How to use a semicolon

Last week I got a request for a blog post on proper semicolon usage, and I’m now obliging! Corey Wright, I hereby dedicate this post to you.

Semicolons denote a semi-hard stop. They indicate a greater separation of thought than a comma but less than the separation a comma conveys. Semicolons are used to clarify, separate and add variety to sentences.

Semicolon guidelines

1. Use a semicolon to clarify a series if the elements in the series contain commas.

  • I have lived in Greenville, S.C.; Columbia, S.C.; Newcastle, Australia; and Atlanta, Georgia.

Because each item in the list requires a comma to separate the city, a semicolon is necessary to separate the items themselves.

2. Use a semicolon to link independent clauses when a coordinating conjunction isn’t present.

  • I met a lot of talented writers at DFWcon; they make wonderful crit partners.
  • Grammar and punctuation can be difficult to wrap your head around; I try to make these things easy to understand.

You could technically use a period to make each of these examples two separate sentences. However, if you already have a lot of shorter sentences, you might want to use semicolons to vary your sentence structure.

*But you can’t just stick two unrelated sentences together. For example, this wouldn’t fly:

I met a lot of talented writers at DFWcon; macaroni and cheese is delicious.

3. Use a semicolon before a conjunctive adverb or transitional phrase to link two clauses.

  • I enjoy reading all types of books; however, I prefer to read YA books.
  • Corey needed help understanding semicolon usage; therefore, I wrote this post.

*If you have a hard time remembering that commas combine coordinating conjunctions and semicolons combine conjunctive adverbs, here’s an easy reminder that one of my professors once mentioned: Commas are smaller than semicolons and combine coordinating conjunctions (and, but, or, nor, for, so), which are shorter than conjunctive adverbs (however, conversely, therefore, etc.).

Any questions?

Photo: Saucy Salad/flickr

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Grammar and usage for writers (Part IV)

I was asked last weekend if I thought editors made better writers. My answer? Not necessarily.

However, I will say that teaching copy editing and really getting these rules down has made me a better writer. You don’t have to know this stuff in order to craft beautiful prose and write stories that sweep readers away; however, I think learning language and all its nitpicky rules can be beneficial to your writing. When you have a solid understanding of what you’re working with, doesn’t it make the process a little easier?

Sure, an editor will look over your copy before your book hits the presses, but what if you’re querying an agent or sending off a synopsis? You don’t want an agent’s first thought upon seeing your query to be “This person doesn’t know the difference between lay and lie.” That’s why I write these posts: to help you and to give myself a refresher. Seriously, I need it, too!

So today we’ll delve back into the grammar and usage world with the help of one of my favorite fictional couples: Lena and Alex of Lauren Oliver’s “Delirium.”

1. Let’s modify! Compound modifiers

Compound modifiers are pairs of words in which the first word acts as an adverb modifying the second word, which acts as an adjective. Together, these words modify the noun or pronoun that follows, and a hyphen is placed between them to show this. Confused yet? Don’t worry. This is actually quite simple!

  • Lena has a well-intentioned aunt.
  • Lena met Alex at a less-crowded beach.

Without using hyphens in the examples above, it wouldn’t be clear that “well-intentioned” and “less-crowded” are working as units to modify the nouns that follow them.

You also place hyphens between compound modifiers that precede the words they modify.

  • Contracting the deliria is a fear-inducing idea.
  • Alex is a part-time guard.

But this rule applies only to modifiers that precede the word they’re modifying.

  • Alex works part time. Here, “part time” follows the word it modifies so no hyphen is required.

*There’s an always an exception to the rule though, right? Here’s this one: Keep the hyphen in a compound adjective that follows a linking verb.

  • Alex’s work was part-time.

2. Many people figuratively literally don’t know how to use these words correctly.

Figuratively means symbolically. Literally means “actually” or “exactly,” but try to avoid using it as a vague intensifier in place of “really.”

  • When Lena says Alex has hair of autumn leaves, she’s speaking figuratively.
  • “Delirium” literally means “acute confusional state.”

If you ever have trouble with this one, just think of children literally eating books:

“Very young children eat their books, literally devouring their contents. This is one reason for the scarcity of first editions of Alice in Wonderland and other favorites of the nursery.”
-A. S. W. Rosenbach

3. Yes, there’s a difference. (‘into’ v. ‘in to’ and ‘onto’ v. ‘on to’)

Use into to indicate action or motion.

  • Lena walked into the Crypts with Alex.

Use in to as two words when in is used as an adverb and to is used as an infinitive.

  • Alex got Lena in to show her that her mother wasn’t dead.

Use onto as a preposition meaning to move toward and advance upon.

  • Lena climbed onto the fence as she tried to escape into the wilds.

Use on to as two words when on is used as an adverb and to is used as a preposition.

  • Now that Lena has escaped she must move on to live a life without Alex.

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Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Grammar and usage for writers: Commas (Part II)

The punctuation party continues today, and do you know what makes commas even more fun? Teen romance and muuurder, of course! So today’s post will feature Violet Ambrose and Jay Heaton from Kimberly Derting‘s “The Body Finder.”

1. Use a comma for coordinate adjectives.

Coordinate adjectives are adjectives that are equally important. You can recognize them in a sentence by doing this simple test: Reverse the order of the adjectives and see if it still makes sense. To make things more clear, you could also reverse the order of the adjectives and insert “and” in between them to check.

  • Violet runs down the long, narrow path. (A comma is required here because we could just as easily write this sentence as “Violet runs down the narrow and long path” or Violet runs down the narrow, long path” without changing the sentence’s meaning.)
  • Violet has gorgeous, natural curls. Violet has natural, gorgeous curls.

*However, don’t go sticking in commas every time you’re piling up a couple of adjectives. Not everything reverses!

  • She went to school in a concrete block building. (A “concrete block building” can’t be changed to a “block concrete building.” That wouldn’t make any sense!)

2. Use a comma in series to separate elements.

  • Violet wants to catch the catch the killer, save lives, and kiss Jay. (simple series)

*Depending on what style you write in, you could opt not to include the Oxford comma. As a journalist who lives and dies by AP Style (aka “the journalists’ bible), I rarely ever use it, but it’s common in the publishing industry. For my full explanation of the Oxford comma, click here.

  • Depending on the body she senses, Violet can see imprints, taste and smell imprints, or hear imprints. (series with embedded conjunction in one element)

*Assuming Violet is able to only 1. see imprints, 2. taste and smell imprints — as one element — and 3. hear imprints, this is how we would write that sentence. This next example makes it a little more clear:

  • I cooked vegetarian meatloaf, peas and carrots, and potatoes. (“Peas and carrots” is one element, so even if you opt not to use the Oxford the comma in your writing, you would have to here because it’s necessary to clarify that there are three items in this list, not four.)

But what if you just have a really long, convoluted sentence?

  • When Violet is being chased through the woods by the killer, I wonder whether she’ll manage to outrun him, whether he’ll tackle her and she’ll have to fight him off with her bare hands and whatever weapons she can find, and whether Jay will finally appear on the scene and come to her rescue. (long, complicated sentence)

If you use the Oxford comma, you’re probably thinking, “I’d include that last comma anyway, but if you’re an AP Style addict like myself, then you’d probably drop that serial comma in for clarification purposes. However, a comma actually isn’t required. This is really a judgment call.

Let’s take a look at one more:

  • Violet used to seek out the bodies of dead animals, she would bury them in Shady Acres, and Jay would help her build headstones for the graves. (series of independent clauses)

Here, we don’t need a comma for clarification because the thoughts are pretty straightforward; however, each element of that series is an independent clause and therefore requires the Oxford comma.

That’s it for today! Now that you’ve learned a thing or two about commas, reward yourself by heading over to my previous post to enter to win a copy of Veronica Roth’s “Insurgent!”

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Grammar and usage for writers: Commas (Part I)

Let’s face it: Commas are confusing. Even those of us who once had to teach comma usage to undergrads get them wrong sometimes. (If you’re a former Jour333 student from one of my labs, I apologize for any incorrect comma knowledge I bestowed upon you. Yes, there definitely was a lot some of that.) Luckily, I have a better handle on them now; however, there’s a lot to cover so I’ll be breaking this down into three separate posts.

Today’s post will feature Mary and her Unconsecrated friends from Carrie Ryan’s “The Forest of Hands and Teeth.”

1. Use a comma to join independent clauses with coordinating conjunctions (and, but, or, nor, so, for and yet).

  • Mary is in love with Travis, but Travis has agreed to marry Cass.
  • Mary longs to see the ocean, and she hopes that one day she will venture there.

Here’s how to test if a comma is needed: Take out the coordinating conjunction and see if each sentence can stand on its own. If they both can, the comma belongs.

  • Mary is in love with Travis. Travis has agreed to marry Cass.
  • Mary longs to see the ocean. She hopes that one day she will venture there.

Simple enough, right? But sometimes sentences can get a little tricky and appear to have two independent clauses when they actually don’t.

  • Mary said that she was merely praying for Travis and (Mary said) that her intentions were pure.

This sentence might look like it has two independent clauses, but both sides of “and” rely on the word “said” for their meaning. In this case, there is no comma.

Also, watch out for sentences that have another controlling element because they also don’t require commas.

  • Mary fled into the forest because the Unconsecrated had broken through the fence and (because) she was unable to reach one of the platforms.
  • Mary will marry Harry if she has to and (if) doesn’t have to join the Sisterhood.

2. Use commas to set off nonessential clauses or appositives.

Nonessential clauses will often begin with “which,” which is a good clue a comma is needed.

  • The dog in this book is named Argos, which is also the name of Odysseus’ dog in “The Odyssey.”
  • The dog, Argos, barked when it sensed zombies were getting near.

Now, here’s where it gets a little tricky. We set off the name “Argos” in the sentence above because there is only one dog. If there were more than one dog, those commas wouldn’t be necessary. We could just as easily say, “The dog barked when it sensed zombies were getting near” because we’d still know that the sentence is referencing Argos because there are no other dogs in the story.

However, if there were two or more dogs in the story we wouldn’t need those commas. Let’s pretend Argos has a canine friend, a Chihuahua named Zombie Killer.

  • The dog Argos barked when it sensed zombies were getting near, but the dog Zombie Killer simply cowered in fear. (We don’t need to set off the dogs’ names in commas in this case because their names are essential to the meaning of the sentence — without their names we wouldn’t know which dog was the brave one.)

Now take a look at these:

  • Mary’s true love, Travis, injured his leg. (Mary has just one true love. We don’t have to mention Travis by name to know who we’re talking about. However, if we do mention Travis by name, we’ll need to set his name off with commas.)
  • My brother Jarrod hasn’t read any of Carrie Ryan’s books. (Here, I haven’t put commas around Jarrod’s name because I have two brothers, therefore Jarrod’s name is essential to understanding the sentence.)

This kind of thing can get confusing. As a journalist, I’ve actually had those moments where I go, “But what if John Doe has two sisters and I just don’t know that? What if he was separated from one at birth and no one knows. My commas could be making an assumption about his family that could be an outright lie. In fact, these commas could be putting my very journalistic integrity at risk!” *cue crazy downward comma spiral*

OK, it’s clearly time for me to take a break from all this comma, zombie and appositive talk, so that’s it for today. Speaking of zombies and the undead, put the comma contemplation on hold and enjoy this funny post that mocks Bella Swan: “An Imagined Girls Night With Katniss Everdeen, Hermione Granger, Bella Swan and Buffy Summers.”

Photo: danhollisterduck/flickr

Grammar and usage for writers (Part III)

We’re going to keep things short and sweet today. (Sorry, no lengthy gerund discussions this time!) The WIP is being needy and wants my attention, and the word on Nerd Street is that people are still trying to wrap their heads around last week’s fun with subjunctives.

Today, we’ll cover these topics: lay v. lie, convince v. persuade, reflexive pronouns, fewer v. less and proven v. proved. And this time we’ll use John Green’s and David Levithan’s Will Grayson, will grayson and (not-so-tiny) Tiny Cooper!

1. Lay v. lie (as Jenn requested)

This one is actually fairly simple, but a lot of people get it wrong. What you need to understand is that there are transitive verbs and intransitive verbs. (I know it sounds like I’m getting all English teacher on you, but trust me, this is easy.) Transitive verbs have a direct object after them that tells you to whom or what the action is done. The direct object is what receives the action. Intransitive verbs don’t have a direct object.

  • Tiny Cooper wrote a musical. (Wrote what? A musical. “Musical” is the direct object, so “wrote” is a transitive verb.)
  • Tiny Cooper danced. (No direct object)

What does this have to do with lie and lay? It’s simple: Lay is a transitive verb meaning “to put something down.” Lie is an intransitive verb meaning “to rest.”

  • Will Grayson lays a copy of “Mano a Mano” on the street. (“Copy” is the direct object of “lay.”)
  • Will Grayson lies down when Tiny Cooper exhausts him. (“Lies” has no direct object.)

 2. Convince v. persuade

When people actually get this one right, I just assume that they, too, went to journalism school. Simply put, “convince” means to cause someone to believe something. “Persuade” means to cause someone to do something.

  • Tiny Cooper tried to convince Will Grayson that he liked Jane. (a belief)
  • Tiny Cooper tried to persuade Will Grayson to date Jane. (an action)

Also, generally, you convince someone of something and persuade someone to do something.

  • will grayson was convinced of the fact that Isaac was real.
  • will grayson was persuaded to meet Isaac in person.

3. Reflexive pronouns

Reflexive pronouns are yourself, myself, himself, herself, itself, ourselves, themselves and yourselves. They are pronouns that reflect something else. Think of it this way: When you see your reflection in the mirror, you are looking at yourself in the mirror. “Yourself” is the reflection of “you.” So, it follows that you can’t use a reflexive pronoun unless there’s something — another pronoun — for it to reflect.

  • I hurt myself.
  • Tiny Cooper, himself, will perform the show.
  • Please ask Will Grayson, Jane or myself me if you have questions about the Neutral Milk Hotel performance. (There’s no earlier reference to who the speaker is, so the correct pronoun is “me.”)

Extra credit: Next time you reread the Harry Potter books — assuming you reread these books annually like I do — notice how often Rowling (correctly) uses reflexive pronouns. Yes, it’s nerdy, but I notice things like this. It’s kind of like how Stephenie Meyer uses the words “chagrin” and “dazzle” every other chapter. Or how my writing would be crippled without the em dash … or is crippled because of the em dash.

4. Fewer v. less (as John requested)

You know those express check-out lanes with signs that declare they’re for people with “10 items or less”? THEY MAKE MY EYES BLEED. Publix is one of the less few stores that gets it right. Its lanes advertise “10 items or fewer.” THESE SIGNS BRING JOY TO MY SOUL.

Use “fewer” when you’re referring to things that can be counted individually. Use “less” when you’re referring to something that can’t be counted individually.

  • There were fewer Will Graysons in the audience than I’d hoped. (We can count the number of Will Graysons.)
  • Tiny Cooper was nervous and wished he’d eaten less before the performance.

Remember to really think about whether individual items can be counted. Study this distinction closely:

  • Will Grayson had less than $10 in his pocket.
  • Will Grayson had fewer than 10 $1 bills in his pocket. (We can count each individual $1 bill.)

Easy, right? Let’s make it a little more difficult then. “Less” is also used when describing money, time and distance — despite what you can count.

  • will grayson’s train ride to Chicago took less than two hours.
  • will grayson’s train traveled less than 100 miles.
  • Will Grayson paid less than $20 for “Mano a Mano.”

5.  Proved v. proven

This is another one of those things that drives me a little crazy as an editor. (There are a lot of those, huh? Does it surprise you that I can even read for pleasure?) “Proved” is a verb. “Proven” is an adjective.

  • Will Grayson and will grayson proved that Tiny Cooper is appreciated.
  • Tiny Cooper has a proven ability to cheer people up. (“Proven” describes his ability.)

That’s all for this week! Check out my previous grammar and usage posts (Part I and Part II) if this post has whet your appetite for grammar and you’re starving for more. And if you have any burning punctuation, usage or grammar questions, ask away and I’ll respond next week!

Super excited about “The Hunger Games” movie? So am I!!! You still have a few hours until that midnight showing, so use that time to check out my recent article about how you can help Hunger Games fans, Harry Potter fans and Oxfam fight world hunger as part of the “Hunger is Not a Game” campaign. It’s a pretty cool idea.

May the odds be ever in your favor…

Grammar and usage for writers (Part II)

This week we’ll cover the following fascinating topics: every day v. everyday, the misplaced ‘only,’ em dashes v. en dashes, subjunctive mood and serial commas. And we’ll do it with the help of Stephanie Perkins‘ Lola Nolan and Cricket Bell!

1. People misuse ‘everyday’ every day

You breath every day. You may daydream about Cricket Bell every day. But you do not breathe everyday or daydream everyday. “Everyday” is an adjective and “every day” is an adverb and therefore they are two different things. As an adjective, you can use “everyday” to mean “ordinary,” but it must be used as one word to modify a noun.

  • For Lola, costumes are everyday outfits.

Here, “everyday” is modifying the noun “outfits” in the same way you that you could use any other adjective.

  • Costumes are creative outfits.
  • Costumes are fun outfits.

On the other hand, “every day” means the same thing as “each day.”

  • Lola wears costumes every day.
  • I daydream about Cricket Bell every day.

2. If only we knew where to place ‘only’

This one requires a little bit of thinking as you write, but it’s actually fairly simple.

  • Only Cricket loves Lola. (This means that no one else loves Lola but Cricket — not her dads, her mom or her friends.)
  • Cricket only loves Lola. (This means that Cricket has no emotion toward Lola except love.)
  • Cricket loves only Lola. (This means that Cricket loves no one else but Lola.)

Do you see what I did there?

3. There are two kinds of dashes? (As Kristen requested)

Believe it or not, there are! Meet two of my good friends: En Dash and Em Dash. You probably know Em Dash by his nickname “Dash,” or by the fact that I use him entirely too much in my writing. (I love Em Dash so much that I wish I could have him tattooed on my other wrist as a companion to my interrobang tat. However, because Em Dash is essentially just a line, I feel like this isn’t something I should pay to have permanently inked on my body. I could simply Sharpie that sucker onto my other wrist on the days I want him hang out with Interrobang and me.)

*A hyphen is not a baby dash! Do not use a hyphen in place of a dash. Now, forget about hyphens for now. We’ll talk about them on another exciting Thursday.

To help you get better acquainted with En Dash and Em Dash, it might help you to understand why they have these names. It’s actually quite simple: Traditionally, the em dash is as long as the typeset capital M and the en dash is as long as the typeset capital N. That’s it. Nothing fancy!

The en dash is really used only in situations where you’re referencing periods of time.

  • Cricket and Lola will be at Calliope’s skating competition November 3-November 5. (Simple enough, right?)

The em dash is commonly used for these purposes:

  • To set off parenthetical material or a list: There are many things Lola liked about Cricket his height, his inventive mind and his pants that made her fall head over heels for him.
  • For emphasis that dramatically ends a sentence: Lola was heartbroken and the only boy she wanted to see was the very boy she’d been avoiding Cricket.

Notes on em dashes:

  • You can create an em dash with this keyboard shortcut: shift + option + hyphen. Use this enough and you don’t even have to think about it — your fingers just do it. If you just can’t get it down, two hyphens will suffice.
  • If you write in Scrivener (you know, because Scrivener is awesome), you can type two hyphens in a row and Scrivener will magically transform them into an em dash for you!

4. If I were you, I’d learn when to use subjunctive mood. (As Liza requested)

The subjunctive should be used when you’re talking about any condition that’s contrary to fact, including a wish, a doubt, a prayer, a desire, a hope or a request. Often, a good indicator that the subjunctive mood should be used is the presence of the word “if” — BUT NOT ALWAYS.

  • If I was were Lola (but I’m not), I’d take Cricket to the dance.
  • If Max wasn’t weren’t such a jerk (but he is), maybe readers would like him.
  • I wish I was were Cricket’s neighbor (but I’m not).

Because we’re talking about something that isn’t true, we use the subjunctive mood of the verb “to be.” (The most common errors made with the subjunctive mood are made with this verb.)

But “if” won’t always be there to clue you in that the subjunctive is needed. And sometimes “if” will appear in a sentence just to make you think you need the subjunctive, but this a deceitful “if”! Here are some more specific rules about when to use the subjunctive. *These aren’t ALL the rules of the subjunctive — just the ones I think you’re most likely to encounter when you’re writing.

1. Use the subjunctive after “as if.”

  • Max acts as if he were a real catch.

2. Use it for most dependent clauses beginning with “if.” (Don’t remember the difference between independent and dependent clauses? No problem. Here’s a simple refresher.)

  • If I were Lola’s dads (but I’m not), I wouldn’t want her dating Max either.
  • If loving Cricket is wrong, I don’t want to be right. (I don’t believe loving Cricket is actually wrong. “Is” is the present tense of the subjunctive mood.)

What about these?

  • If Cricket’s invention works, he will be famous. (The “if” here introduces a condition that could be true. Cricket’s invention might work and it might not work; however, what’s important here is that that statement we’re making isn’t known to be false. Because of this, we use the indicative mood for the verb “works.”)
  • Cricket must have gone home if he is not in Lola’s room. (If we know that Cricket isn’t in Lola’s room, then we use the indicative instead of the subjunctive because the subjunctive is used only when there’s a condition contrary to fact.)

3. If the verb in the independent clause (IC) is in the indicative mood, the verb in the dependent clause (DC) is also usually in the indicative. If the verb in the IC is in the conditional mood, the verb in the DC is usually in the subjunctive. (OK, take a deep breath and bear with me. This is easier than it sounds)

  • Lola can date Cricket if she wants to. (Can and want are both indicative)
  • Lola could fix that dress were she given the right tools. (Could is conditional. Were is subjunctive.)

As I said before, these aren’t ALL the rules for the subjunctive mood, but hopefully this is enough to give you a general understanding of when to use it.

*If you’re writing dialogue, your characters might not necessarily use the subjunctive mood correctly in their speech. Unless, of course, your character is an English professor or a nerdy journalist like I am.

5. Who gives a f*@k about the Oxford comma? (As China requested)

I don’t. Well, actually, I kind of do. Let me explain. I don’t understand why people get into arguments over the Oxford comma, or serial comma, because one isn’t right and one isn’t wrong. (Is it weird that I know people who get into such arguments? Do I just hang out with the wrong kind of people?) The serial comma basically comes down to a style choice. Most book publishers opt for the serial comma, and you’ll find it in style guides like Chicago and APA.

However, I’m a formally trained journalist who was taught that the AP Style Guide is essentially a canonical text. Most journalists don’t use the serial comma — unless, of course, we need it for clarification purposes. It’s not that we inherently dislike the serial comma. In fact, a lot of it has to do with history. Way back in the day, newspapers were printed using stamps that cost a lot of money and took a lot of time to move around. Sticking in an extra comma in a series meant that the printer would have to physically shift over an entire stamp for that comma — a comma that really wasn’t even necessary most of the time. If you had to go to all that trouble every time you wanted to use an Oxford comma, you’d quit using it, too.

Yes, I do write even my WIP in AP Style. I use the serial comma only for clarification purposes, I capitalize “OK” when my characters say it, and until a couple years ago, I wrote “website” as “web site.” My crit partners deal with it. They’re awesome.

Well, that was exhausting, huh? Looking for a fun read with some eye candy? Check out my interview with Ian Somerhalder!

Dying to read more grammar tips? Last week we went over these topics: you and I v. you and me, between v. among, gerunds and possessives, farther v. further and using commas when addressing people. And we did all of this with the help of Katniss and Peeta!

Grammar and usage for writers (Part I)

Have you ever noticed that so many “grammar for writers” posts simply remind you about the difference between “it’s” and “its” and how there’s a “there,” a “they’re” and a “their”? Yes, sometimes we need a little reminder —  even the world’s greatest copy editor will make a mistake now and then — but don’t most of us know this stuff already?

I think you do. And that’s why I think it’s time to delve a little deeper into the fascinating world of grammar, usage and language.

1. You, me and I — and cake!

  • You, Katniss and I will enjoy Peeta’s freshly iced cake.
  • That cake belongs to you, Peeta and me.

These first two are easy. Here’s the trick: Simply take everyone out of the sentence except for yourself and see how it sounds.

  • I will enjoy Peeta’s freshly iced cake.
  • That cake belongs to me.

But what about his one?

  • Between you and ___, I think it’s strange that Peeta ices cakes.

You might be tempted to say “I,” but the correct answer is “me.” Why? Well, it’s because of that pesky preposition “between.” If you really want to delve into a discussion of prepositional phrases, head over here. Between you and me, I think you should just take my word for it.

2. Between you and me, I think it’s time we knew when to use ‘among.’

Speaking of “between,” here’s a pet peeve of mine:

  • They split Peeta’s cake equally between among the three of them.

Between means two. You and I can split Peeta’s cake between us, but if there are more than two people eating cake, “use among.” Your editor will thank you. If you really can’t remember this, at least send your editor some cake.

3. Fun with (sneaky) gerunds and possessives!

This is another thing that really gets under my skin because most people are doing it WRONG. The rare times someone actually gets this right, my brain goes, “Hey, this writer really knows his/her stuff.” When someone gets this wrong … well, I judge that person. Just a little bit. But then I feel bad about it and I don’t get any cake.

What is a gerund? To put it simply, it’s a noun ending in “ing” that’s trying to trick you into thinking it’s a verb. Gerunds are sneaky like that. Take a look:

  • Peeta is baking a cake.
  • Baking calms Peeta and helps him cope with PTSD.

In the first sentence, “baking” is a verb. It’s what Peeta is doing right now. In the second sentence, baking is a gerund. “Baking” is the subject of the sentence. Don’t worry, there’s a super easy way to test this: Simply replace the gerund with any other noun and see if it still works.

  • Katniss calms Peeta and helps him cope with PTSD.
  • Kittens calm Peeta and help him cope with PTSD.
  • Lamb stew calms Peeta and helps him cope with PTSD.

But what about these?

  • Peeta is a great baker. Any chance of him his baking us a cake tomorrow?
  • Peeta‘s baking is a strange hobby.

In both of these examples, “baking” is a gerund and requires a possessive just like any other noun would. I bet that 90 percent of English speakers would have said, “Any chance of him baking us a cake tomorrow?” Wrong!! In that first sentence, “baking” is the object of the preposition “of” and requires a possessive. Now, try these:

  • What do you think about him his baking such a delicious cake?
  • Gale, Peeta resents you your being more handsome than he is.

Again, drop in a noun if that helps you identify the gerund.

  • What do you think about his dog?
  • Gale, Peeta resents your dog.

4. Farther v. further

Gerunds have nearly exhausted me, but I think we can delve into a couple more simple usage issue. Here’s the rule for this one: “Farther” refers to physical distance, and “further” refers to an extension of degree or time.

  • Katniss walked farther into the arena.
  • I will look further into the matter of Peeta’s cake-baking hobby.

5. Laura, must I address you with a comma? Yes, dear reader, please do.

Just like in the photo above, you must use a comma when addressing someone directly.

  • You here to finish me off, sweetheart?
  • Isn’t it unfortunate, Katniss, that you drank that white liquor?
  • You did a great job planting that primrose bush, Peeta!

That’s it for today!

There are very few things I can blog about with some degree of authority, so I hope you found this helpful. If these regular grammar/usage posts don’t pan out, I’ll just have to start writing about one of the few other topics I consider myself to be somewhat of an expert on (i.e. cats, walking into inanimate objects, how Scott Stapp ruined music, etc.)

If you happen to have any grammar, usage or cat questions, please let me know! Until then, I’ll be eating cake.


Lyin’ and stylin’

Last week I posted my entry for the first Crusaders Challenge where I had to share the following things about myself: a quirk, a character trait, a habit, a secret and one lie. Several of you caught the lie.

Now here’s the truth:

I do have an interrobang tattoo. I’m just nerdy like that.

In further nerdiness, I really do correct grammar in books as I read them. I realize this is a sick compulsion. While I was earning my master’s, I taught copy editing to undergraduate journalism students and this somehow morphed me into the grammatically correct weirdo I am today. The invention of bookmarker pens has made my deranged quest for grammatical perfection that much easier. (Yes, people do hate borrowing books from me.)

My boss really does play for The Rolling Stones. His name is Chuck Leavell and he’s the band’s keyboardist. He co-founded Mother Nature Network in 2009, which is where I work as a writer and editor.

I really do believe in treating all creatures — both human and nonhuman — with respect so I don’t eat meat, eggs or milk, and I recently took a pledge to use only cruelty-free products.

I have never been bitten by a shark, but I do live in fear that this will one day happen. I even have nightmares about sharks evolving to walk on land, which is why I had to buy that amazing T-shirt when I found it at Goodwill. (I’ve never heard that band before, but I bet they’re excellent.)

However, after publicly showcasing this shirt I’m a little worried that Misha is going to revoke the Stylish Blogger Award she gave me. (Thanks, Misha! And just in case this award is remotely based on personal style you should know that I rarely wear this in public and hardly ever to the office.)

Now that this award has been bestowed upon me, I must help it live on by passing it on to 15 bloggers I’ve recently discovered. Thanks to the Crusade, this is going to be easy because I’ve recently discovered 200+ amazing bloggers.

Oh, and I’m supposed to state seven things about myself. This seems a bit excessive since I just completed the Crusader challenge, so I’ll give you three more since I technically have already revealed four truths about myself.

1. I live in a home owned by the father of John Mark Karr, the guy who falsely confessed to murdering Jon Benet Ramsey. Karr’s brother is my landlord, and an NBC news crew came to my house last year when Karr went missing after trying trying to form a little girl sex cult and getting a sex change.

2. I have two cats that I adore. One was adopted from the Humane Society and the other turned up in our backyard in June after being attacked by a dog. He was just a few weeks old at the time and was a complete bloody mess. We rushed him to the ER where he was diagnosed with deep puncture wounds, severe nerve damage and a broken pelvis. We were advised to put him down, but we couldn’t — however, we also didn’t have $1,500 for his operations.

So the very talented Cody Wellons bought a domain name and built a fundraising site in just a couple of hours, and I started blogging — from little Fiver’s point of view (Who gets the literary reference?). Overnight we raised all the money we needed, and a complete stranger — an editor from The Atlanta Journal Constitution — donated the final $500. It’s an understatement to say that these wonderfully generous people restored my faith in humanity.

The vet said Fiver would never walk again, but she was wrong. He’s a perfectly healthy, perfectly rambunctious kitten who can perform death-defying stunts and loves to play fetch. And that’s the story of Fiver, my miracle kitten.

3. I can’t wink. Seriously. I can, however, wink simultaneously with both eyes, but I’m told this is called blinking.

**Now, on to the award! Here are the 15 bloggers I’d like to recognize for being stylish and writing great content.

1. Cally Jackson

2. Sharde Richardson

3. Kari Marie

4. Angela Scott

5. Cleveland Dietz II

6. Tanya Reimer

7. Sarah Ketley

8. Catherine Ensley

9. Rachel Morgan

10. Amanda Milner

11. Becca C.

12. Gina Blechman

I’m going to stretch the meaning of “newly discovered” and call out some bloggers that I adore, but I happened to discover last year. Maybe that’s not “new” to you, but in the mind of an immortal sparkling vampire I’m sure that seems like just yesterday.

13. Rebecca Enzor

14. Liza Kane

15. Melissa Veres

Congratulations, my fellow writers and Crusaders! Now it’s time for you to pass the torch!

**I’ve since noticed that some of you have already received this award. I’m pretty sure all us Crusaders will get it a few times, so just consider yourselves extra special … um, stylish.

Minimalism is so in right now

pilejpgI don’t get excited about shoe shopping. I don’t know designers. I’m just not one of those girls who’s into fashion, shopping, accessorizing or anything that involves conscious thought of what I’m wearing. If I could get away with it, I’d never wear pants without drawstrings. Classy, I know.

Still, I have an office job where I’m expected to look somewhat professional, and my friends and boyfriend appreciate it if I don’t always wear sweatpants and tie-dyed T-shirts while out in public with them. For these reasons, I have a closet and dresser full of clothes, and I even own a few pairs of heels.

Clearly, I, too, participate in the culture of mass consumerism. This is why I’m so excited about the Six Items or Less experiment. I think it’s such a cool idea that I can overlook the fact that it should be Six Items or Fewer.

Could you get by on a six-piece wardrobe? I’d like to think I could, and I sure wish I’d heard about this in time to try. Maybe next year.

If I could get down to even a 10-piece wardrobe, I bet I could really eco myself out and move in to one of these cute little homes.

Be sure to check out the minimalist fashion experiment site this month and see how the 94 participants are faring.

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You got an interrobang tattoo‽

interrobang tattoo_Laura MossYes, I did. I’m now embracing my nerdom through permanent body art.

The interrobang, which I was pleased to learn is also known as the quesclamation mark or the “spork of punctuation,” is a nonstandard punctuation mark that both asks a question and conveys shock or surprise. It was briefly popular in the 60s and late 70s, but “failed to amount to much more than a fad.”

So my wrist now pays homage to a 60s fad.

Kenny Holland at Memorial Tattoo did the design — with the help of my friend Natalia — and didn’t once laugh at the fact that I wanted a punctuation mark permanently drawn on my skin. This tattoo certainly hurt a bit more than my other two, but it was totally worth it. I keep glancing down at my wrist and finding myself compelled to ask questions that convey excitement and disbelief.

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