I love that picture which regularly does the rounds on social media explaining the difference between often confused words:
- I know the difference between their, there, and they’re.
- I know when it’s a grocer’s apostrophe (one grocer).
- I know that it’s = it is, or it was, and that its denotes possession. (Get me with my ‘denotes’ today)
- The thing about grammar is it’s the difference between knowing you’re sh*t and knowing your sh*t.
- And I know that it’s ok to start a sentence with and.
- I could go on, but I don’t want to come across as smug.
I also thought I had punctuation for direct speech pretty much sewn up too. However, evidently, not.
I sent a short story to some very helpful beta readers last week, and as well as the ‘what does that mean?’ and ‘who’s talking here’ comments I received, I also learned there was a dark hole of ignorance in my punctuation knowledge which I had no idea was even there. You know what they say: you don’t know what you don’t know. Well, I didn’t even know this was a thing to get wrong, and it turns out I was getting it wrong, left, right AND centre.
This is what one of my beta reader sent me:
Commas and speech - only use when the speech is preceded/followed by a dialogue tag - an action doesn't count.
Let’s just reflect on that a moment, because, trust me, I had to re-read it a few times, to work out what the thing was I was actually getting wrong.
There’s a different rule for punctuation of dialogue tags (he said, he asked, he shouted etc) next to the dialogue itself, from the rule when it’s an action (she brushed her hair, she punched him in the face, she walked into the room) next to the dialogue.
REALLY? Is that a thing?
It’s not only a thing, it’s a thing I’ve been getting wrong, all this time?
I spoke to a friend who works in PR, and he said he always uses a colon before speech, in everything he writes. Like this - The head of commercial relations said: ‘We are proud of this new product, and welcome taking it forward into the next century.’
Now, as far as I know, that’s pretty wrong too. Or is it?
Back to my beta readers.
You use commas instead of full stops a lot in speech:
He glared. "I don't like that" NOT He glared, "I don't like that." Alternatively you could use Glaring, he said, "I don't like that."
It's the same following speech. "I don't like that." He glared at her. Not "I don't like that," he glared at her. Or you could use "I don't like that," he said, glaring.
Also, I tend to join sentences together using commas, but no conjunction. I’m particularly guilty of this in my direct speech (because that’s how us Brits talk) but apparently in the USA it’s got to be broken into shorter sentences. This, I feel, is something for another post.
Have you ever had any grammar/punctuation fails, which you didn’t even know could be a fail? I’d love to hear from you.
‘So long, and thanks for all the comments.’ Liam waved, then left the room.