This & That Thursday: Capitalization in Titles

Capitalization of a title, or headline, can be quite complicated. If you’re not confined to a particular style guide (e.g. Chicago, AP, etc.), you can pretty much do it however you want – within certain limits. Clarity is your top priority here, and because the title is the first thing people will see when reading your piece, you want it to make them interested and convey the impression that you know what you are talking about. It should give your readers a preview of what’s to come. So it follows that if there are typos, glaring mistakes or problems with your title, readers are going to assume that the rest of the piece will be poorly written as well.

In order to have a good title, you should follow certain guidelines – and while there are a few different guidelines to choose from, you should adhere to some basic rules no matter what. Here are some of the most common title styles:

Chicago – The Chicago Manual of Style’s guidelines for writing a title are: capitalize the first and last words of the title, and all nouns, pronouns, verbs, adverbs, adjectives, subordinating conjunctions, and some conjunctions. Only capitalize a preposition if it is used adjectivally or adverbially.

Associated Press – The AP Style Manual says that you should capitalize the first word of the title/heading and of any subtitle/subheading; capitalize all “major” words (nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, and pronouns) in the title/heading, including the second part of hyphenated major words (e.g., Self-Report not Selfreport); and capitalize all words of four letters or more.

Sentence Style – This style only capitalizes the first word, proper nouns and names. It’s called “sentence style” because the capitalization is the same as it would be in a regular sentence.

Capitalize The First Letter Of Every Word – This style doesn’t have an official name that I know of. It’s probably the easiest to use, since there’s never a question of what should be capitalized. Just Capitalize Everything.

don’t capitalize anything – This one is weird too. I’ve seen a lot of online writers/bloggers do this. I’ve also seen people write an entire blog post in lower case. Technically, it’s not a “correct” way of doing things, but what makes one thing right and another wrong? Read this post for more about my perspective on grammar.

If you choose either Chicago or AP style, the only words you shouldn’t capitalize are articles (a, an, the), conjunctions (and, or, but) and prepositions (for, in, at, by, to). The biggest difference between the two is that when using AP style, you will capitalize these words if they have more than four letters (with, although, than, that, before, after, etc.)

What it comes down to is that you have to follow the rules of whoever is publishing your writing/whoever you work for/whoever your target audience is. And to further complicate things, every publisher has a “house style” which usually follows something like the Chicago Manual of Style pretty closely, but invariably has its own quirks as well. The publisher I worked for never used the Oxford Comma, for example.

For my blog titles I use AP style, capitalizing most words with more than four letters. But I’m free to use whatever style I want because this is a blog!

Further reading: APA Style; Quick and Dirty Tips

Here is a site that automatically capitalizes your title for you, using either Chicago or AP style: titlecapitalization.com

Wordy Wednesday: Caregiver vs. Caretaker

If you were not a native English speaker and heard these two words for the first time, you might think they were opposites. You probably already know what they mean, though, and that their meanings are similar.

This is an example of why English is so difficult to learn. The word “to take” usually means to obtain or get something. But in the case of the word “caretaker,” which appears to be a compound of the words “care” and “taker,” it means the opposite – to give or provide care, usually to a property. Words close in meaning are custodian, janitor, superintendent, and steward.

Caregiver, on the other hand, usually refers to someone who cares for people. Similar words include care provider, nurse, and attendant.

Further reading here and here.

Tricky Tuesday: Misplaced Apostrophes

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Here’s a random pen, just because. Image via

Apostrophes can be complicated to get right – their use depends on several factors including singular or plural, possessive or not, and whether the word they’re used with ends in an S.

Putting apostrophes in the wrong place is one of the most common grammar mistakes in the English language. Often, an apostrophe is used incorrectly to form the plural of a word, or it is left off entirely from a plural possessive.

Here are the rules of correct apostrophe use:

  • Apostrophes indicate possession – when a thing belongs to another thing or person, e.g., “the girl’s dress.”
  • To indicate that the thing belongs to one person, the apostrophe comes before the S, as in the example above.
  • To indicate that it belongs to more than one person, the apostrophe comes after the S, as in “the girls’ dresses.”
  • Apostrophes are used to indicate contracted words like “don’t” and “they’re” and to indicate that part of a word or year has been left out, as in a reference to ’78 rather than 1978.
  • Never use an apostrophe to make a non-possessive word plural, i.e., “the 1980s” should never be written as “the 1980’s.”

Here are a few examples:

  • Incorrect: “The childs toys are all over the floor.”
  • Correct: “The child’s toys are all over the floor.”
  • Incorrect: “Dont touch the artwork, please.”
  • Correct: “Don’t touch the artwork, please.”
  • Incorrect: “The Jone’s front yard is getting rather overgrown. Do they ever mow their lawn?”
  • Correct: “The Jones’ front yard is getting rather overgrown. Do they ever mow their lawn?”
  • Incorrect: “The 60’s were a wild decade, with several historical events including the rise of the hippie’s.”
  • Correct: “The ’60s were a wild decade, with several historical events including the rise of the hippies.”

I hope this helps the next time you’re wondering whether to use an apostrophe! I used 15 apostrophes in this post, and 4 incorrectly.

Further reading: here is a great and funny article on apostrophe use from The Oatmeal.

Modifier Monday: Misplaced Modifiers

Also check out my posts on dangling modifiers and squinting modifiers.

A misplaced modifier is a word or phrase placed incorrectly in a sentence so that it appears to modify the wrong word. Generally speaking, a modifier should be as close as possible to the word it’s modifying to avoid confusion. For example:

“While walking down the street after it rained, I saw a soggy child’s book lying on the sidewalk.”

While both “soggy” and “child’s” are modifiers to “book,” “child’s” is a noun so it looks like “soggy” is modifying it and not “book.” To fix this, put the adjective “soggy” next to “book” and it won’t sound like the book belonged to a soggy child.

“While walking down the street after it rained, I saw a child’s soggy book lying on the sidewalk.”

Here’s an example of a misplaced modifying phrase:

“Tired of being last all the time, my delight at finally winning a race showed all over my face – even if there was only one other person in my age group.”

Can you find it? hint: the modifier is everything before the comma. The word that it’s modifying is the noun closest to it. Since delight is a feeling and incapable of having other feelings, this sentence actually makes no sense. Here’s a better way to word it:

“Tired of being last all the time, I was delighted to finally win a race – even if I was the only person in my age group.”

Now the phrase at the beginning of the sentence is modifying “I.”

A common approach that leads to misplaced modifiers is that of using the passive voice. For example, when you change the following sentence from passive to active voice, the misplaced modifier fixes itself. This is something you should always check for in your writing as it can be easy to overlook.

“Eagerly awaiting ice cream, the picnic table was climbed on by the group of rowdy children.”

Sounds like the picnic table is eager for some ice cream. What?

This is better:

“Eagerly awaiting ice cream, the rowdy children climbed on the picnic table.”

See how by using the active voice, I made the sentence easier to understand and fixed the misplaced modifier at the same time?

This wraps up my three-week series on common modifier mistakes. Check out the other two posts here and here. And remember to always watch out for squinting, dangling and misplaced modifiers in your writing!

Slang Saturday: Shakespearean Slang Series

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Photo by my husband. Alaska (exact location unknown).

Because Shakespeare has influenced English so much with his writing from over 400 years ago, I felt it would be impossible to confine him to one post. So I’m going to have an ongoing series of Shakespearean Slang Saturday posts. They’ll appear on the first Saturday of each month and continue for the foreseeable future – until I run out of material, which considering Shakespeare’s volume of work, might be never.

Today I’ll tell you about a word that you probably didn’t think Shakespeare popularized, but he did: Bedazzled. While the exact etymology and origin is unknown, the word originated in the 1500s and, of course, Shakespeare used it best:

“Pardon, old father, my mistaking eyes, that have been so bedazzled with the sun that everything I look on seemeth green.” – Katherina, The Taming of the Shrew, Act IV, Scene V

This word, first used to describe bright sunlight, is now equated with rhinestones and glitter. What have we become?

Further reading: English Language & Usage Stack Exchange

 

Phrase Friday: E.g. and i.e.

These two abbreviations are often used interchangeably or confused for one another. However, while they both come from Latin phrases, they actually have completely different meanings.

E.g. comes from the phrase “exemplo gratia,” meaning “for example.” Only use this phrase where it would make sense to replace it with “for example.” For example (haha), “Hannah is a prolific artist, but she only paints scenery, e.g., beaches and forests.” In this sentence, beaches and forests are an example. Maybe Hannah also paints city skylines and mountains; the speaker in the sentence is not trying to give a complete list.

I.e. comes from the Latin phrase “id est,” which means “that is.” Only use it when you are drawing a direct relationship between the preceding clause and the following one. For example, “Sam works in information technology – i.e. he fixes computers.”

This & That Thursday: An Opinion Piece – The Way We Think About Grammar is Broken

I’ve touched on this fact in a few blog posts where I talked about breaking grammar rules: language is fluid. As an editor and writer, it’s easy to get caught up in the rules and be a major stickler about them. But it’s good to be flexible, and it’s important to remember that the fact you were taught something in school doesn’t make it cardinal law.

Take, for example, my post on the phrase “beg the question.” While the misuse of this phrase is a personal pet peeve of mine, and of many linguistic nerds I know, it’s been so widely misused that the new meaning of the phrase has gained acceptance – not to mention the fact that many, if not most, English speakers don’t know the original, “correct” meaning of the phrase.

The way language changes over time can be likened to how the earth’s landscape changes. We humans do our very best to keep things the same, or to manipulate them when it suits us, but in the end language is organic and ever-changing and there’s nothing we can do about it.

The first comprehensive, modern English dictionary, compiled by Samuel Johnson, appeared in print in 1755. In many ways, it changed our perspective of the language – for the first time there was a common standard for how to spell most words and how to use them. As Johnson himself put it, he hoped to compile “a dictionary by which the pronunciation of our language may be fixed, and its attainment facilitated; by which its purity may be preserved, its use ascertained, and its duration lengthened.” (source)

While it was a noble goal, and Johnson’s efforts certainly helped shape English into what it is today, you can see just by reading that one quote how much the language has still managed to change in less than 300 years. And it will always continue to change; there’s nothing you or I can do to stop it. My job as an editor isn’t to keep English from changing. It’s just to help make your writing as clear and understandable as I can for the audience you’re writing to. Grammar is at the service of language, not the other way around.

Wordy Wednesday: Me, Myself and I

It can be confusing to remember which pronoun to use when referring to oneself. Hopefully, this will clear up some of that confusion.

The rules:

  • When referring to yourself and someone else, their name should always go first in the sentence. For example, “Jane and I are going shopping,” never “I and Jane” or “me and Jane.”
  • Choose “me” or “I” by removing their name and seeing which sounds right. For example, with the sentence “Jane and I are going shopping,” you wouldn’t say “me is going shopping” if it was just you; you’d say “I am going shopping.” So when talking about going with someone else, you’ll say “Jane and I”.
  • Only use “myself” if you’ve already used “I”, making you the subject of the sentence.

Incorrect:

  • Me and Jane are going shopping
  • Jane and myself are going shopping
  • Leave it to Jane and I to spend $3,000 in one shopping trip

Correct:

  • Jane and I are going shopping
  • Leave it to Jane and me to spend $3,000 in one shopping trip
  • Next time maybe I should go shopping by myself
  • I thought to myself

Tricky Tuesday: Run-on sentences; comma splices

A run-on sentence joins two independent clauses without a conjunction or appropriate punctuation. Example:

Jane bought a new pair of red shoes she wore them every day for a week.

A comma splice is similar to a run-on sentence: it uses a comma to join two clauses without a conjunction. Example:

Bobby went to a baseball game with his dad, it was his birthday and he had always wanted to see the Red Sox.

There are a variety of ways to fix a run-on sentence or comma splice, including the following:

  • Separate the clauses into two sentences.
  • Replace the comma with a semicolon.
  • Add a coordinating conjunction – and, but, for, yet, nor, so.
  • Replace the comma with a subordinating conjunction – after, although, before, unless, as, because, even though, if, since, until, when, while.
  • Add a semicolon and transitional word before the comma – however, moreover, on the other hand, nevertheless, instead, also, therefore, consequently, otherwise, as a result.

For example:

  • Jane bought a new pair of red shoes. She wore them every day for a week.
  • Bobby went to a baseball game with his dad; it was his birthday and he had always wanted to see the Red Sox.
  • Jane bought a new pair of red shoes, and she wore them every day for a week.
  • Bobby went to a baseball game with his dad because it was his birthday and he had always wanted to see the Red Sox.
  • Jane bought a new pair of red shoes; moreover, she wore them every day for a week.

Modifier Monday: Dangling Modifiers

Also see last week’s post on Squinting Modifiers.

A dangling modifier is one that modifies a word not clearly stated in the sentence. Dangling modifiers are most often found at the beginning of a sentence, and they usually begin with a verbal. In the following examples, I have bolded the verbal and italicized the whole modifier so you can see what I mean:

Having gone on a long hike, water ran out.

After eating everything in the kitchen, a shopping trip was in order.

Coming home after a long day at work, a beer was necessary.

These sentences do not have a clear subject to which the dangling modifier belongs. There are two ways to fix them. The first is to add a subject to the modifier, turning it into a complete sentence:

When the group went on a long hike, water ran out.

After Suzie ate everything in the kitchen, a shopping trip was in order.

When Bill came home after a long day at work, a beer was necessary.

The second way to fix these sentences, which leaves the modifier intact, is to add the subject to the second part of the sentence like this:

Having gone on a long hike, the group ran out of water.

After eating everything in the kitchen, Suzie had to go grocery shopping.

Coming home after a long day at work, Bill felt that a beer was necessary.

The second solution is usually recommended since it makes the sentence active and more clearly answers the question of “who?” For instance, in the example where Suzie eats everything in the kitchen, the first solution doesn’t make it clear who has to go shopping. Of course, it could be that Suzie is a child whose mother does all the grocery shopping, in which case you could say, “after Suzie ate everything in the kitchen, a shopping trip was in order for her mother.” Context is always important.