Rules of Grammar Often Violated by Authors
by Patrick Hodges
I have read a lot of books over the last eight months and have noticed a disturbing pattern in nearly all of them: rules of writing being violated willy-nilly and with impunity. The fact that nearly every author I’ve come across violates these rules so brazenly makes me scratch my head and wonder … is it just me?
Now, I’m not saying that my way is the only right way. Some things come down to simple preference, and some of these rules are so nitpicky that most readers just scan over them without slowing down. But according to the rules of writing I was taught, a lot of writers out there are simply … doing … it … wrong.
- Misusing the ellipsis (or dash) – You may have noticed in both of the preceding paragraphs that I use a space BEFORE and AFTER the ellipsis (three consecutive dots that indicate a pause). I have gone online and checked this. You’d be amazed how many writers feel that no spaces are necessary at all. To be blunt, they…are…doing…it…wrong. I mean, really does that sentence look right? It looks all jammed together, like it’s one word. The only exception is if the ellipsis occurs at the end of a quote, and is followed by a close-quotation mark, like this. “I’m wondering …” I’ve lost count of the number of authors I’ve had to tell this rule. And by the way, this rule applies to dashes as well.
- Spelling out numbers – I’ll cut authors a little slack on this. The rule I’ve found states that you spell out numbers under ten, and, if you’re dealing with numbers ten and over, you may use numerals to indicate quantity. Dates and times are, obviously, always spelled with numbers, as are decimals. If you are talking about percentages, you can either say “90%” or “ninety percent,” but I’m in favor of the latter if you’re writing fiction. NEVER start a sentence with a numeral unless it’s a date or time. I personally believe that numerals should not be used at all unless we’re talking numbers in the thousands, numbers that require more than twenty letters to spell out. But that’s just me.
- Punctuation inside quotation marks – I’m guilty of violating this one, too. Simply put, the punctuation always goes inside the quotes. Period. Whether it’s quoted dialogue, or quoted dialogue WITHIN quoted dialogue, this rule would seem to be absolute. For example: “Just the other day, he told me, ‘Be there at six o’clock.’” Notice that both the single and double quotation marks come AFTER the period. And whether you’re ending dialogue with a period, comma, question mark or exclamation point, the rule still applies.
- Commas – Oh, my god, do I hate run-on sentences! Now, in fiction, comma placement can often be critical, while not using them at all can be confusing and detrimental. But the one that infuriates me is when a person is being addressed BY NAME at the end of a sentence, and no comma is used. For example: “Where are you going John?” or “I’m ordering a salad dear.” Come on. One little comma before the person being addressed really does go a long way here, right?
- Lack of hyphens – There are more hyphenated phrases in the English language than most people realize. Now, granted, if you see the words “first rate” in a book, and there’s no hyphen, you probably won’t give it a second thought. But “first-rate” is, in fact, a hyphenated phrase. The most common violation is when authors don’t put hyphens in when describing children by their age, choosing to write “five year old boy” instead of “five-year-old boy.” I could go on, but you get my gist. Know your hyphenates, and use them.
Thus endeth the lesson for today. Now that you are armed with these basic rules of grammar, go back and rewrite everything you’ve ever written. (Kidding.)
Patrick Hodges lives in Arizona with his wife of fourteen years, Vaneza. After doing weekly columns for entertainment-related websites, he has turned his attention to writing fiction. He is passionate about sending positive messages to young people. Joshua’s Island is his first novel. A sequel is in the works. You may reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or “like” him on Facebook.