GrammarPhile Blog

Common Spellings - Common Questions

Posted by Phil Jamieson   Dec 4, 2013 5:30:00 AM

2013 12 4 blogAs you can imagine, we see thousands of documents weekly at ProofreadNOW. We're cataloging a huge collection of contextual errors as we solve more and more problems for our clients.

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Topics: numbers, quotation marks, punctuation, abbreviations

Comma Comment

Posted by Phil Jamieson   Apr 10, 2013 5:30:00 AM

Don't use a comma to indicate an understood word unless the sentence requires it for clarity.

His office gave him little satisfaction, and his wife, none requires the comma after wife so that the reader can be certain that something has been omitted there--a repetition of gave him. Without the comma, the sentence could easily be taken to mean His office gave him little satisfaction and gave his wife none. (The comma after satisfaction in the original sentence does not prevent this misreading, because it may be there just to give the second predicate a parenthetical effect.) Note that the comma after wife, required as it is, is really rather a nuisance; His office gave him little satisfaction, and his wife gave him none gives more satisfaction as a sentence.

He quit his job, and his wife, her excessive social engagements does not require the comma after wife, because the only possible meaning is his wife quit her excessive social engagements. We can take out the comma and still be sure both where a word is missing and what the word is. Since the comma has no function, it should be taken out.

He had always had a secret yearning for a more contemplative life, she for a life of toil and accomplishment requires no comma after she, even though the omission-- had always had a secret yearning--is quite long.

He now has ample time to dream, she the self-respect of the breadwinner, they the loving marriage both had longed for, and I the suspicion that their solution would not work for us requires no commas to indicate the omissions, even though the omitted word changes form: she has; they have; I have.

The use of a comma to indicate an understood word or group of words is apt to make a sentence seem old-fashioned and fussy. If a sentence does seem to require such a comma for clarity, perhaps the sentence can be improved by supplying the omitted word or words or by otherwise changing the basic sentence to make the comma necessary.

From The Handbook of Good English by Edward D. Johnson.

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Topics: punctuation

The Colon: Its Use in Punctuation

Posted by Phil Jamieson   Nov 13, 2012 2:30:00 PM

People over fifty should see their doctor about a colonoscopy at least every five years. But that's something for another letter, another time, and another doctor. Let's talk about the simple colon--the printed character.

A colon introduces an element or a series of elements illustrating or amplifying what has preceded the colon. Between independent clauses it functions much like a semicolon, though more strongly emphasizing sequence. The colon may be used instead of a period to introduce a series of related sentences (as in the fourth example below). Colons are also used in URLs; no space precedes or follows a colon in a URL. A colon should never be immediately followed by a dash: either a colon or a dash suffices.
  • The tournament covers three contests: slalom, trick skiing, and jumping.
  • They even relied on a chronological analogy: just as the Year II had overshadowed 1789, so the October Revolution had eclipsed that of February.
  • Many of the skiers held day jobs: thirteen of them, for example, moonlighted as surfboard shapers.
  • Sassafras was faced with a hideous choice: Should she reveal what was in the letter and ruin her reputation? Or should she remain silent and compromise the integrity of the judges?
  • You should be able to find an archived version of the article at

Lowercase or capital letter after a colon? When a colon is used within a sentence, as in the first three examples above, the first word following the colon is lowercased unless it is a proper noun. When a colon introduces two or more sentences (as in the fourth example above), or when it introduces a speech in dialogue or an extract, the first word is capitalized. (See examples in following rules.)

With "as follows" and the like. A colon is normally used after as follows, the following, and similar expressions.
  • The steps are as follows: first, put a vest on; second, grab a rope and jump in; third, put the ski on; fourth, hold on!
  • I argue for the following propositions: First, . . . Second, . . . Third, . . .

Introducing speech. A colon is often used to introduce speech in dialogue or an extract.
  • Michael: Are you ready?
    Dorothy: Hit it!
  • Mortimer Dareuman, author of Learn to Water Ski in Ten Seconds, starts his book boldly: "When you're in the water with your skis and you see an alligator swimming toward you with its mouth wide open, ..."

With introductory phrase. At the beginning of a speech or a formal communication, a colon usually follows the identification of those addressed.
  • Ladies and Gentlemen:
  • To Whom It May Concern:
  • Dear Credit and Collections Manager:

Inappropriate uses of colon. A colon is not normally used after namely, for example, and similar expressions. Nor is it used before a series introduced by a verb or a preposition.
  • The story involved the three most critical issues, namely, who competed, who won, and who went to the hospital.
  • An application should include educational background, work experience, and other relevant experience.
  • This manual is concerned with (1) the steering wheel, (2) the rudder, (3) the GPS, and (4) the compass.

With parentheses or brackets. When the context calls for a colon at the end of material enclosed in parentheses or brackets, the colon should follow the closing parenthesis or bracket.
  • A change occurred in the behavior of the animals (rhesus monkeys): they had become hypersensitive to sound.

Source: The Chicago Manual of Style.



Click here to download Common Grammar Rules


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Topics: punctuation, using a colon


Posted by Phil Jamieson   Oct 9, 2012 5:30:00 AM

While many people may not know what an appositive is, clients use them often in the documents we see on our server. This week's post is on the appositive and how to use it. We use as our guide the venerable Chicago Manual of Style.

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Topics: punctuation, appositives

Are you set on question marks with other marks of punctuation?

Posted by Phil Jamieson   Sep 18, 2012 5:30:00 AM

"Well, are you?" he asked.

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Topics: punctuation, question mark

In Grammar, Possession is Less than Nine-Tenths of the Law

Posted by Phil Jamieson   Sep 13, 2012 5:30:00 AM

There are many rules in grammar, spelling, and punctuation. It's important that you follow all of them in order to ensure that your documents are acceptable to all readers. We see many documents in which the authors' confusion regarding possessive punctuation is evident. The following list, taken from The Chicago Manual of Style(15th edition), will help clear things up:
  • Kansas's legislature
  • Chicago's lakefront
  • Burns's poems
  • Marx's theories
  • Berlioz's works
  • Strauss's Vienna
  • Dickens's novels
  • the Lincolns' marriage
  • William's reputation
  • the Williamses' new house
  • Malraux's masterpiece
  • Inez's diary
  • the Martinezes' daughter
  • Josquin des Prez's motets
  • dinner at the Browns' (that is, at the Browns' home)
  • FDR's legacy
  • 1999's heaviest snowstorm
  • Yahoo!'s chief executive
    Exceptions (for names of two or more syllables that end in an eez sound):
  • Euripides' tragedies
  • the Ganges' source
  • Xerxes' armies
    and (for words and names ending in unpronounced s)
  • Descartes' three dreams
  • the marquis' mother
  • Francois' efforts to learn English
  • Albert Camus' novels (the s is unpronounced)
  • Raoul Camus's anthology (the s is pronounced)
    Other exceptions:
  • for righteousness' sake
  • for goodness' sake
  • for Jesus' sake
  • Jesus's disciples


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Topics: possessives, punctuation, grammar

From Our Mailbag

Posted by Conni Eversull   Jul 10, 2012 5:30:00 AM

This week, I thought I'd share answers to some questions our grammar experts have received and answered.

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Topics: quotation marks, punctuation

A Semicolon Example: When to Use or Not

Posted by Julie DeSilva   Jun 26, 2012 5:30:00 AM

It's an unusual water ski, no one knows much about it is an example of the so-called comma fault--using a comma to connect two independent clauses. The comma is not a connector; it is a separator. The semicolon, however, can function as both a connector and a separator, and at the same time: It's an unusual water ski; no one knows much about it. If we use a comma, then we have to supply a connector--that is, a conjunction such as and: It's an unusual water ski, and no one knows much about it.

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Topics: parallel structure, parallelism, punctuation, conjunctions

Plurals and Punctuation of Numbers

Posted by Julie DeSilva   Jun 5, 2012 6:30:00 AM

If I had only one day left to live, I would live it in my tenth-grade math class, because it would seem like infinity. If numbers do the same to you, fear not: you can master them by knowing the rules.

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Topics: numbers, punctuation

Punctuation Gotchas

Posted by Phil Jamieson   Apr 3, 2012 5:30:00 AM

Punctuation and Spacing with Abbreviations (from simple to not-so-simple)

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Topics: using spaces in abbreviations, punctuation, abbreviations

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