END MARKS & COMMAS & SPELLING, OH MY!

Ok, it is now time to nitpick – go through slowly with a perceptive eye. It’s time to check your punctuation and spelling.

END MARKS

Most of the sentences you write will end with a period, but there are two other useful (but please don’t over use) end marks.

QUESTION MARK ?

This ends, obviously, a question. If you have noticed, however, most of the writing we have done in the past seven days is written in statements. Occasionally, we might ask our reader a question.

Do you know ____? (fill in the blank)

Have you ever found _____? (fill in the blank)

If you begin a sentence with a questioning word, please end the sentence with a question mark. The following words are, most of the time, words that begin, or can begin, questions.

THE JOURNALIST’S 5-Ws PLUS HOW

WHO/WHOM – WHAT  – WHEN – WHERE – WHY – HOW

VERBS THAT ACT AS QUESTIONS

HAVE – HAS – HAD

DO – DID – DOES

IS – ARE – WAS – WERE

CAN – COULD – SHALL – SHOULD – WILL – WOULD

OTHER COMMON WORDS THAT START QUESTIONS

WHICH – WHOSE

There are other words that potentially begin a sentence that is a question, but the easiest to think about is whether you want to give an answer.

EXAMPLE: If I mow the lawn, would you trim the trees?

EXCLAMATION POINT !

The exclamation point is supposed to be used when there is strong feeling behind a sentence.

I hesitate covering this mark because once introduced, many writers overuse it. You might write more than 50,000 to 100,000 words and still NEVER use the exclamation point.

If you think you want to use one, ask yourself if your sentence is as important as either of the following.

Chicken Little chirped, “The sky is falling! The sky is falling!”

“Watch out for that parked car!” the driving instructor yelled at the student.

If it isn’t that important or more important, opt for a period.

COMMAS

There are a number of comma rules, but all writers need to understand the basic comma rules so the editor and agent they potentially hire does not pull his hair out.

USE A COMMA TO SEPARATE TWO OR MORE SENTENCES IN A COMPOUND SENTENCE

This rule is based on yesterday’s discussion of the types of sentences. When you use two or more sentences to create a compound sentence, you need to use a comma BEFORE the conjunction that joins the sentences.

WRONG

Sally baked a cake and, Julie frosted it.

CORRECT

Sally baked a cake, and Julie frosted it.

“What does it matter?” you might ask.

It matters a great deal. The comma in this case takes the place of the period that would end the simple sentence. The conjunction, in this case the word “and,” says that what follows is a second simple sentence that is somehow related to the first sentence.

USE A COMMA TO SEPARATE THE DEPENDENT CLAUSE FROM THE INDEPENDENT CLAUSE IN A COMPLEX SENTENCE

This rule is also based on yesterday’s discussion of the types of sentences. If you begin a complex sentence with the subordinating conjunction and the words related to it, please separate it from the simple sentence with a comma.

CORRECT

Because it is raining out, we will not go to the park for a picnic.

“Because” is the subordinating conjunction.

“it is raining out” are the words related to the subordinating conjunction.

“we will not go to the park for a picnic” is the simple sentence.

BUT

If the dependent clause follows the simple sentence, DO NOT use a comma.

We will not go to the park for a picnic because it is raining out.

USE A COMMA TO SEPARATE ITEMS IN A SERIES

When we identify two items within a sentence and join them with “and,” a comma is not used.

BUT 

When we identify three or more items in a series within a sentence and join the last two with “and,” a comma separates the items.

Sally bought flour and sugar for the cake. (NO comma between flour and sugar.)

Sally bought flour, sugar, and vanilla for the cake. (Use a comma to separate flour, sugar, and vanilla. I am a firm believer of what is called the “Oxford” comma – the comma before the “and.” It eliminates confusion.)

HERE’S THE CONFUSION

Sally bought flour, sugar, macaroni and cheese.  OR  Sally bought flour, sugar, macaroni, and cheese.

The difference? Did Sally buy three items or four?

NOTE: There are more punctuation rules, but these are good for starters.

SPELLING

Spell-check is such a wonderful invention. Right? NOT! Spell check and its relative grammar check are fallible.

Spell check does NOT recognize when you use the wrong word but spell it correctly.

AND

Grammar check only recognizes the relatively basic structures of sentences.

HOMOPHONES

Homophones are words that sound the same when spoken, but are spelled differently and have a different meaning as to the spelling.

There are several easy homophones that a writer needs to know and understand.

THERE – THEIR – THEY’RE

THERE – This spelling identifies a location, or use it with words in the following list: is – be – am – are – was – were

We live over there. (location)

There is a meeting tomorrow night. (before a verb)

THEIR (also THEIRS)– This spelling is a pronoun that shows ownership.

That is their pool.

That book is theirs.

THEY’RE – This spelling is a contraction of the pronoun “they” and the verb “are.” One way to check this is to read the word as the two words.

They’re coming to the party tomorrow night. (They are coming to the party tomorrow night.)

TO – TOO – TWO

TO – This spelling is a preposition and introduces a prepositional phrase. It identifies a direction.

We walked to the store.

TOO – This spelling is an adverb and can be replaced with the word “also.”

Can I go to the movie, too?

TWO – This spelling identifies a number.

There are two apples left in the bowl.

ITS – IT’S

ITS – This spelling shows ownership.

My book is missing its table of contents.

IT’S – This spelling is a contraction of the pronoun “it” and the verb “is.” Again, you can check this by read the word as the two words.

It’s going to be a beautiful day today.

YOUR – YOU’RE

YOUR – This spelling shows ownership.

Your writing is going to improve with all this knowledge.

YOU’RE – This spelling is a contraction of the pronoun “you” and the verb “are.” Again, you can check this by read the word as the two words.

You’re going camping with us next week.

OTHER HOMOPHONES

There are many other homophones, but these are the ones that I see misused over and over again.

When in doubt, check it out to see if you are using the correct word and spelling.

 

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