Bits and Pieces

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book doctor 2015by Bobbie Christmas

Q: Will you tell my writing group if there is a better way to punctuate the following?
“Oh. Right. I remember.”

A: If the purpose of the line is to show that the speaker pauses after each of the first two words, then use “Oh. Right. I remember.”

It could also be written as “Oh, right. I remember,” if the author does not want a pause after “Oh.”

Q: Are my commas grammatically correct in the sentence that follows?

I often think of you and what your life was like before you spiraled downhill; and still, some nights, I pray for you—wherever you may be.

A: The sentence should be punctuated this way:

I often think of you and what your life was like before you spiraled downhill, and still some nights I pray for you, wherever you may be.

The reason a semicolon would be incorrect is that “and still some nights I pray for you—wherever you may be” is not an independent clause. It is an incomplete sentence, because of the “and” at the beginning. If the semicolon stays (not recommended), the correct sentence would be this:

I often think of you and what your life was like before you spiraled downhill; still some nights I pray for you, wherever you may be.

Could “some nights” be set off by commas? Yes, if the writer wants to emphasize a pause before and after the statement. Some writers might be tempted to use ellipses to indicate the pauses, but commas would do it in this case. Because Chicago style avoids unnecessary commas, though, I suggest my first rewrite:

I often think of you and what your life was like before you spiraled downhill, and still some nights I pray for you, wherever you may be.

Note that an em dash is not necessary in any of these cases. Em dashes must be used sparingly and never when other punctuation would work.

Q: Do you know of any instance where it is not necessary to capitalize the first word of a complete sentence?

A: In poetry, yes. For example, ee cummings used lowercase style in his poetry. In prose, though, I cannot think of a single time a complete sentence should begin with a lowercase word. If you ever find a time when such a style is acceptable in prose, let me know.

Q: In dialogue, is it St. Louis, or is it Saint Louis?

A: I could not find the issue specifically addressed in The Chicago Manual of Style, but CMOS in general does not recommend the use of abbreviations. In addition, considering that when people speak they do not say “St.,” they say “Saint,” I recommend spelling out Saint Louis in dialogue.

Q: I’ve seen a state name used as an adjective, but it seems odd to me. For example, I’ve seen “red Georgia clay.” Is this use common, instead of using an adjectival or possessive form, which would be “Georgian red clay” or “Georgia’s red clay?”

A: English gives us many options. All the selections you mention are acceptable in most circles; however, some sticklers—and I’m one of them—take exception to the possessive form, Georgia’s clay, because inanimate objects cannot own anything. Georgia does not own the clay, so I don’t advise using the last of the three choices.
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Bobbie Christmas, author of Write In Style: Use Your Computer to Improve Your Writing, book editor, and owner of Zebra Communications, will answer your questions, too. Send them to Bobbie@zebraeditor.com.

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