pandaI’m not a full-blown grammar Nazi so I’m going to refer to myself as a grammar panda since recently reading ‘Eats, Shoots and Leaves‘ by Lynne Truss, mainly  in preparation for redrafting one novel and self-publishing another, thinking I need a refresher in all this boring, technical stuff.

I have a basic knowledge of punctuation and a personal style sheet but I’m in no way an advanced student of grammar or language. I don’t know anything about past participles, future perfect, my limit is that verbs are ‘doing words’. If that’s not right, then I’m fucked.

It’s like learning scales in music or the offside rule in football; it’s boring but it has to be done if you don’t want to look like an idiot.

You see what I just did there? I used a semi-colon. Not a colon or a comma, or a dash or ellipses. Why? I’m not sure. A comma isn’t enough because it’s not a flowing sentence that requires a ‘breather’, the words following the semi-colon are a ‘reflective thought’ on the words proceeding the semi-colon. I never use a dash. I only seem to use ellipses in speech to indicate a longer pause than a comma can achieve. So a semi-colon it was and so it shall remain.

But that’s the thing that came out of reading ‘Eats, Shoots and Leaves‘, there are some hard and fast rules (capital letter at the beginning of a sentence, full-stop at the end, apostrophes) but surprisingly a lot of it is down to personal preference…within reason.

This is only in regards to grammar though. Not spelling. Apart from the odd spelling differences between countries, there’s no personal preference on how to spell miscellaneous or definitely.

Reassuringly, in that book Lynne Truss does state that British education didn’t bother with all this grammar stuff much so we usually have a poor grasp of it. This confirms why when speaking to some foreigners about English they might enquire, “How do you modify the adjective when it’s in the past?”

“You what mate?”

If you asked me to dissect these sentences highlighting the verbs, adjectives, nouns, conjunctives, etc, I’d have to simply run away, screaming.

Agents and publishers don’t read this, right?

So, anyway, here’s my personal style sheet and interpretation of the rules:

  • Strict on speech marks indicating speech and quote marks used for quoting. The clue’s in the name.
  • I never start a sentence with and or but. In the panda book it stated that this is a bit of an old rule but I’m sticking with it. I only stopped using double-spacing after a full-stop a couple of years ago (still think it looks better but apparently it’s a massive faux-pas).
  • Not a fan of the Oxford comma but since seeing images like this, I’m wavering. It just looks so ugly though!
  • I’m determined not to have any hyphenated words in my self-published ebook because of spacing/justifying issues. I’d rather use a different word than have that.
  • Never use dashes. I think it’s more of an American thing but I’ve never felt the need for one where I could use a comma, brackets or ellipses instead. I suppose I might in a blog post if I was posting an editorial response to something – Oooo! Look at Mr. Big Nuts!
  • Double dashes? Holy shit, no.
  • Don’t use more than one exclamation mark but will pair an exclamation mark with a question mark. Really?!  Yes!!!!!! (Blog posts excepted).
  • Never use a colon in a sentence, only to indicate a forth-coming list.
  • Only use a semi-colon in a sentence when the last part being semi-colonised is some kind of reflection, or a step outside, the proceeding part of the sentence.
  • Use italics to emphasise that this word may look like an error or totally screw up a concept but, in fact, it doesn’t on a second reading. eg. used on misspellings or made-up words such as ‘semi-colonised’ or when referring to a word with two meanings or which may cause confusion.
  • Only use an apostrophe when pluralising a word that ends with S, eg. ‘Jesus’ codpiece fell to the floor’. I wouldn’t add a second S, just looks weird.

That’s 11 rules there. I should have called this blog post, ’11 grammar rules for writers’ but since I don’t want agents and publishers to see this the last thing I want are loads of visitors.

What are your own interpretations of these grammar rules and others? Am I doing anything blatantly wrong? What rules have I not addressed which requires the opinion of someone who refers to himself as a’ grammar panda’?

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