Thursday, November 3

Posted by Laurel Garver on Thursday, November 03, 2011 12 comments
It has been quite awhile since I last did a post in my editor-on-call series. I got the idea a few years ago after one of my CPs called me late one Friday night with a punctuation emergency:

"Help me with quotes within quotes, STAT!"

I suspected there were others out there with questions about some sticking point of grammar or usage that tripped them up. And as someone who's been editing professionally for *gulp* 20 years this month, I'd like to think I have a decent handle on both the basics and the more esoteric aspects of grammar. Oh yeah, I also took top honors in my master's program in journalism (magazine editorial concentration). Enough "edit cred" to give you good answers, and my sassy side usually keeps the advice entertaining.

Here's a sampling of topics I've covered:

Apostrophe usage
"And then..." -- conjunction usage
"If I were you" -- subjunctive mood
No lie: why we misuse lay (lie/lay usage)
Misplaced modifiers
Maintaining verb tense
Using numbers in fiction
Overwriting repair: Diction, Babbling, Tangents

A few ideas I have for future posts are comma usage (2-5 posts), run-ons and punctuating dialogue. Which of these would help you most?

What are your biggest grammar and usage woes and pitfalls? What "rules" confuse you? I'm open to covering topics that will make your manuscripts cleaner today. Ask away!


  1. Well, as an old editor over here, I only get tripped up when dealing with the different house rules. Those guys... :D But this is so great. You are a saint for offering this help. Best, Laurel <3

  2. You have a wonderful source here. I'm weak when it comes to run-on sentences, I think.

  3. Oh, yay! I loved your grammar posts!!! :-)

  4. Okay, here's one I have ENORMOUS trouble with. And I've read all the books and still they really don't help.

    There is a Marquess. When I am showing possession I use Marquess'. "The jelly ended up on the Marquess' face." I have been told it is proper to use Marquess's. Now to me that seems like an awful lot of ssss. I've read Strunk and White, Chicago Manual, Webster-Mirriam. No one can give me a difinitive answer, it's all very convoluted.

    What say you? Proper use of posession with an 's' ending name, sounds like a great post to me. Or did you already cover it.

  5. I always forget about numbers and when to write vs. spell, but I think you covered that recently (didn't you?). And when certain words should be capitalized. Like Sir (sir?). ;)

    Love your grammar posts!

  6. Leigh: Ah house rules...I can tell you some funny stories about being tasked with creating a house style guide for a non-profit I used to work for.

    Bish: You got it. Since you asked first, I will cover run-ons in my next post on Tuesday. Stay tuned!

  7. Shannon: Thanks. You make me feel like such a rock star when you tell me you use my posts to teach. :-)

    Anne: I did cover it in my apostrophes post, linked above. You can check that out.

    The rule is singular subjects always take an 's even if they end with an s. Word will flag it as wrong, however. But Word's grammar check doesn't follow the established style guides (on this and a number of other topics!). Using just an apostrophe with no s indicates a plural subject (the cats' litter box; The Murphys' house).

    Marquess's IS correct! Chicago style mentions the alternate practice of that leaving off the s in singular possesives and notes it breaks Strunk and White style rules and is unnatural because it disregards pronunciation.

  8. Janet: Yes, I did cover numbers in fiction. It is linked in this post.

    I'm happy to cover more capitalization topics. The post I have linked here had to do with when a common noun crosses over into being a proper noun--specifically, a disease name.

  9. You know what stumps me? When you have a modifying phrase that seems to modify the wrong thing, no matter where in the sentence you put it. For example...hang on, I need to come up with one... Okay, got it:

    Originally the project focused on studying Mayan tools (made out of chert) (from the area’s limestone quarries).

    This is a weak example because both phrases in parathesis can be in each others spot, and the sentence still makes sense. But sometimes the position of a phrase can be construed to mean something other than you mean, and sometimes there just doesn't seem to be a good fix for the problem. Those are the types of conundrums that trip me up.

  10. "I" versus "me". As in Woe is I.

    Recently I wrote,"He must have been thirteen at the time, as he was about a year older than I was" on the first page I presented at a SCBWI critique session and I was told it should read: "He must have been thirteen at the time, as he was a year older than me."

    I think the editor is wrong. What do you say?

  11. Nicole: great question--how to handle multiple modifying phrases. It is indeed trickier to handle than single modifiers. I'm happy to cover this.

    Carmen: this is a two-pronged issue. First is the I vs. me in "than" comparisons (for the record, you are correct that using the objective case--"me"--in than comparisons is grammatically incorrect). Second is the issue of audience and diction. When is it preferable to break grammar rules to keep character voices authentic and unstuffy? I'm happy to cover that. Stay tuned!

  12. Thank you so much Laurel.

    I love your posts on Grammar.