Showing posts from January, 2011

Editing for Grammarphobes: Split Infinitives


Today, we are going to explore a gray area in grammar, one that has some uses that are clearly wrong, as well as others that could go either way.

Split infinitives break up a compound verb, usually by inserting an adverb in between.


She had to quickly leave.

The preferred sentence would read as follows:

She had to leave quickly.

The Associate Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law states, “In general, avoid awkward constructions that split infinitive forms of a verb (to leave, to help, etc.) or compound forms (had left, are found out, etc.)” It gives the following example.

“Awkward: She was ordered to immediately leave on an assignment.

Preferred: She was ordered to leave immediately leave on an assignment.” 

Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style also cautions writers to avoid it unless they want to “place unusual stress on the adverb.”

However, both sources note sometimes a split is not awkward, and, if edited to follow the rule strictly, the s…

Flash Fiction Fridays: Anything Goes Month Concludes


Line Five 
By Karen Wojcik Berner

He was mean, the man at the DMV. You could tell just by looking at him. He did not make pleasant chit chat. Instead, he would huff and puff and blow your dreams down.

All these idiots. How many times did he have to repeat the same question? Nevermind his tendency to mumble. He played games with them. If he didn’t like the look of you, read line five for the vision test, the one so small no one without a magnifying glass could make out. Come back again and play the numbers game to see if you win the pleasure of his company on another day. Stupid bastards. What were they going to do? Pick a fight? He held the power, not them.

Look at this kid’s shirt. Why would anyone want to go to Mongolia? We have everything here in the good, old USA. What the hell was wrong with him? “Line five.”

Yeah, the Department of Motor Vehicles was his domain.

How he hated the teenagers, especially the boys wanting their licenses so they could get …

"Whisper" is a Book of the Month on goodreads


A special Thursday blog post for a special occasion. A Whisper to a Scream is the novel of choice this month for the KindleClay group on 

For those of you who do not know, goodreads is the world's largest social network for readers. Its site states there are more than 4,300,000 members and 120,000,000 books on their shelves. It's a great place to talk about books of all sorts. There are also trivia games (which I love), groups on every conceivable genre and reading recommendations.

Please join me over at the KindleClay group for books, smarts and intelligent discourse, as Clay likes to put it. Click on the widget on the right of this page or use this link:

Thanks for reading,

Editing for Grammarphobes: Homonyms


While surfing the web for interesting grammar tidbits this morning, I came upon a tremendous find: “All About Homonyms,” by Alan Cooper. Although it is an older site, Cooper provides one of the most extensive list of homonyms I have ever seen.

To review, homonyms are words that sound alike, but are spelled differently and have different meanings.

Here are a few I noticed on Cooper’s list. At least one will shock you.

auger: a part of a drill
augur: to predict from signs or omens (verb), a soothsayer (noun)

aural: relating to hearing or the ear
oral: of the mouth

plural: more than one
pleural: the cavity that surrounds the lungs

stationary: not moving
stationery: materials for writing or typing, such as pens, paper and ink, or letter paper with matching envelopes

sundae: an ice cream dessert
Sunday: day of the week

Okay, did you know stationery is how you spell the word for matching writing paper? I remembered it vaguely somewhere among the cobwebs of my middle-aged min…

Editing for Grammarphobes: Monday Morning Quickie

I am in mourning and only have the energy to muster up a grammatical quickie on this Monday, a bleak day on which Chicagoans awoke, not with visions of a potential Super Bowl appearance dancing in their heads, but with the realization the Packers will be playing Pittsburgh in two weeks. My condolences to the New York Jets fans, who are experiencing the same, sickening feeling today.

Okay, back to editing and grammar.

Biannual means twice a year or happening every six months, which is the same as semiannual.

This is not to be confused with the word biennial, which means occurring every two years, according to Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary.


Flash Fiction Fridays: Anything Goes Month Continues


Round and Round
By Sharon Cupp Pennington

I watch the child from across the room, someone’s niece or granddaughter. I don’t recall. She’s all of three-years old and having a full day of it: Hide-n-Seek behind the sofa, bouncing on an overstuffed chair, taxiing her button-nosed teddy bear in the red wagon, laughing, singing, doing the “tushy” dance — wiggle, wiggle, skip, skip, bow.

Center stage, she curtsies with impish elegance in her pink tutu and tennis shoes. Heads turn; a momentary hush falls over the room. Family members, once immersed in talk of baseball scores and politics, applaud. Her ever appreciative audience.

The child mounts her yellow tricycle, and a woman’s voice calls from the kitchen, “Easy, Sasha. Watch out for the sharp edges on that coffee table.”

Round and round, she goes; faster, harder, frenzied. Paint worn, silver and black labels peeling, the tricycle looks as though it’s braved the journey countless times, and may a hundred more.

The w…

Editing for Grammarphobes: A Little Dash Here and There


Although there are several kinds of dashes, each differing in length, the most common are the em dash and the en dash, named so because of what size they were back in the typesetting days. Em dash is as long as an “m”; en dash takes up the same amount of space as an “n.” 

Here are a few common ways they are used.

Em dashes denote a sudden break in thought that causes an abrupt change in sentence structure, according to The Chicago Manual of Style.

“Will Jay Cutler — can he — complete the passes necessary to beat the Packers on Sunday?” 

They also can be used in dialogue when the speech of one character is interrupted by another. 

“I’m not sure,” he answered cautiously. “I think he also needs —”

“Needs what?” she interrupted impatiently. “Of course he can lead the Bears to victory!”

Summarizing clauses preceded by collective main subjects need em dashes.

Devin Hester, Johnny Knox, and Earl Bennett — they are all good targets for Cutler’s passes.

The Chicago Manual o…

Editing for Grammarphobes: Great Writing and MLK


It is Martin Luther King Day in the United States, a day when we honor Dr. King’s message of equality for all.
Not only was Dr. King a great man for what he accomplished, he also was a great writer who gave our country some of it’s best rhetoric of the 20th century. His “I Have a Dream Speech” is an amazing piece, which always brings a tear to my eye, no matter how many times I have heard it.

Yahoo! has a little history section on Dr. King today, which includes some of his quotes. I would like to share a few of them with you. 
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
“Almost always, the creative dedicated minority has made the world better.”
“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged b…

Flash Fiction Fridays: Anything Goes Continues


By Suzanne Tyrpak

My fist closes around the packet. I shove it into my jeans. 

The man behind the counter glances up, peers at me through black-framed glasses. “Can I help you?”


I wander through an alphabet of vitamins, another aisle of shampoo and lotion. I spot the kind my mother likes and squeeze a glob into my palm. It stinks.

“Pamela!” she screeches across the universe.

I run past stacks of Coca-cola, heading for the vegetables. Skirting a display of tomatoes, I crash into a pyramid of onions. People dance, avoiding them.

Uh-oh, here she comes. Click, click, click, on spiky heels.

I escape into the candy aisle, grab a yellow bag. Peanut M&Ms. Yum! My teeth tear the wrapping.

Her voice bounces down the aisle. “Put those back, I’m warning you.”

I dodge a shopping cart, run past Hershey’s Kisses, Gummy Bears, Strawberry Twizzlers.

The dead animal department smells. Cold catches in my throat as I pass coffins of cow, waxy chicken legs, frozen turkeys…

Editing for Grammarphobes: What Do I Do About...?


When referring to movies, songs and books in your writing, do you put quotation marks around the titles or should they be italicized? Do you capitalize all of the words and articles in a title? What about a particular song in an opera? How about paintings? Computer games? Television shows? Plays? What if your character is watching Modern Family or playing Rock Band?

Well, it depends what you are writing. 

In all cases, the main words of the title should be capitalized. Do not capitalize articles, such as a, and, the, or an, unless they are the first word of the work’s title. Nothing should appear in full caps but acronyms, such as computer programming languages or association names.


The Catcher in the Rye
Call of Duty
Don Giovanni

If you are contributing to a magazine or newspaper, The Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law states to place composition titles in quotation marks. 

However, if you are writing a novel or non-fiction book, put th…

Editing for Grammarphobes: One Word or Two?


Do you have those words that, no matter how hard you try, you just cannot remember if they are supposed to be one word or two? The ones that do not look right, even after spellchecker assures they have been typed correctly? Here are a few.

awhile versus a while

This one is tricky, in that awhile is an adverb, and a while is a noun phrase meaning “length of time.”

She plans to be in England awhile.

She plans to stay in England for a while.

breakup versus break up

Breakup is a noun meaning the dissolving of a relationship. Break up is the verb form.

The breakup hurt Missy more than she had thought.

Riot police could not break up the protests in the downtown streets.

cannot versus can not

Although technically both forms may be used, cannot is more accepted in modern language.

I cannot understand why the Packers won last night.

Flash Fiction Fridays: Anything Goes


It is the first Friday of January and that means Anything Goes! To start us off, here's a piece of noir by Jeanette Fratto.

Night Duty
By Jeanette A. Fratto

The cigarette dangling from his lower lip gave off a curl of blue smoke that rose to join the rest of the stale air in the county jail waiting room. Taking one last long drag, Sam Biggs ignored the ashtray and flipped the butt onto the cement floor, grinding it under his foot. He was not a happy man. It was 2 a.m. His eyes burned, and his head hurt from no sleep and too much cheap whiskey the night before.

He had barely stumbled into bed an hour ago when the phone rang. Johnny Prince had been arrested again, and his sobbing girlfriend-of-the-moment begged Sam to meet her at the jail immediately. She had the ten percent bail money and didn’t want Johnny to spend one more minute there. She must be new, he thought, as he groped for the clothes he had just taken off. Johnny was a good customer of Biggs …

Editing for Grammarphobes: Apostrophes Gone Wild


I see this error every day, and it makes me cry inside. Perhaps grammar teachers are trying, but no one is listening. Let’s face it. Grammar is not sexy, but without its proper usage, a Rhodes scholar can look like a middle school dropout.

How many of you spotted this egregious error polluting otherwise festive holiday cards? What is wrong with the following line?

Season’s Greetings from The Idiot’s

Written as it is, the statement begs for the question “Idiot’s what?” The Idiot’s dog? The Idiot’s island vacation? Neither a dog, nor an island can convey wishes. This merry signature is a victim of apostrophes gone wild.

I’ve mentioned this problem before, early on, but it needs to be covered repeatedly and illustrated in its various ways. The line should read as follows.

Season’s Greetings from The Idiots

No apostrophe. It is a plural form of the last name Idiot and assumes there is more than one Idiot in said family. Otherwise, it would be signed liked this.


Happy New Year


May I be so bold as to proclaim 2011 as “The Year of the Indie?” There are rumblings in the industry, sightings on the bestseller lists and conversations on Kindle Boards that are fueling this thought. A dynamo by the name of Amanda Hocking has taken the world by storm, selling a whopping 99,000 books in the month of December alone. Several indie authors have been approached for traditional publishing contracts. Some agents are even advising their clients to self-publish as the first step on the road to a full-time writing career. 

It is a brand new world out there, an exciting time to be both reader and writer. I am glad to be a part of it.

A Whisper to a Scream has been redesigned for your enhanced reading pleasure by Dellaster Designs. If you would like to preview the new look, download a free sample here from

Bibliophilic Blather still will be featuring “Editing for Grammarphobes” on Mondays and Wednesdays, but I might be adding a …