TIPSY Today™ Blog with Rogena & Colleen | A Footprint of RMJ Editing & Manuscript Service, Colleen Snibson Editing, and Two Red Pens Editing
TIPSY TODAY with Rogena
I often find questions and answers in the Q & A section of the Chicago Manual of Style website that are very useful. Today, I'm sharing three of them.
ANOTHER TIP FOR PUNCTUATING DIALOGUE
Q. Hello there. Is it okay to use a comma after Anderson? “This is disgusting,” said Anderson, “The man I hired to mow the lawn has missed a few spots.” According to the models you provide, you seem to prefer a period rather than a comma, but is the comma definitely wrong?
A. Yes, the comma is definitely wrong. The test is to write the sentence without “said Anderson” and see whether a comma works: “This is disgusting, The man I hired to mow the lawn has missed a few spots.” You can see that you need a period.
WHEN TO USE A COMMA BEFORE THE WORD 'THEN' AT THE END OF A SENTENCE
Q. Is there a rule that I’ve missed somewhere that says there should always be a comma before the word “then” if “then” is at the end of a sentence? For example: It’s settled, then. Sometimes it sounds fine; other times it seems more like an obstacle to the flow of the sentence. But a rule is a rule, so if you can point me to the correct section in CMOS, I’ll stop turning up my nose at this construction.
A. It’s dangerous to make a rule saying that you always have to put a comma in front of a particular word, so we avoid doing that. The trick is to determine whether a comma is needed. In the case of “then” it’s rarely needed when the word means “at that time”; it’s often needed when it means “in that case.” The comma shows the meaning:
Meet me at the hot tub then. (Then = at the appointed time.)
Meet me at the hot tub, then. (Then = so, it’s decided.)
COMMA, AND, OR NOTHING WITH THE WORD THEN USED MID-SENTENCE
Q. Hello! I’m a freelance editor, and I’m editing a manuscript with more than 300 then words (which the publisher wants left in), mainly used as coordinating conjunctions. Here is an example: He deflated then chuckled. I suggested this to the director: He deflated, then chuckled. Her response: “I don’t see two independent clauses in either of those, so I wouldn’t consider then to be used as a coordinating conjunction. I would also consider the comma to be optional.” Is it okay to leave out the comma when then joins a compound predicate? Am I overboard on this?
A. It sounds like this manuscript is a novel or creative nonfiction, and your director is afraid you will edit out its style or voice. Perhaps she fears, with reason, that technical correctness would ruin the piece of writing. She is confusing things, however, by trying to justify the constructions grammatically instead of simply saying “This is the style we want; don’t mess with it.” It’s conventional to put either a comma or and before then when it’s used as an adverb (He deflated, then chuckled; he deflated and then chuckled), but rather than argue over grammar, it would be better to simply confirm that the more casual style is needed, regardless of technical correctness. There are various kinds of writing where cleaving to the CMOS rules would suck out all the life and character. There’s no shame in avoiding that.
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TIPSY TODAY with Rogena © RMJ MS 1/1/15
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Rogena Mitchell-Jones | RMJ Manuscript Service LLC | www.rogenamitchell.com
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