Which choice is correct? Check your answers at the end of the quiz.
- (a) Smith referred to her as, “that useless cow.” (b) Smith referred to her as “that useless cow.”
- Eyewitnesses fled the scene in (a) a brown, 2002 Ford (b) a brown 2002 Ford.
- (a) Dr. Allen told her to: do whatever it takes to get the consent signed. (b) Dr. Allen told her to do whatever it takes to get the consent signed.
- Exxon is a (a) publicly traded company (b) publicly-traded company.
- The defendants seek to (a) run out the clock (b) run-out the clock.
Answers: 1. (b) 2. (b) 3. (b) 4. (a) 5. (a)
How did you do?
This quiz is modified from Bryan Garner’s Law Prose lessons. He is a consultant who leads continuing legal education seminars. The answers are correct whether you are a lawyer or a third grader.
In the following examples, I’m going to put an X where a comma belongs.
I’ve noticed that a use for commas I learned as a child has been disappearing (see above):
Thanks for everythingX Laura.
Both of those sentences should take a comma before the official names. This may be a battle I’ve lost, but I’m still using this rule in my own writing.
Some commas are needed for clarity:
When I was about to enter the houseX my cousin showed up.
Don’t forget a comma when your sentence ends with a confirming question:
You finished the report yesterdayX didn’t you?
© Judi Birnberg There must be a comma and quotation marks somewhere.
Did you know periods and commas always go inside quotation marks? Would I lie to you? (The Brits do the opposite, however.)
Here are a couple of examples:
Our teacher assigned us to read Henry James’ “The Turn of the Screw.”
“The Turn of the Screw,” a short novel by Henry James, is considered a type of ghost story.
Sometimes you need to use both double and single quotation marks in one sentence. Remember, this is the American manner of punctuating. The British system is the opposite of ours: they use single quotes where we use doubles.
Here is an American example: Joginder stated, “My classics professor assigned the first 40 pages of ‘The Odyssey’ for our next meeting.”
Normally, you would put “The Odyssey” in double quotes, but because it is within a statement that needs double quotes, you use single quotes for the “inside” one.
Joginder may ask, “Did Seema really say, ‘Why would I date him after the rude comment he made to me?’ “
That is a quoted question within another quoted question. Both sets of quotation marks come at the end of the sentence. It’s important to leave a space between the single and double quotes. Singles always come inside doubles (in America).
You may quote me.
If a person has a nickname commonly associated with the given name, don’t use quotation marks around the nickname. For example, just write James (Jim) Cooper. But when the nickname is unexpected, use the quotes: James “Hotshot” Cooper.
Yogi Berra’s given name was Lorenzo Pietro, later anglicized to Lawrence Peter. At some point he acquired the nickname “Yogi,” but before long no one remembered the Lawrence Peter part and he became Yogi without the quotation marks.
Sometimes we write a document in which we use a word in a way that differs from its more usual meaning. If you write that a location is filled with bugs, you need to put that word in quotation marks. Otherwise, people will be rushing to call an exterminator.
However, after the first use of bugs, omit the quotes for that word and for all other forms of it (bugged, bugging, etc.). You’ve already clued your readers in to the fact that you are referring to listening devices. No need to call an exterminator.
All words have explicit dictionary meanings—denotations—as well as associated meanings—connotations. Often these connotations are cultural. For example, a color, such as white, may connote purity in one culture and yet be the color of death in another.
It’s important to be certain what connotations words carry. Words you may see as synonyms may have either positive or negative connotations, depending on the context and the culture. For example, the word odor may be seen as positive, negative, or neutral. But if you’re looking for synonyms, check this list and see if some of them might not work for you. When in doubt, look up words in the dictionary to see if a word might have a connotation you weren’t aware of and don’t want. When writing a poem to your love and seeking to focus on how wonderful that person smells, it might be better to stick away from stench and reek.