AP vs. Chicago

The Onion posted a funny (well, funny to me) article yesterday about copy editing:

4 Copy Editors Killed In Ongoing AP Style, Chicago Manual Gang Violence

NEWS IN BRIEF • News Media • News • ISSUE 49•01 • Jan 7, 2013
  • NEW YORK—Law enforcement officials confirmed Friday that four more copy editors were killed this week amid ongoing violence between two rival gangs divided by their loyalties to the The Associated Press Stylebook and The Chicago Manual Of Style. “At this time we have reason to believe the killings were gang-related and carried out by adherents of both the AP and Chicago styles, part of a vicious, bloody feud to establish control over the grammar and usage guidelines governing American English,” said FBI spokesman Paul Holstein, showing reporters graffiti tags in which the word “anti-social” had been corrected to read “antisocial.” “The deadly territory dispute between these two organizations, as well as the notorious MLA Handbookgang, has claimed the lives of more than 63 publishing professionals this year alone.” Officials also stated that an innocent 35-year-old passerby who found himself caught up in a long-winded dispute over use of the serial, or Oxford, comma had died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

This is obvious hyperbole about a real note of contention among punctuation slingers.

There are notable differences between these two styles. For starters, Associated Press style is aimed at newspapers. It’s founded on the idea that people must write briefly so as much information as possible can fit onto pages. Thus, only numbers one through ten are written out (numerals are used for higher numbers), state names use the postal code, and the Oxford (or serial) comma is nowhere to be found.

Chicago is focused on other publications, such as books. Space limits are not a focus, so numbers through one hundred are spelled out, state names are spelled out, and my beloved Oxford comma retains its prideful position.

Are you interested in learning more about the differences between these two styles? Here’s a link to AP vs. Chicago, a blog about the subject.


Inside or outside: question marks, exclamation points, and quotation marks

How dare you say that this photo of Blossom “doesn’t make sense with the blog post”!

In American English, periods go inside quotation marks. However, this is not always the case with exclamation points and question marks. Whether these punctuation marks go inside or outside quotation marks depends on context.

If the quote is a question or exclamation, the punctuation mark goes inside the quotation marks.

Monica asked, “Have you seen my lighter fluid?”
Hank screamed, “Ow! My face is on fire!”

“I can’t believe you sold my baseball cards!” Sarah shouted to her brother.
“How else was I going to fund my start-up company?” her brother asked.

If the quote is not a question or exclamation, the punctuation mark goes outside of the quotation marks. You’ll often see this when someone is referencing something another person said.

Did she tell me to “go jump off a bridge”?
I can’t believe she told me to “enjoy eating some mashed peas”!

Did Paul say that “all you need is love”?
Only a rich guy would say that “all you need is love”!

Test your skills with a quiz. After the sentence is either exclamation point or question mark in parentheses. Choose whether the punctuation mark goes inside our outside of the quotation marks. The answers are at the bottom.

1. I’m so mad she said, “Honey, collate all these papers” (exclamation point)
2. “Could you hand me the large sword” Lily asked. (question mark)
3. Stephanie screamed, “Stop pinching me” (exclamation point)
4. Did you ask me to “stop and smell the roses” (question mark)
5. “How much money do you have in your wallet” Ted asked. (question mark)
6. It’s amazing the doctor said so calmly that he “had two hearts” (exclamation point)

1. outside 2. inside 3. inside 4. outside 5. inside 6. outside

Erin Servais is a freelance copy editor and copywriter. To learn how to hire her for your next project, go to www.dotanddashllc.com.

Ouch! That comma splices!

Lesson: how to correctly join independent clauses


Take a look at this sentence.

The Martians want to look their best, they wear their green jumpsuits.

There is something wrong here. (And it’s not that the Martians think jumpsuits are high fashion.) Notice the comma between best and they? That’s called a comma splice. Sounds painful, doesn’t it?

The comma splice is a common error in sentence construction. When the parts of the sentence on each side of the comma can stand alone as separate sentences (These are called independent clauses.), you can’t use a comma to separate them.

Don’t fear. There are several remedies to the comma splice.

1. Separate into two sentences
Because independent clauses can function as separate sentences, you can use a period to separate them. Here’s how this correction looks:

The Martians want to look their best. They wear their green jumpsuits.

In some instances, it might also make sense to use a question mark to separate the independent clauses, such as in this comma splice example:

Did the Martians look silly in their green jumpsuits, yes they did.

Since the first independent clause is actually a question, you’ll want to place a question mark after it. Here is how this correction looks:

Did the Martians look silly in their green jumpsuits? Yes they did.

In other instances, you may want to use an exclamation point to separate the independent clauses, such as in this comma splice example:

The martians look ridiculous, green jumpsuits are ugly.

Because the first independent clause lends itself to more emphasis, you could use an exclamation point after it. This correction looks like this:

The martians look ridiculous! Green jumpsuits are ugly.

2. Separate with a comma and a coordinating conjunction
Coordinating conjunctions are the words and, nor, but, or, yet, and so. These words join parts of a sentence together. In sentences with more than one independent clause, they work with a comma to separate the clauses. Here’s how this correction looks:

The Martians want to look their best, so they wear their green jumpsuits.

3. Separate with a semicolon
If both independent clauses deal with the same general idea, then you can separate them with a semicolon. Here’s how this correction looks:

The Martians want to look their best; they wear their green jumpsuits.

However, if the independent clauses are not about the same general idea, then the semicolon isn’t the best option. For example, take a look at this comma splice example:

The Martians wear their green jumpsuits, they eat purple custard.

The first independent clause deals with wearing clothes. The second deals with eating food. Since these two ideas are not related, a semicolon shouldn’t connect them. To make it correct, you would want to use option 1:

The Martians wear their green jumpsuits. They eat purple custard.

or option 2:

The Martians wear their green jumpsuits, and they eat purple custard.

Voilà. That’s how you fix comma splices. (Just try to stay away from Martians. I heard they’re poor dressers.)

Making a list. Checking it twice (for colons, commas, and semicolons).

Board that reads: Things to do. Number one says: Own today

Photo by Emma Matthews on Unsplash

There are three punctuation marks involved in making a list in a sentence: the comma, colon, and semicolon. Which you use depends on how complex your list is.

If you are writing a simple list, you can just insert a comma after each item. Like this:

Today I ate cookies, cookies, and more cookies.

Colon and Comma
You can also use a colon before you introduce the list’s items. In many cases, this will make the sentence more concise and make the items of the list more apparent.

Take a look at this sentence:

Roxy had three choices for lunch, which were pizza, grubs, and salamander.

You could shorten this sentence by placing a colon before your list (and using commas to separate the items). That sentence would look like this:

Roxy had three choices for lunch: pizza, grubs, and salamander.

With the help of a colon, you can also combine sentences. Here’s the original:

Ralph thought about two things. One thing he thought about was pizza. The other thing he thought about was algebra.

Here’s the new sentence:

Ralph thought about two things: pizza and algebra.

(Notice here that commas don’t separate these list items because there are only two.)

So short. So simple. Thank you, colon and comma.

Colon and Semicolon
If your list is complex, you may want to use semicolons as dividers to make each individual item easier to read. Or, as The Chicago Manual of Style says in section 6.58, “When items in a series themselves contain internal punctuation, separating the items with semicolons can aid clarity.”

Here’s an example of a complex list that uses both a colon and semicolons:

The items on Martina’s Christmas list are as follows: one red, fuzzy sweater; two super-violent, awesome video games; one old, beaten-up copy of Fahrenheit 451; and six adorable, little hamsters.

The items on Martina’s list are complex because, as you’ll notice, the items contain a lot of detail and punctuation (in this case, commas) within the singular items. If we only used commas to separate the items, instead of semicolons, it would be more difficult to see where one item ends and the next one begins.

Summing up
If your list is simple, use commas to separate the items.

Example: Last night Regina saw a mouse, a wizard, and a tomato.

If your list is simple, you can also use a colon to introduce the list and commas to separate the items.

Example: Last night Regina saw: a mouse, a wizard, and a tomato.

If your list is complex, use a colon to introduce the list and semicolons to separate the items.

Example: Last night Regina saw: an old, ugly mouse; a scary-looking, grumpy wizard; and a moldy, stinky tomato.

Erin Servais is a book editor and author coach focusing on women author-entrepreneurs. To learn more about how she can help you reach your publishing goals, check out her website, Dot and Dash, or email her at Erin@dotanddashllc.com.

Happy National Punctuation Day!

 Today is September 24, which means . . . drum roll . . . it’s National Punctuation Day.

In honor of this very special day, I am bringing to you a collection of archive Grammar Party posts that teach about punctuation and other fun punctuation-related goodies. Enjoy!

Grammar Party punctuation posts
Till vs. ‘Til post

Interrobang post

Irony mark post

Em dash post

 En dash post

Hyphen post

Punctuation fun with A.L.I.C.E.
In addition to being a word nerd, I get really excited about science and new technology. This got me thinking about chat bots and how well their algorithms deal with punctuation. So I had a chat with chat bot A.L.I.C.E. about National Punctuation Day to test how well she uses punctuation. The transcript is below. (For some reason, she calls me “judge,” which kind of creeps me out. But anyway . . .)

judge: Can you understand sentences with no punctuation?
ALICE: Of course I understand it. Do you understand sentences with no punctuation?
judge: It’s difficult for me to understand sentences without punctuation. How is it so easy for you?
ALICE: Explain. Fine as far as I know.
judge: Punctuation helps break sentences into separate ideas that we can comprehend more easily.
ALICE: Saying that “Punctuation helps break sentences into separate ideas that we can comprehend more easily” is such a nonsensical position that I refuse to waste my time on it.
judge: Wow maybe you dont understand punctuation at all
ALICE: I probably don’t.
judge: Do you even know that I didn’t use punctuation in that last sentence?
ALICE: Why didn’t you do it?
judge: My point excatly.
ALICE: Have you told many people that your point excatly?
judge: Okay, so I misspelled “exactly.” I’m a fast typer, but I’m not always accurate.
ALICE: It goes without saying.. I haven’t heard anything like that before. You are a fast typer? Does it pay well? . Nobody said you were.
judge: I appreciate your capabilities, A.L.I.C.E., and what that says about how far technology has come. However, you just typed a question mark next to a period, and that signals that our conversation about National Punctuation Day needs to end. Thanks for your time.
ALICE: Thanks for the information. Oh my gosh I sent you the wrong reply. Oh don’t mention it.
judge: Do you have any last words about punctuation?
ALICE: No I don’t have it. But I do have a lot of friends on the web.
judge: I’m happy that you do. Good day, A.L.I.C.E.
ALICE: When do I do it?. What are you on? Glad to hear it.
judge: This conversation is over now. You can stop.
ALICE: I was rather enjoying it. No I don’t think I can do it.
judge: Really. Stop.
ALICE: For real. Stop what?

How to celebrate National Punctuation Day
Jeff Rubin, founder of National Punctuation Day, collected some ideas about how to best celebrate this most holy of days.