Friday, February 20, 2009

PUGS Pointers #12: Competition is Tough

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”).


Competition is tough.

I love to sing, and my voice sounds delightful when I’m alone in my car with the radio blaring. But I wouldn’t dream of asking someone to pay to hear me belt out a tune. Not without taking some serious singing lessons.

If you’re writing just for family and friends, it may not matter so much whether every comma is in exactly the right place. But if you want to get your book published in today’s highly competitive commercial market, you need every edge you can get. If you expect people to buy what you write, you need to take the time to learn how to do it right.


Pluralizing Words

Do not use an apostrophe for most plural words. Examples:
dos and don’ts no ifs, ands, or buts
the 1980s the Joneses
five Toms, four Dicks, and three Harrys
“I had to go to two DMVs to get my license renewed.”

Exception: To avoid confusion, pluralize single lowercase letters as well as abbreviations with two or more periods (or that have both capital and lowercase letters) by adding apostrophe-s. Examples:
x’s and y’s a’s and b’s
p’s and q’s M.A.’s and PhD’s

(See The Chicago Manual of Style 15th edition, #7.6–7.16, 7.65 and The Christian Writer’s Manual of Style 14th edition p. 51 and The Associated Press Stylebook pp. 190–192)


aid (verb) means “to provide what is useful or necessary.”
“One nurse can aid several patients during one shift.”
aid (noun) means:
“a subsidy granted for a specific purpose” (Example: “financial aid”)
“the act of helping” or “help given” (“providing aid,” as in money or supplies)
“something by which assistance is given” (Example: “an aid to understanding”)

aide (noun) means:
“a person who acts as an assistant.”
“The aide helped the teacher hand out tests to the students.”


that vs. which
That is used with “restrictive clauses,” phrases that narrow a category or identify a particular item in that category.
“Manuscripts that are not solicited by the publisher will be returned to sender.”

In this example, the category is manuscripts. The “not solicited” phrase narrows the category to unsolicited manuscripts. If you took out the phrase, you’d have “Manuscripts will be returned to sender,” which would be different.

Which is used with “nonrestrictive clauses,” phrases that add something about an item already identified.
“My manuscript, which was not solicited by the publisher, was returned to me.”

The item—”my manuscript”—is already identified. The “not solicited” phrase adds additional information. You could take out the phrase without changing the meaning of the sentence. “My manuscript was returned to me.”

NOTE: Which clauses require commas; that clauses do not use commas.


dining (I see this spelled with two n’s all the time, probably because dinning is also a word, so spell check doesn’t catch it.)

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.

For more PUGS Pointers, see Kathy Ide’s Web site. Or get her book Polishing the PUGS, available here.


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 Kathy's Web site.

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1 comment:

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Kathy -

Wow! Thanks for setting me straight. I would have thought do's and don't's was correct.

Susan :)