Friday, June 5, 2009

PUGS Pointers #27: Was or Were?

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”).


Vertical Lists after Introductory Phrases

If a list completes a sentence that begins with an introductory phrase, don’t use a colon after the introductory phrase. If any of the phrases or sentences in the list have internal punctuation, semicolons may be used at the end of each item. Each item begins with a lowercase letter. A period should follow the final item.

Here’s an example:

You can reduce redundancy in your writing by
avoiding repetition;
stating what you mean in the fewest words possible;
omitting unnecessary adverbs and adjectives;
eliminating weak words like actually, basically, definitely, extremely, so, and very.

See The Chicago Manual of Style (15th edition) #6.129 and The Christian Writer’s Manual of Style p. 288.


council (noun): an assembly/meeting or an advisory or legislative group
“city council”

counsel (noun): advice, or a lawyer or consultant
“Tracie gave me good counsel when she suggested I hire legal counsel.”
counsel (verb): to advise or consult
“June counseled with her agent before signing the book contract.”


was vs. were
The subjunctive mood (were) is used to express the following:

1. A condition contrary to fact
“Oh, I wish I were an Oscar Mayer wiener.”
(Of course, I’m not. But that jingle will be stuck in your head all day now, won’t it?)

2. A supposition
“Suppose Marci were to arrive right now.”

3. An improbable condition
“Carrie drank the Pepsi as if there were no tomorrow. (Highly unlikely)

4. Uncertainty or doubt
“If I were to marry you, how would you support me?” Irene asked.
(There’s uncertainty/doubt about whether she will marry him.)

5. Necessity
“If it were absolutely necessary, I could rewrite my manuscript,” David said.

6. A desire
“Joan wishes she were going to the prom with Brandon.”


insofar as

For more PUGS Pointers, or to purchase her book Polishing the PUGS, see Kathy Ide’s Web site.

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

For books (and most mainstream magazines):
The Chicago Manual of Style (15th edition, © 2003)
Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th edition, © 2003)
Christian publishers also use The Christian Writer’s Manual of Style (© 2004)

For newspaper articles (and journalistic magazines):
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.


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, magazines, and CLASServices. 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, visit Kathy's Web site.

post signature

1 comment:

Catrina Bradley... said...

I was JUST wondering about was/were this week when thinking about the song "Dixie". ("Oh, I wish I was in the land of cotton..") Thanks!!! Now I know it's incorrect, and not only thinking it sounded wrong. :D