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    Scare Quotes

    Punctuation marks of various kinds often trip writers up, and one area many seem to struggle with is when and how to use quotation marks.

    The rules for when to use quotation marks are fairly simple. You should always use them when you are directly quoting something and very sparingly in other cases. Many times I run into the overuse of "scare quotes" when editing. Scare quotes are basically when you put quotations around a word or phrase that is not quoted from another source to indicate that you find it ironic, don't agree with the common usage of it, or are distancing yourself from it in some way. This crops up frequently in religious or political writing.

    For example, a writer who is trying to debunk global warming might consistently use quotation marks around "global warming" to show his or her disdain for the concept. As you can imagine, this can get tiresome pretty quickly. Consider the following example:

    Modern scientists are trying to push the theory of "global warming" on people. There is no evidence for "global warming," but they promote the concept frequently anyway. This "warming" effect is negligible at best. We had a sixty-degree day where I live in the middle of July recently. Does that sound like "global warming" to you?*

    As you can see, the constant use of scare quotes gets to be very irritating. They most often have the effect of making the author seem pompous, pretentious, and condescending, which rarely helps to convince someone on the opposite side of your opinion. Try to be aware during your writing of whether you're using scare quotes too often and how those quotes may be interpreted by your readers. Although scare quotes can sometimes be used to get a point across, they should be used infrequently and with caution.

    * Views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of Right Price Editing.


    Quick and Dirty Semicolons

    The semicolon is a punctuation mark that puzzles many writers. It's an odd duck that looks a lot like a comma, so it feels like it should be interchangeable with the comma. However, the semicolon has its own separate function, and it should be used sparingly and with caution.

    There are a few places where a semicolon is appropriate and essential. The most common case where a semicolon should be used is between two independent clauses (i.e., phrases that can be complete sentences if they stand alone) that are closely related and that are not joined by a coordinating conjunction (e.g., and, or, but).

    Consider the following sentence: "My daughter is very talented; she sings very well." The two independent clauses are closely related to one another, and the meaning would subtly change if they were joined by a conjunction (as in, "My daughter is very talented, and she sings very well."). In this case, the best way to get your point across is the join the two closely related clauses by a semicolon.

    Another case where semicolons should especially be used is between independent clauses when the second independent clause is preceded by the following adverbs: then, however, thus, hence, indeed, accordingly, besides, and therefore. For example: "I love to read; therefore, I own a lot of books."

    Semicolons should also be used when in items are listed in a series that have internal punctuation. For example, "On our vacation, we visited Seattle, Washington; San Diego, California; and Portland, Oregon." In cases like this, it is important to use a semicolon to avoid confusion, especially in longer sentences.

    A final case where semicolons are used pertains mainly to Christian writing. According to the Christian Writer's Manual of Style, semicolons should be used to separate Scripture references within parentheses. For example: "(James 1:3; 5:8; John 3:16)." Some Christian publishers vary from this style, but the industry standard is to do it in this way.

    There are other limited cases where a semicolon might be used, but this quick guide will cover most cases. Feel free to comment with any specific questions, and as always, I'll be happy to provide some guidance.


    Well, this pretty much sums it up...


    You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.*

    I'm still in a bit of a turkey coma today, as I'm sure many of you are, so today we'll keep it short and sweet. There are a number of phrases and words that I see authors commonly misusing, mixing up, or misspelling, some of which are more baffling to me than others. A few mix-ups I've run into lately include:

    • Versus and Verses. I run into this mistake all the time. "Versus" is commonly confused with "verses" and usually not the other way around. To clear things up for you there are verses in the Bible, and versus is used when you're talking about two things in opposition to each other (e.g., man versus bear).
    • Eachother.I must admit that this one baffles me. People often think that "eachother" should be an indefinite pronoun, like everyone or anybody, but it's not. It's always two separate words, each other.
    • Juggler and jugular. A juggler is someone who throws balls around. The jugular is an important vein in your neck. Unless your veins are more talented than most people's, jugular is the word you're looking for.
    • Table of Context. I must admit that I laughed to myself about this one. Although you might be hoping to provide some context with it, the part of the book that lists all your chapters and the pages they start on is the Table of Contents.
    • Forward and Foreword. This is something I see all the time. Forward is a direction. A short introduction written for a book by someone other than the author is a foreword. The word foreword is also commonly used to improperly label a book's preface, which is a short introduction written by the author.
    • Coach and couch.This mix-up caused one of the most unintentionally funny sentences I've read in a while: "I've been lying on the coach all day and it feels sooooo good!"

    This list doesn't even include some of the most common offenders (e.g., your and you're), but it just goes to show you that you can't depend on your spellchecker to do all the work for you. Read what you've written carefully, or better yet, get a skilled editor to help you find mistakes like these.

    *Ten points to anyone who can correctly identify the movie the title of this post is taken from.


    Indefinite Pronouns

    Pronoun and antecedent agreement can be a sticky issue for many writers, and it is one of the most common errors I run into when editing. To refresh your memory, a pronoun is a word like he, she, they, etc. An antecedent is the word the pronoun refers to. For example, in the sentence, "The girl thought her editor was awesome," "her" is the pronoun, and "girl" is the antecedent. What I mean by agreement is that the pronoun has to agree with the antecedent in number (singular or plural) and in gender. We wouldn't write, "The girl thought his editor was awesome," or "The girl thought their editor was awesome." Sounds simple enough, right?

    Well, things start to get more complicated when you run into words like "everyone" and "anybody," which are indefinite pronouns. Everyone often seems like it should be plural, but it is actually singular. Take the following sentence as an example: "Everyone is entitled to their own opinion." It sounds right to most ears, but it should actually be, "Everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion."

    People often want to use "their" in situations like this, because it avoids gender bias (which means using "he" and "his" all the time). Unfortunately, their is plural, so it can be used in a singular way. There is no neuter pronoun in English (if only we spoke German!), so it can get complicated. "His or her" can be very unwieldy and awkward to use, and I personally prefer to avoid it if possible. So what's a writer to do? Usually the problem can be avoided if the sentence is reworded a little bit. For example, you can replace, "Everyone should give his or her editor some ice cream," to "Authors should give their editors ice cream." A good editor can help you iron out this issue and give suggestions about when and how to reword a sentence.

    For those of you who are still confused, take a look at these lists for future reference.

    Singular Indefinite Pronouns

    • Anyone
    • Anybody
    • Anything
    • Each
    • Everyone
    • Everybody
    • Everything
    • Another
    • Neither
    • No one
    • Nobody
    • Nothing
    • One
    • Either
    • Someone
    • Somebody
    • Something

    Plural Indefinite Pronouns

    • Both
    • Few
    • Fewer
    • Many
    • Others
    • Several

    Indefinite Pronouns that Can Be Singular or Plural

    • Any
    • All
    • More
    • Most
    • None
    • Some
    • Such