Friday, April 27, 2012

Capitalization Rules for Writers (Part 1 of 8)

(Kathy Ide wrote this eight-part series.)

Family Relationships

“Kinship names” (father, brother, aunt, cousin, etc.) should be lowercased when used generically or when preceded by a modifier. Examples:

* my dad

* the youngest mother in the group

* her aunt Shelly

When used in place of the name, kinship names are to be capitalized. Examples:

* I know that Mother’s middle name is Janice.

* Does Aunt Becky have a book signing on Saturday?

* Will her Uncle Ed be at the birthday party?

* Hey, Dad, are we going fishing today?

Terms of Endearment

Terms of affection—aka “pet names” (honey, dear, sweetheart)—are lowercased … although some book publishers (mainly publishers of romance novels) have a house preference of capitalizing them.

Kathy Ide is a published author, ghostwriter, and freelance editor. She speaks at writers’ conferences, teaches online writing and editing courses, and mentors new writers. She’s the founder and coordinator of The Christian PEN: Proofreaders and Editors Network ( and the Christian Editor Network ( Learn more at

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Common Problems (Part 50 of 50)

Watch those fragments. A sentence must have a subject or a verb and it must be able to stand alone as a complete thought. After I waited for Tom contains a subject and a verb, but it's not a complete thought.

Careful use of fragments can add meaning and power to your writing. For example: I was absolutely happy. For now. Those last two words are a fragment but they raise a question or produce doubt. The fragment is also closely connected to the full sentence it follows.

In the following paragraph, notice the fragments, and yet they make sense:
They missed the people from whom they had fled. They missed the sight, the sound, even the smell of Africans. The sing-song chanting of workers in the fields. The tangy smell of wood smoke in the early evening.
The fragment also works well (when used cautiously) in action scenes.
In what follows Jason is running his first marathon: He pushed past the first group of runners and was only a dozen yards behind the two leaders. He pushed forward. Too fast. He had to control his pace to win the race. Easy. Easy now. Sneak up behind them.
I used fragments. The first is Too fast. I could have written: It was too fast or he moved too quickly. But the purpose is to make readers feel as if they're running with Jason and are inside him. The same for Easy. Easy now. Sneak up behind them.

It's all right to use sentence fragments occasionally 
—as long as the meaning is clear.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Common Problems (Part 49 of 50)

Watch those adverb endings. The –ly form of adverbs has changed. In English grammar, we classify words by their function and not by their spelling. Smile can be a noun or a verb as it is in this odd sentence: She smiled at his smile.

Until recent years we wrote firstly but modern, informal usage settles for first. First, he finished his task and then he ate. (Tells us when he ate.) Scholarly writing still holds to the adding of the –ly. For the rest of us, Importantly has become important. Most important, he did his job well. If we don't delete the ending, the writing sounds stilted or pompous.

* First, I want your attention, and second, I want you to smile when I pause. In the past we would have written firstly and secondly.

* Most important, listen to your mother.

Modern usage tends to strip away the –ly on adverbs.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Common Problems (Part 48 of 50)

Use the past tense and past perfect properly. There are two uses for the past perfect tense. They require has or have before the verb, which is the easy way to recognize their use. We often use clue words such as after.

Past perfect shows action completed in the past. What we call the simple past tense means anything that took place before the present. Writers don't seem to have trouble with that. Past perfect means action finished in the past.

For example: I had wanted to study at Yale. That sentence means that in the past I wanted to study at Yale but it's no longer my desire.

Past perfect also shows which previous action took place first.

* After I had eaten breakfast, I went for a walk.

* I visited Africa because I had once lived there.

* I had wanted peace, but I settled for soft noises.

The past perfect tense means action 
completed before the immediate past.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Common Problems (Part 47 of 50)

Don't "give us a shrug" or "shoot a glance." Those are not only odd statements but also weak writing. I've seen these words with increasing frequency in novels. One writer uses a quirky phrase, another author copies it, and still others pick up the expression. Good writing carries a natural tone and if you make readers blink with an odd phrase, instead of admiring your creativity, they're apt to stop reading.

* She gave a gasp of pain is weaker than She gasped in pain.

* Totsie gave a sharp bark before she whined.

* Jean gave a small, impatient jerk of her head. (Just let her jerk her head.) 

Don't use weak verbs to replace stronger ones. 
Don't use odd statements that cause readers to blink.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Common Problems (Part 46 of 50)

Myself is a reflexive pronoun. It reflects or repeats a previous pronoun in a different form. That is, you must identify I before you use myself.

* It was a time of surrender, seeking help from a source far greater than myself. (…far greater than I. It's not me or myself because the phrase means "far greater than I am great.")

* She gave the money to Maggie and myself. (Incorrect. You have not identified myself.)

* I like you better than I like myself. (This is correct because myself “reflects” or refers to the already-mentioned "I.")

Don't use a reflexive such as myself
unless you have identified the person to whom myself refers.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Common Problems (Part 45 of 50)

Avoid saying I believe, I think, I know, and similar expressions. To use them weakens the statement. People read your words in print and that makes you an authority. If you say it without equivocating, your words carry authority.

* I believe that telling the truth is the honorable way to live. (Telling the truth. is the honorable way to live. Can you hear the difference?)

* I think my methods bring results.

* I know that there will be a day of reckoning for all people.

* It seems to me that our neighborhood is deteriorating. 

When I avoid expressions such as I think
my writing is stronger and carries more impact.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Common Problems (Part 44 of 50)

Watch the use of would. The helping verb refers to usual action. Once you make it clear that you refer to something that's frequent, you don't need to use it again. Or if you've already established it as habitual, you don't need it. Simply put the rest of the material into the simple past tense.

* Josiah regularly did the butt-scoot boogie as we liked to call it. He would push himself into a sitting position. (Regularly shows it's his usual form.) Better: He pushed himself. . .

* Even the mocking bird in our neighborhood knew the sounds of our house. We would hear beeps and alarms. (The writer had already established that as a regular occurrence.) We heard. . .

* I’d get up in the morning like every other mother and take my son to school and to the tennis courts at the nearby park. After three sets of doubles, I’d hop in the car and I'd head to Macys. (I'd means I would and the writer established customary behavior with the first word. In the final clause, it should read, I hopped. . .I headed.) 

Would as a helping verb establishes usual behavior. 
You need to use it only once.