Tag Archive - grammar

Some Extraneous Words That Clutter

I often find myself trimming down words when I do content edits for my clients. I’ve mentioned in earlier posts about that and of and how you often don’t need those words. I also gave you my weasel word list and suggested you come up with your own. One author I know told me she went through one of her earlier manuscripts (she has over a hundred published novels now) and deleted as many unnecessary speaker tags as she could find. She trimmed her word count down 6,000 words!

So here are some words you can take out:

  • He thought to himself  [You can only think to yourself, so leave out those words. and if you use italics for thoughts in your novel, you often don’t need to say “he thought” since it’s clearly implied.]
  • He stood up then sat down
  • He nodded his head
  • Amidst, amongst
  • Firstly, secondly, lastly
  • Choose from among three choices [redundant]
  • I don’t like him, but nevertheless I’ll go anyway [redundant so take out either but or nevertheless.]

Serial Commas Are Serious Stuff

Serial commas are commas that separate items in a series and in particular pertain to the use of a comma with the last item listed. Many people ignore this rule, and I’m pretty sure it’s standard policy (to ignore) this rule in AP (article writing) style. which doesn’t make sense to me. It’s very important to always use a serial comma.

The example often used to show the need for the serial comma is this line: “I’d like to thank my parents, God and Mother Teresa, for inspiring me.” Well, by not using the serial comma between God and Mother Teresa,  you can see how the meaning of this sentence gets really wacky. I mean–who in their right mind would claim their parents are God and Mother Teresa? The way to punctuate this correctly so as to avoid such a weird interpretation is “I’d like to thank my parents, God, and Mother Teresa for inspiring me.”

Entire books have been written on this topic (see Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation for a great book that stresses the need to be careful with those tiny bits of punctuation).

So, whenever you have a list, be sure you use a comma after each item in that list. You don’t necessarily need one after the very last item—that depends upon the phrase to follow, but we won’t get into that in this post.

Whom Shall I Say?

If you’re like me, you get who and whom  mixed up. I often have to stop and reword the sentence in my head to check which one I need. We’ve been told that who is the subject of a clause and whom takes an objective position. In other words, we use whom when he or she is the object of a sentence, as in for whom, to whom, with whom.

I like how Amy Einsohn explains this in her great book The Copy Editor’s Handbook, which I’m happy to plug here. These are the (correct) examples she gives:

  • Joseph is the candidate whom we hope to elect. [We hope to elect him—object, not subject, of the sentence]
  • Smith is the candidate who we think will win. [We think he will win—he being in the nominal, not objective, form]
  • This book offers advice to whoever will accept it. [Who will accept it? He will, not him will—so you use the nominal form]

Amy’s book is really terrific at explaining everything you need to know about writing correctly, and you can get her book here:

The Copyeditor’s Handbook: A Guide for Book Publishing and Corporate Communications, Second Edition

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