Saturday, March 28, 2015

SJWG March Meeting: Grammar and Punctuation Issues

By Dawn Byrne

Do you know when to use italics instead of quotation marks when naming something in a manuscript? What about when to use 'whom' instead of 'who'? Or if a question mark should stand inside or outside quotation marks? Member Rich Voza answered these questions and more while addressing the SJWG's March meeting.

After graduating from William Paterson University, Voza taught English, language arts, and writing for over twenty years. He stepped down from education a few years ago to take his writing more seriously. This resulted in two publications: When the Mirror Breaks from Whiskey Creek Press, and Connecting Flight from Start Publishing.

Voza's title for his presentation for the evening was "Grammar and Punctuation Issues." These subjects can be dry while reading or listening to instruction on the nasty nuances of our written language. But Voza surprised us by used humor to wet his explanations, making them entertaining, and the information memorable. His honesty, in that even he makes errors in grammar and punctuation, was refreshing.

Beforehand Voza collected questions from SJWG members, which he addressed at the meeting. Members comfortably asked additional questions during Voza's descriptions of particularly pesky grammar and punctuation puzzles. Then he continued on through his list of twenty-one popular errors that people make in writing.

The number one boo-boo he sees, is using a comma with a conjunctive. Usually, we shouldn't place a comma before a conjunctive (and/but/or) if that conjunctive is followed by a phrase. Reading the sentence out loud can help one hear the natural pause. I'll use Voza's example: I used to drink a lot of beer, but now I'm into wine. Contrast that with: He used to drink a lot of beer but not much wine.

Some situations are stylistic. Voza doesn't use capital letters in informal writing situations. e.e. cummings, who did this in his professional work, comes to mind here. But don't break the rules unless it makes what you're doing better. Rules changed by the literary powers that be, are changed for a specific reason. For instance, when too many people have done something grammatically wrong for a long time, it can be accepted.

Voza also explained that punctuation outside quotes are a British thing. And I never knew that some British words were Americanized, like 'colour' to 'color,' simply to irritate the British.

Misconceptions abound, and I can't figure out why. Why, for instance, I thought using a parenthesis or semicolon in dialogue is never correct. Not true. In addition to the hand-out from Voza, I'll make sure to check while editing my work. It's the site he referenced for further help.

The meeting ended before touching on each list item. Jennifer M. Eaton and Loretta Sisco commented that this fellow member should return to speak again on the topic. I agree. His fun savvy with his subjects made the presentation seem more of a stand-up performance than a lecture on grammar and punctuation. And his handling of audience interruptions didn't fluster Voza, but added to his repertoire of keeping the issues from getting confusing and musty.

About today's guest blogger:

Dawn Byrne, a grandmother, writes inspirational and fictional stories about families from her New Jersey home. She's a member of the South Jersey Writers' Group, facilitates the Juliette Writers' Group, and teaches Sunday School. Dawn strives to leave a small carbon footprint, reads classical literature, blogs here, and has stories featured in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Devotional Stories for Wives: 101 Daily Devotions to Comfort, Encourage, and Inspire You and Chicken Soup for the Soul: It's Christmas!: 101 Joyful Stories about the Love, Fun, and Wonder of the Holidays
. Her website is

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