Not your grandma’s grammar! | Jane’s grammar nugget
Jane Straus, late author of The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation, can help us modernize Grandma’s grammar! Jane says:
As if it isn’t enough that computers have influenced just about every area of our lives, you’d think that something as sacred as the English language would remain immune to technology’s pressures. Not so. You may not need to learn new rules of grammar as often as you need to update your computer’s RAM, but tweaking your grammar skills will make you look more professional, and you can impress your friends and colleagues with some cutting-edge reasoning.
One or two spaces between sentences after a period?
Professional printers who set material in proportional fonts have always used only one space after ending punctuation marks such as the period. However, original typewriters had monospaced fonts, so two spaces were used to make the text more legible. Most computer fonts present no difficulty with proportion or legibility, so use just ONE space after a period, colon, or any other ending punctuation mark. You will not be struck by lightning, I promise!
Quotation marks and punctuation
In Grandma’s day, a period used with quotation marks followed logic:
- Myrtle said the word “snarfblatt”.
The period went outside the quote because only the last word was in quotation marks, not the entire sentence.
- Myrtle said, “I would never say that.”
The period went inside the quotation mark because the entire sentence is a quote.
Today (actually for the last 30 years or so), the period always goes inside the quotation mark in American English.
- Myrtle said the word “snarfblatt.”
This does not follow logic, but it makes life easier for professional editors and for the rest of us who have enough to think about besides punctuation.
Warning: If you write a quotation in England, ignore this advice. Logic is still followed on that side of “the Pond.”
We’ve Come a Long Way, Maybe
Since Grandma’s day, we have shortened some words and dropped the former plural form. Memo and memos used to be memorandum and memoranda. Yet other words still retain their original length, spelling, and plural form: curriculum and curricula.
With the word data, we no longer see the singular datum used at all. Data is now normally used in both the singular and plural form.
- The data are being tabulated. The data is useful to the scientists.
In Grandma’s day, you would be scolded if you started a sentence with but or because. But you wouldn’t have deserved that scolding then or now. Just make sure that if you start a sentence with either of these two words, you are following them with complete thoughts.
- But she would never say such a thing. Because of this bee sting, my arm is swollen.
- But I can’t. Because I said so.
These are incomplete thoughts, and you will get your knuckles rapped with a ruler for writing them.
Reprinted by permission of the late Jane Straus, author of the bestselling The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation, from her free Grammarbook.com e-newsletters and blogs.
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