Monday, December 5, 2011

An Elliptical Blog

I'm feeling like discussing grammar today. Specifically, punctuation. That odd feeling sweeps over me more often than you'd think. In fact, one of my happiest moments at the Malice Domestic conference this year was discussing punctuation at the bar. Writers--what are you gonna do?

Our anthology group had a discussion as we were doing final edits for publication. Steve and I were of two minds about the ellipsis. I love the trails off into nothingness, and nothing else will do when that's what you want....

Steve likes to use the three dots both in the middle of the sentence (or group of phrases, if what you've written can't really be called a sentence). I like to use three dots in the middle and four at the end. This was recommended to me some time ago and it seems logical. I've been using it for several years. The three dots are the ellipsis and the other dot ends the sentence with a period. I mean, what about a trailing off question...? (I did see this once as a question?... But I can't accept that.) If the question gets an end punctuation mark, the sentence should too, in my mind.

Both are acceptable in the Chicago Manual, by the way, so that was no help in our debate.

My problem is, I want my punctuation to be logical. Probably a holdover from being a programmer for too many years. I even wish I were British so I could put the period or comma where it belongs at the end of a quote. I hate saying that my werewolf story, "Retransformation," is included in our anthology. I'd much rather say my story, "Retransformation", is included. Why on earth should that comma go inside the quote?

I don't want to be British to the extent that I'd have to drive on the wrong side of the road...just for punctuation, and then only just for some punctuation. I'm too used to using double quotes for dialog to change that.

Do you have grammar/punctuation/spelling idiosyncrasies in your writing that drive other people nuts? If you want to see which ellipsis style we settled on for our short stories, you'll have to get hold of our anthology and page through it.


  1. My writing group has two members who like to put commas everywhere. I don't use a comma between two independent clause connected by "and or "but" if they are roughly the same length. Drives them bonkers. They also hate ellipsis and prefer dashes. They refuse to acknowledge the imminent death of the subjunctive tense. Oh, yes, we have issues.

  2. Dan Persinger called me "comma averse" when he did an edit for me. He was OK with it, just noted it. I admit they have to be there sometimes, but not always. I see a huge difference between ellipses and dashes. To me, an ellipsis is trailing off and dashes mean an interruption. But it's a fluid situation for sure. Thanks for stopping by!

  3. I am late to this but, Kaye, I agree with you about the three-dot ellipsis for the middle, and four to denote a period. (Sorry, Steve.)

    Although, the ellipsis at the end of a sentence indicates the thought is trailing off, so would a period (marking the end of the thought) really be appropriate? It's a conundrum.

    Dashes and ellipses are different animals. Agree again.

  4. As I noted, both are acceptable in CMS, so it's a matter of preference, but logic trumps all for me. Glad you agree, Ramona, Editor Extraordinaire.

  5. I note above that (insert name) said... Is that an exception to the four dots in a row rule? Think of the ink that could be saved by using three.

  6. You have to love a grammar rumble.

  7. I know, Ramona! There's nothing more fun.

    Warren, there's no rule. Just opinions. But my computer screen doesn't use ink. It's something new-fangled. ;)