Friday, November 14, 2008

Punctuation, Usage, Grammar, Spelling Tips

PUGS* Pointers
(*Punctuation, Usage, Grammar, and Spelling)
by Kathy Ide

In this column, freelance author, editor, and speaker Kathy Ide shares tips on Punctuation, Usage, Grammar, and Spelling (“PUGS”). She also explains why it’s important for writers to polish their PUGS.

Each article in this column will address one item in each area. For more PUGS Pointers, see Kathy Ide’s Web site. Polishing the PUGS: Punctuation, Usage, Grammar, and Spelling Tips for Writers is available (in book or CD-ROM format) through her Web site.

PUGS Pointers are based on the current industry-standard references in the United States.

For books:
The Chicago Manual of Style (15th edition, © 2003)
Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th edition, © 2003)

For articles:
The Associated Press Stylebook (© 2004)
Webster’s New World College Dictionary (© 2002)

Many publishing houses have their own in-house style guides that may differ in some aspects from the standard references. However, unless you’re writing exclusively for one particular publisher, it’s best to follow the standard references and let the in-house proofreaders adjust to house style.


PUGS errors can cause miscommunication.

If a will stated, "The inheritance will be divided equally between Tammy, Vicki and Mary," do you realize that Tammy would be entitled to half of the money, and that Vicki and Mari would each get a fourth? Why not equal thirds? Because the word between indicates that the inheritance is to be split into two parts. For more than two, among would be appropriate. Since there's no comma between Vicki and Mary, those two heirs would have to split one half between themselves. This may not be what the writer of the will intended. But grammatically, that's what this sentence indicates.

Don't cause PUGS errors to create miscommunication between you and your reader.


Serial Commas
In a series of three or more elements, separate the elements with commas.

FOR BOOKS, when a conjunction (and, for, or, nor, etc.) joins the last two elements in a series, always use a comma before the conjunction.*

Example: "Frank, Greg, and Ken argued over whether to give their wives copy paper, printing cartridges, or writers conference tuition for their birthdays."

*See The Chicago Manual of Style (15th edition) Rule #6.19 (#5.57 in the 14th edition) and The Christian Writer's Manual of Style (2004 edition) page 151 (page 25 in the earlier edition).

FOR ARTICLES, leave out the comma before and (or another conjunction) in a series, unless doing so would cause confusion or ambiguity. (See The Associated Press Stylebook pages 329–330.)


a while/awhile
a while (noun) means "a period of time."
"Marilynn spent a while editing her manuscript."

awhile (adverb) means "for a period of time."
(NOTE: for is part of the meaning.)
"Mallory asked me to stay awhile."

Rule of thumb: If you've got a preposition before awhile, split it into two words.


as vs. like
Use as when comparing phrases and clauses that contain a verb.
"Jeanie proofreads her work carefully as she should."

Use like to compare nouns and pronouns.
"Tracey writes like a pro."


barbed wire (not barb wire)
iced tea (not ice tea)


Kathy Ide has been writing for publication since 1988. She has written books, articles, play and movie scripts, short stories, devotionals, and curriculum. She is a full-time freelance editor, offering a full range of editorial services for aspiring writers, established authors, commercial book publishers, subsidy publishers, and magazines. Her services include proofreading, copyediting, substantive/content editing, coauthoring, ghostwriting, and mentoring/coaching. She also speaks at writers conferences across the country. She is the founder and coordinator of The Christian PEN: Proofreaders and Editors Network and the Christian Editor Network. To find out more, please visit her Web site.

1 comment:

Joseph Palin said...

The use of "as" and "like" are always interchanged especially when it comes to writing essays and other academic papers.