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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!)

Related articles

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!

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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.

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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!”

Guide to Writing Numbers

September 23, 2011 2 comments
The Arabic Numerals zero (0) through nine (9) ...

Image via Wikipedia

Have you ever sat back and double-guessed yourself on when to spell out a number and when to write it as a numeral? If so, check out the rules below!

1)    Spell It Out VS. Numeral

Single-digit whole numbers are spelled out.
“S” for SINGLE-DIGIT goes with “S” for SPELLED OUT.
You use numerals for numbers greater than nine.
“N” for NUMBERS greater than NINE goes with “N” for NUMERALS.

Correct Examples:
“I want to buy two bikes.”  
“I need to print 10 booklets.”

Incorrect Examples:
“I want to buy 2 bikes.”
“I need to print ten booklets.”

2)    Mixed Single & Double-Digit Whole Numbers

When faced with a mix of single and double-digit whole numbers, if one needs to be written as a numeral, write all as numerals for consistency.

Correct Examples:
“My friend has 10 brothers but only 1 sister.”
“The teacher has 20 boys and 3 girls in his class.”

Incorrect Examples:

“My friend has ten brothers but only 1 sister.”
“The teacher had 20 boys and three girls in his class.”

3)    Consistency within Categories

To confuse the issue somewhat, we’ll now cover mixed single and double-digit whole numbers in different categories. In this case you can choose to use spelled out numbers for one category and numerals for the other. Read the examples below to demystify what I’m talking about!

Correct Example:
“If we purchase 10 computers for each of the five departments, we
will still be within budget to purchase 5 desks for each of the five
departments.” (Purchases are written as numerals. Departments are
written as words.)

Incorrect Example:
“If we purchase 10 computers for each of the five departments, we
will still be within budget to purchase five desks for each of the 5
department.”  (In this example, the categories of purchases and
departments are switched in each part of the sentence, which makes it incorrect.)

4)    Beginning of a Sentence

  • When a number begins a sentence you must spell it out. If the number is lengthy, it is advised to rephrase the sentence for ease of reading.
  • One general exception to the rule is that you may begin a sentence with a year in numeral form.

Correct Examples:
“Twenty-five soldiers manned the outpost.”
“Thirty-one patients died from the outbreak.”
“2009 was a record-breaking year for the company.”

Incorrect Examples:
“29 employees were laid off.”
“16 new jobs were created by the contract.”

5)    Numbers Side by Side

When two numbers are side by side, you should spell one out and use a numeral for the other for ease of reading.

Correct Example:
“We bought 24 ten-foot planks.”

6)    Hyphenation of Compound Numbers

All compound numbers from twenty-one through ninety-nine should be hyphenated.

Correct Examples:
“Twenty-nine prisoners of war were released.”
“Forty-six people died during the outbreak.”

Incorrect Examples:
“Twenty six prisoners escaped.”
“There were thirty nine students in the class.”

7)   Large Numbers

  • The simplest way to express large numbers is best.
  • Rounded numbers are usually spelled out.
  • Consistency in the sentence is important.

Correct Examples:
“The population was between one million and five million.”
“You could earn anywhere from three hundred to three million dollars.”
“You could earn anywhere from $3 hundred to $3 million.”

Incorrect Examples:
“The population was between one million and 5,000,000.”
“You could earn anywhere from $300 to three million dollars.”

The “All” Confusion

September 21, 2011 5 comments

Confusion often arises when we’re trying to decide if we want to use the word ALL or if we should be using the corresponding prefix. For example, do you know the difference between ALL READY and ALREADY? Do you know the difference between ALL TOGETHER and ALTOGETHER? Does it really matter which one you use? It does! Check out the differences below!

all ready/already

ALL READY (adjective phrase) means: completely ready, prepared

“I am all ready to leave for the cruise.”

ALREADY (adverb) means: previously

“I have already been on several cruises.”

And when you combine the two…

“I’ve already packed my bags so I am all ready to leave on the cruise!”

all together/altogether

ALL TOGETHER (adverb phrase) means: in a group

“If you all join in now, we could sing this new song all together.”

ALTOGETHER (adverb) means: wholly, completely, entirely

“It is altogether more than I can comprehend.”

And when you combine the two….

“It is altogether more than I can comprehend that you were able to arrange that we meet here all together.”

all right/alright

The general consensus of the various style guides is that ALRIGHT is a misspelling of the two words ALL RIGHT. Though the use of alright is becoming more readily acceptable, it is still considered by grammarians to be incorrect. Though you may at times be able to get away with writing alright, you will always be correct when you write all right!

A While vs. Awhile

August 27, 2011 2 comments

The difference between a while and awhile confuses many of us, yet there is a simple way to determine when to use which one. But first, let’s look at their definitions:

 

DEFINITIONS:

A while  is a noun meaning: a period of time.

“I knew it would take a while to make the changes to the website.”

“It’s been a while since my parents’ visit.”

Awhile is an adverb meaning: for a period of time.

“My mom asked me to stay awhile.”

“He said he would wait awhile.”

DETERMINING THE DISTINCTIONS:

Note that their meanings are basically the same. They both speak of a period of time. The difference is that the word for is understood to be an inherent part of the word awhile. Remember, awhile means for a period of time, or for a while.

Okay, now that I’ve confused you completely, let me “unconfuse” you!

Substitution Check for AWHILE:

Wherever you see the word awhile, you should be able to substitute it with for a while.

Let’s try the substitution-check with the examples from above:

“My mom asked me to stay awhile.”

“My mom asked me to stay for a while.”

“He said he would wait awhile.”

“He said he would wait for a while.”

GREAT! It worked! The substitutions make sense!

Substitution Check for A WHILE:

On the other hand, if we try to substitute a while with for a while, it should NOT make sense!

“I knew it would take a while to make the changes to the website.”

“I knew it would take for a while to make the changes to the website.” (incorrect!)

“It’s been a while since my parents’ visit.”

“It’s been for a while since my parents’ visit.” (incorrect!)

Whew! It worked! The substitutions did not make sense!

If Ever in Doubt….

If ever in doubt, use a while. Coupled with the right words, it will never be wrong as shown below:

“My mom asked me to stay awhile.”

Can also be written as:

“My mom asked me to stay for a while.”

Both are correct. You may stay awhile, or you may stay for a while. The for is built right into the awhile. What you cannot do is stay for awhile, as shown in the following examples:

“My mom asked me to stay for awhile.” (incorrect)

Why? Because awhile means for a while, thus the sentence would contain a double for as shown below:

“My mom asked me to stay for for a while.” (incorrect)

Are you ready to go edit now? After all that, if it’s been a while since you’ve visited my blog, I hope you stay awhile and check out my other posts! 🙂

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The Quotation Marks Go Where?

May 23, 2011 5 comments

There is much confusion over the use of the lowly quotation mark. Living in an international community with much communication between Brits, Canadians and Americans, the grammar lines have become yet more blurred. Following is my attempt to demystify the role of the lowly quotation mark. Please bear with me!

For the record, the use of quotation marks and their relationship with punctuation varies depending on if you are using the American grammar rules or the grammar rules adhered to by the British, Canadians, and yes, we’ll include you Aussies!

In the United States, periods and commas go inside the quotation marks regardless of usage, as in the following:

  • My mom said, “Take out the trash.”
  • His favorite poem is “Deliverance.”
  • At the top of the screen, click on the button marked “Reply.”

One exception that I know of is that when the last item in quotes is just a letter or a number, the quotes go before the period or comma, as in the following:

  • She was pleased that her son received an “A”.

If anyone knows of other exceptions, I would love to be enlightened!

In British and Canadian grammar, punctuation goes inside the quotation marks if being quoted and outside if not, as in the following:

  • My mom said, “Take out the trash.”
  • His favorite poem is “Deliverance”.

Note that this is only in reference to quotation marks with periods and commas. If it’s a question or exclamation mark, it’s different. When quotation marks are involved with question or exclamation marks, we become a united international community and agree on the grammar!

If the question/exclamation mark is at the end of the quotation, the question/exclamation mark comes before the quotation, as in the following:

  • She asked, “Do you still love me?”
  • She said, “Did you see that!”

If the sentence is asking about a quotation, but the quotation is not the question itself, the question mark will be outside of the quotation marks, as in the following:

  • Do you agree with the saying, “There’s no such thing as a stupid question”?
  • Which article did you like the most, “The Passion to Write” or “Five Falsehoods About Sleeping Dogs”?

Why my interest in the differences? I’m British by birth, raised in Canada after my parents immigrated, now married to an American, proud to say I am now an American, and currently living Stateside. I’ve had to re-learn my grammar from time to time!

My recommendation is to follow one or the other depending on where you live and where you plan to publish. I currently follow the American grammar rules. Most importantly, be consistent!

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