Time For A Quickie

Sometimes I have issues to share, but don’t think there is enough information for an entire blog post, so I’ve gathered a few random topics for this week.

  • Towards. I see this all the time and it’s a personal pet peeve of mine (along with incorrect use of apostrophes as pluralization – but I digress). While both “toward” and “towards” are correct, “toward” is more common in the US. Grammar Girl’s quick tip is to remember that Americans like shortcuts, so we cut the “s” off.
  • Punctuation at the end of headings. Where you use headings as standalone headings, they should NOT have a period. If the heading is an exclamation or question, you should use those punctuation marks, but not periods. If the heading is a run-in heading (meaning the paragraph follows immediately after the heading), do use punctuation, including a period.
  • Capitalization in headings. Basically it is whatever the author prefers – capitalize each word, capitalize each word including prepositions over three letters long but not prepositions under three letters long, capitalize only the first letter of the first word, or all caps all words. My personal preference is the first letter of each word in the heading, but use whatever style the author prefers. My tip is BE CONSISTENT. Pick a preferred style and stick to it throughout the entire document.
  • Centering titles. Something I see a lot is a title that is supposed to centered and appears to be centered except that there is an indent of five spaces set up on that line, so it is not exactly centered in the line. If you put your cursor on that line and check to see if the indent on your ruler is set and change it if it is, you will be centered. Soon you should be able to tell by looking at it whether it is centered or not.
  • Emails are documents too. Sometimes we forget that emails are a reflection of us too. We send far more emails to far more people so it is even more important to be grammatically correct than it is in documents. Treat your emails like you do your documents and spell check and grammar check them before hitting send. People WILL judge you based on those kinds of mistakes in your emails.
  • Be careful about changes. One of the reasons I redline edits for my attorneys is because I don’t want to assume that I know what they want. Sometimes what I think it should be is not what is intended. I had a friend recently who wrote an article and in the editing it ended up to read “tact” rather than “tack” even though her original was correct in context. It is frustrating as an author when something that has your name all over it is edited by someone else and it ends up wrong when your original was correct. Don’t ever assume you know more about grammar than your author. You very well may know more technically, but changing words can sometimes change the entire meaning of a sentence. Be very careful and be absolutely sure of your edit before you just make a change without approval.
Those are my quickies for this time. I hope you learned something and are still enjoying the blog! Wishing you all a very Happy Thanksgiving!

Grammar Giggles – Splitting infinitives

I regularly receive information from one of my favorite charities on how I can help through volunteer opportunities and donations. I recently received this in my email and it made ME giggle, so I knew it was destined to be a Grammar Giggle.  

Were you confused too? I just have to wonder how many bras, shapewear garments, and sleepwear items they expect to sell to my charity. Since this week’s blog topic was split infinitives, I couldn’t resist. The last sentence in the email would have been much clearer if it had said they “will make a $2 donation to Charity for each . . . .”  I have changed the names to protect my charity and the department store because my charity could use the donations . . . and a proofreader (and yes I have volunteered!).

To boldly go splitting infinitives

Infinitives are a type of verb with the word to in front of it. For instance to run or to leaveAlthough common practice dictates that it is OK to split infinitives, be careful that your sentence makes sense. Using a split infinitive can change the meaning of your entire sentence or leave your reader wondering what you really mean. For example:

Mary decided to quickly leave the party

While correct, this sentence is a bit unclear. Try moving the offending adverb (quicklybefore or after the infinitive (to leave). 

Mary decided quickly to leave the party.

Now you know that Mary made a quick decision to leave.

Mary decided to leave the party quickly.

Here Mary left the party quickly. Keeping the infinitive phrase together helps both sentences make sense. However, one of the most famous phrases of all time for all my Trekkie friends was a split infinitive – “To boldly go where no man has gone before” – where “boldly” splits the infinitive “to go.” Using either “To go boldly” or “Boldly to go” doesn’t have the same impact as “To boldly go” for Star Trek purposes. Sometimes it just works. 

It is important to be cognizant of what your sentence will mean to your reader. Watch for Wednesday’s Grammar Giggle, which is a perfect example of a split infinitive making a sentence have an entirely different meaning than what is intended.

Grammar Giggles – MARTA

From a friend.  I love that I have friends from around the country noticing errors in signage.  This one was seen on the MARTA train, the Metro Atlanta train system.

Besides the obvious capitalization problems, they’ve left out a word in the first bullet and have an unnecessary comma in the second.  For all the world to see . . . 

Ellipsis marks . . . spaced or not . . . that is the question

It seems that schools these days are teaching young lawyers to leave out the space between the ellipsis marks or perhaps they are being taught that strategy as a space saving maneuver for the briefs that have page limits. I regularly see the ellipsis marks squished together with no spaces. The ellipsis marks – periods with spaces before and after each period (. . .) – are used where quoted material is not included to show where that material has been left out. Perhaps the new spaceless ellipsis mark is because they are learning the shortcut in Word to insert ellipsis marks, but without spaces. My “go to” grammar reference manual says there should be spaces, so don’t get caught up in leaving spaces out because Microsoft says it is OK.

To review when to use ellipsis marks, if the writer is leaving words out of a direct quotation, use ellipsis marks. If the omitted language is at the end of a regular sentence, use the ellipsis marks followed by the punctuation needed to end the sentence. For instance if the complete sentence is a question, you would include the ellipsis marks, with spaces, a space after the last ellipsis mark, and then a question mark. For instance, “Can someone explain the process . . . ?” (The original question was “Can someone explain the process used to solve this problem?”)

If the omitted language is between sentences in the quoted paragraph, use the ending punctuation for the first sentence, space and ellipsis marks, and then the next sentence. For example, “The research was done on Black Friday shopping at the mall. . . . The shoppers last year were rude and exhausted.” If, however, you are using just a portion of a quote within a sentence, use just quotation marks and not ellipsis marks as long as the quoted section is complete.

Ellipsis marks are a valuable tool for making sure quotations are correct and reflected accurately. Without ellipsis marks, you would have to either include entire quotations or a reader wouldn’t know for sure that it is not an exact quotation. Just be sure that the writer is not omitting a critical part of the quotation, ellipsis marks or not. You need to make sure that partial quotations being used don’t leave something critical out that might be against the purpose for the quotation in your document. That might give your opponent all the ammunition he needs to ruin your lawyer’s reputation with that judge forever.

Grammar Giggles – Photo Machine

Thanks to my sister for sharing this one with me. So many things wrong with this sign. 
Some that I notice right away:
  • How can a photo be closed? I assume they mean photo DEPARTMENT.  
  • The comma is not appropriate.  
  • I’m not sure what “prolems” are, but imagine they are not as bad as “problems.”  
  • I don’t know about you, but I was always taught that proper nouns (like names of streets) should be capitalized. Apparently, this person was only taught to capitalize the first word in a sentence. The last sentence isn’t even a good sentence with all the words missing. 

Having a sign with these many errors is almost worse than having no sign at all. Maybe I should make up a grammatically correct sign for them to use next time and drop it off. As long as their copier isn’t having “prolems.”

And starting a sentence with a conjunction might be OK.

Back when I was learning grammar and diagramming sentences, using a coordinating conjunction such as and or but to start a sentence was against all rules. Now I find out that it was probably against the rules because it was an easy way for our English teachers to make sure we didn’t have sentence fragments. The use of a conjunction to start a sentence is a good way to draw special attention to that sentence. However, it is very informal and conversational. Because of that, it won’t work in a legal brief or other “formal” writing. If you want to use a coordinating conjunction to start a sentence, make sure you are using it for emphasis and be very careful it is not just a sentence fragment. Here are some examples:

Groucho Marx wrote in his thank you note: “I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening. But this wasn’t it.”

Tell her to return my voicemail message. Or else.

These are both very good examples of starting sentences with coordinating conjunctions for emphasis.

Tell him to come to my office. And read the report.

This is a fragment. The sentence starting with the coordinating conjunction doesn’t make sense and doesn’t need special emphasis. It is more of an afterthought.

The danger of  starting sentences with coordinating conjunctions is that doing it too much quickly loses its effectiveness. I still don’t like it and change it in most documents I proofread. Whether the attorney author accepts my changes is quite another thing, but at least I’ve made my point.

So the basic rule is to use coordinating conjunctions at the beginning of a sentence sparingly for emphasis but not in a formal writing.  And not when I’m proofing your work.