Dragonlords of Dumnonia
When you learn a foreign language, a great deal of time is spent learning
the grammar of the unfamiliar tongue. One of the biggest problems that
language teachers run into, however, is that many English speakers (Americans
in particular) have little or no knowledge of the grammar of their own
This section of the Scriptorium site is devoted to a variety of points
about English grammar that the group has discussed. Most of this information
can be found in Strunk and White's Elements
- Use a.m. and p.m. or AM and PM when refering to times. The first set is the
easiest to search and replace for if your press happens to use a different style, since
you won't accidentally replace the first person form of "to be" ("am").
- It's "e.g.," and "i.e.," rather than any other rendition.
(Both should be avoided in fiction.)
Also known as some things that most spell checks and grammar checks won't
- Names that refer to kinship are lowercased when they follow modifiers.
If you use them alone or in front of a proper name, as an appositive,
you generally capitalize them:
Her mother died at the age of eighty-five.
My aunt and uncle live in Daethia.
the Tramson children
"Happy birthnight, Aunt Hana."
I know that Papa's middle name is Dragonheart.
Please, Father, let's go.
- If a colon introduces more than one sentence, a formal statement,
a quotation, or a speech in dialogue, the element should begin with a
capital letter. In all other instances it may begin with a lowercase
Here are some very common words that people trip over. (Check the
Spelling page for more examples.
- He brushed past it, not passed it
- He is doing it already, not all ready
- He laid it on the couch, not lay
- A book is lying open, not laying open
- He laid his friend back, not lay
- Watch out for "its" and "it's". The first is the contraction for "it is." The second is the neuter
Using different conjunctions (words that link different sentences together)
can drastically change the meaning of what you are talking about. For instance,
- He or she finds something; he and she find something. (In the first example,
either one person or the other performs the action. In the second example, both
people perform the action. Note the change in tense that results for the verb.)
- "Then" (adv. "at that time"; adj. "of that time"; n. "that time"); "than" (conj. Used
exclusively to introduce a second element in a comparison)
He did this, then he did that. (adv.)
Shaharadesh, the then ruler of Dumnonia, fathered one son. (adj.)
The outlaw promised to be good from then on. (n.)
This wine is better than that wine. (conj.) (NOT This wine is better
then that wine.)
Watch out for gerund clauses. Many of you are over using them or leaving them in as
sentence fragments (which is okay if you are giving stage directions in a script but
which should be avoided in everything else).
Looking at the sky, he called, "Look! It's a demon!"
Looking at the sky, "Look! It's a demon!" (Gerund fragment)
Looking at the sky, "Look! It's a demon!" he called. (Dangling
modifier--i.e. the pronoun that is modified by the clause is nowhere
near the clause.)
"However" must always be set off from the rest of the sentence by a comma:
He was almost late. However, he made it just in time.
Preferred usage is to throw the "however" after the first major clause rather than
starting the sentence with the word:
He was almost late. He made it, however, just in time.
(This is a tough one, and you may not get the hang of just how far back in the
sentence the word goes until you've seen a copy editor correct it 100+ times in a
single copy of your MS!)
When "however" is positioned later in the sentence, as in the above example, it is
flanked by commas.
If the "however" is used to join the two sentences, then it is preceded by a semicolon
and followed by a comma:
He was almost late; however, he made it just in time.
One way to remember this punctuation is the English major joke in response to a
Sally said, "He almost made it!"
"However comma dot dot dot," Jane replied with a grin.
Whether you are using endnotes or footnotes, these rules apply.
- All note numbers in a single document should be consecutive.
- Note numbers follow all punctuation.
Numbers between twenty-one and ninety-nine should be hyphenated.
One of the biggest sources of confusion in writing is the proper use of
punctuation. Here are some examples of things Scriptorium members have
- Just because you run out of breath while reading a sentence does
not mean that a comma goes where you stopped. That's an Old Wive's
Tale used by lazy English teachers. Commas are used to separate the
grammatical parts of a sentence. Putting them in (or leaving them
out) wherever you "feel" like it can radically change the meaning of
what you are trying to say--or just simply make no sense. For instance,
The Dragonrider, was sad on his Bonding Day.
(Unnecessary comma. I see commas after subjects a lot for no reason.)
She went to the market to pick up several things, berry pies,
thread and perfume.
is a vastly different sentence from
She went to the market to pick up several things:
berry pies, thread and perfume.
(The first sentence indicates that she got things at the market in
addition to berry pies, thread and perfume.)
- Commas are used before a conjuntion (e.g., and, but, or) only if what follows the
conjunction is a full sentence:
He went to the battle and then returned to base.
He went to the battle, and then he returned to base.
The comma before a conjunction in a list is optional, but most presses do not use it:
He bought wool, salt and dye.
He bought wool, salt, and dye.
- When you are addressing someone, the name is set off by commas:
"I wanted to talk to you about that, Tphah."
"I wanted to talk to you about that Tphah."
- A comma before the quotation may be incorrect in some instances. If the phrase
were not a quotation, would you still use a comma before it? If the answer is "no,"
omit the comma.
He told her that "they were two for one."
He told her that, "they were two for one."
He said, "They were two for one."
He said "They were two for one."
Note the capitalization difference in the examples as well.
- When you address someone in the course of a sentence, you set off the name with
"So, Bill, I see you came back."
"Bill, I see you came back."
"I see you came back, Bill."
"I see, Bill, you came back."
All of these are correct. To use an appositive, you insert the phrase that stands for
the name in where the comma are:
"So, big guy, I see you came back."
and so forth.
Now, some sentences become run-on sentences without the appositive:
"That's right big guy, nothing." [run-on]
"That's right, big guy, nothing." [with the appositive.]
"That's right nothing." [a rewrite of the same sentence without the
Now, correct punctuation for this sentence in dialog would be:
"That's right; nothing."
"That's right: nothing."
"That's right. Nothing."
With the appositive re-inserted, this reads:
"That's right, big guy; nothing."
"That's right, big guy: nothing."
"That's right, big guy. Nothing."
I prefer the last variant, since it looks the least awkward.
An ellipsis is used to indicate that something has been left out or that a voice or
thought is trailing off. Ellipses are rendered by three dots, SEPARATED
BY SPACES from each other as well as from the words on either
side of the ellipsis.
Example: He fought in battle . . . and then returned to base. (He
did something else between going to the fighting in battle and
returning to base.)
Watch your possessives! You can say something very different from what
you intend if you put the possessive in the wrong place:
Bill and Ted's excellent adventure (The adventure Bill and Ted had together)
vs. Bill's and Ted's excellent adventures (Adventures that Bill and Ted had
Here are a few rules about hyphenation and some examples of hyphenation problems. Check the Spelling
page for more.
- Two words used as a single adjective are hyphenated; used as any
other part of speech (e.g., noun or adverb) they appear as two
- When you use a hyphen (-) (also known as a "n-dash") or a dash (--) (also known
as an "m-dash") there is no space on either side of the mark:
The seven-year-old girl was tall.
The seven- year- old girl was tall.
The keys weren't in the door--they were on the mat.
The keys weren't in the door-- they were on the mat.
The keys weren't in the door -- they were on the mat.
The keys weren't in the door - they were on the mat.
- Modifiers that follow the noun are generally not hyphenated:
Man in his late thirties
- Punctuation goes inside quotation marks for American presses, outside
for British presses.
- "Alas!" he cried. (one space after second quote)
- "Alas!" Jason screamed as he dove off the cliff. (Two spaces after the second quote)
- The semi-colon is the only punctuation that follows a quotation mark in American English: "Dragon"; not "Dragon;"
- When you conclude a sentence within quotes (that includes special quotes for
telepathy), a period becomes a comma before a descriptive:
"There were five bandits," she told him.
"There were five bandits." she told him.
"There were five bandits." She told him.
When the descriptive precedes the dialog, it, too, is followed by a comma, not a
She told him, "There were five bandits."
She told him. "There were five bandits."
- You may not always need a comma before a closing quotation mark.
When the dialog is an integral part of the sentence, you do not use
a comma. For instance:
"That's right," he replied.
"That's right" was his reply.
Make sure your pronouns have a proper referent:
While Bill swam, he saw a fish.
While he swam, Bill saw a fish.
The latter becomes particularly confusing if another male is mentioned in the previous
If you can replace the word in the sentence with "very" OR "also," you want to
spell it "too" not "to." And the "also"Äform of "too" is set off by commas. Example:
He was too short.
He was to short.
She wanted to go, too.
She wanted to go too.
She wanted to go to.
"Which" is only used:
- in combination with certain prepositions
- when part of a clause that really adds nothing to a sentence. In this case,
the clause is always set off by commas.
- Use a comma before a "which" clause; do not use a comma before a "that"
He wants the mug, which is on the bar.
He wants the mug that is on the bar.
In the first sentence, the fact that the mug is on the bar is incidental. In the second
sentence, the fact that the mug is on the bar is essential (e.g., there may be more
than one mug present, and this detail is required to distinguish one
mug from another).
What's Correct vs. What Sounds Right
I believe it was Winston Churchill who said something to the effect that
the stricture to avoid putting prepositions at the end of a sentence is
something "up with which I will not put." There's correct grammar, and there's
what sounds good. In dialog, go ahead and make grammatical mistakes if
it's in character for the speaker to do so and if the mistake sounds better
than the proper form. In narration, reword the sentence to avoid the
awkward bit of grammar. Here are some examples that Scriptorium has
- Use "If I were" only if the comment is hypothetical.
- "That was just I"; not "That was just me" (but very few people beyond
Ive League English Professors would dream of talking this way)
Here are some things that simply look wrong but actually sound better than
the grammar that looks correct.
- a usurper (Though "an" usually precedes a vowel, it's "a" in this case
because of the "yew" instead of "oo" sound of the first syllable.)
When you have a phrase that modifies a noun, you need to put that phrase
as close to the noun it modifies as possible. If you don't, the phrase
is what is called a "dangling modifier":
The groom, while going to the stable, saw a guard and said "Hello."
While going to the stable, "Hello," the groom said when he saw a guard.
The groom saw a guard, while going to the stable, and said "Hello."
(The last example can cause confusion about whether the boy or the friend
was going to the store.)
Return to the Dragonlord of Dumnonia Home Page