Notes From Your Editor, Part II

I like grammar. I like words, language, and punctuation. Why? Because I talk a lot—whether orally or through the written word—and it would be nice if people understand what I'm saying as much of the time as possible. At least, as much as they're listening. (I've recently come to realize that there's likely a good percentage of time where I'm talking and no one is listening. It's fine.)

How do I make sure people understand my intent as best as possible? By utilizing proper (or at least contextually correct) spelling, grammar, punctuation, and other mechanics. Much to the dismay of some people, apparently. Anyway, it was after going off on this tangent that I was reminded that I, as someone in possession of a bachelor's degree in English and a career in journalism and copywriting, have a leg up when it comes to these mechanics. And I'm nothing if not willing to share.

I wrote a part one to this bad boy some months back, so if things like "a lot" and "affect vs. effect" aren't clicking for you yet, get a refresher there first. If you're ready to move onto some really fun stuff, here are some hopefully helpful and not at all obnoxious tips and reminders to make your Facebook statuses and intra-office memos really shine bright like the diamonds they are.
Notes From Your Editor, Part II

Generally speaking, the past is a place. You left that toxic friend in the past, and even though you recently took an action and passed by his house, you're totally over it. Pass is a verb, of which passed is the (ready for it?) past tense. Think of the -ed as the word "pass"'s walking shoes that put it into motion.

You wear your regular old everyday flip flops to go pick up the mail every day. When in doubt, sub it out: Can you also say "each day" and get the same message across? If so, then use the two-word option in the case of everyday/every day as well.

If you want to give a specific example, go ahead and use e.g. It doesn't mean this, but think of it like "example given." If you want to clarify a statement, or say "that is," elaborate after using i.e.

I'm just easing you in, because this stuff is where the real party starts. (Also, my sentences are dumb, but grammatically correct. Focus on the latter.) (P.S., the latter is the last listed of two options, as opposed to the former. Memory trick: "latter" is almost "later," and it refers to the option that comes later in the sentence.)

Capitalization! It's fun. I know in blogging, a lot of us are informal—and I really have no gripe with that. I keep proper capitalization in my posts generally because it's just habit from spending all my day typing. But what does grind my gears is the Random Capitalization of Words that don't need Capitals. Like every single one of those in the last sentence. Here's where you use capitals:
  • To begin a sentence
  • To reference a proper (specific) noun: President Obama, the White House, the Voting Rights Act
  • For all words excluding articles (a, an, the) in titles UNLESS you are utilizing sentence-case capitalization across the board. Consistency is key!
Here's where you DON'T use capitals:
  • On random Words because you think that makes them look more important. It does not; it makes you look confused. Add emphasis using bold, italics, or punctuation and context in these cases.
  • The second word of a two-word hypenate in a title, UNLESS it is the last piece of a title

And finally, the stuff I get asked about or see misused most often: dashes and hyphens. (Aka, my favorite. Seriously. The em dash (—) is my favorite piece of punctuation.)

So technically, --  is never correct. Sometimes I like the way it looks and it makes me feel less pedantic, so I'll use it time to time. What you really want is the em dash. Following AP Stylebook, you would use an em dash (—) and there would be no space between the words.
Example: My mother—who went to George Washington University—never cared much for George Washington.

The annoying thing is that no computer or word processor automatically makes the em dash, though it has more use than the en dash which they DO autocorrect to, which is just a hair shorter (–). The difference between the two physically is that the em dash is the width of a typewriter letter “m,” and the EN dash is the width of a typewriter letter “n.” 

You would use an en dash when listing things or when a dash is otherwise not technically part of a full sentence. 
Example: Office Holiday Schedule: January 1 – New Year’s Day (Closed)
Also, you'd use the en dash when joining a passage of something in a list.
Example: The event will occur January 1–3, 2016. Highlight columns A–N in the Excel sheet.

Hyphens are only used to join words and are the shortest of the dashes. (Half-baked scheme, off-duty cop)

How's that for a fun blog post, heh?! (Oh, and by the way, that ?! is called an interrobang, and the proper formatting is ?!, not !?.)

Got any more for me? If I know the answers and have a trick to help you remember I'll be happy to share. :)


  1. I didn't know that ?! was even a thing but I do it all the time! Former and latter get me every time, I always google it lol! When in doubt, google! xo, Biana -BlovedBoston

  2. This post brought me all the joy. I feel super educated on hyphens and dashes now!

    It also made me feel a little guilt because sometimes I randomly capitalize words. This didn't used to be a problem until I started learning German and they capitalize all nouns. Shouldn't seem like a problem, but I've definitely caught myself capitalizing nouns in English unintentionally.

    Languages are hard, English is harder, and grammar is the hardest. ;)

  3. LOVE THIS! But you already knew that ;)!

  4. Pet peeves: When people say I use to or you're suppose to. No. It's used to and supposed to.

    I let the en dash slide in place of the em dash in my style guide at work because I don't get to touch every piece of communication and people are lazy about the em dash. With the font we use I also like it with spaces around it. I am always more bothered by

  5. I came across your blog a few days ago and after reading this post I just had to comment. I thought the post was intelligently hilarious!
    Now that you ask I have always been curious about |, ·, ¬ signs on the keyboard. Also, the difference between (,[,{. Keep these posts running!

  6. I enjoy these; you have improved my grammar several times. BUT I will never go to extra effort to find the em dash. I feel a slight twinge of guilty about that, but I'm just too lazy to do anything about it. I find using replacements in a sentence very helpful in several occasions (usually when deciding to use "me" or "I"). Questions for you! 1) Is it still correct to use 2 spaces after a period or has that fallen to the wayside? 2) Lay vs lie

  7. Yes!!! Do people really not know the difference between past, pass and passed? Yikes.

  8. you are the smartest person in all the land, and i would like you to never read my posts again because i know i don't use dashes and stuff properly. i'm blaming that on the cultural differences, rather than my lack of knowledge... kind of like the brackets/perenthesis thing (how the heck do i spell that word? it's coming up with a red squiggly line and because we don't use it, i don't know how to spell it) and full stop/period. when in doubt, blame it on the cultural differences hahaha.
    KC and I love to read those things where people misuse words and sayings, which is a bit ironic given that i've just explained i'm not the smartest, like when people say midas whale instead of might as well. funny funny.

  9. I had to take a grammar quiz for something a while back and I did well on everything except semicolons and maybe who/whom (the latter of which I think I now understand).

    I never bothered to learn about semicolons, although my understanding is that you should have a full sentence on either side of the semicolon (which makes them superfluous anyway).

    But Kurt Vonnegut once said of semicolons, "Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you've been to college."

    That's good enough for me.

  10. Spot on once again. As someone who shares a passion for language (with a degree in English also) this is needed. The grammatical atrocities I see on a daily make me cringe.

    ... I have to qualify all of this by saying I do speak and write UK English though which adds a whole other level to this ish.

  11. There's really no space when using the em dash? Huh, being doing it wrong my whole life. Hopefully it's not too late to try to use it correctly! When are we going over when to use who/whom? And can you go over when to use parentheses versus brackets, particularly within quotes? Obviously I can look it up but maybe other people are curious too, and it may help you with what to include in Part III :)

  12. "I'm gonna interrobang you so hard" is all you've left me with. ha-ha. I swear I'll grow up someday.

  13. I love this. It drives me nuts when people don't know the difference between insure and ensure.

  14. Soo the em dash & en dash seriously are named for the length? I seriously love that and will always remember now, though I'm sure I'll still overuse the double dash-- because I guess that's what I'm actually using if the dashes aren't connected? I also had no idea the interrobang had a name, but will try and stick to the ? first from now on :)


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