Today I’m going to talk about punctuating dialogue.
First of all, let me begin by defining some terms. I find writers, like many other professions, use their jargon so often they forget that new people may not know them. So here goes.
1. Tags. These are the words used to indicate who is speaking. They are things like ‘he said’, ‘Judith whispered’ and the like.
2. Beats, These are words telling you what someone is doing. e.g. Fred paced to the window. ‘Are you sure she said that?’ he asked.
Here, ‘Fred paced to the window’ is a beat.
Now we’ve got that out of the way, lets continue with our punctuation.
I admit that when I started writing, I was unsure about this. I did not know what punctuation to put after the speech and after the tag. I learned by reading books and other writers’ blogs. Not a bad way to learn. In fact, a very good way to learn.
The first thing I should note is that US English and British English use quotation marks the opposite way round from each other. As I am British, I use British English, and the dialogue in my books is the British Standard.
In British English, we use single quotation marks for direct speech and double quotation marks for speech quoted within that speech. (Not very good English there. I apologise.)
Mary said, ‘Jaqui, go and see who rang the doorbell.’
Jaqui said, ‘It’s John. He said, “I’ve come to return the book you lent me.” Do you want to see him?’
In American English it’s the other way round. The above would look like this:
Mary said, “Jaqui, go and see who rang the doorbell.”
Jaqui said, “It’s John. He said, ‘I’ve come to return the book you lent me.’ Do you want to see him?”
The quotes, either British or US go round direct speech only. If it is indirect, then there are no quotes.
This would be wrong.
‘John said that he came ‘to return the book you lent him’.
Whenever we write ‘he said’. ‘she whispered’, etc, we always separate it from the quote using commas. See the above examples.
Now should the punctuation be inside or outside the quotation marks? That depends on whether it is part of the quotation or not, Here are some examples.
‘How can he return a book’, said Mary, ‘when I never lent him one?’
‘Said Mary’ interrupts the sentence she is saying, which is, ‘How can he return a book when I never lent him one?’ The comma goes outside the quotation marks.
But if the quotation mark is part of what is being said, then it goes inside.
John said, ‘Did you not lend me this book then?’
The question mark is part of John’s speech so it goes inside the quotation marks. If it was a full stop (period if you are in the USA) then, as it ends John’s speech, it would go inside as well.
John said, ‘I’m sure I borrowed it from you.’
The punctuation goes outside the quotation marks if it is not part of the quoted material.
Now, if you have a beat, then that is completely separate.
Susan walked to the window and looked out. ‘Tell John to come in and bring the book up.’
There is a full stop (period) after the beat and not a comma because it is a separate action. I would say that we only put a comma after or before a tag, not a beat.
That’s enough for now, Hope I’ve not confused you.
Please feel free to make a comment of any kind.
Last month I talked about the words NUMBER and AMOUNT. Today I’m going to talk about some similar words that get confused.
These words are FEWER and LESS.
I say they are similar to the previouys words because the same rules apply. So many people will say something like,
‘There were LESS people at the match this week than last week.’
This is WRONG. IN this case, it should be FEWER.
Just as NUMBER refers to things we count, like people, goals, sheep in a flock, minutes in an hour, items in a shopping trolley etc., so FEWER also refers to those things.
FEWER is a digital word. It refers to things we COUNT.
LESS refers to things we MEASURE. Thus we would have something like,
There is LESS snow today than the same time last year.
or There is less flour in this cake than that one.
BUT There are fewer eggs in this cake than that one.
We MEASURE the flour, but we COUNT the eggs.
Please leave a comment on this post. I love hearing from you, and reblogging would help get the message across to more people and save me from continually shouting at the TV and radio.
There are two words that most people get wrong, these days. Strangely, they do not have similar spelling, nor similar sounds. When they are used wrongly, it grates on me.
Many well-educated people do not seem to be able to get it right, either.
What are these words?
They are Number and Amount.
The word ‘Number’ is rarely misused but ‘Amount’ is. All the time.
Let me try to explain the difference.
NUMBER This refers to, not surprisingly, the number of things.
It is used when we count things. 1,2,3,4,5 etc.
We can also say, for those techies amongst us, it is a digital word.
It tells us how many of something there is.
AMOUNT This refers to a measurement.
It is used when we don’t actually count individual things.
It is an analogue word.
It tells us how much of something there is.
Thus, to say ‘The amount of people at the party was 30′ is wrong. We are counting those people, not measuring them.
However, it is correct to say ‘The amount of rain that fell in October was less than normal.’ We are measuring the rainfall.
I don’t thing I’ve ever heard number used for a measurement, unless it is something like ‘The number of inches of fabric you need is…’, but then it’s counting, not measuring.
I would like this to get to as many people as possible, as I am getting increasingly stressed by this incorrect usage. Please re-blog it for my sanity’s sake.
English is a strange language. There are many words spelled the same but pronounced differently, also there are words pronounced the same, but spelled differently. then there are words that are the same in spelling and pronunciation but have different meanings, depending on context.
The strangest, in my opinion, are words ending in -ough.
Though, pronounced ‘tho’
Bough, pronounced ‘bow’. (although that in itself has different pronunciations)
Enough, pronounced ‘enuf’
Thought, pronounced ‘thort’
Through, pronounced ‘threw’
No wonder foreigners have some difficulty with it, although (another one, similar to ‘though’, here) it seems they are able to manage quite well if the number of foreigners who speak the language extremely well is anything to go by.
I was in an Italian restaurant in Germany and was greatly amused to see the German waiter speaking to a French customer in English. This also happened when I was in Croatia. The Croatian receptionist spoke to a visitor, whom I think was Russian, in English. These strange inconsistencies seem not to faze them, even if they confuse some native speakers!
There are two things that I want to tell you today. they are things that annoy me somewhat when I come across them. the first is how to create superscripts and subscripts.
So often I read 25C or H2O. They are both wrong. The Celcius scale is measured in degrees. and the formula for water needs the dropped 2 or it means, if it means anything, one atom of hydrogen and two of oxygen Which is an impossibility anyway.
This is a very simple thing to rectify. Simply click on ‘format’ on the toolbar and click on Font.
You will get the following window opening.
Check the superscript or subscript box, whichever you want and click OK. Then type what you want to be super- or subscripted. Go back to Format, Font and uncheck the bod. Click OK and you’re ready to go.
Unfortunately, WordPress does not recognise the superscript nor the subscript, and when I copied this into WordPress, it came out without these corrections. I had to remove the corrected words.
The other thing that irritates me when reading is when there is an apostrophe at the beginning of a word. (such as ’till, an abbreviation of until) So often, this comes out as ‘till, which is. of course a quotation mark and not an apostrophe. (A quotation mark that is not closed, either.)
In order to prevent this, it is very simple. You can fool Word into thinking it’s an apostrophe in the middle of a word by not pressing the space bar until after you’ve typed the two words.
EG. Wait here’till I arrive.
Then you simply go back and put in the space. Word will then keep the apostrophe the right way round.
Wait here ’till I arrive.
Both quite simple really, but are usually done wrongly, either because the writer knows no better, or through ignorance of the means to correct it.
Here are some thoughts on the semicolon. I found these ideas very interesting, especially to clarify things in lists.
During the writers’ meeting on Tuesday, we discussed the use of semi-colons in a list following a colon. The published historian in the group, an academic professor who knows a great deal about grammar, punctuation and writing in general, brought it up.
In professional academic papers, the rule is that a semi-colon, not the comma, must separate a list of items when preceded by a colon.
For example: The settlers of the area came from many countries: Germany; Switzerland; Poland and Spain.
However, I have not encountered semi-colons used in this manner, so when I came home, I started to dig. It was difficult finding rules online, so I referred to my trusty handbook The Bare Essentials by Sarah Norton and Brian Green.
It recommended the use of semi-colons in complicated lists. The sentence they used as an example was: A few…
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There is a debate going on in the UK at the moment about education. As an ex-teacher I am interested in the arguments.
The Conservative Government wants to allow Grammar Schools to be re-established. Before the 1960s there was a system of Grammar Schools and Secondary Modern Schools.
In order to get into a grammar school, all children took an examination at age 11, in the final year of their primary school. It was called the 11+ examination. Those pupils who were in the top percentage got a place in the grammar school. I don’t know what that percentage was, but I have heard it said that the top 25% went to grammar schools.
The grammar schools were academic schools, and they taught academic subjects. secondary moderns tended not to teach much in the way of languages, for example.
It is said that the future of children was settled at 11, and that was not good, because some children developed later. But the 11+ was not the end. There was a 12+ and a 13+ that pupils could take if they seemed to be developing in a more academic way.
At that time, the school leaving age was 15. The pupils who went to grammar school had to stay on until 16 so they could do the GCE ‘O’ level examination. A few pupils stayed on at secondary modern and did ‘O’ levels as well. If they did well in the examinations, they could then go on to the 6th form in the grammar school or at a college. I have several friends who did this.
During the 1960s, came the advent of the comprehensive school. These schools were deemed to be fairer than the old system. Each neighbourhood took in all the pupils from its catchment area. All went to the same school, regardless of their academic ability. This, it was said, was much fairer. It did not create an elite and a lot of ‘failures’ at the age of 11.
On the face of it, this seems to be fine, only I think there are a number of flaws in this argument.
The main one, I think is this. Pupils from a given area all go to the local comprehensive school. There is no examination for entry, so no feelings of failure by those who did not pass the 11+.
That sounds fine, but if the neighbourhood school is not very good, all pupils from that particular neighbourhood are being failed.
Children do not get the chance to meet children from a different background, either. They are living with these people, have been brought up in the area, either rich or poor, and so they do not get a rounded picture of society.
The idea was the opposite of this. Pupils attending comprehensive schools were supposed to see all the different types of people. Yes, they saw all the different academic types, but not people from different social backgrounds.
Comprehensive schools were supposed to prevent the feelings of failure by some pupils failing the 11+. I don’t think you can stop pupils from feeling inferior intellectually by lumping them all together. They can see the brighter pupils doing better than them in their academic work. That will make them feel inferior just as much as ‘failing’ the 11+.
One other thing brought about by the introduction of comprehensive schools, is that the education given is a watered-down academic curriculum, which is not suited to all pupils, and has lowered the academic standards for the very brightest pupils.
Grammar schools, they say, create an elite. This is supposed to be bad. In a perfect world, I suppose everyone would have the same academic capabilities, but everyone does not. There are some people who are much cleverer than others. Some say that it is solely due to their background how some people develop, and a middle class background is advantageous. This I would not dispute, but only to a point. There are middle class children who do not excel, and working class ones who do, in spite of their background.
They say that comprehensive schools help social mobility. How? Pupils live and learn in the same area with the same people and values.
In a grammar school, pupils come from all backgrounds and all areas of a town. They mix with each other and get to know something of the lives of each other. Pupils from working class backgrounds can get an academic education, and get away from the schools in their area where ambition is perhaps not so great.
Bright pupils who live in an area with a poor school can get away from that as well.
It is said that grammar schools have more middle class pupils than working class ones. That is something that can be worked out. ‘They’ say that the exam can be coached and middle class parents are more likely to put up the money for coaching. Well, I went to a grammar school and was coached for the exam, but not by private tutor, which is the perception, but by my primary school. Encourage primary schools in working class areas to coach. Or develop an exam where coaching is no advantage.
There’s always an answer, and in my opinion, the advent of comprehensive schools has lowered standards. When I look at the exams I took at ‘O’ level and the exams pupils take at GCSE, there’s no comparison. We had to write essays. They just have ‘structured questions’, or fill in the blanks.
I see grammar schools as promoting social mobility far more than comprehensive schools in contrast to what the detractors say, that they are elitist and prevent it.
I would love to hear what you think of the grammar school debate.
Tautology is using words that mean the same thing in a sentence, that do not add anything further. An example is ‘widow woman’. I am going to talk about some tautological things that people say and write today.
So let’s begin.
I heard someone on the radio talk about a ‘small, little…’ Can you have anything little that’s not small? I have heard this on several occasions. Never, though, a ‘large, big…’ that I can remember.
‘Reverse back’ is another one frequently heard. Have you ever seen anyone reverse forwards? I haven’t.
‘Repeat again.’ Now this one can be used, but only if the thing has been said (or done) at least twice. Repeat means to do it again. The ‘again’ is in the word itself.
One that irritates me, and is very frequently used these days is ‘Various different…’ Have you ever come across things that varied but were the same?
‘Fall down’, although frequently used in everyday life, is none the less tautological. You can’t ‘fall up’, so the ‘down’ is unnecessary. This is one that writers should watch out for.
Close proximity. If it’s in proximity, it’s close!
Necessary requirement. If it’s not necessary, it’s not a requirement.
PIN number. Since PIN stands for Personal Identification Number, saying PIN number is saying ‘personal identification number number.’
We see, in advertising, ‘Your Free Gift’ Well, if it’s not free, it’s not a gift, and if it’s a gift, then obviously it’s free.
Thought to myself. Writers beware. Unless telepathic, you can only think to yourself. Telepaths are a very rare commodity, I think.
Finally, one heard on a snooker programme. The graphic showed a circular spot where the player wanted the cue ball to end up, and the commentator mentioned a ’round circle.’ Anyone know any circles that are not round?
I would love to hear any others you can think of. I know there are so many. Please add comments in the comments box.
Today I’m going to discuss a few words that don’t form the plural by adding the letter ‘s’. These words come mainly from foreign ‘imports’, although a lot are very old. Some people are confused by these words and use the plural as a singular.
So here we go.
Singular: Bacterium Plural: Bacteria
Singular: Phenomenon Plural: Phenomena
Singular: Medium Plural: Media
Singular: Datum Plural: Data
Singular: Criterion Plural: Criteria
Singular: Cactus Plural: Cacti
Singular: Fungus Plural: Fungi
Singular: Stadium Plural: Stadia
Singular: Nucleus Plural: Nuclei
Singular: Syllabus Plural: Syllabi
Singular: Focus Plural: Foci
Singular: Thesis Plural: Theses
Singular: Crisis Plural: Crises
Singular: Index Plural: Indices
Singular: Appendix Plural: Appendices
It is becoming more acceptable to hear ‘stadiums’, ‘syllabuses’ and ‘indexes’, although they grate on me, personally, but my least favourites are when I hear ‘criteria’, ‘bacteria’, ‘fungi’ and ‘phenomena’ used as singular nouns. Grrrrr!
Now for some that don’t change for the plural.
fish (although the word ‘fishes’ can be used if referring to a number of different types of the creatures. e.g. There was a great variety of fishes swimming around on the reef.)
Now what about those that are completely different in the plural? Here we have the following:
Singular: Child Plural: Children
Singular: Man Plural: Men
Singular: Woman Plural: Women
Singular: Mouse Plural: Mice
Singular: Goose Plural: Geese (N.B. The plural of ‘mongoose’ is not ‘mongeese’, but ‘mongooses’. Wierd, I know, but that’s the English language for you.)
Singular: Die Plural: Dice
Singular: Foot Plural: Feet
Singular: Louse Plural: Lice
Singular: Ox Plural: Oxen
Singular: Person Plural: People
Singular: Tooth Plural: Teeth
I hope this has helped some of you, at least. I would like to know if there are any I’ve forgotten, or about any that personally grate on you when you hear them misused.