Between the Lines

Your grammar is a reflection of your image. Good or bad, you have made an impression. And like all impressions, you are in total control. — Jeffrey Gitomer

Kathy Steffen

Oh, the perils of writing! Bad grammar, incorrect punctuation, words you mistakenly use for others, words you should never use. Read on at your own risk (and the cliché police might drag me away for that one …).
Literally. When this is misused my head literally explodes. No, wait. That happened on “Scanners.” Since literal means “adhering to fact” and literally means “without metaphor or exaggeration,” you literally can’t use literally unless what you say actually happens. Literally.
Me or I? Tom and I went to the play. Ding, ding, ding! Correct! You win! The themes of the play meant so much to Tom and I. Bzzzzt. Nope. The themes of the play meant so much to Tom and me. Take out the “Tom and” for a good check on this one. Would you say, “The themes of the play meant so much to I”? Me would guess no on this one.
Irregardless. No, no, no. “But Kathy, it’s in the dictionary.” So is ain’t but using it doesn’t make you sound like you know what you are doing when it comes to writing or even talking. Irregardless, I ain’t gonna say no more about it.
Hyphen vs. Dash. I see this mistake all the time. A dash (long hyphen) is used to separate thoughts in a sentence. I like dashes and usually have to remove some from my writing — I use too many — so look anywhere in this column and you’ll see a dash example. A hyphen connects (compound) words. Editor-in-chief. Good-for-nothing. Accident-prone.
And please, use the Oxford comma in writing (comma used after “and” in a list of three or more). This meme had me spit coffee through my nose recently: Highlights of Peter Ustinov’s global tour include encounters with Nelson Mandela, an 800-year-old demigod and a dildo collector. Need I say more?
Compound Sentences without a Comma. Use a comma with the conjunction to separate two or more independent clauses (an independent clause can stand alone as a sentence). The reader wondered what Kathy meant but Kathy thought what she wrote was clear. Nope. The reader wondered what Kathy meant (COMMA) but Kathy thought what she wrote was clear. Yes! Some common conjunctions are (cue “Schoolhouse Rock” music: Conjunction Junction what’s your function?) but, and, or, if, when, because, etc.
Clichés. Make no bones about it, clichés can drive you up the banana tree. Seriously, don’t be a bad egg or open that can of worms unless you want all hell to break loose and you’ll sound bass ackwards. Anyhoo, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure and clichés are as welcome in writing as a skunk at a lawn party. You don’t want your readers to blow chunks at a fate worse than death. All-righty then!

Kathy Steffen is an award-winning novelist and author of the “Spirit of the River Series:” “First, There is a River,” “Jasper Mountain,” and “Theater of Illusion.” She writes from her home in Spring Green she shares with her husband and cats. Find out more at www.kathysteffen.com.