This spoonful covers the #1 source of most comma drama: THE COMMA SPLICE. Here's the definition: when two complete sentences are connected with a comma. That, my friends, is a gigantic no-no!
(P.S.: The image defines a different kind of splice!)
Let's start with two complete sentences:
(1st) Jody loved to walk the backwoods trails with her dog.
(2nd) They walked almost every day.
To create a dreaded comma splice, chunk those sentences together with a comma:
Jody loved to walk the backwoods trails with her dog, they walked almost every day.
Since that doesn't work, what does? There are THREE correct choices!
CHOICE#1: Using periods
Jody loved to walk the backwoods trails with her dog. They walked almost every day.
CHOICE #2: Using a comma + a FANBOY
Jody loved to walk the backwoods trails with her dog, and they walked almost every day.
CHOICE: #3: Using a semicolon
Jody loved to walk the backwoods trails with her dog; they walked almost every day.
For more details about FANBOYS and proper semicolon usage, check out these earlier spoonfuls:
Spoonful #9: MEET THE FANBOYS
Spoonful #10: FANBOYS STRIKE AGAIN
Spoonful #7: SEMICOLONS SPEAK OUT
I hope you found this spoonful useful and easy to understand. In my humble opinion, brushing up on grammar, vocabulary, and punctuation is a great thing to do when stuck at home. Stay safe, everybody! I'll be back next Sunday with a new spoonful.
Laura Fineberg Cooper
What is the definition of an ellipsis and how is it properly used? Inquiring minds want to know. Look to the image for a hint . . .
In grammar, an ellipsis is a single punctuation mark comprised of 3 consecutive dots.
Depending on your style guide, the dots can be crunched together like this ... or spaced like this . . .
How is the ellipsis properly used?
#1: An ellipsis can stand in for omitted words. This is super handy when grabbing lengthy quotes for your high school essays and professional documents.
Here's an example from The Family Romanov by Candace Fleming, page 46:
"One item the empress did not stint on was the girls' clothing. She liked to outfit the grand duchesses by pairs in matching and expensive dresses ... long hair was tied back with blue satin bows." (The ellipsis stands in for a family friend's description of the clothing.)
#2) In written dialogue, the ellipsis can indicate speech that tapers off, is interrupted by another speaker, or signifies a pause.
"It's not fair that you always ..."
(This could signify interruption or tapering off)
"I'm not sure ... let me think about it for awhile."
(This is a pause in dialogue.)
Why do we sometimes see four dots instead of 3?
That happens when the ellipsis follows a period. Here's another quote from The Family Romanov, page 184:
"The soldiers did little to stop this. Not long ago, just a glimpse of the tsar would have sent them to their knees. . . . One could hardly blame them for their gaping and mocking."
Are there spaces on either side of an ellipsis?
Yes, with the exception of a question mark, which should follow an ellipsis without a space.
Can any other punctuation stand in for the ellipsis?
The em dash can be substituted for the ellipsis in dialogue. That's the longest dash, roughly the width of the letter M.
Do's and Don'ts:
Choose your style and stick with it. In case you're wondering, the ... crunched together way is from the AP Stylebook. The . . . spaced apart way is from the Chicago Manual of Style. Don't switch back and forth between M dashes and ellipses, either. One final point: avoid starting a sentence with an ellipsis.
I sincerely hope that answered your ellipsis questions! Please, keep those questions coming!! I'll always do my best to answer them in easy-to-understand language.
Stay healthy and safe,
Laura Fineberg Cooper
Someone asked me a hyphen question the other day, and I thought, "What a great topic for a spoonful!" Thus 10 HANDY HYPHEN RULES was born. I sincerely hope you find it handy!
1) When two last names are permanently joined together, hyphens are usually used to connect them.
Mary Johnson-Young Julie Watson-Smith
(You may be wondering why Fineberg Cooper isn't hyphenated! That's because I treat Fineberg as my middle name for professional purposes.)
2) Use a hyphen after prefixes ALL, SELF, and ALL; hyphens are also generally used with EX and prefixes ending in the same sound as the word that follows.
ex-president all-knowing self-service
3) Use hyphens when writing out numbers from 21 to 99. Also use hyphens when writing out fractions.
twenty-one thirty-six ninety-nine
4) Use a hyphen to connect a prefix to a proper noun - essentially, whenever it connects to word starting with a capital letter.
mid-April showers pro-American rally anti-Nazi sentiment
5) When two or more words join together (acting as compound adjectives) BEFORE a noun, connect them with a hyphen.
well-known scientist fresh-baked pie
cranberry-orange muffins late-breaking news
When are hyphens unnecessary? When the first adjective ends in ly or when compound adjectives are placed AFTER a noun.
freshly baked pie The scientist was well known.
6) Use hyphens to separate words in compound nouns.
state-of-the-art daughter-in-law free-for-all up-to-date
7) Use hyphens when numbers and words are combined. The trick here is that you should only use hyphens when these act as adjectives BEFORE a noun or as the noun itself. If placed AFTER a noun, no hyphens are required. Do you notice a pattern here?
The 1-mile fun run is popular with young children in town.
My 5-year-old daughter loves to participate.
NO HYPHEN: The race is capped at 50 kids, all under 10 years old.
8) You're likely to see words with the prefix "co" with and without hyphens. Consider co-worker vs. coworker, one of the most frequently seen examples. For me, the hyphen-less version looks like "cow" so I prefer the hyphen, but both are acceptable. With most business and technical words, hyphens are showing up less and less.
Here are some "co" words that should retain their hyphens:
co-conspirator co-anchor co-editor co-chairman
9) Great, when used as a relationship prefix, calls for hyphens.
10) Hyphens feature in creative writing too. If you want to have a character stutter or spell their name out loud, hyphens are your friends.
"D-d-don't leave m-m-me here!" My name Wanda: W-a-n-d-a.
Hopefully, this list of 10 HANDY HYPHEN RULES answered most of your questions. Please feel free to share!
Laura Fineberg Cooper
The last two spoonfuls covered dialogue tags placed first and last. But plunking dialogue tags in the middle can be useful, especially when characters have a lot to say. For the finale, I bring you DIALOGUE TAGS IN THE MIDDLE(Comma Rule #9)!
Let's dive in with some examples.
#1: "Everybody pack up your desks," Mrs. Rankin ordered, "and then line up quietly in front of the door."
#2: "90 steps completed," Johanna said after catching her breath, "and 60 to go."
EXPLANATIONS: In both examples, the quoted sentence is continued after the dialogue tag. In cases like these, place a comma at the end of the first quote AND after the tag. Because the second quote is a continuation, start it with a lower case letter and place the period inside the end quote.
#3: "Are you going to the party?" Mariana asked, batting her eyelashes and flipping her hair. "I'll be there, so it's going to be a blast."
#4: "Awesome sauce!" Jenna squealed. "Count me in!"
EXPLANATION: As covered in Spoonful#17, don't change question or exclamation marks. But as a result, place the period after the dialogue tag. Dialogue that follows the tag will be a brand new sentence and should follow normal punctuation rules. Notice how final punctuation goes inside the last quotation mark, not outside.
#5: "I'll be back in a second," Pablo said. He ducked into his room and reappeared with the tickets. "Got 'em! Let's go."
EXPLANATION: This is a straightforward "when the dialogue tag comes last" situation. Therefore, replace the first period with a comma and put the period after the dialogue tag. In this example, action follows the dialogue tag. Because we know Pablo's still talking, his additional dialogue doesn't need to be retagged.
PARTING TIP: Align actions with the character speaking. When another character responds - through action or words - indent on a new line. When in doubt, remember that CLARITY is the goal.
That's it for this spoonful! If you have any grammar, punctuation, or vocabulary dilemmas you'd like me to cover in future spoonfuls, please don't hesitate to ask.
Laura Fineberg Cooper
Trust me when I tell you that COMMAS CAN MAKE THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN LIFE AND DEATH...AND ALSO PREVENT EMBARASSMENT! You don't really want to eat your beloved grandma, do you? That's why we need COMMA RULE #6: COMMAS WITH DIRECT ADDRESSES.
What is a DIRECT ADDRESS? A name or anything at all that one person uses to address another person, anything from nice and polite to informal and snarky.
This comma rule comes into play when you're writing dialogue. If you start an address or greeting with a person's name, follow it with a comma. If the greeting or comment comes first, precede the name with a comma. After looking at these examples, I hope all will become crystal clear.
"What's up, Sally?"
"Hey, don't walk away from me!"
"Derek, is it your turn to bring in snacks?"
"Hi there, Adam."
"Sir, may I have your assistance?"
"The answer is still no, Sam."
"Good morning, class."
"Let's go outside, Tiger."
"Yes, Mary, you're definitely invited to my party."
"Sweetie, dinner is ready."
Don't confuse DIRECT ADDRESSES with SALUTATIONS in letters, which start with DEAR, like Dear Grandma or Dear Editor.
That's it for today's spoonful. I hope you found it delightfully short and easy to understand.
Laura Fineberg Cooper