The aristocracy – never had a problem with it until I decided to write a short story about werewolves in high society. Now it turns out there’s a bit missing from my grammar playbook.
Do I write:
‘I’ll bring the car around, Ma’am.’
or is it:
‘I’ll bring the car around, ma’am.’
I was pretty sure it was the second one because I ran across a similar problem while I was writing the Quisling Orchid. The book has a lot of dialogue (as all good books seem to), and a lot of Nazis (not necessarily a requirement for a good book). In this case, I knew I should write:
‘And why did you feel the need to let her go, sargeant?’
Small ‘s’ for sargeant, so I figured it was the same for the aristocracy:
‘I’ll have him flogged, your ladyship.’
though I had this notion that maybe ‘ladyship’ needed a capital letter:
‘I’ll have him flogged, your Ladyship.’
And that just looks weird.
Time for a [insert your favourite search engine here] search, and one of the first results that came up was from Merethe Walther’s seriously excellent blog. This page covers every common capitalisation rule, and a couple I hadn’t thought of. Definitely worth a read if you’re not sure, and still worth a read if you’re absolutely positive you’re doing it right.
I bloody love stories like this, mainly because I’m one of those writers who tries to keep commas down to the bare minimum. Here’s an example of how a missing comma can end up costing you a couple of million dollars.
Before we start, let’s take a look at one of the more common uses of the comma: making lists.
On his travels, Doctor Francis Upworthy met a penitent drug dealer, a man who swallowed knives, his future wife Judith, a kick-boxing dwarf, and a pole-dancer.
The good doctor gets around, and he meets a lot of interesting people. But here’s the problem; the last comma in that list is often called the Oxford Comma, and just as often, is cited as being superfluous. In this instance, the and conjunction acts as the list comma, so adding another one before the last item in the list makes little sense. I’m not going to get into who is right and who is wrong about this; it’s an argument that’s way older than me. The point is that detractors of the Oxford Comma will take that sentence and put a big red line through that last comma, and they’ll probably add a little literary venom to show just how wrong you are for using it.
Yeah, that one. Well, along with the article there was a picture…
Yup, that’s the one.
I’ve written the piece, patted myself on the back, gone out, got drunk, come back, gone to sleep… then woke up in the middle of the night screaming, “Christ on a bike! It’s right!”
I’d remembered one of those frayed and faded grammar rules that I picked up in university, but never found a reference to say whether it was real or not. Y’see I think that poster is correct.
As far as I remember the rule goes something like this: the pronoun (in this case ‘it’) refers to the nearest noun (in this case… ‘poo’) which is the antecedant of the pronoun. (Don’t take my word for it. Check with Grammar Girl.)
But before sticking slavishly to the rules, remember that your writing has two aims: