That and which? I confess I often don't know which (though here I do) is correct. Sometimes I pray that (here I know again) I get it right. But the thing that (which??) gets me is that(!) some people seem to know by instinct and I don't.
Commas are a bewilderment, too. Whenever I put them in my editor takes them out and vice versa. (Or is it , and vice versa?)
And while we're about it:
Is a dog a he, a she, or an it?
Can I avoid the odious s/he (when the gender is unknown) by replacing it with they?
And does punctuation at the end of a parenthetical statement go inside or outside the parentheses?
These are the nits that haunt me. What are yours, and can you offer me any nifty rules of thumb?
RHYS BOWEN: I suffer a double impediment in that I was taught British grammar rules (as in different from, and not different to), British spelling (as in towards, not toward) and I have never gotten the hang of commas either. Or should it be commas, either?
I just let copy editors take out every comma I've put in and insert every comma I've left out.
One thing I can do is know the difference between lay and lie (which apparently most newscasters can't do any more):
Lay is transitive. It requires an object. I lay the cup on the table.What a stupid language.
But I lie on the bed.
Of course the confusion comes from the past tense of lie, which is lay!
So yesterday I lay down. Today I lie down.
HANK PHILLPPI RYAN: It depends. The parenthesis thing depends on what you're modifying.
She put mayonnaise on her peanut butter sandwich (horrible!) and then went home.Semi-colons are easy. Just never use them.
She was a terrible eater. (She put peanut butter on her mayonnaise sandwich!)
She was such a finicky eater. She'd put peanut butter on her sandwich, and then give it to her brother (sometimes)!
Dashes--I am trying to break the habit.
Ps and Qs. Because not possessive.
Not talking about apostrophes. Because I am trying to unsee a menu I saw in Dallas which said BREAKFAST TACO'S.
HALLIE: Speaking of tacos (weren't we?) the best (really) taco place in NYC is in Brooklyn in Sunset Park. RICOS TACOS. They forgot the apostrophe, right? Not so. RICOS is Spanish, an adjective for rich/delicious, plural to modify tacos. There is no Mr. Rico.
DEBORAH CROMBIE: Hank, I'm laughing. I actually like peanut butter, mayonnaise, and banana sandwiches. (My mom loved them, but couldn't stand anything with cooked banana. Or should that be "bananas"?) And, see, I was tempted to use an M-dash (is that hyphenated?) but resisted.
But, really, if you're avoiding semi-colons, what are you going to do?? Is there a new commas only rule?
I'm a fan of the Oxford comma (the serial comma used before "and" and at the end of a list, but American copy editors often don't like them (it?) As for punctuation within or without parentheses, I just figure whatever I do the copy editor will change.
I do know "that" from "which", and "lay" from "lie", and "sit" from "set." The thing that drives me absolutely mad is the use of "me" for "I'. "Me" and Danny went to the shop. Arghhh. "ME" went to the shop??? NO.
But I have to admit that I can't tell you punctuation rules or parts of speech.
JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Same here, Debs, which is why "helping" Youngest with her Latin and French homework is increasingly challenging. (Yes, she's taking two languages.) (Or should I have left off the parens there?) I have a substantial Latin vocabulary from school/choral work/attending Latin masses, but I have NO sense of the grammar. Nor do I have much of a memory for French grammar, despite the fact that I studied it every year from 6th grade through the end of college.
Transitive? Vocative? Genative? I don't know Whatthative.
However, I do have my own grammar and punctuation favorites: I love semicolons; I will never surrender -- never -- my M-dashes. Em dashes? I love intentional run-on sentences, mashing together compound nouns like woodstove, and I stand firmly alongside the Oxford comma.
Maybe we should all be required to take a yearly grammar course to keep up our Fiction Writer licenses?
HALLIE: So do you find yourself occasionally lost and confused along the byways of punctuation and grammar? What are you bugaboos, and please weigh in on the Oxford comma and the semicolon.