Friday, April 24, 2009

PUGS Pointer #21: Exclamations Make a Point!

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”).

Use a comma after exclamatory oh or ah if a slight pause is intended.
“Oh, what a frightening cover!” Marilyn said when she saw Jim Bell’s latest novel.
“Ah, how charming!” Rachel said when she finished Deb Raney’s sequel.

No comma after vocative O or Oh.
“O mighty king!” “Oh great warrior!”

“Oh yes,” “Oh yeah,” and “Ah yes” are written without a comma. When spoken like a single word, “Yes sir” and “No ma’am” may be written without a comma. If “sir” is used in direct address, use the comma.
“No, sir, I disagree.”

See The Chicago Manual of Style (15th edition) #6.27 and The Christian Writer’s Manual of Style page 153 and the Associated Press Stylebook (for articles) page 332.


breath (always a noun) refers to the inhalation/exhalation of air.
“Tamara’s breath was frozen in the cold air.”
breath (noun) can also mean “a slight indication or suggestion.”
“The faintest breath of a scandal.”

breathe (always a verb) means “to inhale or exhale air.”
“If you breathe deeply you will feel better.”
breathe (verb) can also mean “to feel free of restraint.”
“Martha needed room to breathe.”
breathe (verb) can also mean “to permit passage of air.”
“This fabric really breathes.”
breathe (verb) can also mean “to utter or express.”
“Don’t breathe a word,” Kay begged.


Opening with Pronouns
As a general rule, you don’t want to start a new chapter or section with a pronoun. If you open with “He pulled out a gun and aimed it at her head,” your reader will have no idea who these characters are. Chapter and section breaks often indicate a change in time, place, and/or point of view, so your reader cannot assume that the people referred to in the new chapter/section are the same ones talked about in the last one.

NOTE: If you’re writing a suspense novel, you may want to keep the identity of a character a mystery. This is tricky, but can be done if you know what you’re doing. If this is your goal, try using a first-person pronoun (I, me) for that character, or an ambiguous noun “the man” (or better yet, something more descriptive like “the handsome foreigner”) instead of just “he” or “she.”


airmail (one word)


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 at


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

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1 comment:

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

It's nice to know I'm doing something right. :)