Coordinating conjunctions join pairs of words, phrases, or clauses, but when such a conjunction is interrupted by an intervening phrase or clause, it can be difficult to know where to put the commas. This is especially true when the conjunction joins the parts of a compound sentence.
If you’ve ever had to learn how to use commas with relative clauses—especially clauses introduced by which or that—you may have also encountered the word restrictive and its opposite, nonrestrictive. What do those two words mean, and what do they have to do with commas?
There’s more to nouns than people, places, and things. Some nouns are countable, and some are not. Most nouns are common, but some are proper. There are mass nouns and collective nouns, attributive nouns and nouns that can function as verbs. Some even take on adverbial roles.
Verb tenses are all about establishing the time that something happened: past, present, or future. They can also specify whether an action has been completed or is ongoing.
Ellen Jovin is a cofounder of Syntaxis, a communication skills training firm based in New York City. The author of several books for business professionals, she has a BA in German studies from Harvard and an MA in comparative literature from UCLA.
Not all fictional characters are meant to be smooth-tongued and lyrical in their speech. Rather, just like us, they sometimes mumble or stumble. Giving a character flawed speech is a way to make dialogue more realistic. And this very human kind of talking often involves the use of interjections.
Exclamation has always announced straightforward shouting, alarm, surprise, excitement, amazement, disbelief, exasperation, or even just helpless flustering. In the eighteenth century, readers could expect melodrama.
Although some believe that the subjunctive mood in English is dying, many of us use it all the time, whether we know it or not. And that means the subjunctive is right for fiction, even in the mouth of a character who wouldn’t know a subjunctive from a subplot.
I don’t like to dither over style choices. At the beginning of a sentence, it’s routine to start the next word with a capital letter. But when I type a colon within a sentence, I often have to stop and think about how to write the next word: whether to cap it isn’t always obvious.
Certain pronouns change their form depending on whether they’re used as subjects or objects. These include the pronouns “who(ever)/whom(ever),” “I/me,” “she/her,” “he/him,” “they/them” and “we/us.” The ones that cause the most trouble are the first two subject/object pairs.