Powerful Little Rules

What’s the point of learning grammar and punctuation rules these days? In books, work e-mails, and even tweets, we want to communicate clearly. We want to connect, understand, and be understood. Proper grammar and punctuation are powerful tools to help you do just that.

Particularly when you’re writing a manuscript, you want your ideas to translate clearly to the reader. You don’t want to give an acquiring editor or reader a reason to stumble over your sentences and set your work down.

Here are some little grammar and punctuation rules that will help you make your point.

 

Modifier placement

When a sentence includes a participle (adjective ending in –ing or -ed), the noun it describes should be placed next to it.

 

Example:

Walking through the dark hallway, the man was barely visible to her.

Who is walking through the hallway? The reader will initially assume “the man” is, but by the end of the sentence, the reader will know otherwise. The following is a clear, correct construction:

Walking through the dark hallway, she barely saw the man.

 

Its/it’s

“Its” is a possessive pronoun that functions in a sentence just like “his” or “her” does. (Notice that “his” and “her” are possessive but do not have apostrophes.)

The dog wagged its tail.

“It’s” is a contraction for “it is.”

It’s time to go to the party.

This rule is an important one. Every time it’s used correctly, an angel gets its wings.

 

Punctuating “however”

“However” can join two independent clauses (subject and verb combinations that make sense on their own). Here are two independent clauses:

She went to the show.
She didn’t pay attention.

Here’s how you join the two with “however”:
She went to the show. However, she didn’t pay attention.

Or:

She went to the show; however, she didn’t pay attention.

If you use a comma before “however” here, the reader will have to circle back to realize you’ve begun the second clause.

Alternatively, you can simply write this:

She went to the show, but she didn’t pay attention.

Most concise:

She went to the show but didn’t pay attention.

Notice that when the second part loses its subject (“she”), it is no longer an independent clause. No comma is needed to separate a compound verb (“went to the show” and “didn’t pay attention”).

 

Punctuating direct address

When you address someone directly in writing, you need to use a comma to set off the name.

Example:

Hello, Sam.

Now we want you to try something. Exchange “Hello” with “Let’s eat.”

Let’s eat, Sam.

What happens when we delete the required comma?

Let’s eat Sam.

That means something entirely different. Let’s hope it appears in a horror novel.

 

Lay/lie

“Lay” and “lie” are frequently confused. Here’s the difference.

“Lay” is a transitive verb, which means it must be paired with an object. Example:

He will lay the weapon on the ground.

“The weapon” is the object here.

Here’s what “lay” looks like in past tense and present tense:

Past: He laid the weapon on the ground.

Present: He is laying the weapon on the ground.

“Lie” is an intransitive verb, which means no object follows. Example:

He will lie down to sleep.

Here’s what “lie” looks like in past tense and present tense:

Past: He lay down to sleep.

Present: He lies down to sleep.

 

These are just a few rules that will help you communicate clearly. Take it one rule at a time, and your writing will become progressively clearer.

Which grammar or punctuation rules trip you up? Tell us in the comments, and we’ll help you out. We promise it’s a judgment-free zone here.

Oh, look, an angel got its wings

The Editors

 

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One Response to Powerful Little Rules

  1. Jennifer Diffenbaugh says:

    Thanks for the grammar tips. I did not know to use a comma to set off a name.

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