Monday, November 24, 2008

Grammar Girl

I'm happy to announce that not all grammar books are a tedious read! Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss is actually chuckle-to-yourself funny and enjoyably educational.

We read and discussed it for this month's book club and my grammar ghosts have been haunting me ever since. I've been particularly spooked these last few days because someone said to me (in reference to my blog), "I'm just glad you learned how to spell quesadilla!" And she went on to tell me that I was incorrect by spelling "voila" as w-a-l-a. Oops! While my friend's tips were a healthy yet painful jab to my pride, I'm thankful to have things like that pointed out to me--it makes me a stronger writer and it makes grammar/spelling sticklers happier, and I'm an aspiring stickler myself. So, anyone who reads my blog and cringes when I misspell or mispunctuate, please feel free to speak up. I welcome and appreciate it!

Anyway, I tossed my grammar questions into the pot of punctuation discussion we had stewing at book club the other night and got some good answers, but I still came home uncertain and confused about a few things, and I think I managed to spark some confusion myself. So, I picked my three most nagging grammar questions and went on the hunt for some solid answers that I understand, and thought I'd share my finds with you. I'm hoping I'm not the only one who could use a refresher course in grammarese.

MAG's Grammar Q&A:

Q: I've heard and read that commas and periods always go inside quotation marks, but I so often see punctuation, especially commas, outside of quotation marks. What's up with that? Are there exceptions to that rule? I hate exceptions!

A: According to Media Writer's Handbook by George T. Arnold: Place commas and periods inside closing quotation marks. For example, "This is a moment I'll remember forever," the winner of the Pulitzer Prize said.

Avoid writing sentences like this:

Asked whether she would play in the tennis tournament even though she was injured, the star player said, "absolutely".

Or this:

"She said playing with an injured elbow "doesn't bother me", and she went on to win the match in straight sets.

*This book also said to be aware that those outside the journalism and mass communications fields may not always place periods and commas inside quotation marks--no wonder I've been so confused! Not everyone has had my journalism style of an upbringing. And the book I'm referencing simply said avoid, not "don't you dare ever put commas and periods outside of quotation marks."

Q: This question may sound ambiguous, but I'm confused about the word "too." So often I see sentences like this:

Molly went to the store, too.


I want some ice cream, too.

(Maybe I see so many commas before the word "too" because I'm always writing them!) Is this correct? Should there be a comma in front of the word "too"? Mom???)

A: I searched and searched for an answer and found that I'm not the only one confused by this--it seems to be a matter of style and whether you want your reader to pause or not. I'll link you to what the Chicago Manual of Style Online has to say about this. So, I think I've been using commas before the word "too" a little too feverishly. It wouldn't be wrong to do so, but it isn't necessary unless you want the reader to pause for emphasis. Here's another helpful link: The Grammar Exchange.

I think I'll be omitting my commas before "too" from here on out! My bad.

Q: Back in college, I can remember getting emails from student editors that would say, "Hey comma Marie comma," or "Hi comma Marie comma." Are those commas after "hey" and "hi" really necessary? Is there a rule about it? You wouldn't write "Dear comma John comma," right? Help! I've always assumed those editors were right, but maybe they've led me astray.

A: I couldn't find an answer, so do any of you know??


  1. Okay, so I'm slightly embarrassed about quesadilla and voila. I am definitely a stickler, but sometimes I wonder if I should "share" my observations with others. :) I'm glad to know you'll put up with me!

    Thanks for all your grammar research! I started researching the night of book club, but it was late, I was tired, and well, I've haven't had the time or motivation to do any research since. I'll definitely be checking out some of your links.

    I spoke with my mom Sunday night, a fellow stickler from whom I've inherited my stickler tendancies, and I recommended Eats, Shoots and Leaves to her. I may need to go and buy it for myself. Thanks again for letting me borrow yours. I really enjoyed it, and the knowledge that I'm not the worst of the sticklers out there!:)

  2. Don't be ebarrassed! I'm seriously grateful--I'm pretty sure I'll always know how to spell those words now! :)

  3. i have read that book. it is quite funny! where did you find to join a book club?

  4. thanks for the tips! I have that book as well and love it! So fun to learn! I am one who would put puncuation outside the quotations, etc. - thanks for the tip!!

  5. I say that the commas after "hey" and "hi" are necessary. Just like the comma after "sincerely" or "love" at the end of a letter. We don't put a comma after "dear" because it's an adjective describing the individual rather than an actual salutation.

    My problem is punctuation outside of parentheses. I have sometimes heard that it isn't acceptable, but I've also heard that if the parenthetical statement is at the end of a sentence, the period should be after the parentheses.

  6. Thanks, Pam! What you said totally makes sense to me. :)

    And as for parentheses, I am one to punctuate outside of parentheses if the phrase is at the end of a sentence.

  7. "Hey, Marie, I am really happy to know about this stuff, too. Thanks".

  8. My dad always corrected our grammar growing up, so I've felt like I'm usually pretty good, at least, I try. I didn't notice the quesadilla or voila thing, but I think I noticed that you misspelled Frere Jacques, which really surprised since you're German and all....hee hee! It's good to see people concerned about using proper grammar though, because it seems with emailing and text messaging, etc., grammar and spelling go out the window!

  9. I've heard about Truss's book, but I've never read it. Perhaps I should since everything I learned in college has someone escaped my memory. :)

    You should check out Writing With Style by John R. Trimble. It's a very short, readable, humorous book that gives writing tips. It's one of the very few books I actually kept after college.




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