Unclear Sentences, Eliminating Extra Spaces, Commas with Conjunctions, and the Interrobang

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bookdoctorby Bobbie Christmas

Q: Which of the following sentences do you think is better? 
     I was so frustrated that I gave up my quest for a gown.
     I was so frustrated that I stopped searching for a gown.
I think grammatically the second one might be better. The position of “for a gown” in the first sentence almost makes it sound like I did it for the gown’s sake. On second thought, I suppose the second could sound like that, too. Any suggestions?

A: When a sentence keeps sounding unclear, even when you shift a few words, it is time to recast the sentence entirely. Consider a rewrite along the lines of these suggestions:
I was so frustrated that I decided to stop searching for a gown.
Frustrated by my search for a gown, I eventually gave up my quest.
I gave up my quest for a gown, because I was frustrated.

Q: After writing 150 pages of a manuscript, I found out that I need to put only one space between sentences after a period, not two, as I have been doing.
Do you know if there is a way to correct all 150 pages with an editing option on Microsoft Word, or will this issue be something that the book interior designer will address?

A: It’s a breeze to fix this issue and delete other unintentional extra spaces as well. Go to the Find and Replace function in Word (Ctrl + H), and put your cursor in the Find What box and space twice. In other words, hit the spacebar twice. Nothing will show, but you should see your cursor move over two spaces. Next put your cursor in the Replace With box and hit the spacebar only once. Click on Replace All, and in mere seconds, the computer will strip out all the two spaces in a row and replace them with one space. Why wait for or trust a layout person to fix the issue for you, when it’s so easy to do?

Q: I know a comma should be used to separate two clauses in a compound sentence, but in the sentence below, is a comma okay before the word “but”
It was only a five minute drive, but a much longer pursuit when trudging through snow.
It’s not two complete sentences, but the “but” gives it a nice pause. Is the comma okay?

A: Commas do much more than separate compound sentences; they also often are needed before conjunctions, even in sentences that are not compound. “But” in the sample sentence is a conjunction, so you are correct that a comma should appear before it. Don’t forget the hyphen, too, in the two-word adjective (five-minute) that modifies the word “drive.” Here’s how the sentence should look:
It was only a five-minute drive, but a much longer pursuit when trudging through snow.

Q: Is an interrobang allowed in a manuscript?

A: The interrobang, also called the interabang, combines the functions of the question mark (also called the “interrogative point”) and the exclamation mark or exclamation point. The interrobang may, in casual writing, appear after strong or playful moot questions, such as “Who’d a thunk it?!” The actual interrobang symbol, however, does not appear on the average keyboard, although it can be written as the two symbols, either ?! or !?.

Is the interrobang acceptable in a manuscript? For several reasons, the answer is no. It is substandard punctuation, and conventional wisdom calls for only one ending punctuation mark per sentence. In addition, using substandard punctuation downgrades the writing from professional to schoolgirl style. Instead of employing substandard punctuation in an attempt to make a point, strong writers ensure the wording in the sentence is robust enough to make its point.


Bobbie Christmas, book editor and owner of Zebra Communications, will answer your questions, too. Send them to Bobbie@zebraeditor.com. Read more Ask the Book Doctor questions and answers at www.zebraeditor.com.

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