Being the Language Police

There is a cute cartoon I’ve seen that shows an old lady using spray paint to correct a billboard advertisement:

Got milk?

\She changes it. Have you got any milk?

An English teacher gone rogue. She’d had it with incorrect phrases like that.

But I feel her pain. I’m one of those people who winces when good and well are interchanged. Or when may and can get confused.

Case in point. One of my children will say, “Can I eat a cookie?”

My eyes grow wide and I speak in exaggerated tones. “Can you eat a cookie? Of course you can eat a cookie! You have muscles in your jaw and teeth in your mouth and if you chew it, you most certainly can eat a cookie.”

As you can imagine, I get an eye roll and an exasperated sigh.

May I have a cookie?” they say correctly.

“Oh, you are asking for permission? Yes. You may have a cookie. Thank you for asking.”

My husband has put up with this for twenty years, the poor man, and it might be cause for his canonization someday. He grew up in a home where English was a second language for each of his parents. His mom is from Germany and his dad is from Italy. Good and well are thrown about without distinction. I give them all a big pass, though. It’s infinitely easier to resort to good. Such a useful, all-around word.

He did good on his test.

Argh. Nails on the chalkboard to me.

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Early in our marriage, I’d correct him until I realized that there were bigger things to work on. Like who was going to do the dishes after dinner.

But two decades in, he knows me well. He can read my silence fluently. Apparently, as a mother knows the meanings of her infant’s different cries, he knows exactly what I’m thinking even as I keep my mouth shut.

He did well on his test, he’d correct, knowing that it was grating on me.

My proudest moments are when my family uses correct grammar. Really. My heart swells.

But I have an admission. I have my own trouble spots.

Lay and lie. I don’t know why, but for the life of me, these twist my brain into knots.

Did she lay on the bed or did she lie on the bed?

The axiom is People lie, things lay.

So I understand the rule, but I still have to think about it. Forty-one years into speaking the English language, I am repeatedly stopping myself and applying it so that I can say my sentences correctly.

My other nemesis is toward/towards. All my life, I have used the version with an “s” at the end. But after my edits on my last book, my overworked editor, who earned every cent she made on it, had a zillion corrections to point out about this very word. I was so embarrassed! I pride myself on having grammar down pat! I admire the book Eats Shoots and Leaves! I am a proponent of the Oxford comma! How could I have missed the boat so thoroughly on this one?

There is another rule in life. It says Pride goes before a fall.

All my years of correcting the grammar of my family caught up with me. I had pie on my face in front of my editor. My 7th grade English teacher was rolling over in her grave.

So the moral of the story?

If you’re going to sit on your high horse, you’ll have to make your bed and lay in it.

Lie in it.

Lay.

Lie.

Yea, lie.

Oh, and don’t overuse clichés. But that’s for another blog post on another day.

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unnamed Camille Di Maio is an award-winning real estate agent in San Antonio who, along with her husband of 19 years, enjoys raising their four children. She has a bucket list that is never-ending, and uses her adventures to inspire her writing. She loves finding goodies at farmers markets (justifying them by her support for local bakeries) and belts out Broadway tunes whenever the moment strikes. There’s almost nothing she wouldn’t try, so long as it doesn’t involve heights, roller skates, or anything illegal. “The Memory of Us” is Camille’s debut novel. Her second, “Before the Rain Falls” will be released on May 16, 2017.

Commas and Clauses

Punctuating with commas is a tricky business, especially when so many style guides break the rules. I’m a traditionalist, however, down the Oxford comma, so for those classical grammarians, like me, here is the most frequent comma mistake I find in other people’s writing and how to correct it.

This mistake involves separating a “two-part sentence,” the two parts involving either independent or dependent clauses.

What’s the difference between the two? On its own, an independent clause can be a complete sentence, whereas a dependent clause cannot.

So let’s dissect the following sentence:

  • Mary had a little lamb and ate him for dinner. (Yes, I had a stroke of genius with this one.)

“Mary had a little lamb” is an independent clause because it has a subject and a verb, therefore making it a complete sentence in and of its own right.

“ate him for dinner” is a dependent clause because it can’t stand alone as its own sentence.

When you have a sentence in “independent clause, dependent clause order,” you DON’T NEED A COMMA to separate the clauses. So the example I have above is punctuated correctly: “Mary had a little lamb and ate him for dinner.”

The exception to this rule is when you have a contrast conjunction between the clauses. So if you’re using words like “but,” “although,” “except,” and “despite,” then you’d use a comma to separate the clauses from one another. Example: “Mary had a little lamb, but never ate him for dinner.”

However, when you have TWO independent clauses in a sentence, they need separation by a comma. For example:

  • Mary had a little lamb, and she ate him for dinner.

The addition of “she” gave the second half of the sentence its subject, therefore making it an independent clause and justifying the dividing comma.

So now let’s flop things around. What if we started a sentence with a dependent clause followed by an independent clause? In all cases, you’d need a comma to separate the clauses. Remember, dependent clauses depend upon the other part of the sentence for complete meaning and can’t stand alone. Here are some examples:

  • Eating him for dinner, Mary had a little lamb.
  • If Mary had a little lamb, she would eat him for dinner.
  • When Mary had a little lamb, she ate him for dinner.
  • As Mary had a little lamb, she ate him for dinner. 
  • Because Mary had a little lamb, she ate him for dinner.

Hopefully this helps in your quest to conquer the confusing comma. May the grammar gods be with you!

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Kathryn Purdie’s love of storytelling began as a young girl when her dad told her about Boo Radley while they listened to the film score of To Kill a Mockingbird. Her own attempts at storytelling usually involved home video productions featuring her younger sister as a nerd or writing plays to perform with the neighborhood kids. In high school and college, she focused on acting, composing sappy poetry, singing folk ballads on her guitar, and completing at least ten pages in her journal every night. When she was in recovery from donating a kidney to her brother, inspiration for her first novel struck. She’s been writing darkly fantastical stories ever since. Kathryn is the author of BURNING GLASS, the first novel in a YA fantasy trilogy from Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins. 

Self-editing resources for writers and book GIVEAWAY!


E is for Editing.
E can be for Exciting.
(E doesn’t have to be for Evil.)

Ah, the dreaded editing process. No writer is exempt, and if you love to write, this is one of the most important steps for making your words shiny and beautiful. Some of you may publish with a smaller press, for which it’s becoming more and more common for you to have to do your own editing/hire your own editor prior to submission. Or perhaps you are self-publishing (like me), in which case it’s essential that you edit your work/hire an editor prior to hitting that exciting “submit” button. Others of you may publish through presses that employ their own editors, but you can minimize the types of editorial changes you have to make if you know how to edit your own work prior to submission. Or perhaps you’re thinking of submitting your MS to agents, entering in a contest, or sending out ARCs for early reviews. A well-edited manuscript will receive a much better response than one that is…well, not.

Regardless of the route you take to publishing, editing is a necessary step in the writing process.

My Short List of Self-editing Resources

Books about editing: If you are like me, you prefer to read stories and not spend a lot of time reading about writing. 🙂 However, there are a few books out there that I consider gems as reference material. Contrary to the image above, you DO NOT need a stack of these, but either one of the following is a GREAT resource for editing:

The Elements of Style, by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White
Self Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King
Purchase links are provided so you may view more about each book
Keep scrolling to the bottom if you would like a chance to win one of my faves!

On-line resources: For when you’re not sure about that grammar rule and need to look it up in a pinch. When in doubt, LOOK IT UP, better safe than sorry, and all of those things your mother probably told you. There are a few great on-line resources for grammar, and I’ve found the following two sites especially to be reliable and accurate:

For example:

When should I hyphenate two words? When should I leave them the heck alone? 
See what Grammarist has to say.

Is there a difference between “blond” and “blonde”? 
See what Grammar Girl has to say.

Is the phrase “in the process of” necessary? 
See what Grammarist has to say.


Do I use “lie,” “lay,” “laid,” or “lain,” and OMG, can I go back in time and throttle the people who came up with these things? 
See what Grammar Girl has to say (about the former question, anyhow).

Did I use that comma correctly? Do I have too many? 
See what Grammarist has to say.


Let’s eat George.
Let’s eat, George.

Psst! Punctuation saves lives.

What about you? Do you have any other favorite self-editing resources? Comment below if you do, and thank you for sharing!
Oh, and don’t forget to enter the giveaway! 
(for U.S. addresses only due to shipping costs)