What will you do today in observance of National Grammar Day? I’m revisiting the comma.

It amazes me how people struggle with comma placement. It’s simple, logical, and important to place commas correctly. Here are some basic rules to remember.

  1. Separate two independent clauses joined by a conjunction with a comma. The hotel room was tiny, but the rate was ridiculously high.
  2. Separate independent clauses that are not joined by a conjunction with a period. (Or ! or ?) The hotel room was tiny. The rate was ridiculously high.
  3. Separate introductory elements from an independent clause with a comma. That evening, we crashed in our tiny hotel room.
  4. Do not use a comma to offset an element that is essential to the meaning of the independent clause. We were packed and ready to leave when the bellhop arrived.
  5. Avoid commas within clauses. What we liked best about the hotel was its workout room.

There are other rules about comma use, but master these first and you’ll be well on your way to grammar goodness. March forth on March fourth!

Why Decimate When You Can Annihilate?

Cheryl Norman:

Encore post by request.

Originally posted on Cheryl Norman - Grammar Cop:

The recent misuse of the word decimate jars me as a reader (Before you leave a comment blasting me about this, yes, I know newer dictionaries are accepting as an alternate meaning “destroy completely;” nonetheless, the primary definition hasn’t changed). It annoys me almost as much as seeing Jeep spelled with a lowercase j or reading it’s instead of its for the possessive form of it. Anything that bugs a reader, distances a reader from your story. Writers can’t afford to distance readers.

Look at the history of the word decimate. From the Latin for to remove a tenth, decimate means to (duh!) remove a tenth. According to historians, the word originally referred to the practice of ancient soldiers drawing lots to determine who would be executed (one out of every ten).

If you’re a Dr. Who fan, you may remember an episode in which decimation is ordered  by the Master, who…

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Watch That Slang

This post is less about grammar and more about style. 

Remember the 1985 movie Back to the Future? Marty McFly repeatedly says “heavy,” 1980s slang for an intense situation, and Emmett (Doc) doesn’t understand. He questions Marty about problems with weightiness. Great Scott! Heavy as slang in 1955 is anachronistic.

Writers of historical fiction should exercise caution in the use of slang. Readers will catch those anachronisms in a heartbeat, just as Doc did in Back to the Future. Keep in mind you don’t want anything to distract your reader from your story. When it comes to writing dialog, do your research!

Examples I’ve come across:

  • The old west ego. If you’re setting your Western in a time that predates Freud, don’t use the term ego when you mean arrogance. Ego didn’t exist until Freud coined the word in 1920.
  • Eye candy or stud muffin. Those terms are late twentieth century and have no place in earlier settings. I recently read a Word War II era romance that described a soldier as “eye candy.” That’s a no-no.
  • Fashion statement  Too modern to be spoken in most historicals. 
  • Don’t go there!  If your historical character is using the expression “don’t go there” (meaning, that subject is off-limits), he better be living in the 1990s or later. For that matter, off-limits is fairly modern, so be careful. Other expressions that are too modern to appear in historicals include get over it, give me a break, and go figure.
  • Don’t give me any flak (or flack). Flak (also spelled flack) is anti-aircraft artillery. The term now means a critical or hostile reception or reaction, but it evolved from the military term. If your historical story predates military aircraft, don’t give your characters any flak.
  • Life in the fast lane. An expression evolved from motorists using divided, multi-lane highways should not appear in a story predating divided, multi-lane highways. 
  • Stuck in the groove or his needle is stuck. This term originated with the first phonograph record and died with digital recordings and downloads. Use this slang with care.

What other anachronisms have you discovered in historical novels or movies?

You don’t say!

Welcome to another edition of “You don’t say!” when we examine expressions and sayings often confused or misunderstood. Here are some favorites.

  • If you think that, you have another thing coming.
  • She made a 360 degree change in attitude.
  • We’ll play irregardless of the weather.
  • I could care less.
  • Supposably that’s his real name.
  • He intended to extract revenge if it took every dime he had.

If you write or say any of these, stop! Your meaning is confused or contradicted. Here are the corrected sayings.

  • If you think that, you have another think coming. (As in “think again.”)
  • She made a 180 degree change in attitude. (360 gets her all the way back where she began)
  • We’ll play regardless of the weather. (Irredgardless isn’t a word. Period.)
  • I couldn’t care less. (Otherwise, you care because you could care less)
  • Supposedly that’s his real name. (There’s no such word as supposably.)
  • He intended to exact revenge if it took every dime he had. (I guess one could extract revenge, but it’d be messy.)

What incorrect sayings do you see or hear?


September 24 is the day we grammarians celebrate punctuation. Hooray!

When it comes to writing, I see people erring on the side of too much punctuation. When it comes to punctuation, too much is not a good thing.

Don’t overuse commas. There are rules for comma use. Follow them. When in doubt, leave it out. Furthermore, don’t use a comma to end a sentence. This infraction is known as the comma splice. Periods and question marks are for ending a sentence.

Don’t overuse apostrophes, either. Apostrophes do not belong in possessive pronouns or plurals. When in doubt, leave it out. Why do educated people suddenly lapse into punctuation amnesia and use apostrophes for plural words? I have no idea, but the practice has grown at an alarming rate.

Don’t overuse exclamation points. Use them sparingly if at all or risk losing your reader.

Finally, use italic font for emphasis, not all caps. Just because you see the all-uppercase-font words in text messages or on Twitter, doesn’t make it correct usage for your writing.

Brush up on good punctuation and celebrate the holiday.

Writing Product Reviews–Specifics Help

Have merchants asked you for a review of a recent purchase? I try to leave reviews, on everything from kitchen tools to bedding and books. I often read reviews left by others to help me decide on a purchase. Through the years, I’ve read some reviews that needed an editor’s attention because of ambiguity.

Here’s an example as quoted from TV: “The [service providers] I’ve found on Angie’s List have literally blown me away.”

This is found in a shopping club membership ad: “The money we save with the membership is unreal.”

First, why would businesses advertise these useless testimonies? They offer no helpful information. I may be “blown away” by bad service or good. If the money I save with a membership is unreal, it’s not for me. I want real savings.

When you write a product review, remember the purpose of your feedback is to guide potential buyers. What information would you find useful in a review? I want specifics, not vague “performs beautifully” or “this totally sucks” reviews. 

“My savings in belonging to [Buyer’s Club] exceeds my annual membership fee.” Or “Every service provider I’ve found and used on Angie’s List has been dependable and affordable” are specific and helpful comments. If you have a negative, be specific but don’t trash everything and everybody. “The knife sharpener performed as advertised, although the suction cup didn’t hold it steady. When I complained, the company replaced the sharpener, but the new one had the same issue. If you don’t mind holding the knife sharpener with one hand while running the knife through the blades, this product delivers.”

The same advice holds true for book or movie reviews, with an additional caveat: Don’t give anything away without prefacing it with SPOILER ALERT or SPOILERS. What buyers find helpful are genre information, comparisons to similar books or films, and level of adult material. For instance, here’s a good example of a review of the film The Crew:

If you saw Goodfellas, you’ll get a kick out of The Crew. It spoofs it with an Over The Hill Gang twist.Richard Dreyfus and Burt Reynolds give strong performances as two retired wise guys living in South Beach, Florida, with two other retirees from their “crew” from back in the day in New Jersey. When they scheme to take back their apartment building from greedy landlords, they soon find themselves back in the game, but with surprising–and comedic–consequences. Rated PG for mild profanity and adult situations.

Don’t shy away from writing reviews. They help other buyers. But please give thought to what you write before you submit it.



Do you use Viggle or Sound Hound? These fun apps listen to your music and identify it for you. They even include links so you can buy the download (and I confess, I sometimes do). But yesterday the Grammar Cop in me lost her patience. While listening to an oldies station, I heard Little River Band’s Help Is On Its Way, a favorite. ♫ To earn my Viggle points, I promptly “Viggled” it. Here’s what appeared on my iPhone:

Help Is On It’s Way

If you aren’t cringing at that, shame on you. If anyone from Viggle reads this, be aware. The Grammar Cop is citing you for a spelling error. Now please correct it!

(FYI I checked. It’s spelled correctly on the CD jacket)