Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Editor Beth Says ...

I know that not everyone cares about language the way that I care about language. I know that not everyone obsesses about spelling and grammar and punctuation the way that I obsess about spelling and grammar and punctuation. Still, there are some basic rules that folks should know. And this morning, a few of them are swirling around in my spelling-, grammar-, and punctuation-obsessed brain, so I'm jotting them down for the benefit of all mankind. (Yes, that was meant to be grandiosely silly. And yes, "grandiosely" is a word. And yes, I know it looks weird. Words often do.)

1. Words That Are Really Two Words

Hitting the space bar on your keyboard doesn't cost a thing. Use it, please, in these instances:

- Alot = a lot

- Alright = all right

- Nevermind = never mind

2. One Space After A Period

While hitting the space bar on your keyboard doesn't cost a thing, you need only hit it once after a period. The use of two spaces after a period – space space – was a function of the days of manual typewriters when the space between characters could be inconsistent. Two spaces after a period clearly defined one sentence from the next. But now, in the spiffy age of electronic documents, one space is all that's necessary.

3. Respect The Apostrophe

I know this one is tricky for a lot of people, but it is the punctuation equivalent of nails on a chalkboard to writerly folks.

A few things to keep in mind:

- Apostrophes do not create plurals, they create possessives

Adding " 's" to a word does not make it plural. Adding "s" to a word makes it plural. Adding "es" to other words makes them plural. The plural of "taxi," for instance, is "taxis," not "taxi's."

"Taxi's" is the possessive of "taxi": "The taxi's seat was sticky. Ew."

Which brings us to ...

- The placement of an apostrophe matters

Let's use Mothers' Day as one example. Let's use Presidents' Day as another.

Mother's Day denotes a day about a mother, while Mothers' Day denotes a day about multiple mothers or, in the case of the holiday, all mothers.

Likewise, President's Day denotes a day devoted to honoring a single president, while Presidents' Day denotes a day devoted to honoring multiple presidents (Washington and Lincoln) or all presidents, if you're feeling magnanimous.

Note, however, that in the sentence "Let's use Mother's Day as one example," "Let's" is not the possessive of "Let," it's a contraction of "Let us."

Isn't English fun?!

8 Comments:

Blogger Jeff Hunter said...

I will try harder on #1 and #3, but you will never get me to give up on #2. My typing teacher would deduct a point every time one of my papers had a single space after each sentence. To this day, it's (a contraction of "it" and "is") two spaces for me.

8:35 AM  
Blogger Beth said...

And yet, in your comment, there is only one space after each period. Does Blogger automatically make the adjustment, I wonder?

8:39 AM  
Blogger Jeff Hunter said...

I specifically put two spaces after each period. Like I did here. Maybe blogger apply's (ha, I know, applies) "Beth's rules of proper stuff"?

8:47 AM  
Blogger Beth said...

Very interesting.

Though they're not my rules. :o )

8:53 AM  
Anonymous Alison said...

I always mess up "all right." I blame The Who.

9:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

FYI, you might want to revisit the first sentence of your post of May 1: "one of my classmate's mom's came to the school". Suggest "the mother of one of my classmates."

12:13 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

D'oh! Apostrophe misuse! Will correct directly.

12:17 PM  
Anonymous Dave said...

A lot of common practices today drive me nuts. Like
confusing your and you're . But I have to point out that alright is considered all right in many circles.
In fact I read that the two word form vanished for about 300 hundred years before making a recent comeback!

Lots of people seem to have trouble with the word too these days too.

I recommend The Mother Tongue: English & How It Got That Way by Bill Bryson - a fun read.

12:17 PM  

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