Letter-for-Letter Spelling

When you are doing letter-for-letter spelling, there are some basic things to keep in mind:

1. The hyphen goes with the letter AFTER it.

…I believe it is -f-f-e?
…Jasmine, J-a-s, as in “Sam,” -m-i-n-e.

–There is no hyphen after the s in the spelling.
–Notice the pattern for a word that is used as an example. It is surrounded by commas and quoted.

2. The capitalization is just as it would be when the word is typed normally.

…MacDonald, M-a-c-D-o-n-a-l-d
…Macdonald, M-a-c-d-o-n-a-l-d

3. When a name is separate words, there is no hyphen in front of the spelling of the second word.

…van Leeuwen, v-a-n L-e-e-u-w-e-n.

…De Marco, D-e M-a-r-c-o.
…DeMarco, D-e-M-a-r-c-o.

Happy punctuating!


Greetings from Florida

Just checking in from Sarasota, Florida. Off to Clearwater this afternoon for the Florida Court Reporters Association convention this weekend. Hope to meet some of you there.

Just wondering what you are all thinking about “Bachelor’s degree” and the rest in the category. It has to be apostrophe s, but what about the cap? I think it should be there but am thinking this is another one of those capital letters that has “bit the dust.”

I will do some research on this.

Meanwhile, tune in tomorrow for more on those prepositional phrases.

Happy punctuating.


A Comma Before a Quote?

A question from a reporter today is in regard to placing a comma before a quote when the quote surrounds a word that is being defined. So let’s look at the rule for quoting and the rule for the comma:

When a word or words are being defined, they are quoted in reporting. (By the way, in formal English they are italicized.)

…You used the word “augmented.” How would you…
…I am not sure what you mean by “augmented.” Would you…
…You said “augmented.” Did you…
…When you use “augmented,” what do…

In each example here, there is no comma. The grammar involved simply does not call for a comma.

…You used the word “augmented.” How would you…
“Augmented” is an appositive to — that is, it renames — the word word. It is essential to knowing which word we are talking about. Therefore, there is no comma.

…I am not sure what you mean by “augmented.” Would you…
“Augmented” is the object of the preposition. We do not put a comma between a preposition and its object. Therefore, there is no comma.

…You said “augmented.” Did you…
…When you use “augmented,” what do…
“Augmented” is the direct object. Unless the quoted material is discourse — that is, relating a conversation that took place — there is no comma. This is not a conversation. Therefore, there is no comma.

Happy punctuating.


The Story of “Whereas” and “Although”

So often we see whereas and although incorrectly punctuated with a semicolon in front and a comma after as in

…was seen with him; although, she did not…
…was seen with him; whereas, she did not….

This punctuation implies that these words are conjunctions (conjunctive adverbs) that start a new sentence. Instead, whereas and although are conjunctions (subordinate conjunctions) that start dependent clauses. When these two words begin a clause that is at the end of a sentence, there is generally no punctuation in front of them.

…I spent no time with her whereas my brother never left her side.
…I spent no time with her although my brother never left her side.

A reporter sent this sentence, which is correctly punctuated here:

…If you look at Picture 24, it looks like my mom or somebody else, a third person, was on the boat taking Picture 24 whereas Picture 28 that you referred to has just the two of us on it.

When the clause begins the sentence, of course, there is a comma after it.

…Whereas he is an exemplary student, he will…
…Although he is an exemplary student, he will…

There are some other issues with these two words, but these are the basics.

Happy punctuating.


About that Intro Prepositional Phrase

Here is one of the questions asked about the intro prepositional phrase and the comma, and here is my answer. We were talking about a short prepositional phrase at the beginning of the sentence that is a simple modifier. That prepositional phrase does not need a comma.

What about those instances where a short prepositional [phrase] at the beginning of a sentence, without a following comma, has the effect of creating needless ambiguity?

Q. When did this happen, and who was in charge?
A. At the time, Bob was in charge. (Meaning that Bob was in charge at that time.)
A. At the time Bob was in charge. (Meaning that the event happened at the time that Bob was in charge as opposed to the time that someone besides Bob was in charge.

First, I am not sure that we can always determine this difference. We would have to have more context to nail this down. If we cannot distinguish the difference from the context, then I am for following the rule and leaving it without the comma

The rule that helps the situation is the one that says that we can insert a comma for “clarity” anywhere that it helps with the clarity of the meaning, that is, where it improves readability.

…In general, meetings were held on Fridays.
…In 2012, taxes were deferred.

So if the comma helps discern the difference in meaning here, then I am all for it. And it follows the “clarity” rule. I am always happy when we can follow rules. 🙂

Thanks for the question, Jim.

Happy punctuating.



The Dilemma of “Affect” and “Effect”?

Here is the explanation right out of my new book on word pairs, which will be out this fall. Email me if you want practice exercises.

We don’t need to worry about the word affect, when it is pronounced with the short a. First, there is no problem “hearing” the a and therefore getting the right word. It is the psychiatric term that refers to the outward manifestation of subjective feelings. Similarly, the word affectation is not a problem.

…He had a noticeably flat affect.

…It was clear from his affect that he was depressed.

…It is a really annoying affectation of hers.

The trouble comes because of the words are pronounced with the schwa (uh) sound, “uh/fect,” which makes the words indistinguishable. The dictionary is of little help with affect and effect as both definitions mean influence and affect is listed as “to have an effect on.” There are over ten definitions for each word. So we have to have another way to distinguish these two homophones.

Put aside the psychiatric term mentioned above. We look to the part of speech.


Rule 1: If it is a noun, it is effect.

…The warning had no effect on his behavior.

…I believe it is about cause and effect.

…The effects of the drug will become evident.


Rule 2: If it is a verb or verbal and bring about or make happen can be substituted into the sentence, it is effect.

…The law on cell phone was effected the first of the year.

…The death of his father effected a change in his behavior.

…She wanted to effect a startled reaction from everyone.

This is the problem word. Using bring about or make happen in the needed form is a great way to “test” whether effect is correct. If these just don’t fit, then the answer has to be affect.


Rule 3: If it is a verb or verbal and does NOT mean bring about or make happen, it is affect.

…I will not be affected by this decision either way.

…Her sudden departure will affect Mr. Ross’s status with the company.

…She doesn’t want him to be affected by this.


More on the Prepositional Phrase at the Beginning of the Sentence

We said earlier that a short prepositional phrase at the beginning of a sentence that is just a simple modifier does NOT take a comma. Let’s look at what prepositional phrases do take a comma.

RULE: Put a comma after a “long” prepositional phrase. (Though there is no set number of words to necessarily count, the dividing line is somewhere around five words.)

…In the very late afternoon that day, we were…
…During the intercontinental missile crisis, the U.S. was…

RULE: Put a comma after two prepositional phrases. (There are times when these might be modifying separately and be punctuated differently, but we will deal with that at another time.)

…On the day of the accident, I left…
…In the light of day, we could see…

RULE: Put a comma after a prepositional phrase that has a comma inside it.

…On many, many occasions, she was not…
…At the very, very least, he needs…

Stay tuned for more.

Happy punctuating.



What Do I Do with “My question is where are you going?”

When there are two parts to the sentence, one that makes a statement (…my question is…) and one that asks a question (…where are you going…), it is the one at the end that determines the terminal punctuation. So there is an interrog at the end of this sentence. We have question word order. It is a question.

I would make a distinction between an indirect and a direct question:

…My question is where you were going.
…My question is where are you going?

…My question is what time you left.
…My question is what time did you leave?

And as for the question of putting a comma in this sentence after the word is,  I never, never, never want that comma.

We do not put a comma between the verb and its completer.

…My name is, Margie… 🙁
…The man is, ready for the surgery… 🙁
…The answer is, that she will not be here… 🙁

Does anyone want these commas? If you don’t, then you cannot want a comma after is in our sentence here. The grammar going on in these examples is exactly like the grammar going on in “My question is where are you going?”

This is a construction that engenders a lot of heated discussion and one that people disagree on. I will always argue on the side of the grammar that is present in the sentence. The question in this sentence is a predicate nominative that renames the subject question = no comma.

No comma, no comma, no comma!!!! It is not that I feel strongly about this but…

Happy punctuating.


“Into/in to” and “Onto/on to”

These words cause us problems. Let’s see whether we can clear some of those up.

The words in and on suggest a location. We are “in” the room. It is “on” the table. When followed by the word to, the word to is part of a prepositional phrase or an infinitive.

…went in to cash my check…
…moved on to another town…
…went on to bigger and better things…

The one-word forms always imply movement. Something or someone was not there before and now is.

We were not in the room before; we walked “into” the room.
It was not there before; we put it “onto” the table.

…deposited it into the bank…
…turned onto the roadway…

…put the money into my purse…
…held onto the handle…

There is an idiom that we have to deal with — turn into. With one word into, this expression means “to become.” So when it does not have that meaning, it has to be two words.

…When he drinks, he turns into a monster.
…He turned in to the driveway.

…pulled into the driveway…
…moved into the driveway…
…turned in to the driveway…

One-word/two-words issues are discussed in Chapter 29 of my book.

Happy punctuating.