By: Kathy Ide
Words and punctuation marks are the tools of a writer’s trade. To be good writers and illustrators , we need to know how to use our tools effectively. While content is important, of course, proper Punctuation, Usage, Grammar, and Spelling (what I call “PUGS”) can mean the difference between rejection and acceptance from a commercial publisher. It also reflects positively on you in your self-published works.
It’s important to use the industry-standard references. Book publishers (and many popular magazines) use The Chicago Manual of Style and Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. Newspaper and journalistic-style magazines use The Associated Press Stylebook and Webster’s New World College Dictionary. Christian publishers also use The Christian Writer’s Manual of Style. Be sure to get the most recent editions so you’re using what the publishers are using.
As a full-time freelance editor, I see a lot of PUGS errors. Here are a few of the most common ones I see in the manuscripts I edit. In parentheses after each heading, I’ll give the rule numbers or page numbers for the reference books so you can look up the rules if you want more details.
1. Serial Commas
The “serial comma” is the comma that comes before a conjunction in a series of three or more elements (“his, hers, [comma here] and ours”).
For books, always use a comma before the conjunction. (CMS #6.19 and CWMS page 151.) For newspaper articles, leave out the serial comma unless doing so would cause confusion or ambiguity. (AP pages 329–330.)
2. Restrictive vs. nonrestrictive clauses
A word or phrase that restates a noun or pronoun in different words should be set off by commas. If the word or phrase identifies the noun more specifically, it should not be set off by commas.
For example: “My husband, Richard, took me out to dinner when I sold my first article.” But “My son Michael was born eight years after his brother.” From the context, you know I have more than one son, and “Michael” identifies which one is being referred to.
3. Capitalization of Family Relationships (CMS #8.39 and AP pages 91-92)
“Kinship names” (father, brother, etc.) are lowercased when used generically (“the youngest mother in the group”) or when preceded by a modifier (“my mom”). When used before a proper name, or alone in place of the name, kinship names are capitalized.
4. Terms of Endearment
Terms of affection (honey, sweetheart) are lowercased. (CMS #8.39 and CWMS page 112.)
5. Quotation Marks with Other Punctuation (CMS #6.8–6.9 and pages 344–345)
Closing quotation marks always come after a comma or period. For example:
Placement with question marks and exclamation points depends on whether the punctuation is part of the sentence as a whole or part of the quotation in particular. Examples:
Candy asked, “Do you know the way?”
How can we motivate teenagers who continually say, “I don’t care”?
Tiffany shouted, “Fire!”
I can’t believe he said, “Your story is boring”!
1. any more/anymore
any more (adjective) means “any additional.”
“I don’t want to hear any more backtalk from you!”
anymore (adverb) means “any longer.”
“I don’t want to listen to you anymore.”
2. a while/awhile
a while (noun) means “a period of time.”
“Marilynn spent a while editing her manuscript.”
awhile (adverb) means “for a period of time.”
“Mallory asked me to stay awhile.”
When you start a sentence with a modifying word or phrase, the subject (usually the next thing in the sentence) is what must be modified by that word or phrase. A “dangling modifier” is a phrase that does not clearly and sensibly modify the appropriate word. For example, “Changing the oil every 3,000 miles, the Mustang seemed to run better.” A Mustang cannot change its own oil. So you’d want to rewrite that as something like, “Changing the oil every 3,000 miles, Sandra found she got much better gas mileage.”
acknowledgment (no e between the d and the g)
Incorporating the PUGS is important for writers and illustrators alike. Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg. For more, check out my book Polishing the PUGS: Punctuation, Usage, Grammar, and Spelling. It’s available through my Web site, www.KathyIde.com.