This post is written by my fabulous design associate, Irene Hill who has decided that it's an emergency that I correct the little mistakes I make when writing blog posts. Who knew she was this funny. . .
When I first met Maria and started reading her blog, I thought, “This woman is one smart cookie!” Of course I was right about that but, in her writing she has moments that cause me to laugh out loud. Or groan quietly. And it has to do with her grammar and punctuation.
She’s obviously brilliant, but I’ve come to realise that she makes up her own rules to support how she punctuates.
I grew up in a family with no television and bi-weekly trips to the library for stacks of books, so I instinctively know how to write and what works and doesn’t work in regards to sentence structure and punctuation.
But back to Maria. I would read one of her posts and ask her why she punctuated a title or a sentence in a certain way and she would come up with the most interesting of answers. Not the right answer, mind you, but truly fascinating.
So she asked me to write her a list of guidelines to help her with her punctuation. I’m a little on the anal side so I happily wrote a list of rules, printed and laminated it and stuck it right by her computer. So she could see it every day.
You may not have noticed an improvement in her punctuation, but that’s mostly because the list doesn’t actually get consulted. She asked me to write the list in a post – maybe then she’ll have time to read it.
1. Blog Post Titles
Have you noticed that Maria takes a very willy-nilly approach to which words in her blog post titles are capitalized? Some days the word “You” will be capitalized in her title, some days it’s not so lucky. Here’s a few good rules to follow for titles:
a. The first word always gets a capital. No matter what.
b. Don’t capitalize articles – the, a, an, etc (unless it’s the first word).
c. Don’t capitalize prepositions – on, over, for, from, etc or conjunctions – “won’t, don’t, can’t, etc (unless it’s the first word).
d. Don’t capitalize particles –to, so, as, etc (unless it’s the first word).
e. Capitalize everything else.
2. Book or Article Titles within a Sentence
This is a fairly new version of an older rule. Remember when you used to put titles within quotation marks? Don’t do it any more or you’ll look dated. This punctuation rule has moved with the trends.
“The best-selling work of author and stylist Maria Killam, How to Choose Paint Colours – It’s All in the Undertones, showcases her remarkable understanding of how to go beyond simply looking at colour to really seeing what makes a colour work or not work in any given space.” (Haha, thanks Irene for the plug :)
3. The Rule of Numbers
This one is so easy anyone can do it. And, I’m glad to say this is a rule that has stuck in Maria’s mind.
a. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight and nine = use letters.
b. 10, 11, 12 to infinity = use digits.
4. Quotation Marks
Maria is very fond of quotation marks and her posts will sometimes be liberally sprinkled with them. Remember Joey from Friends? He had the same love of quotation marks as Maria and would use them to emphasize his favourite words. Like “sandwich.” Now a sandwich is just a sandwich unless you’re talking about something altogether different. If the word you’re using means what the dictionary says it means, it doesn’t need quotation marks. If you’re using it as a “euphemism,” then fill your boots. Oh, and “euphemism” in the previous sentence is just euphemism. Not something different.
5. Quotation Marks within Quotation Marks
Maria is a very fair-minded person. I once asked her why she chose to use single quotations rather than double, she replied, “Oh, I thought I should just use the single quotations every once in a while as they don’t get as much print space as the double quotations.” Interesting and kind, but the actual rule goes like this:
Maria said, “I love Dr Seuss, and so do my nephews. Here’s an excerpt from one of their favourite stories, ‘Mr Bird was happy. He was so happy he had to sing. This was Mr Bird’s song: “I love my house. I love my nest. In all the world, my nest is best!”’ My nephews can listen to this story all day long!”
First time you quote = use a double quotation mark
If you quote within that quote = use a single quotation mark
If you quote within that quote = use a double quotation mark
Basically, if you are going to use quotes within a quote; alternate double and single quotation marks. I know some styles of writing start with a single quotation mark. That’s fine, just remember to alternate.
6. And One More Thing About Quotation Marks
When you are using quotation marks, please put your comma, period, question mark or any other mark, inside the quotes. I don’t know why this seems hard for some people to remember, but it’s like having your skirt tucked into your pantyhose. Please? Like this:
“To have what you want in life takes commitment. And as I wrote in this post, the definition of commitment is, ‘Everything I'm doing is leading towards the fulfillment of X.’ And if you want to know what you're committed to, take a look at how your life looks right now. That's how you know.”
7. Possessive and Plural Rule: This is an easy rule to get confused but a relatively simple one to fix.
a. If the word you’re using belongs to someone or something else: your client…, my sister…, use apostrophe + s. For example: your client’s house, my sister’s sons, etc.
b. If the word you are using is more than one: shoes, cars, don’t use an apostrophe, just add the s. The biggest example I see of this is when referring to decades: 1960s, 1970s, 1980s. It’s tempting to make the decade possessive, but entirely unnecessary. When you refer to a decade, it’s simply plural.
8. Colons versus Semi-Colons
There’s more to this rule than I’m going to say here, but the basic difference between the use of a colon and a semi-colon is this:
- When writing a sentence and the meaning is closely connected, use semi-colons to link two ideas together. For example, “Maria’s favourite colour is yellow; Irene’s favourite colour is blue.” Could you have made these into two sentences? Yes, you could and that’s how you know you could plug them together into one longer sentence.
- When setting up a list or statement of fact, use a colon:
- List – “The good news is that there is a limit to how many undertones neutrals can have: pink-beige, yellow-beige, green-beige, etc.”
- Statement of Fact – “Vancouver Interior Designer Says: White Kitchens are Timeless.”
9. To Hyphenate or Not to Hyphenate
There are two times when it’s right and fitting to put a hyphen between two words.
a. When you’ve got two words that belong together to create one word. Maria lives in a world where she’s constantly referring to pink-beige, yellow-beige, green-gray, blue-gray, etc. Sometimes they’re joined by a hyphen, sometimes they’re not. Just so you know, they should be.
b. When you put two words together to describe another word. Like this, “Internationally sought-after colour expert, Maria Killam is known for her no-nonsense colour style and her brilliant prose.”
10. Be Consistent. Pick a Lane and Stick to it.
Beyond all this, did you know that rules of grammar and punctuation evolve? They, along with everything else in the world, change and morph into a new expression of what’s acceptable and admirable. And of course, it matters where you live. Canadian rules of grammar and punctuation are closer (but not identical) to British rules of grammar and punctuation. American’s have differences in how they chose to write and punctuate. Close, but not the same.
Thanks Irene for entertaining and enlightening us all!
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