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When NOT to Follow the Rules

August 23, 2012 2 comments

Sometimes rules are made to be broken. Even grammar rules.
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I’m a rule-follower by nature—and a compulsive reader on top of that. Combine those two traits and you have someone that knows rules that a good portion of the population don’t know exist and religiously follows them.

Well, maybe not quite that bad. But you get my point. I don’t intentionally break rules. But sometimes we must. We need to know when NOT to follow the rules.

As much as I love grammar, as much as I love studying the structure and intricacies in language,  I know there are times when grammatical rules must be forsaken or I will fail as a writer.

There are times when self-expression trumps the revered style guides.

Rules NOT to Follow: (at least not ALL of the time!)

1.  Don’t start a sentence with a conjunction, such as AND or BUT. 

But what about when you’re trying to make a statement? Right. You get it now. Point taken.
Sometimes it is necessary to begin a sentence with a conjunction to make a point. It adds emphasis.

2.  Never use sentence fragments.

Talk about shoving self-expression into a box and throwing it into a deep pit. A dark pit. A pit filled with grammar rules etched into its walls. A dark pit that insists each sentence fragment be rewritten as a complete sentence.

We must rescue sentence fragments from the pit. Sentence fragments add emphasis and zing. They don’t dwell on what they’re getting at. They just say it. Short and snappy.  Self-expression at its best.

3.  A paragraph must be between three and five sentences long.

We live in a fast-paced society. We scan multiple articles on the worldwide web on a daily basis. We even read posts on our smartphones. We’re in a rush. Has this affected the desired paragraph length?

Maybe, maybe not. Literary style, as with other styles, changes with time.

Whatever the reason, particularly in articles and posts, short paragraphs reign. They pull us along rather than bogging us down. They get to the point.

Longer paragraphs aren’t all bad. In writing fiction, I prefer a blend of shorter and longer paragraphs to keep staleness at bay.

And then there are those one sentence—or one word—paragraphs. A rebellious blend of sentence fragment and too short of paragraph. But they make their point. Wonderfully.

By no means is this an exhaustive list. This is just to get your creative juices flowing, to get your mind considering that literary license may permit you to break the rules. At least some of them.

Our goal is to communicate. If the rules get in the way of communication, put them on the shelf.

Learn the rules. Learn how to use them. And learn when its time for self-expression to trump the rules.

(A Note to the Wise: Remember to keep a balance in all things. Don’t go to the extreme and use literary license as an excuse for poor grammar. Overuse kills the effectiveness!)

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Are you ready to break the rules? Do you have any examples of your own to share? Please do so in the comments section.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Rosie Cochran

I am a pastor’s wife, former missionary, mother of four great sons, and author of three Christian suspense novels: Betrayed, Identity Revealed, and A Murder Unseen. (Available at: Amazon.com.) I have a passion for God, my family, and writing! If you want to connect with me, join me on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, and Pinterest.  Interested in updates by email? CLICK HERE!

Have a question? Email Me!

Self-publish or self publish?

As I wrote a post on the indie revolution, I was left scratching my head over the spelling of a monumental word in the article. Was it self-publish—or self publish? A web search brought more confusion than clarity. Both appeared acceptable if you went by usage alone.

Feeling like a grammarian sleuth, I set out to find irrefutable proof of the spelling of this word. I didn’t want hearsay. I didn’t want opinions. I wanted proof. Forget the fluff. Just facts.

Evidence #1:

  • The Chicago Manual of Style states the following specifically regarding hyphenation for the word self.
    • “Both noun and adjective forms hyphenated, except where self is followed by a suffix or preceded by un.” (CMOS, 16th edition [7.85 under #3 of the chart, Compound Formed with Specific Terms, on page 382]) Examples: self-conscious, self-restraint, self-sustaining
    • Since self in self-publish is not followed by a suffix or preceded by un, it would be spelled with a hyphen as self-publish.

Evidence #2:

  • The Merriam-Webster Dictionary hyphenates the verb self-publish.

As you can see, all the evidence points in favor of writing the verb as self-publish. The hyphen reigns!

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Rosie Cochran

I am a pastor’s wife, former missionary, mother of four great sons, and author of three books: Betrayed, Identity Revealed, and A Murder Unseen. (Available at: Amazon.com.) I have a passion for God, my family, and writing! Follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

Have a question? Email Me!

The Serial Comma: To Use or Not to Use

December 7, 2011 Leave a comment

What is it?

The Serial comma, also known as the Oxford or Harvard comma, is the comma right before the conjunction of the final item in a list of three or more items/phrases. Read the examples that follow:

  • I will dedicate my book to Tom, Dick, or Harry.
  • Could you buy some eggs, milk, and cheese?
  • Today I need to go the bank, mail some packages at the post office, and buy a new dress.

Who Uses It:

 (Americans who don’t write for newspapers!)

The majority of U.S. style guides, including the Chicago Manual of Style, recommend always using the serial comma. Their reason is that omitting the final comma may cloud the clarity of the sentence, whereas including it never will.  If you are writing the next best-selling novel, I would recommend you use the serial comma.

For example, read the two sentences below:

  • I went shopping with my sisters, Sally and Jane.
  • I went shopping with my sisters, Sally, and Jane.

Who did I go shopping with? In the first sentence, you are left shaking your head as you wonder how many people I went shopping with. Did I go shopping with my sisters, whose names are Sally and Jane? Or did I go shopping with my sisters, plus Sally and Jane?

In the second sentence, it is clearly stated that I went shopping with my sisters, plus Sally and Jane.

Using the serial comma always brings clarity. Therefore, the serial comma is the preferred style in the U.S., unless you write for a newspaper. They follow a different set of rules as explained in the next section.

Who Does Not Use It:

(Americans who DO write for newspapers—along with the British, the Australians, and the Canadians!)

If you write for a U.S. newspaper, there are variations to the usage of the serial comma. The Associated Press Stylebook, which is the golden standard of style for most American newspapers, agrees to using commas to separate items in a series, but states that one should not put a comma before the conjunction in a simple series as shown in the following:

  • I will share my chocolate with Jane, Esther and Nancy.
  • Could you give that to John, Jack or Tommy?
The Associated Press Stylebook gives several exceptions to the above rule:
1) A comma is required before the final conjunction in a series if one of the elements in the series requires a conjunction of its own. In simple words? If one of the elements needs its own personal ‘and,’ such as with macaroni and cheese, the serial comma is required. See the examples below:
  • The buffet included roast beef, fried chicken, mashed potatoes, baked beans, and macaroni and cheese.
  • The bakery served blueberry, cranberry and walnut, raspberry, and apple scones.

2) A comma is required before the final conjunction in a complex series of phrases. See the example below:

  • When editing a story, one needs to check for grammatical errors, to check the spelling and sentence structure, and to watch for inconsistencies in the story line.

We covered the Americans. What about the British, Australians, and Canadians? The general consensus is that they do not use the serial comma in simple lists unless its omission would lead to a lack of clarity in the sentence.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Rosie Cochran

I am a pastor’s wife, former missionary, mother of four great sons, and author of three books: BetrayedIdentity Revealed, and A Murder Unseen. (Available at:  Amazon.com.) I have a passion for God, my family, and writing! Follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

Have a question? Email Me!

Categories: Grammar

The Chicken and the Egg (Lie vs. Lay)

October 24, 2011 6 comments

Do you lie the book on the table,

or do you lay the book on the table?

This has confused too many for much too long.

Let’s clear the confusion!

lay/laid (verb) means:

to put or set an object down

ex: If you lay the book by the coffeemaker, he is sure to see it in the morning.
ex: He laid the loaded gun on the ground slowly.
ex: The chicken has laid many eggs this week.

HELPFUL HINT:

Brown chicken egg

Image via Wikipedia

We all know a chicken lays an egg. A chicken would never lie an egg, though if it could talk it might lie about how many eggs it produces to keep out of the stew pot!

When a chicken lays an egg, it sets or puts the egg (the object) in the chicken coop. Therefore, if we can remember that a chicken lays an egg, we’ll remember that lay needs an object. By default, lie will not need the object.

When you want to remember if you should use lie or lay to put an object on the table, think of the chicken and how it lays an egg! With that in mind, check out the chart below:

Present Tense      Past Tense      Past Participle
Lay
                            Laid                    Laid

Let’s go back to the chicken and the egg and practice using the present tense, past tense, and past participle. Actually, let’s forget about the chicken and concentrate on the egg!

If I lay the egg on the table (present tense) every morning,
then it follows that yesterday I laid an egg on the table (past tense),
and over the past week I have laid many eggs on the table (past participle).

Of course, after I finished all the hard work of laying the egg on the table, I was in need of a rest so I went to lie down. Oh no, we’ve just introduced the confusing partner word of LIE!

lie/lay/lain (verb) means:

to lie down (as in a person or animal, not an object)

ex: If I lie down for a few minutes, I’ll be rested enough to tackle the next task.
ex: My dog lay curled up at my feet last night.
ex: The grieving man had lain on the couch in a stupor for days.

Present Tense      Past Tense      Past Participle
Lie                              Lay                     Lain

Now let’s practice using the present tense, past tense, and past particle!

If I lie down on the bed to rest (present tense),
then it follows that yesterday I lay down to rest (past tense),
and that I have lain on the bed to rest many afternoons this week (past participle)!

Now let’s combine the charts for a reference.

Present Tense      Past Tense      Past Participle
Lay                             Laid                   Laid
Lie                              Lay                     Lain

Where does this leave you? Is it clear as crystal? Or are you clearly confused?

Take a deep breath and…just remember the chicken and the egg!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Rosie Cochran

I am a pastor’s wife, former missionary, mother of four great sons, and author of three books: BetrayedIdentity Revealed, and A Murder Unseen. (Available at:  Amazon.com.) I have a passion for God, my family, and writing! Follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

Have a question? Email Me!

Flier vs. Flyer

October 3, 2011 3 comments
Wright "Flyer" (1903)

Image via Wikipedia

Have you ever been confused with the difference between FLIER and FLYER? Let’s look at the definitions first—and then how to remember the difference!

DEFINITIONS:

FLIER means: something that flies through the air; or a person who flies something, such as an airplane

FLYER means: an informational paper to be put into circulation

DIFFERENCES:

How do we distinguish between the two? How can we remember the difference between the two? What can prompt our memory to get it right every time? Word tricks have always helped me. Check out the word tricks that follow:

A FLIER flies through the sky, so he had better have EYES.
Always use “i” to spell FLIER!

The question “WHY?” may be answered by an informational FLYER.
Always use “y” to spell FLYER!

Maybe not the most catchy, but I had to come up with something to keep them straight! Hope it helps you!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Rosie Cochran

I am a pastor’s wife, former missionary, mother of four great sons, and author of three books: BetrayedIdentity Revealed, and A Murder Unseen. (Available at:  Amazon.com.) I have a passion for God, my family, and writing! Follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

Have a question? Email Me!

Categories: Grammar Tags: ,

Writing Fractions and Decimals

September 30, 2011 Leave a comment
A percent sign.

Image via Wikipedia

Check out the rules below if you have questions regarding writing fractions and decimals!

1)    Simple Fractions

Simple fractions are always spelled out and hyphenated.

 Correct Examples:

“One-eighth of the vials were missing.”

“We are three-quarters of a way through the project.”

Incorrect Examples:

“One eighth of the vials were missing.”

“We are 3/4 of the way through the project.”

2)    Mixed Fractions

Mixed fractions can be expressed in figures unless they are the first word in a sentence.

Correct Examples:

“The interest rate on the account was 4 1/2 percent.”

“Eight and one-half percent was the best interest rate they could offer him.”

Incorrect Examples:

“The interest rate on the account was four 1/2 percent.”

“8 1/2 percent is an exceptional rate for a loan.”

3)    Decimals with No Whole Number

When writing decimals as numerals you always put a zero in front of a decimal unless the decimal itself begins with a zero.

Correct Examples:

“The tumor grew 0.52 centimeters over the past month.”

“The growth was insignificant at .08 centimeters.”

Incorrect Examples:

“The tumor grew .52 centimeters over the past month.”

“The growth was insignificant at 0.08 centimeters.”

4)    Decimals with Whole Numbers

  • When a whole number has decimal points, only use a comma when the number has five or more digits before the decimal point. The comma goes in front of the third digit to the left of the decimal point.
  • When you spell out a whole number with decimal points, you use the comma where it would appear in the numeral format, and you use the word “and” where the decimal point appears in the numeral format.

Correct Examples:

$13, 832.12 — Thirteen thousand, eight hundred thirty-two dollars and twelve cents

$3832.12 –Three thousand eight hundred thirty-two dollars and twelve cents.

Related articles

Writing Time Frames

September 26, 2011 3 comments

From Public Domain

The rules for writing dates, years, decades, and times can leave you scratching your head. If in doubt, check out the rules below!

1)     DATES

  • When writing out a date like “the 1st of April,” you use the ordinal number.
  • When writing out a date, such as “August 1, 2012,” you do NOT use an ordinal number (first, second, third, etc.), but a cardinal number (one, two, three, etc.).
  • When writing out a date in the American format (month, day, year) using all three elements (month, day, and year), commas are required after the month, day, and year.
  • When writing out a date in the American format (month, day, year) using only two of the three elements,  no commas are required.
  • Commas are NEVER required when writing out a date in European format.
  • Do take note that a comma MAY appear after a year despite the above stated rules if the comma is required due to the sentence itself.

Correct Examples:
“I do not want my child to be born on the 1st of April.”
(American format)
“The party will be held on August 1, 2012.”
“He escaped on January 10, 2001, but was caught two weeks later.”
“She will graduate in May 2012 as long as she passes all her courses.”
“He will arrive on May 10.”
(European format)
“He will arrive on 27 September 2011 if he makes all his connections.”
“He escaped on 10 January 2001, but was caught two weeks later.”

Incorrect Examples:
“I hope my child is not born on 1 of April.”
“The party will be held on April 2nd, 2012.”
“He escaped on January 10 2001 but was caught the next day.”
“He will start his new job in May, 2012.”
“He arrived on 27, September, 2011.”

2)   YEARS

  • Though sentences are NOT to begin with numerals, there is a general exception to begin a sentence with a year in numeral form.
  • The year can be shortened by using an apostrophe to replace the first two digits.

Correct Examples:
“2010 was an exceptional year for the company.”
“I was promoted in ’10.”

3)   DECADES

Decades may be expressed in the following three way:
(i) Decades may be spelled out in lowercase.
(ii) Decades may be written as complete numerals with an “s” added onto the end (but with no apostrophe between the numeral and the “s”).
(iii) Decades may be written in shortened numeral form by using an apostrophe to replace the first two digits of the year and adding an “s” (without the apostrophe) to the end of the decade.

Correct Examples:
“He grew up in the seventies.”
“During the 1970s the economy was booming.”
“He grew up in the ’70s.”

Incorrect Examples:
“During the 1970’s the economy was booming.”
“He grew up in the 70’s.”
“He wished he could return to the ’80’s.”

4)   TIME

  • In text, you usually spell out the time of day, even the half and quarter hours. When using o’clock, you always spell out the number.
  • Numerals are used for times when exact times are being emphasized and when using A.M. or P.M.
  • For clarity’s sake, use noon and midnight instead of 12:00 P.M. and 12:00 A.M.

Correct Examples:
“He woke up at four thirty to catch his flight.”
“His flight left at six o’clock in the morning.”
“John’s flight leaves at 6:10 A.M.”
“There was a 5:30 P.M. deadline for the project.”
“They will arrive at noon.”
“You need to be here by 4:00 sharp!”

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