Dragonlords of Dumnonia

Scriptorium

Grammar

(Revised 11/2/98)

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 language.

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 of Style.

Abbreviations

  1. 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").
  2. It's "e.g.," and "i.e.," rather than any other rendition. (Both should be avoided in fiction.)

Capitalization

Also known as some things that most spell checks and grammar checks won't catch.

  1. 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.
  2. 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 letter.

Common Confustions

Here are some very common words that people trip over. (Check the Spelling page for more examples.

  1. He brushed past it, not passed it
  2. He is doing it already, not all ready
  3. He laid it on the couch, not lay
  4. A book is lying open, not laying open
  5. He laid his friend back, not lay
  6. Watch out for "its" and "it's". The first is the contraction for "it is." The second is the neuter possessive pronoun.

Conjunctions

Using different conjunctions (words that link different sentences together) can drastically change the meaning of what you are talking about. For instance,

  1. 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.)
  2. "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.)

Gerund Clauses

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!"
NOT
Looking at the sky, "Look! It's a demon!" (Gerund fragment)
NOT
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

"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 statement:

Sally said, "He almost made it!"
"However comma dot dot dot," Jane replied with a grin.

Notes

Whether you are using endnotes or footnotes, these rules apply.

  1. All note numbers in a single document should be consecutive.
  2. Note numbers follow all punctuation.

Numbers

Numbers between twenty-one and ninety-nine should be hyphenated.

Punctuation

One of the biggest sources of confusion in writing is the proper use of punctuation. Here are some examples of things Scriptorium members have tripped over.

Commas

  1. 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.)

  2. 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.
    NOT
    He bought wool, salt, and dye.
  3. When you are addressing someone, the name is set off by commas:

    "Hello, Kashon."
    NOT
    "Hello Kashon."

    "I wanted to talk to you about that, Tphah."
    NOT
    "I wanted to talk to you about that Tphah."
  4. 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."
    NOT
    He told her that, "they were two for one."

    However,

    He said, "They were two for one."
    NOT
    He said "They were two for one."

    Note the capitalization difference in the examples as well.

  5. When you address someone in the course of a sentence, you set off the name with commas:

    "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 appositive.]

    Now, correct punctuation for this sentence in dialog would be:

    "That's right; nothing."
    OR
    "That's right: nothing."
    OR
    "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.

Ellipses

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.)

Possessives

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 separately).

Hyphenation

Here are a few rules about hyphenation and some examples of hyphenation problems. Check the Spelling page for more.

  1. 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 separate words.
  2. 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.
    NOT
    The seven- year- old girl was tall.

    The keys weren't in the door--they were on the mat.
    NOT
    The keys weren't in the door-- they were on the mat.
    AND NOT
    The keys weren't in the door -- they were on the mat.
    AND NOT
    The keys weren't in the door - they were on the mat.
  3. Modifiers that follow the noun are generally not hyphenated:

    Man in his late thirties
    NOT
    late-thirties

Quotation Marks

  1. Punctuation goes inside quotation marks for American presses, outside for British presses.
  2. "Alas!" he cried. (one space after second quote)
  3. "Alas!" Jason screamed as he dove off the cliff. (Two spaces after the second quote)
  4. The semi-colon is the only punctuation that follows a quotation mark in American English: "Dragon"; not "Dragon;"
  5. 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.
    NOT
    "There were five bandits." she told him.
    AND NOT
    "There were five bandits." She told him.

    When the descriptive precedes the dialog, it, too, is followed by a comma, not a period.

    She told him, "There were five bandits."
    NOT
    She told him. "There were five bandits."
  6. 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.
    but
    "That's right" was his reply.

Referents

Make sure your pronouns have a proper referent:

While Bill swam, he saw a fish.
NOT
While he swam, Bill saw a fish.

The latter becomes particularly confusing if another male is mentioned in the previous sentence.

To/Too

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.
NOT
He was to short.

She wanted to go, too.
NOT
She wanted to go too.
AND NOT
She wanted to go to.

Which

"Which" is only used:

  1. in combination with certain prepositions
  2. when part of a clause that really adds nothing to a sentence. In this case, the clause is always set off by commas.
  3. Use a comma before a "which" clause; do not use a comma before a "that" clause:

    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 conjured:

  1. Use "If I were" only if the comment is hypothetical.
  2. "That was just I"; not "That was just me" (but very few people beyond Ive League English Professors would dream of talking this way)

Problem Children

Here are some things that simply look wrong but actually sound better than the grammar that looks correct.

  1. 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.)

Word Order

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."
NOT
While going to the stable, "Hello," the groom said when he saw a guard.
AND NOT
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.)

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