Thursday, January 19, 2012

Ask the Editor


Every 1st and 3rd Thursday, I'll take your editorial questions. Grammar, spelling, punctuation, sentence structure and more! I will showcase questions and answers (with permission) once I get questions as well. To ask a question, please fill out the form below.

I've been a freelance editor since November 2010. If I don't know the answer, I will find it.   

Christine Rains asks “Is there a place for semicolons in dialogue?”

Grammatically speaking, semi-colons shouldn't be used in dialogue at all. Frankly, they should be used very rarely. Most people use them incorrectly too. Semicolons are better for academic papers, not in fiction. One here and there isn't bad, but too many, and there's a problem. I had a blog post about semicolons in July. If you don't think it is weird to speak with a semicolon, try it. It's just odd.

Tara Tyler asks “I have trouble with capitals, like ma’am & titles like agent so-and-so. When should I capitalize?” 

A general capitalization rule, if it is the first word in a sentence, then it is always capitalized, but what about those titles and words like “ma’am,” “sir,” etc.?

You should always capitalize proper nouns.

Titles should be capitalized when it precedes a person’s name.
For example: I’ll have to ask Special Agent Mulder on his opinion of extraterrestrials.

But there are instances where you wouldn’t capitalize titles, such as “After the king died, his son, Prince William, became the King of England.

Now, what about “ma’am” or “sir”?

Unless they are at the beginning of the sentence, then it shouldn’t be capitalized. The exception is if you talking about the title “Sir.”
For example: Sir, can I have some more? OR Please, sir, can I have some more? OR Do you like Sir Elton John’s music?

A great list of when to capitalize words can be found here.  

Rachel Morgan asks “1. When should the first word after a colon (:) be capitalized and when should it not?

2. I believe that, if we're going to be super technical, we should put a comma before "too" when "too" is at the end of a sentence. But from my online research it looks as though having a comma or not having a comma are both considered correct. I'd prefer to leave the comma out, as I think it disrupts the flow. What do you think? (Example: I'd like to know the answers to those questions too.)”

1. Rachel’s question goes well with Tara’s. On the same website I mentioned above, it lists when to capitalize things after a colon.

If you have a list following the colon, then you shouldn’t capitalize the first word.
For example: These are my favorite foods: pizza, spaghetti, chocolate chip cookies, and strawberries.

If you have one sentence following a colon, then it should not be capitalized.
For example: I love Beth Revis’s writing: her book A Million Suns was frexing awesome.

BUT if you have more than one sentence following the colon, then you need to capitalize.
For example: I love Beth Revis’s writing: Her book A Million Suns was frexing awesome. Also, Across the Universe was brilly.

2. Ah, the ol’ “too” and whether to comma or not to comma. That truly is the question.

The short answer is it’s up to you as the writer to decide if it is needed. Grammar books will say different things, but stylistically, it is up to you.

Now why is this?

“Too” is an adverb, like “also” and “in addition.” Most of the time your sentences will be going quickly without the pause (comma). Example: “I like reading young adult books too.” OR “I too like reading young adult books.” But if you want to create a pause for added emphasis, then you would use a comma. Example: “I like reading young adult books, too.” OR “I, too, like reading young adult books.”

Personally, it’s easier not to use the commas. I’ve dropped them from my sentences ending in “too.” But I have kept them from time to time in my sentences where “too” is in the middle.

My suggestion: Read your sentences out loud and see whether you pause/emphasize the word. If not, then don’t use a comma. If so, then use one.

For a better explanation of it, click here.

Have a grammar question? Or an editing one? Be sure to fill in the form.


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Excellent tips. I almost never use a semicolon. Don't want to get it wrong.

farawayeyes said...

Thanks. Been going round and round with my husband on that'too'thing'.

Nicole Zoltack said...

I hardly ever use a semicolon and I only use colons for lists.

Christine Rains said...

Thanks for the answers! These posts always help so much. :) I might be overfeeding your fish. Heh.

Jolene Perry said...

Well, this is a super cool thing you do :D
I hate semicolons. Funny. Never use them. I don't mind them, but I don't use them.