What to Do with Hyphens

The guidelines for hyphenation are complex and inconsistent. At least copyeditors are kept in business, but it can be frustrating for a writer to understand when to hyphenate and when not. Hyphenation errors are among the most common spelling problems I see. Yes, spelling. Hyphens are often thought of as punctuation, but matters of hyphenation are correctly classified under spelling, as they are in Proofreading Secrets of Best-Selling Authors and The Chicago Manual of Style. At the risk of sounding like your mother, most of what you need to know about how to spell a word can be found by looking it up in a dictionary. Continue reading

Grammar and Spelling Resources

Last time, we looked at the first two parts of PUGS, Punctuation and Usage. Today we’ll look at the others.

Grammar

In common speech, we often use “grammar” to encompass all parts of writing, including spelling and punctuation. But grammar really refers specifically to the way we assemble words into sentences.

English grammar is very complex, and has multiple registers, or degrees of formality. Many college instructors require the most formal register, so that’s what many businesspeople use. At its most extreme, this register eliminates both first and second-person pronouns, leading to unnatural constructions like “this researcher has found” and “one may notice” instead of “I’ve found” and “you may notice.” In standard writing, there is no proscription against these forms. So you can choose whatever level of formality you’re comfortable with. In a blog, you can be very casual. Continue reading

Yes, spelling counts in novels also

You may write the most brilliant story with the most sympathetic characters, but if your manuscript is full of spelling errors and typos, you will struggle to find readers.

Spelling is correct.

English spelling is notoriously difficult. It is rarely phonetic, as Spanish is, and is not consistent, as French is. Honestly, the only way those kids who win the spelling bees do it is by memorizing. If you’re not entering a spelling bee, just use a good dictionary. The folks at The Chicago Manual of Style recommend Merriam-Webster’s. The abridged version is free, and will serve most of your needs. An unabridged version is available by subscription if you think it necessary.

A less authoritative but still fun source is OneLook, which searches over a thousand dictionaries. It’s useful for highly specialized terms and slang that hasn’t made it into traditional dictionaries yet. Continue reading

Keeping track of plurals and possessives

© JJAVA - Fotolia.com

© JJAVA – Fotolia.com

Errors involving the presence or absence of an apostrophe or the letter s are among the most common spelling mistakes, which is why I mention the problem over on my Services page:

There is some overlap among line editing, copyediting, and proofreading. For example, all include taking care of pesky details like ensuring plural possessives of surnames ending in s are formed correctly.

What does that mean, exactly? Continue reading

When it’s okay to spell okay ‘OK’

Writers and editors may be the only people who get into arguments about spelling. In fact, I think it could easily be said that if you’re inclined to argue about how things ought to be spelled, you’re an editor, at heart if not by title.

OK button

Illustration by 3d_kot – Fotolia.com

I’ve been inclined to spell OK with two letters for as long as I can remember. Maybe I read an article about its origins early on. There’s no telling. But that spelling became deeply ingrained when I worked in the newsroom, because it’s the one endorsed by the Associated Press Stylebook.

So I was surprised when not one, but two critique partners, on two different occasions, told me OK was “wrong” and that the only acceptable spelling is okay. Further shock ensued when they both cited The Chicago Manual of Style as the origin of this edict. Continue reading