Interesting Construction with Dashes and Questions

This is a sentence I was asked about on Facebook. And I have it correctly punctuated here.

Have there been any major stressful events in the last year that you can think of — divorce? someone, a family member, dying? a major change in your work? — that has caused additional stress?

There are dashes around the suggested answers for two reasons:

1.  The sentence continues after the list. So a colon will not work.
2.  The question marks are correct because each one is asking a question.

In addition, there is no cap on “divorce” because it comes after a dash. There are commas around “a family member” because it is an appositive to “someone.”

Happy punctuating!

Margie

The Word “The” in Front of a Surname

We so often see the apostrophe used in the wrong place. Here I want to talk about just one of those instances.

When the word the is used in front of a surname, the name HAS to be plural. We  do not say “the Nelson” or “the Lawson.” The name has to be plural: “the Nelsons” and “the Lawsons.”

We run into more problems when the name ends in an s because often it is not pronounced correctly. Without regard to how it is pronounced, the name ending in s has to be plural after the word the. It is “the Joneses” and “the Martinezes” and “the Hodegeses.” My husband and I are “the Wellses.”

And now if we need to make this name possessive to show ownership, it is plural possessive.

…the Nelsons’ car…
…the Lawsons’ daughter…

…the Joneses’ house…
…the Martinezes’ neighborhood…
…the Hodgeses’ opinion…
…the Wellses’ party…

Happy punctuating!

Margie

 

Beware of the Dependent Clause That Tries to Deceive You!

This is an issue that is VERY misunderstood. I am copying here the section from my book, beginning on page 401 in the chapter on “Where NOT to Put Punctuation.” Normally, I do not copy an entire section, but this one bears reading in its entirety.

27.9: No Punctuation: In Compound Dependent Construction

Definition

Compound Construction: Compound construction is two or more grammatical elements — words, phrases, or clauses — that are joined by a coordinate conjunction: and, but, or, nor, and sometimes the word for.

She had searched the house but not the garage.
I did not know where to go or what to do.
I called because I hadn’t heard from her and because I was worried.

Definition

Dependent Clause: A dependent clause is a group of related words that has a subject and verb; that does not stand alone to express a complete thought because it has an introductory word (a relative pronoun or a subordinate conjunction), which is part of the dependent clause; and that, as a unit, has a function in the sentence.

I don’t know (whether he will be waiting).
The doctor (whom I called) was able to prescribe it.
(While he was sleeping), someone broke into the house.

I am asking (whether you were able to clearly see the door of the liquor store).
There are several here (that seem to fit the bill).
(Because he had had a prior accident), there were insurance questions.

See Chapters 5 and 6 for a discussion of dependent clauses.

RULE:

No Punctuation.9: Do not put a single separating comma in compound dependent construction, that is, when a coordinate conjunction joins elements that cannot stand alone to express a complete thought.

  • Joining verbs = no comma

The office manager handled that, NO and did a good job.
The office manager handled that YES and did a good job.

I saw her early, NO but didn’t see her again that day.
I saw her early YES but didn’t see her again that day.

The bank foreclosed, NO but didn’t find a new buyer for the house.
The bank foreclosed YES but didn’t find a new buyer for the house.

  • Joining completer words = no comma

The names are Jonas Kent in accounting, NO and Jim Hertz in human relations.
The names are Jonas Kent in accounting YES and Jim Hertz in human relations.

He did not know whether to tell her at all, NO and what exactly to say.
He did not know whether to tell her at all YES and what exactly to say.

Leaving the house, NO or coming out of work, she needs to be more aware.
Leaving the house YES or coming out of work, she needs to be more aware.

  • Joining two prepositional phrases = no comma

She remained unimpressed by Ray Ordoñez, NO or by his entourage.
She remained unimpressed by Ray Ordoñez YES or by his entourage.

You will find it across the street, NO and down the block.
You will find it across the street YES and down the block.

It was always parked in the garage, NO or near the front door.
It was always parked in the garage YES or near the front door.

  • Joining dependent clauses = no comma

If Mr. Handel had been there, NO and if he had been aware of the situation, he would have spoken to her regarding her behavior.
If Mr. Handel had been there YES and if he had been aware of the situation, he would have spoken to her regarding her behavior.

I was in agreement because they hadn’t done the due diligence, NO and because they did not have all the details.
I was in agreement because they hadn’t done the due diligence YES and because they did not have all the details.

The company had to be sold after the major account was lost, NO and after the president absconded with the funds.
The company had to be sold after the major account was lost YES and after the president absconded with the funds.

Discussion

Remember that, when a coordinate conjunction is followed by an independent subject and verb — that is, a subject and verb that can stand alone to express a complete thought — there is a comma before the conjunction.

I had worked there for years, but I didn’t know everyone on a first-name basis.
She would call late in the day, or she would swing by the house.
There were five of them there, and I had seven more.

And as we have seen in the examples above, when there is anything other than an independent subject and verb after the coordinate conjunction, there is not a comma.

He wanted me to sign the paper, NO or reject the deal.
He wanted me to sign the paper YES or reject the deal.

She looked in the garage, NO but not in the attic.
She looked in the garage YES but not in the attic.

The company had put out feelers, NO but had no offers at all.
The company had put out feelers YES but had no offers at all.

Reporting

When we have compound clauses, sometimes we leave out the introductory word in the second or third clause. This is particularly true in spoken language.

…(if he comes over later) and (if he has the time to look at the set)…
…(if he comes over later) and (— he has the time to look at the set)…

…(after the session ended) and (after I had a chance to reflect on it)…
…(after the session ended) and (— I had a chance to reflect on it)…

…(when you finish the project) and (when you are writing the critique)…
…(when you finish the project) and (— you are writing the critique)…

Since we know that the coordinate conjunction cannot link elements that are not grammatically equal, it has to be that these are dependent clauses and that the introductory word is just missing. And since they are then dependent clauses in compound construction, there is no comma before the conjunction.

The company had to be sold (after the major account was lost), NO and (after the president absconded with the funds).
The company had to be sold (after the major account was lost), NO and (the president absconded with the funds).
The company had to be sold (after the major account was lost) YES and (the president absconded with the funds).

(If you call early in the day), NO and (if you get the information for me), I can fill out the application right away.
(If you call early in the day), NO and (you get the information for me), I can fill out the application right away.
(If you call early in the day) YES and (you get the information for me), I can fill out the application right away.

It was apparent (that she was in dire straits), NO and (that she needed help).
It was apparent (that she was in dire straits), NO and (she needed help).
It was apparent (that she was in dire straits) YES and (she needed help).

Happy punctuating!!

Margie

Where to Put the Interrog?

The rule says to put a question mark at the end of a sentence that asks a question. In reporting, our questions are not always straightforward. Attorneys add things — explanations, clarifications, suggested answers. Taking all of those into consideration, I would have us tweak the rule a bit and word it to read:

Put a question mark where a question is FIRST asked.

(Note standard “pre-“comment here: We LOVE attorneys. They make our living.)

My clue to you is always this: At the point that the attorney could put his index finger in his mouth and not go on, giving the witness a chance to answer a perfectly valid question, that is where the question mark goes. Then let the rest of it stand on its own — even when it is a fragment.

…Q    Who was with him? His sister?
…Q    When did you see him? I am referring to on the Friday that this incident occurred. (or question mark depending on intonation)
…Q    Was she there with him? Do you know?

If we do not use this modification of the basic rule, we have commas and dashes and semicolons after questions. I just don’t think that works.

AND this gives us a means of being consistent in the way we handle questions.

Happy punctuating!

Margie

Live Seminars Right Here in Los Angeles

Have you noticed that we don’t seem to get conventions here in Los Angeles? Why doesn’t NCRA come here? Well, we won’t go into the possible answers for that question. Instead, here you go!

August in Los Angeles: It’s probably going to be hot; so some people will be at the beach or in the mountains. It’s late summer; so some people probably won’t even be here but will be in Hawaii instead. The really lucky people will be right here in Los Angeles, having the most fun of all, talking about commas and commas with some apostrophes and numbers and hyphens thrown in — a fun-filled morning of punctuation for CEU’s!

I will give two Saturday morning seminars in August.

August 18
8:30 to 12:00 noon
.3 CEU’s
$119*

August 25
8:30 to 12:00 noon
.3 CEU’s
$119*

*If you wish to sign up for both seminars, the total cost is $199 for .6 CEU’s.

Community Hall
Holy Nativity Episcopal Church
6700 West 83rd Street
Westchester (near LAX)

Our focus will be commas on the 18th and fragments and quotes on the 25th, but we will spend some time on apostrophes and hyphens and wherever else your questions take us. How much more fun could we ask for on the last two Saturdays of August?

Go to margieholdscourt.com on or after July 31 to register. Space is limited; so sign up early.

I look forward to seeing you there.

Happy punctuating!

Margie

Compound Noun and Hyphenation

When a compound noun that is two words has a prefix or suffix, hyphenate the prefix to the first word or the suffix to the last word and leave the compound noun as separate words.

…pre-high school days for him…
…post-Revolutionary War period…

…real estate-like transaction…
…social security-wide reform…

Happy punctuating!

Margie

The Word “Please”

The word please takes punctuation according to where it is in relation to what it modifies.

At the beginning of what it modifies, it takes no punctuation after it.

…Please put that notice into the bulletin.
…Please state your name for the record.

At the end of what it modifies, it takes a comma before it.

…Put that notice into the bulletin, please.
…State your name for the record, please.

In the middle of what it modifies, it generally takes commas around it.

…Put that notice, please, into the bulletin.
…State your name, please, for the record.

This comma is necessary because please tends to be interruptive in the middle.

…Call her, please, to give her the news.
…Send it to me, please, with the attachments included.

Where it gets tricky is where the please is in the middle of a sentence but is really at the beginning of what it modifies. There is no comma after it in this case.

…If you need me, please call this number.
…At the end of that column of numbers, please add your name and number.

Happy punctuating!

Margie

To Quote Thoughts or Not?

When someone is “thinking” and saying aloud what that thought might be, if he is using the exact wording he would use when saying it, yes, it should be quoted.

…I said to myself, “Wow. I am in trouble now.”
…I thought, “How am I going to explain this to him?”
…I wondered,  “What do I do if this car won’t start?”

These quotes are exactly the same as they would be if the person says them aloud.

Happy punctuating!

Margie

A “Redefining” with “That Is”

Here is a punctuation question from FB that inspired today’s blog:

“On examination her lower extremities had normal capillary refill — that is, normal circulation — and no trophic changes, in other words, none of the signs of RSD.”

Often people want to redefine or further explain what they have just said. We will deal here with this situation when the person uses one of these words to “introduce” what he wants to explain:

that is                                      in other words
i.e.                                            for instance
for example                            namely
e.g.                                           to wit

These elements function as parentheticals, elements that are not needed in the sentence. Parentheticals are always surrounded by punctuation.

When one of these is used with a “renaming” — we would call this an appositive — where it is in the sentence and what comes after it is what is going to determine the punctuation.

AT THE END OF THE SENTENCE:

If there is a fragment after the parenthetical, use a pair of commas around it.

…a car, that is, a Toyota.
…my doctor, that is, Dr. Freeman.

If there is a complete sentence after the parenthetical, use a semicolon in front and a comma after.

…a car; that is, I bought a Toyota.
…my doctor; that is, I saw Dr. Freeman.

If there is a list after the parenthetical, use a colon in front and a comma after.

…new cars: that is, Toyotas, Fords, Hondas.
…several doctors: that is, Dr. Freeman, Dr. Ross, and Dr. Howard

If there is a question in front of the parenthetical, use an interrog after the question and a comma after the parenthetical.

…Did you buy a new car? That is, a Toyota?
…Did you see your doctor? That is, Dr. Freeman?

When the entire sentence has finished and the parenthetical element renames the subject, use a dash in front of the parenthetical and a comma after.

…We walked a long distance before coming to the gas station where we found assistance — that is, John and I.
…He was unable to get up as he seemed to be pinned under the edge of the bumper — that is, my brother.

IN THE MIDDLE

If the element is in the middle, use a dash in front of the parenthetical, a comma after it, and a dash after the whole element.

…bought a car — that is, a Toyota — before I left for school.
…saw the doctor — that is, Dr. Freeman — for the problem I was having.

I will be going over this in my punctuation workshop at NCRA in Philly.

Happy punctuating.

Margie