It’s not glamorous or sexy, as my first teaching mentor used to tell her class of freshman composition students. It’s not luxurious or lush – but like taking out the garbage or cleaning out the cat litter or changing the oil – it’s necessary, and everyone notices when it’s not done.
I see it every day – slips, errors, tiny things that truly are so minor that they do not matter . . . until they do. If we want to write, more if we want people to read, we have to make our writing legible, clear, understandable. That’s what grammar does.
So here are four grammar and mechanics rules that I’d recommend all writers know.
1. Punctuating Titles – if you are including the title of something that is complete and separate in and of itself – the most full version of something or a full-length item – you put that title in italics. So you always italicize:
- movie titles
- book titles
- album titles
- TV series titles
If you are including the title of an individual item that is part of a larger whole, then you that put title in quotation marks. So you always use quotation marks for:
- an individual poem
- a short stor
- a song
- an episode of a TV series.
2. End Punctuation and Quotations – all periods and commas go within quotation marks – i.e. “Andi likes to read.” OR “I ate that whole pie,” she said. On occasion, a question mark will go outside the quotation marks if the entire sentence, including parts that are not in the quotation, form the question – i.e. Did she say, “I’m tired”? But generally, the punctuation goes within the quotation marks.
3. Commas with Conjunctions – only use a comma with a conjunction – for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so (FANBOYS) – IF that conjunction connects two complete sentences (or is part of a list.) For example, you use a conjunction in this sentence:
- Andi likes to read, and she likes to walk.
But you would not use a conjunction in this sentence because it does not contain two complete sentences:
- Andi likes to read and likes to walk. See how there’s no second subject – i.e. she – in this sentence.
4. Capitalization – capital letters are only used for the names of things if those names are the proper names, the legal, formal names of things. For example:
- hospital is not capitalized, but Martha Jefferson Hospital is.
- his father is not capitalized because father isn’t his title here; it simply defines a relationship. But Father went . . . does require a capital letter because we are using Father as we would a name.
These rules aren’t fancy, and they won’t make us look like geniuses when we use them, but when we don’t use them, we call attention to what we don’t know – and when we make that obvious, we call into question not only our understanding of grammar but our writing as a whole.
So revel in the lush sounds of language, build lists that extend for days, and fill pages with one sentence . . . but be sure to use grammar and mechanics correctly . . . then, your grammar will be invisible, and your reader will slip into the world of your language and forget everything else.
What grammar and mechanics rules trip you up?
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