Monday, November 1, 2010

Guest Post -- Punctuation and Pumas

Okay, you asked for it, so here it is...the dreaded grammar lesson.

Today, we're bringing you a refresher on comma usage from Katie, a ridiculously busy woman, with a full-time job, a husband and child, and two blogs, Sluiter Nation and Katie's Bookcase (though there might be one other project that you can ask her about).

Katie's background is diverse, including, but not limited to, teaching English and Spanish at the high school level and English Composition at the college level, and freelancing for her local newspaper.

Alright students, today I am here to talk to you about the most exhilarating part of writing: MECHANICS!

::waits for cheers and applause::

::hears crickets::

Wait. What? You are not interested in the mechanics of writing? You would rather sit on a chair of nails while typing than worry about comma placement?

You know what? I sort of feel the same way, but it’s something that can make or break you when you are trying to gain a following and/or the eye of any sort of publishing contact.

One of the best compliments I ever received was from my editor at the newspaper I worked for. She told me she loved having me write pieces because she never had to fix a thing in my articles. Guess what that meant? I was her first choice for most projects. Never a bad thing, people.

So today I will talk to you about quotation marks and about commas.

First are the rules of quotation marks. Most people already know that they go around a line of dialogue, quotes, and various names of short stories, articles, essays and so on.

But what about that pesky punctuation WITH the quotation marks? Here are some simple rules:

1. Periods and commas ALWAYS go INSIDE the quotation marks.

2. Question marks go INSIDE the quotation marks if the question is in the quotation marks.
Example: “Do you know how fast pumas run?”

3. Question marks go OUTSIDE the quotation marks if the question is NOT part of the quotation.
Example: Do you know who wrote “The Gift of the Magi”?

In most writing, those will be the rules you’ll use most. For more rules, you can go here.

Next we have our comma rules. I find people tend to have one of two problems with commas.

They either have comma diarrhea or they are comma constipated.

There are either commas spewing everywhere, or there is a complete absence of commas.

Comma-phile or Comma-phobe.

To avoid this problem, there are four basic rules that can get you through most comma situations. This is what I do to remember them: I like to think of a comma as either a small little cut or slice in the sentence or a little string tying things together.

Let me explain.

When a comma is like a cut:
When it is setting of introductory “stuff”. You could “snip” at the comma and get rid of the introductory part and you STILL HAVE A SENTENCE left over.
EXAMPLE: Before running through the jungle, the pumas packed a healthy lunch to take along.

When you have an interrupting phrase that isn’t absolutely necessary to the meaning of the sentence you can put commas around it to “snip” out and STILL HAVE A SENTENCE left over.
Example: The pumas, who got up quite early, traveled all day to get to the picnic area.

When a comma is like a little tie:

When you have items in a series, a comma ties them together.
Example: The pumas packed sandwiches, fruit salad, and chocolate cake for lunch.

When you have two complete sentences joined by a coordinating conjunction*, put a comma before the conjunction to “tie” the sentences together.
Example: The pumas** were all set for their day trip, but the weather just didn’t cooperate.

Are there any questions?

I am here before and after class to help, or you can always email me at ksluiter(@)hotmail(dot)com for any mechanics or usage questions.

Class dismissed.

*coordinating conjunctions are the short ones. You can remember them by remember the acronym FANBOYS (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so).

**I don’t know how this turned into a puma-heavy lesson. I apologize. No pumas were harmed in the creation of this lesson plan.