Wednesday, March 31, 2010

WNW: Colons, Commas, Parentheses, Oh, my!

Can you believe it? Word Nerd Wednesday is BACK!

After an unscheduled hiatus . . . ahem . . .

First, a link over to my Good Things Utah interview that aired live this morning.

CLICK HERE to watch my tongue go so fast that it's surprising that smoke isn't coming out of my mouth! (Oh, and to see an actual Flat Daddy of a currently deployed solider.)

Today we're tackling several questions Rebecca recently asked in a comment:

#1: Where do I put the comma, before the parentheses or after?
Simple answer: AFTER.

Parentheses let you add something in the middle of a sentence, an aside or clarification. Because of that, the sentence must be able to stand on its own if you pull the parentheses out. Take this sentence:

After Officer Brad spoke to the students (the fifth and sixth graders), he passed out information about Internet safety.

The clarifying addition of saying exactly which students were there helps, but it's not necessary for the sentence to make sense. You could just as easily say:

After Officer Brad spoke to the students, he passed out information about Internet safety.

But if the comma is inside the parentheses, then the comma is part of the insertion. Take it out, and the comma gets cut too. It's lost from the entire sentence, which makes for a long, convoluted line to read:

After Officer Brad spoke to the students he passed out information about Internet safety.

Definitely want that comma in there. Put it OUTSIDE the parentheses.

MINOR CONFUSION: This makes perfect sense, right? Well, not everything does. When you're dealing with quotation marks, you almost always put the commas or other punctuation INSIDE, even if they aren't part of the quote.

Gotta love how consistently random American English is.

#2: Do you capitalize the "n" in "not"?
Short answer: NO.

I'm assuming this refers to what to capitalize in titles. DO capitalize:
  • All verbs, no matter how small (even IS, WAS, etc.)
  • All nouns, pronouns, and proper names (CAR, THEM, HE, JUDY)
  • The first and last word, regardless of what they are.
  • Really long prepositions (at least 5 letters, such as WITHOUT, AGAINST, BENEATH)
Do NOT capitalize:
  • Articles (THE, A, AN)
  • Prepositions, unless they're long (ON, BY, INTO, OUT, etc)
  • Short words (AND, IF, etc.)

Hence some of my titles:
Lost Without You
Three words, so the first and last get caps. The middle word is a preposition, but it's long, so it gets caps too.

At the Water's Edge
Cap at even though it's a preposition, because it's the first word. Don't cap the. Cap the other two big words.

House on the Hill
Only the first and last words get it, because the middle two are a preposition and an article.

Spires of Stone
First and last. The middle word is too small to matter.

See how that works? Pretty simple.

#3 When using colons, do you capitalize the first word that comes after them?
Generally speaking, no.

Whatever comes after a colon is still part of the same sentence, so you continue as you would with any other part of a sentence, in lowercase:

Mark read over his grocery list: bread, eggs, cheese, and a case of Sprite.

Sometimes writers will add an uppercase letter after a colon for a specific effect, or if the what comes after can stand by itself as a sentence. In the last case, the capped letter isn't needed. One exception would be this very post. Sometimes I'll lead into an example with a colon, but that's pretty much ending the sentence, and I'm beginning something brand new with the example sentence.

#4: When do you use actual numbers such as 12:00 versus twelve o'clock?
That's largely up to the publisher. I've seen it both ways, and which you use is really up to your editor and what style guide they're using. Neither is incorrect.

I personally prefer to spell out times, because numbers pull me out of the text and remind me that I'm reading, while words feel more natural and keep me in the story world. But that's just me.


Amanda D said...

Great post. I know I needed these reminders! Thanks. :)

Mary Gray said...

I love that you're an encyclopedia for grammar. I have wondered about the rules for capatalizing titles. Thanks for the instruction!

Erin said...

I watched you this morning! It was so fun to see you on tv.

And thanks for the capitalization portion. I have a bit of a hard time sometimes figuring out which words in titles should (and shouldn't) be capitalized.

T.J. said...

I'm so glad Word Nerd Wednesday is back. I've missed 'feeling normal.'

Oo....have you done where to put a period, comma, etc. when quotations are used?

Lara Neves said...

I often get confused when trying to do titles, so thank you for that!

Off to watch you on TV now! :)

Sarah M Eden said...

I got stuck at the point where poor Officer Brad passed out after talking to the students. Man, what did those students do to the guy? Fifth graders sure have become more intimidating over the years.
Oh... wait... maybe I should read the entire sentence.

Rebecca Blevins said...

Ah, thank you! I was hastily typing in a rather frantic way. I actually meant capitalizing the "not" meaning the start of what I was saying in the parentheses, but I got it from reading the rest of what you were saying. I needed the refresher on titles, though!

You are wonderful, and brilliant!

Also, the other question I had was when do you use ' ' vs " "? I know pretty much when to use quotation marks, but when do you use the others?

Thanks for helping me out. You deserve a crown for being the queen of grammar. :)

Annette Lyon said...

Rebecca, I totally forgot to discuss single quotes! I'll do that soon.

Tracie Nall said...

Single quotes...that is definitely one I want to hear about!

Unknown said...

Hold the phone, Watson! Just hold that phone! While I admit to having spent most of Miz Hess's POW camp disguised as Junior Honors English sound asleep and drooling on my binder, I did wake up long enough to hear her drill into our heads the rule that you ALWAYS capitalize after a colon. You double space after one, too. Single space and lowercase after semi-colon.

And if you're going to beat your students or at least spit on them through your ill-fitting dentures until they're so grossed out they toss themselves out the window, make sure you have an airtight alibi. Like you were regenerating in your crypt or something.

Rebecca Irvine said...

Commas used outside of quote marks incorrectly are driving me nuts lately. Thanks for trying to keep the world right with these fun posts!

Carolyn V. said...

I have to work on #2. *sigh* I keep forgetting the rule. =)

wendy said...

You would have made a great English teacher.

Lyon Pride said...

Great Job on TV!

Karlene said...

Thanks for the link to your interview. I thought I'd recorded it but something was off and it didn't happen. Great interview. Great project. Loving the book.

Julie Belnap said...

I saw the advertisement saying 'Come! (Unless you're a grown-up, than stay away!)' for the writers conference, and I panicked. I GET TO SEE YOU AGAIN!! IT'S GOING TO BE SO MUCH FUN TO SEE YOU AGAIN!! I CAN'T BELIEVE ITS ALMOST BEEN A YEAR SINCE THE LAST TEEN WRITER'S CONFERENCE!! THIS IS GOING TO BE SO MUCH FUN!!

Anyway, is it okay to wear my last year's writers conference name tag? Because that would be a lot of fun for me. My mom doesn't think so, because I would be bragging about how I've been to both. I haven't submitted my story yet, but it's going to be very fun to see you again!! I have glasses now, so you probably won't recognize me. Then again, you may not recognize me anyway.

I'm psyched to see you again! Good luck doing your other stuff before we meet face to face!

Julie B.

Annette Lyon said...

SO glad you're coming to the conference again this year! (Be sure to come up to me and refresh my memory with your cute new glasses!)

You'll need to wear this year's tag so you're legit, but I see no problem with bringing along last year's as well. (For that matter, I think I'll suggest to the committee that we recognize those who are there for their second year. It' would be neat for others to see and aspire to be one of the alumni!)


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