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Monday, December 5, 2011

Two More Grammar Lessons

Again, these are basics addressed here, yet I see misused too often in print.  So, today's grammar lessons are on (1) double versus single quotes and (2) hyphenated words versus compound words.

Double versus Single Quotes

Double quotes surround any dialogue.  That's the easiest-to-remember rule.  Example:  "I'm going to the grocery store.  Y'all want anything?" she asked. 

Just remember to use them in pairs.  UNLESS you have a multiple-paragraph monologue spoken by a single speaker, then start each paragraph with an opening quote for paragraph one, paragraph two, on to the ending paragraph.  Which is the only paragraph that ends with a closing quote (see CMS 11.36).

Double quotes can also surround text that is not dialogue.  Example:  She didn't consider herself a "real" author because she had not yet sold anything. 

In the above context, the quotations around the word real were used to show emphasis, just as my italicized font of the same word produces its own emphasis.  Whether you use quotes or italics probably depends on what other quotes and italics are nearby, in my opinion.  Keep 'em varied yet concise and clear is my mantra.

Single quotes are ONLY used within double quotes.  Example:  "Do you know what he said to me?" she yelled.  "He said, 'You are no longer pretty to me anymore.' He told me that to my face.  Can you believe it?" she railed, then fell into the chair exhausted. 

That is the ONLY time you use single quotes.  If I can later think of any exception to this rule, I'll let you know.

Hyphenated Words versus Compound Words

A compound word is just that:  two words, equally usable alone, one word here and another word there, but with a third existence as a compound word.  Examples:  paperwork, homework, silverware, stemware, lovemaking. No hyphens are found within these compound words.  They are not compound words if a hyphen rightfully belongs between.

I find a lot of improperly hyphenated words in my reading.  It may boil down to something as simple as not being able to interpret Webster's correctly.  Anyway, that is my assumption here as it can be misleading when you look up any prefix or suffix.  Examples:  pre-, post-, anti-, mid- for prefixes and -ful and -less for suffixes.

Even though "pre-" has its own entry within Webster's, that DOES NOT MEAN all words that start with this prefix must have the hyphen next.  Wrong.  The hyphenated entry highlights the prefix nature of this combination of letters.  The hyphen denotes the need for this prefix to be joined with other words.  The hyphen at the END of this prefix demands that any conjoining of a word must be at the back end.

Just like a suffix such as "-less" and "-ful" only allow for mating with a word at the front end.  You do NOT retain the hyphen.  Examples:  mindless and roomful.

These prefixes and suffices are NOT WORDS.  Not in their standalone hyphenated forms found in Webster's.  These are simply letter groupings awaiting a word to complete them.

I have Webster's uploaded to my laptop so I can see a listing of all words combined with "pre-" that are deemed hyphenless by Webster's.  If a particular word is not on that list, then, yes, it should be written to include the hyphen.

Within its many incarnations, whether online, digital or hardcopy, Webster's uses a raised dot to separate its syllables.  For a TRUE hyphenated usage, there is a longer hyphen shown.  I presume that is to differentiate it from the shorter hyphenlike dividers used within its pronunciation guide falling directly below or behind the syllable view of the word.  To avoid confusion.  Which we should all keep in mind.

As with most English grammar rules, there are exceptions.  In the preceding paragraph, I used the word hyphenlike.  It is not found in Webster's whether I look up "hyphenlike" or "hyphen-like" or under just "-like."  Therefore I have chosen to conjoin the noun with the suffix.  You will note though that Webster's separates any occurrence of three Ls in a row by inserting a hyphen.  Example:  bell-like (per Webster's).  That's a good rule to follow as three Ls in a row makes a red flag pop up in my mind with a misspelling alert.

Believe me, you do not want your readers stopping midsentence to question you on your spelling or grammar.  You do not want confused readers either.  So keep these structural basics in mind especially as we authors create our novels.  However, it is just as useful in the business world or when writing a complaint letter or a love letter, for that matter.

Communication is critical.  How many problems have erupted from a sheer miscommunication?  So let's try to avoid all that and get our thoughts and desires eloquently and succinctly shared with our intended audience.

P.S.  As I end this blog, I am reminded that some people will misinterpret what we are saying, no matter how painstakingly well said, based on their own experiences or mind-set.  We have no control over that.  A man who thinks all women love shopping for clothes in a mall is the victim of a generalization and, while I cannot change that oversimplification, I can choose to not be around him as his personification would irk me to no end.  I hate being lumped into a grouping where I do not belong.  My uniqueness is smothered, suffocated.  For all my commonalities with the female sex, I am an individual and like being seen for my own attributes.

Just like the credo for authors (every reader is not your intended audience), there is a similar axiom for people (everyone will not like you or see you for who you are).  That is why those rare few who see me as I see me are so precious to me.

Seek those in your life.  You will be richly rewarded.

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