinner. If the word is a plural, but doesn’t end in s, use the regular apostrophe-s rule. The women‘s conference. If you are talking about something that belongs to two people, for example, Beth and Eliza, you only put the apostrophe-s on the second one. It was Beth and Eliza‘s house. BUT if the two people possess one whatever-it-is each, then you use an apostrophe with both names (and make the whatever-it-is plural). We went to Beth‘s and Eliza‘s houses. They can be used to truncate a word. Here again, you can think of them as a blank Scrabble tile. By using the blank at the beginning of a word (or two word phrase) you can change It was to ‘Twas, if you’re in a poetic mood, or you can change 1978 to ‘78 if you want to say Beth graduated as part of the class of ‘78. (Yes, I am that old.) They are generally NOT to be used in plurals, no matter how many times you may see them used this way on signs and practically everywhere else. A sign that says “Cookie’s On Sale Today” always makes me ask, “Cookie’s what?” because Cookie’s is a possessive, not a plural. There are, of course, exceptions. It is acceptable, for example, to write the plural of a decade, such as the 1970‘s with an apostrophe, or to write the plural of something like DVD as DVD‘s (although both examples may also be written without apostrophes.) People often get into a quandary over its and it‘s. This use of the apostrophe is in a class all its own. See what I did there? In that case, “it” was a possessive, but I didn’t use an apostrophe. That’s because in this case, it‘s with an apostrophe is the contraction for it is, so it can’t also be the possessive. The possessive is written simply as its. That’s one that just has to be memorized. I want to say just a word about Word – Microsoft Word, that is. If your font has curved single quotation marks and double quotation marks, then when you use a single quotation mark as an apostrophe to truncate a word such as ’twas, the apostrophe will face the wrong way. (Some other programs likely do this, too, while others switch the apostrophe around, right before your eyes, when they realize what you’re doing.) The way to get around this when using Word is to switch to straight quotation marks. The problem is then alleviated because the marks don’t curve one way or the other.   NOTE: This post is meant as a general overview, not an exhaustive list. If there are other uses of apostrophes that perplex you, or that you’d like mentioned, please tell Owl and me about them in the comments.   As always, if you want to ask a grammar or word-choice question for the Grammar Owl and me to answer, you can ask it in the comments or send an email to mail (at) flubs2fixes (dot) com Our talons are gripping the edges of our barn windows in anticipation!

A Word with Beth — About Commas, Part Two

At the request of a couple of readers, the Owl and I are taking a second look at commas today. Before the Owl sinks his talons into a few more comma rules and faux pas, we have a little bit of housekeeping to deal with. Apparently, for some readers, the avatars are obscuring part of the comments, making it impossible to read them. For now, I’ve turned off the avatars altogether, until I can find out what is causing the problem. I hope that this helps. If you find that the comments are now obscured by a blank space, do let me know! Now, let’s move on to part two of Commas, carrying on from where we left off in November in part one. I should just say that part one and part two will still not be an exhaustive study of the use and misuse of commas, although some may find it exhausting. 😉 However, Owl and I have tried to cover some of the main points of comma usage in these two posts. Here, then, are a few more places where commas should be used. As in part one, I have highlighted the commas that pertain to the rule in red. 1. Commas separate introductory phrases from the rest of the sentence. As usual, Beth couldn’t remember who wanted tea and who wanted lemonade. 2. Commas can completely change the meaning of a sentence, so use them carefully. Beth thought Lizzie could drink more lemonade than anyone else in the room. But is that what you really want to say? Punctuate it differently, and you have a very different sentence. Beth, thought Lizzie, could drink more lemonade than anyone else in the room. 3. Commas set off appositives in sentences. (Whoa, Beth – what’s an appositive? It’s a synonym, or descriptor, that gives you more information about the word it is explaining. And before you ask, no, there is no corresponding annegative. 😉 ) I’ve underlined the appositives in the two examples, as well as highlighting the pertinent commas. Many half-empty glasses of lemonade, a particularly tart beverage, sat on the counter. The Abyssinian, a breed of cat, eyed the guests malevolently. 4. Commas are used before clauses beginning with “which.” Beth had created a new recipe for turnip cake, which was a resounding failure. Be aware that there are also places where commas should NOT be used. 5. Commas are NOT used before clauses beginning with “that.” The same sentence from the “which” example above, if rendered with “that,” does not receive a comma. Beth had created a new recipe for turnip cake that was a resounding failure. 6. Commas do NOT need to separate conjunctions from the clause that follows them. You may have been taught differently, but it is not necessary to do this. Many people would have put a comma after “but” in that sentence. That’s not necessary. 7. Commas are NOT used every time you would pause or take a breath when reading aloud. This is a very common error. Often as one writes, it seems natural to insert a comma, every time there seems to be a pause in the sentence. This is not necessary, nor is the comma after “comma” in the example. 8. Commas are NOT used to separate two independent clauses that are not joined by a conjunction. If the two clauses look as though they should be separate sentences, they should be written as such. Otherwise, you are committing a “comma splice.” The turnip cake was one of Beth’s experiments, it would have been better if she had left the carrot cake recipe alone. It would also have been better if she had punctuated that as two separate sentences. The turnip cake was one of Beth’s experiments. It would have been better if she had left the carrot cake recipe alone. Once again, the Owl and I have given you a rule for each of the Owl’s talons. We hope this has helped you get a better grip on comma use. If in doubt at any point, there are many good grammar resources both online and at your library – or you can email the Owl and me at mail (at) flubs2fixes (dot) com. If you have any other questions, quandaries or pet peeves that you’d like us to address in future editions of A Word with Beth, just let us know, either in the comments, or by sending an email to the address above. Just in case you’re wondering, I make very good lemonade, from my grandmother’s recipe, and I have never attempted to make or serve turnip cake. For all I know, turnip cake could well be good!

A Word with Beth — A Grammar Gift

As you know, my focus this month is gifts that I can give you. Today, instead of the regular Grammar Q&A or Grammar Owl post, I want to share a link to a delightful episode of Kerri Miller’s The Daily Circuit on MPR (Minnesota Public Radio). Billed as “a scientist’s take on language,” Steven Pinker “uses his expertise in how our brains work to explain why we write the way we do.” I had hoped to include a book recommendation — for that, you’ll have to wait until I pop up to the top of the hold list at the library!   As always, I welcome grammar and word-use questions to feature on A Word with Beth. Just send them to mail (at) flubs2fixes (d0t) com. In January, I’ll post part 2 of the care and feeding of commas. Remember that everyone who comments on a post on By Word of Beth in December is entered into the giveaway for a copy of Julie Andrews’ Treasury for All Seasons (or an alternate book if you already own that one).  

A Word with Beth — about Commas, Part One

The Grammar Owl was undecided regarding which grammatical quandary to post about today. He scratched his head, totally perplexed. Have you ever seen an owl do that? Those talons are so sharp! Just the thought makes me flinch with imagined pain. Back to our perplexed owl. After scratching his head, he stretched out his leg and pondered his talons for a moment. , , , (Those are his front talons. The one on the back goes the other way. Check out this cool owl site to see what they look like in real life.) Anyway, likely you can see where the Owl is going with this. We’re going to talk about commas today. Commas seem like a simple thing. Just a little mark, innocuous, not a problem to use. Still, it’s surprising how often the comma trips people up, one way or another. There are a seeming multitude of rules about comma use. The Owl is only going to cite a few of them, lest you slip into a grammar-induced coma, which is very different from a grammar-induced comma. 😉 In no particular order, a rule for every talon on the Grammar Owl’s feet (with the pertinent comma in the example highlighted in red): 1. Commas separate dates. Not the cooing, lovebird type of dates. We don’t want to separate them (well, not all the time, anyway). Nor is Owl referring to the dates which enhance many recipes. Oh dear — I see Owl tapping one talon on the edge of his barn window. I’d better get to the point of this point. Commas separate calendar dates when they are written. For example, Monday, November 17, 2014 requires a comma after Monday, and a comma after the number of the date, before the year. They also separate place names, for example, Barmby-on-the-Moor, Yorkshire, England. (That’s where some of my ancestors are from. I don’t know how good they were at commas, but since they produced descendants, they must have been good at dates… Oops. There’s the tapping talon again. Enough of this nonsense.) 2. Commas separate dialogue from dialogue tags. “I would like a date square with my tea,” said Lizzie. Note the two exceptions: if there is a question mark or an exclamation mark following the dialogue, no further punctuation is necessary. “Would you like a date square?” asked Beth. “I want a date square, too!” said Eliza. 3. Commas separate adjectives when two or more are used together. “Instead of tea, I’d like a tall, cool, ice-filled glass of lemonade,” said Anne. 4. Commas separate parts of a sentence that contrast with each other. “Instead of tea, you’d like lemonade?” asked Beth. (Beth seems a little slow on the uptake in these examples, does she not?) 5. Commas set off clauses that add information, but are not crucial to the meaning of the sentence. Beth, who hadn’t been paying attention, finally realized that Anne wanted lemonade. If the clause that’s enclosed in commas is removed, the basic meaning of the sentence remains. Beth finally realized that Anne wanted lemonade. 6. Commas are used between independent clauses that are joined by coordinating conjunctions. No, coordinating conjunctions are not ones that consulted with each other about what to wear before attending the tea party. The Harbrace College Handbook says that “coordinating conjunctions connect sentence elements (words, phrases, or clauses) of equal grammatical rank.” If you learned in school that FANBOYS is a good acronym for remembering coordinating conjunctions, you’re on your way to using commas correctly in this instance. For those of us who didn’t learn that mnemonic device, myself included, it’s a handy tool to memorize. For And Nor But Or Yet So (which, in this case, is not merely a needle pulling thread) — these are the seven coordinating conjunctions. Eliza will have tea, but Anne prefers lemonade. “Eliza will have tea” and “Anne prefers lemonade” are complete clauses of equal value. Each could be a sentence on its own, but when left together in one sentence, and separated by a coordinating conjunction, there must be a comma after the first clause. 7. Commas are used to prevent confusion in reading. Tea cakes and lemonade were served at Beth’s party. Hmm… Do you recall tea cakes being on the menu? With proper comma placement, we read Tea, cakes, and lemonade were served at Beth’s party. (We also see that Beth is partial to the Oxford, or serial, comma, which we won’t get into here.) The use and misuse of this grammatical rule is lampooned to great effect on the internet, as well as in the grammatical guide Eats, Shoots, and Leaves by Lynne Truss. 8. Commas are used to set off words such as therefore and however when they interrupt the flow of the sentence. “I don’t like tea. I would, therefore, prefer lemonade, instead,” said Anne, for the third time. Do you think Anne has made her point? Beth, however, poured tea into Anne’s glass. Oops.   I hope this has helped clear up some of the rules surrounding comma usage. At the very least, it will have shown you the wisdom of pouring your own beverage. 😉 If you have any questions relating to grammar or word usage, please contact the Grammar Owl and me at mail (at) flubs2fixes (dot) com. I’m always happy to receive copy editing requests as well, at the same email address. Information about the services I offer through Flubs2Fixes Copy Editing and Proofreading can be found here, while the rates and procedures can be found here. And for more comma fun, check out my new Grammar — Commas board on Pinterest!

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