Grammar Tips Archive

Week 1: Punctuation and space—one space or two?

  • “In typeset matter, one space, not two, should be used between two sentences—whether the first ends in a period, a question mark, an exclamation point, or a closing quotation mark or parenthesis. By the same token, one space, not two, should follow a colon. When a particular design layout calls for more space between two elements—for example, between a figure number and a caption—the design should specify the exact amount of space (e.g., em space).”

The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th ed. ¶ 6.7

  • My two cents: When your manuscript is published, it usually is published with full justification, meaning that the text abutting the right margin is uniform, not ragged—that is, all text ends at the same point on the right margin. If you use two spaces, those spaces will not be the same consistent width and will stick out like a sore thumb and make your printed work look unprofessional. Trust me, you do not want your work to look unprofessional, as if typed on a Smith Corona. (That’s an old typewriter brand, for those of you who are too young to remember. And a typewriter is a machine that prints your words upon a sheet of paper as you type them.)
  • But even if your work is published with only left justification (a ragged right margin), an extra space at the end of a sentence still has a tendency to attract the eye. Why would you want to attract your reader to negative space?

Week 2: Some common misuses of colons

  • “Many writers assume—wrongly—that a colon is always needed before a series or a list. In fact, if a colon intervenes in what would otherwise constitute a grammatical sentence—even if the introduction appears on a separate line, as in a list—there is a good chance it is being used inappropriately. A colon, for example, should not be used before a series that serves as the object of a verb. When in doubt, apply this test: to merit a colon, the words that introduce a series or list must themselves constitute a grammatically complete sentence.”

The menagerie included cats, pigeons, newts, and deer ticks.


The menagerie included: cats, pigeons, newts, and deer ticks.

  • An exception may be made when a word or phrase introduces a series or list and the verb is elided or otherwise understood. In such cases a colon is usually required.

Pros: accuracy and water resistance. Cons: cheap-looking exterior, . . . 

(The pros included accuracy and water resistance. Among its cons were a cheap-looking exterior, . . .)”

The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th ed. ¶ 6.67

  • My two cents: I edit dozens of formal documents, mostly legal, in which someone adds these eyesores. Remember this maxim: if something seems superfluous, it probably is.

Week 3: Commas with direct address

“A comma is used to set off names or words used in direct address.

  • Ms. Jones, please come in.
  • James, your order is ready.
  • Hello, Ms. Philips.
  • Hi, Pratchi. Please sit down.
  • Take that, you devil.
  • Kiss me, you fool!
  • Are you listening, class?
  • It’s time to go, Marta.
  • I am not here, my friends, to discuss personalities.

In correspondence, a comma typically follows the greeting, though a colon may be used instead (especially in formal correspondence).

  • Dear Lucien, . . .

If the greeting itself consists of a direct address, two marks of punctuation are needed (i.e., the comma in the direct address and the colon or comma following the greeting). (The first mark is often left out in casual correspondence.)

  • Greetings, Board Members: . . .
  • Hi, Karel, . . ."

The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th ed. ¶ 6.53

  • My two cents: The classic example of how a sentence can turn disastrous (or funny, depending on your sense of humor) is “I already ate Grandma.” Unless you are the Big Bad Wolf and you’re speaking to Goldilocks, I cannot stress enough the importance of putting a comma between ateand Grandma